Cultural and social capital in university choice : intra-class differences amongst working-class students in a sixth form college

Woodward, Philip John (2013). Cultural and social capital in university choice : intra-class differences amongst working-class students in a sixth form college. EdD thesis The Open University.



Background: Research on the way that sixth-form students utilise cultural and social capital when applying to university has suggested that students make differential choices on the basis of social class. Research has also highlighted the significance of intra-class differences amongst middle-class students. It suggests the extent to which family, school, peers, and the media may influence and impact on choices.

Aim: This research examines the extent to which students from similar socio-economic backgrounds, and in particular 'working-class' students, make choices. This process is examined in terms of the university and course choices made and associated social advantage and prestige.

Methods: This research employs an interpretative paradigm using qualitative methods and a conceptual framework derived from Bourdieu. Focus groups and semi-structured interviews were used to investigate research questions and a grounded approach to data analysis was utilised.

Findings: Findings suggest that access to cultural and social capital is limited to familial influence. Students were influenced by their parents in differential ways, but also drew on the experience of their siblings.However, it was noted that the college environment had a limited impact on student decisions. When making choices the most notable themes linked to general locality, where respondents were fairly polarised in their desire to 'stay local' or 'move away'.

Discussion and Conclusions: Locational preference linked to degree of geographical cultural knowledge and led to the development of a new theoretical concept that I term locational capital. This corresponded to intentions to avoid certain locations such as 'the rural' or 'the provincial' and provides a new way of understanding choice. These geographical constructions, linked to perceptions concerning Higher Education Institutions, often triggered concerns regarding 'fitting-in' and 'social class' and for many resulted in limitations on choice. This imposed a limitation on applying to prestigious HEIs.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions