First Advisor

Peter Collier

Date of Publication

Summer 8-14-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Sociology






Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) -- Criticism and interpretation, Transfer students -- Oregon -- Case studies, Student aspirations -- Oregon -- Case studies, Social status -- Oregon -- Case studies



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 141 pages)


While the connection between major choice and career goals seems logically obvious, research exploring this process is limited, particularly concerning how socio-economic class, based on parents' educational levels, influences the choice process. An important initial step in understanding this larger process is to explore how SES-based differences affect the process of choosing a major, a career goal and the way in which students link their major to a possible career.

This study utilizes a comparative interview design to explore the lived experiences regarding major and career aspirations of first generation and traditional college seniors who have transferred from a community college to Portland State University. This study considers a first generation student to be any student that does not have a parent that has graduated from a four-year university in the United States. A traditional student is any student that has one or more parents who have earned at least a four-year degree in the U.S. Using a conceptual framework based on Pierre Bourdieu's work on social reproduction, this qualitative interview study examines how social and cultural capital as well as habitus influences first generation and traditional community college transfer students' choice of career, major and the link these students make between the two.

This research found that the majority of students, both first generation and traditional community college transfer students, gained domain specific information that helped them with their major and or career goals from mentors such as, professors and academic advisers. However, Traditional students received "life advice" and encouragement from family members and employers that helped them to stay on track and gain inside information regarding their career choices. Traditional students used their past and current work history to assist them in strengthening their chances at realizing their career goals. Many traditional students planned to use the degrees they earned at college to advance within fields they already were working in. In comparison, it was only after they started college and settled on specific majors that first generation students looked for work experiences to help explore possible occupational outcomes. Another major difference between the two groups of students was that traditional students linked their majors to multiple jobs in an occupational area while first generation students linked their major to specific occupational positions.

While there has been a large amount of research in the United States using Bourdieu's theory to examine how micro processes of language and teacher's expectations are utilized to maintain social stratification in K-12 education, there has been little research done on the micro processes that occur in college that lead to the reproduction of social class. This thesis illustrates how family background-based advantages that lead to differences in students' K-12 success actually continue after they enter higher education. By drawing attention to the importance of how family-background impacts major and career choices for community college transfer students after they arrive at the university, this thesis contributes to Bourdieu's explanation of how education at all levels contributes to the reproduction of a socially stratified society.


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