Selecting a college or university: A study of students and their parents

Saul Roger Sztam, Florida International University


This case study investigated the decision-making process of high-achieving high school students and their parents in selecting a college or university. The conceptual framework that guided this study included theoretical and empirical research framed around a three-phase model of college choice. Parental influence dominated the first phase of this model. The search phase, which was the second and the most crucial one, included financial considerations related to this decision, admissions considerations during the search phase, the psychology of decision making, and advertising strategies for teenagers. Once students completed the search phase they developed expectations of the institutions they considered prior to making the final decision. The study employed qualitative methods using individual interviews with students and their parents. Six high-achieving high school seniors from a South Florida high school and their parents were selected to participate in this study. Of these students, four were female and two were male. Participants were individually interviewed on two separate occasions over a three-month period. Students and their parents were interviewed separately, with one exception, during the first set of interviews and together during the second. The data obtained from these interviews were transcribed and these transcripts were coded, categorized, analyzed, and sorted into major themes and submitted to interpretive analysis. In-depth descriptions of participants' experiences during the decision-making process are described in the study. Financial factors—which included the cost of college, the socio-economic status of the family, and scholarship possibilities—drove the selection process for these students and their parents, most of whom reported their family incomes between the lower-middle to upper-middle class range. All of these students took advantage of the Bright Futures Scholarship Program, other scholarship opportunities, and the lower tuition costs of in-state public institutions. The effectiveness of recruitment techniques, such as brochures, campus visits, the development of college Web sites, and the overall impact of Internet resources, was assessed by the researcher. As these students had progressed through the search phase, they developed perceptions of potential institutions as they were assisted by those around them. The value of familiarity with institutions and the use of heuristics were quite evident in the final analysis of this study, based on what the students communicated about how their knowledge of and comfort in these institutions affected their decisions. Parental influence played an important role in the selection process for the students in this study as the parents clearly directed the process, by the constant advice they gave their children and by the financial limitations they communicated to them.

Subject Area

Higher education|School administration

Recommended Citation

Sztam, Saul Roger, "Selecting a college or university: A study of students and their parents" (2003). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3085018.