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Going Places: First-Generation College Students Framing Higher Education

Laemmli et al. / Sociological Forum / September 2022


This paper draws on interviews with first-generation (FG) college students in their first year attending two distinct public colleges (a rural state university and an urban flagship) to show how these students framed college in terms of place, how different place frames shaped students' college choices and experiences, and how place served as a proxy for students' feelings of belonging. Some students wanted place continuity: to attend college in a place that felt proximate and symbolically similar to the place where they were from. Other students, however, wanted place change: to attend college in a place that felt markedly different from where they grew up. The extent to which students' place desires matched their choice of college shaped students' sense of fit in college by determining students' access to relevant cultural and network resources. Students experienced steady belonging, forged belonging, reluctant belonging, or interrupted belonging on these bases. Our findings provide support for the role of place broadly understood in FG college students' adaptation to college, and we consider implications for higher education outcomes and improving institutional support for FG students.

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