Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation study contributes to a nascent field of research on undocumented students and college access. Rooted in a conceptual framework of models of college choice, this study utilizes case study methodology to examine how a high school and its agents influence an undocumented student’s college choice process. The unit of analysis is a suburban public high school located in the Midwest.

Data collection included semi-structured interviews of students, teachers, counselors, and college counselors, observation of college counseling programs, and document review of college related materials. The constant comparative method was the primary system of data analysis. The coding process began with the use of a priori codes, but an open coding process was also implemented.

Findings from this study pertained to undocumented students as well as high school agents. College-bound undocumented students exhibit mixed levels of perseverance and resilience in the areas of academic achievement, family and peer support, and paying for college. Undocumented students are largely invisible within the school community and as a result, lack accurate information about admission and financial aid processes as well as scholarship opportunities and requirements. In addition, undocumented students are largely unaware of federal and state legislation and policies that impact their college options. While undocumented students do not engage in school wide college counseling programming they respond favorably to targeted outreach and partake in specialized programmatic efforts. Although high school agents (teachers, school counselors, and college counselors) express strong support for undocumented students in their pursuit of a college degree, they hold numerous incorrect beliefs, and lack pertinent information regarding undocumented students’ post-secondary opportunities.

Select implications for high schools include professional development for all high school staff on the social and emotional needs of undocumented students, as well as their post-secondary options. There is also a need for greater systemic support from high schools for college bound undocumented students, specifically regarding programming that highlights college options and the college process. In addition, continued research on undocumented students and college choice theory is critical in ensuring that all students are able to achieve their college dreams.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.