Date Available


Year of Publication


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Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Jane M. Jensen


As individuals, college students make choices that both reflect their past lives and constitute their futures. In this research I examine the ways five college sophomores built their lives in the complex world of a research university campus. Using case study analysis I look at how the students negotiated the considerable academic and social demands of their daily lives. College impact models and literature about theories of practice and decision making inform the analysis. Human agency and fields of practice help to explain the behaviors of these students. The research reveals that students take a myriad of paths to negotiate the intricacies of the college context and construct their lives, but that they are guided along those paths by their goals for the future. I interviewed five sophomores at a Doctoral/Extensive university repeatedly over one semester. I discovered that their families and their pre-college academic experiences mattered throughout their first few semesters as they learned to play the college game. Survival depended on their backgrounds, their skills, and the strategies they used to adapt to their new environment. The extent and quality of their interaction with peers, faculty, and other adults on campus also reflected their instrumentalism and indicated their efforts to find a space within the larger campus. Their adjustment to the field of the academy showed a commitment to vocational goals in the long and short term. My analysis illuminates the idiosyncratic process of choosing a major and the nature of a students commitment to a discipline. Taken together, these categories of student life show a complex building process with some similarities and many individual variations.



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