The college choice process for prospective graduate students: a qualitative inquiry
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Access to a college education began in the mid-20th century, spurred in part by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (most commonly referred to as the G. I. Bill), exponentially expanded the number of students matriculating at American colleges and universities. In addition to providing increased access to higher education to a population of Americans who had not previously had access to higher education, it led to a paradigm shift regarding the belief of the importance of a college education for a broader portion of the population. The resulting surge of new college students who may or may not have previously considered themselves to be part of the market for higher education changed the structure and administration of U. S. universities; this burgeoning population created a need to understand the mechanics behind a prospective undergraduate’s college choice process. While the research on the undergraduate college choice process has evolved to match the scope and complexity of today’s universities and the diverse populations that they serve, little research has been directed to the college choice process for prospective graduate students, the U. S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics research (U. S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2014) that indicates that individuals with advanced degrees tend to have both higher salaries, higher starting salaries, increased lifetime earnings (U. S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2014), and lower rates of unemployment. Beyond this, individuals with graduate degrees have abilities that can be utilized to contribute to their communities: their increased salaries support increased tax revenues, and they have the potential to contribute to leadership that increases the community’s quality of life in general. The central purpose of this dissertation was to examine the multitude of factors that motivate a prospective graduate student in his or her college choice process. In order to explore college choice for prospective graduate students in a way to generate thick and rich narratives, qualitative research methodology was utilized with sixteen currently enrolled juniors and seniors participants who self-identified as prospective graduate students.