Students’ Educational Pathways: Aspirations, Decisions, and Constrained Choices Along the Education Lifecourse

Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


Educational pathways are marked by a series of choices that individuals and their families make that shape students’ development and educational destinations. The education attainment model is defined by a notable tension between individual choice and structural constraints that exist throughout the life course. This chapter synthesizes research on the constrained choices that typify educational pathways from early childhood to adulthood in the U.S. We focus on several areas in the literature in which the tension between individual choice and structural constraints plays out, specifically: educational aspirations, curricular differentiation, and informational barriers and opportunities. Within each of these interconnected areas we describe the dominant theories that buttress the individual determinants model, and the structural or institutional forces that shape the educational attainment process. We also review policy trends that have emerged over the past several decades designed to attenuate structural inequalities in students’ educational pathways.


Educational attainment Curricular exposure and participation Undermatching Low-cost interventions Increased ambitions 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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