The path to college enrollment consists of five somewhat sequential steps (Berkner and Chavez 1997), although students do not always think of the process in these terms (Hossler et al. 1999). First, students must decide that they want to pursue postsecondary education and what type. Second, they must prepare academically for college-level work. Third, if they want to attend a 4-year institution, they must usually take the SAT or ACT entrance examinations. Fourth, they must choose one or more institutions and file applications. Finally, they must gain acceptance and make the financial and other arrangements necessary to enroll.
Figure 3 displays the percentage of 1992 high school graduates who completed each step (and all previous steps) toward enrollment in a 4-year institution. Graduates whose parents did not go to college were much less likely than their peers with more educated parents to complete each step. Compared with graduates whose parents had earned bachelor’s degrees, they were about half as likely to aspire to a bachelor’s degree in 10th grade (46 versus 86 percent), and, having completed all the other steps in the pipeline, about a third as likely to enroll in a 4-year institution (21 versus 65 percent).
As will be described, the findings from the NELS survey indicate that high school graduates whose parents did not go to college tended to report lower educational expectations, be less prepared academically, and receive less support from their families in planning and preparing for college than their peers whose parents attended college. The following discussion addresses each step to college enrollment in more detail.