Too often students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds (i.e., economically disadvantaged and/ or first-generation) attend colleges and universities less selective than their qualifications may allow. Known as academic undermatch, this phenomenon may negatively affect life outcomes for youth since selective college attendance has positive effects on wages. EMERGE is a college access program that aims to address the problem of academic undermatch by preparing talented but underserved high school juniors and seniors to enroll in selective postsecondary institutions.

This brief describes findings from interviews with high-performing high school sophomores from low-socioeconomic backgrounds who applied and were accepted into EMERGE during spring 2018, before any exposure to EMERGE programming. The goal of this study was to understand how students develop college aspirations and search for postsecondary institutions.