Degree Name

EdD (Doctor of Education)


Educational Leadership

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Jill Channing

Committee Members

Susan Epps, James Lampley, Richard Rhoda


In this dissertation, I examined the experiences of QuestBridge Scholars attending three different elite universities that enroll more students from the top income quintile than from the lowest three income quintiles combined. The universities attended by participants in this study are among the few that are both need-blind and that fully meet students’ demonstrated financial need through grant and scholarship aid. Additionally, these universities have acceptance rates of no more than 10%. The QuestBridge organization’s mission is to match high-achieving, low-income students with elite institutions.

Data from participants were collected through an audio and video recorded interview using a semi-structured protocol. Interviews were transcribed and then coded using an iterative open coding process to identify themes. The themes that emerged were: changing relationships with family and friends from before college, finding support while enrolled, the transition from family of origin to elite higher education, experiencing privilege, campus involvement, social belonging, navigating elite higher education, and academic adjustment and impostor phenomenon. These themes suggest that QuestBridge Scholars experience something akin to class culture shock when they enter the world of elite higher education.

This study is significant because it focuses specifically on QuestBridge Scholars who have been successful at a highly selective subset of QuestBridge institutions with high income disparity, where success is defined by having reached second-semester junior status or having graduated. The focus on those who attend or attended highly selective institutions and who are succeeding suggests that these students might have insights that would smooth the path for others like them. This study may also have implications for practice for highly selective institutions that admit QuestBridge Scholars and other low-income students. Finally, in this study, I explored participants’ perceptions of socioeconomic class, with results suggesting that the transition from family of origin to elite higher education causes changes in self-perception and behavior.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.