Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Counseling and Educational Leadership

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Dana Heller Levitt

Committee Member

Kathryn Herr

Committee Member

Leslie Kooyman

Committee Member

Jeremy Price


A growing body of literature has documented the elevated rates of anxiety, depression, and substance use in adolescents who live in upper-middle class communities. The competitive college preparation and admissions process is seen as a contributor to student stress. This study endeavored to gain understanding of the lived experience of adolescents in upper-middle class communities as they navigate the competitive, achievement-oriented, and college-going culture. Using Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s portraiture method, the participants’ narratives illuminated the ways these students accepted, struggled with, challenged, and resisted dominant cultural messages that were transmitted to them through their experiences as they prepared for college. The analysis of the four portraits elucidated several themes to suggest that these participants experienced a loss of voice as they endeavored to conform to the standards of behavior promoted by community and the college process. Additionally, the participants narrated a clear set of values that they were encouraged to embody, values that are traditionally associated with patriarchal and capitalist cultures. The insights gained from the participants’ portraits have implications for practice and future research.

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