Upper-Class Parents’ Strategies for Helping Youngsters Access to and Succeed in Prestigious Higher Education Tracks

Monday, 16 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Agnès VAN ZANTEN, Sciences Po, Observatoire sociologique du changement (0SC), Paris, France
With the implicit assumption that at the end of secondary education youngsters are able to make autonomous choices and, even more, that they become independent from their parents during their higher education studies, the existing sociological literature tends to focus on parental educational strategies mostly concerning children and adolescents. However, especially in countries such as France where parents and children are extremely anxious about getting the best higher education credentials to enter an extremely selective and competitive market of high-level jobs and where the most prestigious higher education tracks, especially the classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles (CPGE), are very academically demanding, upper-class parents develop a variety of strategies to help their children access to these tracks and succeed in their studies. Using data from interviews with 40 upper-class parents in the Parisian region whose sons and daughters were either in the last year of secondary school or in the first year of CPGE, this paper will analyze some specific features of these strategies including the indirect influence of higher education choices, the creation of material and social arrangements to facilitate students’ total concentration on academic matters and various forms of moral support. The paper will also compare and contrast the strategies of two upper-class fractions, ‘managers’ and ‘intellectuals’. The conclusion will emphasize the importance of parental sponsorship alongside institutional sponsorship in the successful higher education careers of upper-class youngsters.