Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

Dwight E. Giles, Jr.

Second Advisor

Katalin Szelényi

Third Advisor

Jarrett Gupton


This dissertation addresses the influence of working class culture on transition to college for first-generation, low-income students. Transition to the dominant culture of college often leaves first-generation students living in two worlds, creating cultural dissonance and leading to lower retention and persistence. Through narrative inquiry, this study explores the lived experiences of students of color, including recent immigrants, at both private and public universities during the first semester of college. Focusing specifically on how habitus and social class shape academic and social experiences for this population, this qualitative study employs virtual go-alongs or walking interviews as a methodology to supplement formal interviews. Using common geospatial technologies, virtual go-alongs are a modification of the go-along ethnographic research tool and allow for greater exploration of habitus and transition to college. This inquiry advances an understanding of the heterogeneity of this student population and provides insight into how a working class background shapes expectations, attitudes and aspirations for college, first-generation identity, and cultural transition; the imperative to interrogate further the intersectionality of race, ethnicity and social class emerged as an outcome of this study. Recommendations for practice include using the virtual go-along as a tool for advisors, faculty and other higher education professionals to advance knowledge of first-generation students from working class backgrounds.