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Bounded Horizons: A study of upper secondary school choice for newly arrived students

Publicerad:4 mars

I sin avhandling om nyanlända elevers erfarenheter av gymnasievalet har Brendan Munhall bland annat undersökt hur nyanlända elever påverkas av marknadsföring i gymnasievalsprocessen.


Brendan Munhall


Docent Fredrik Hertzberg, Stockholms universitet Doctor Larissa Mickwitz, Stockholms universitet Docent Daniel Lövheim, Stockholms universitet


Associate Professor Ee-Seul Yoon, University of Manitoba, Canada.

Disputerat vid

Stockholms universitet



Abstract in English

Graduating primary school students in Sweden choose their upper secondary school within a unique quasi-market school system. The students may choose specialized programs but must also be accepted based on grade rankings by the schools. Despite equity arguments for the school choice model, opportunities are not equally available for all students. Newly arrived students in particular may face challenges in their school selection process, leading to limited availability, especially within metropolitan areas. However, there is a lack of research exploring newly arrived students’ own experiences and attitudes towards school choice in this setting. The aim of this study is to investigate newly arrived students’ own experiences and their understanding of the upper-secondary school choice process.

In this study, twenty-two newly arrived year-nine students in the metropolitan Stockholm area were interviewed about their experiences during the school choice process. Semi-structured interviews conducted in the students’ mother tongues explored their educational backgrounds, social interactions, school experiences and academic aspirations during the 2019/2020 school year. In addition, eight of their teachers and guidance counsellors were interviewed. The student responses were analysed through thematic analysis using a combination of concepts including horizon for action, cultural and social capital, the grapevine and structural and symbolic boundaries.

In the results, the newly arrived students were shown to be a diverse group with varying languages and levels of preparedness for the Swedish education system. They shared similar experiences in the upper secondary school process, marked by subtle differences due to their available resources and the different actors that they interacted with. Marketing strategies used by the upper secondary schools themselves had a substantial influence on the students although many of the students found this information hard to navigate. Guidance from the school, in both a formal sense from guidance counsellors and informally by other educators had a positive effect but was dependent on the engagement of the educators. The students’ parents had a limited influence on their childrens’ choice process, largely due to their own recent arrival in Sweden. Finally, due to the structure of schools, the newly arrived students interacted with other newly arrived students more than with Swedish students, giving them limited peer information about upper secondary schools.

These findings shed light on the experiences of an often overlooked group of students, offering a fresh perspective on the Swedish education system. Many of these students faced challenges in choosing upper secondary schools based on the grades they achieved during their relatively brief time in Sweden and the neighborhoods they resided in. Their school preferences were further shaped by the limited support from both their social circles and the educational institutions themselves. Consequently, these students were vulnerable to the influence of targeted marketing and unsubstantiated rumors. However, this phenomenon wasn’t universal. Dedicated educators, particularly those who shared a common language or cultural background with the students, provided meaningful guidance. These findings are significant for identifying limited opportunities for an under researched group within the Swedish education system and giving insight into how they may be better supported.

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