In this research, we examine the experiences and aspirations of young people entering top-tier general upper-secondary schools in Reykjavík (Iceland) and Helsinki (Finland). These schools are attracting students with very high educational attainment and have traditionally had a reputation of an “elite” school in both cities, which is not referring (at least only) to the social class composition of the school but rather the school performance of its students. This can be partly explained by the relatively flat socio-economic structure of these societies (Oddsson, 2021) and the reasonably low stratification of the field of education in Iceland and Finland (Dagsson, Karlsson, & Zoega, 2020; Isopahkala-Bouret et al., 2018). However, the educational tracks and choices of these young people are in the selective end of the spectrum in these Nordic educational systems and are typically driven by public provisions (see Dovemark et al., 2018). 

This research is based on Bourdieu’s conceptual framework on the interplay between habitus, field, and the mobilisation of capital in the field of education, which we consider relational in bourdieusian terms (Kosunen & Hansen, 2018; Magnúsdóttir & Garðarsdóttir, 2018) and dependent on space-time in a certain political and societal context (Steiner-Khamsi, 2009). We explore what kind of role the choice and experience in a certain school play in this formation and how the young people in this study entre these elite institutions (by merit) and construct their aspirations and future choices in these contexts with other high-achieving students. Our focus is on exploring the functioning of habitus in the field of highly selective general upper-secondary education and the misrecognition of capital(s) in this respect. We explore, 1) how  the habitus that is like ‘fish in the water’ (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992) constructed and manifested in the choice of selective general upper-secondary education?, and concerning the past and the future, 2) what are the mobilizable forms of capital in educational choices in the two contexts in the admission to and from general upper-secondary education? We particularly analyse the ways in which the young people of this study feel in belonging or not belonging to the institution,  particularly how they perceive the expectations of the school staff and peers towards themselves in terms of educational choice.