This study extends Boudon’s positional theory to understand how students from different social origins make choices about university and how they interpret risks during the choice-making process in contemporary China. I draw upon empirical evidence from 71 in-depth semi-structured interviews with undergraduates from different social backgrounds and from different types of universities. The interview data confirm the relevance of Boudon’s thesis in the Chinese context; that is, individuals’ family characteristics manifest in the process of choices and strategies. Furthermore, this study provides new evidence on a pattern of class-bound conformity, which sometimes contradicts the rational course of action from students’ narratives on socioeconomic and cultural identity as well as opportunity risks associated with the quota system. When hope and chance clash, students from working-class or agricultural families reduce to internalise their socioeconomic or geographical disadvantages, come to terms with a lack of equal opportunities in a seemingly meritocratic system.