Students’ chosen fields of study have important implications for their livelihoods, but little is known about how and why students choose their majors. Prior research suggests that personal interest, personality, career prospects, academic preparation and parental influence are important factors that shape what people choose to study.However, limited research exists on how exposure to social networks, advice and different work experiences affect a person’s decision to pursue a given field of study, and how this exposure differs across groups of people.
This report explores one aspect of how individual choose their field to study – which sources provide advice to students and how helpful students perceive that advice to be.
Most people receive advice about their major from informal social network sources like family members and friends.
Informal social networks have consistently been the most common source of advice for individuals, regardless of the decade during which they were enrolled.
First-generation college students and students who are pursuing a two-year degree are less likely than others to get advice about their major from their informal social network.
Older enrollees are more likely than younger enrollees to consult work-based sources of advice about their major.
Informal work-based sources of advice were rated most helpful, and those learners mentioning them would be less likely to choose another major if they had to start again.
First-generation students are expecially likely to rate advice about their major as helpful and rate advice from work-based sources as most helpful of all.
The results highlight how learners seek advice from a wide variety of people and places, though the perceived helpfulness of that advice differs by its source and people’s experiences. The insights offered in this report suggest ways postsecondary leaders, policy makers, educators and employers can equip students to be better-informed when choosing a field of study by widening their exposure to different types of information and advice.
When choosing a major field of study, individuals most commonly sought advice from their informal social network. In fact, more than half of adults (55%) with an associate degree, some college or a bachelor’s degree looked to their informal social network for advice about choosing a major field of study – most frequently from their friends (23%) and family (42%).
Though informal social networks have been the most common source across cohorts, the frequency of advice received from other sources has changed over time.
Individuals whose parents have gone to college have the advantage of leveraging their parents’ education experiences and are more likely to be exposed to other people who have gone to college. By comparison, those whose parents completed a high school diploma or less are far less likely to have received advice about their major from their informal social network.
Blacks and whites are similarly likely to have sought advice about their major from their informal social network. Asians are the most likely to mention their informal social network as a source of advice, and Hispanics are the least likely. Black and Hispanic adults are the most likely to have received advice from formal sources, and white adults are the least likely to have consulted formal sources. Women are more likely than men to consult formal sources of advice but slightly less likely to confer with their social network.
Many returning adults – those aged 30 or older at the time of their attendance – consulted different sources of advice about choosing a field of study, compared with younger enrollees. By comparison, younger attendees are more likely to have received advice about fields of study from their informal social network.
When it comes to choosing a field of study, the most helpful advice comes from work-based sources.
First generation students are more likely than those with a parent who has a college degree to regard advice about their major as helpful. This perhaps reflects the fact that their informal social networks may have less exposure or experience with postsecondary education.
When it comes to education after high school, Americans know what they value and why. At Strada Education Network, we are listening to what they have to say and leveraging their insights about experiences and outcomes to forge more purposeful pathways between education and careers.
Gallup strategically partners with institutions to conduct custom research and implement best practices that create environments in which students and employees thrive.
Higher education’s measurement of student success is in the midst of an evolution. For nearly five decades, success efforts focused on access, then two decades with completion as the horizon for success, and now the focus is extending to student outcomes beyond completion.
Applied connections between education and work are increasingly a part of undergraduate education in the United States.
Two centuries after the first historically Black colleges and universities were founded, the 101 accredited HBCUs in operation today continue to deliver on their legacy of expanding educational opportunity for Black students that leads to successful and fulfilling lives.
As a field, higher education has experienced a continuing evolution in how to measure success. For nearly five decades success efforts were focused on access, followed by the past decade and a half pursuing completion, and the field now has a growing focus on the value of a degree and student outcomes beyond completion.
Strada’s prior research on undergraduate perceptions of the value of their education demonstrates that students value their education most when they receive support to connect their education and career interests.
In the wake of historic pandemic-related enrollment declines, postsecondary institutions have responded by developing and expanding innovative approaches to engaging learners.
The baccalaureate degree remains the surest path to economic mobility, employment stability, and a host of associated social benefits.
Steep declines in undergraduate enrollment during 2020 and 2021 threaten to widen existing equity gaps in college completion and career opportunities.
Nondegree credentials have been growing rapidly for decades. During the COVID-19 economic crisis, interest in nondegree credentials and skills training options was especially high. Questions about their quality and value, however, remain.
The high school classes of 2020 and 2021 have endured massive disruption to their education.
The pandemic has led to a national crisis of widespread disruption to both work and education for millions of adults in the U.S., especially those from historically marginalized groups.
From its onset in early 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has upended life across the world, leading to uncertainty around health, work, finances, education, and a host of other issues.
Over the past 15 years, the number of student loan recipients has increased by 51 percent and the debt associated with those loans has more than doubled.
We asked alumni nationwide who had borrowed money to go to school if their loans were worth it. Strada Education Network and Gallup surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 student loan holders.
Our mission is to improve lives by forging clearer and more purposeful pathways between education and employment.
How Intermediaries Can Connect Education and Work in a Postpandemic World
How is COVID-19 affecting college students currently enrolled at American four-year institutions?