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What do I major in? The Factors that Inform Student’s Choice of College Major

When college students speak about their majors, it’s assumed they selected it because it is a topic of interest to them. Which is not wrong, but what other factors do students rely on with and without even knowing? Literature expresses the correlation between high socioeconomic statuses and non-lucrative majors, as well as the significance parental roles play in student’s lives. Less understood is detailed accounts of motivations for majors that include student’s generation, racial/ethnic identities, and childhood experiences. Drawing on this research project, 27 in-depth interviews of college students at a private western institution spoke about the experiences that led up to them selecting their major(s). It was found that first generation students face the pressures of graduating college and earning a high income to move upward in social mobility. Second generation students have different experiences based on their racial/ethnic identities. In addition, common motivations for major selection were seeking financial security, creating social change, and distinct childhood experiences. With this knowledge, students who have trouble selecting a major can observe why others selected their major(s). These findings can help faculty and staff members better understand why their students decided to join their departments. As found, students rely on their identities and experiences to select their career pathways that includes their major(s) in college.