How do college students pick majors?

Decisions, we all have to make them, and they are an integral part of our lives. Simple decisions are pretty easy to make, a simple yes or no will do, but what about more complicated things? One doesn’t make the decision of “what should I eat for dinner?” as simply as “what car should I buy?” When buying a car one would probably do a lot of research on what car is the best, or would they choose the one that looks pretty? Or maybe they like a certain brand and will buy one of those. Put simply, there are way more factors in bigger, life changing decisions. So then how is a decision that is way bigger, and more life changing then buying a car made? One such decision that many college students will have to make is “what major should I go for?” Which is the exact question I want to answer, how do college students choose a major? Is it based on careful planning, or a quick decision?

When I think about a college student choosing a major I think about them choosing a major based on what they like to do. If a student likes to act they might become an acting major, if they like math they might become a mathematics major. I don’t think of them doing any research at all, but do they even know what there projected salaries might be? One study I found tries to answer that exact question. In this study, researchers looked at 495 college students and asked them what they thought an average person would make with just a high school diploma, how much someone would make with an economics degree and what they thought they would make at 30. The students underestimated how much a person could make with just a high school diploma by $10,000 a year and overestimated how much someone could make with an economics degree by almost $35,000 a year. Then they were shown real world data and asked the same questions again. When asked again the estimates of their own salaries at 30 went down by an average of $28,000 a year. After the study was over 12% of participants even switched majors! I am not shocked by the student’s lack of research, but I am shocked that they didn’t even look at what their salary might be, 12% of them were so shocked that they even changed majors, as if they had no idea that they were in a bad major.

Its obvious college students do not do much research on their major, but what about their passion, how does passion factor in to their decision? Well, it just so happens I found another study that look at that question to. Researchers looked at 300,000 UK students personal statements to apply for their major, each about 4,000 characters. They sifted through them and counted how many passion related words and how many career related words there were and rated each major on a passion and career scale. There is a lot of interesting data, but the one thing I noticed is that the higher income majors ranked high in career but low in passion, and the opposite was for lower income majors. Thinking about it logically, the reason behind that is probably because if a student comes into college with a lot of passion for something, they are probably going to follow their heart and apply for the major while doing minimal research. But if a student comes to college with no passion, or in other words, they don’t know what they want to do, then they will probably research different majors and apply for one based on research or careers more than passion. Which is basically what my theory is on how student choose majors. Students who know what they want to do are more likely to follow their passion when choosing a major, and student that don’t know what they want to do are more likely to choose based on research more than passion.

In conclusion, college students definitely don’t do a ton of research on a major before picking, but the ones that do are more likely to are the people that have no idea what they want to do, and the student that do know what they want to do will be more likely to make their decision based on passion than research. I hope that when reading this people will go and do more research on their passion, rather than following it blindly. In the immortal words of Mike Rowe, “Never follow your passion, but always, keep it with you”.