Second Thoughts on College Major Linked to Source of Advice

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The FINANCIAL — About three in 10 college attendees (31%) who informally received advice about their major from employers, coworkers or experts in the field say they would choose another area of study if they could start over. By comparison, college attendees whose advice came from formal sources — such as college and high school counselors and advice publications or websites — are modestly more likely, at 40%, to say they would choose a different field of study.

More than one in three who received advice about their major from their informal social network — friends, family and other contacts such as community leaders — or their informal school-based network — like faculty and staff — say they would choose a different major.

These findings are based on 22,087 interviews with U.S. adults with either an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree or some college but no degree. The interviews were conducted Jan. 2-Aug.13, 2017, as part of the Education Consumer Pulse survey. These results are part of two major reports released by Strada Education Network and Gallup.

The inaugural report, On Second Thought: U.S. Adults Reflect on Their Education Decisions, found that 51% of adults with at least some postsecondary education would change one of three decisions about their education path. While 12% said they would pursue a different degree type, 28% would attend a different school and 36% would choose a different major.

The report released on Sept. 25 — Major Influence: Where Students Get Valued Advice on What to Study in College — explores the sources and helpfulness of the advice that college attendees received about their chosen field of study. The findings demonstrate an individual’s informal social network is the most commonly cited source of advice about their field of study, though the guidance rated as most helpful comes from informal work-based sources — the least commonly used category of advice.

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The results from both reports identify similar trends. Advice from formal sources — such as high school and college counselors — is rated least helpful and has the further consequence of resulting in the highest likelihood of second thoughts about an individual’s chosen field of study. Informal work-based sources of advice about a person’s field of study are rated as most helpful. Those who received guidance from these sources are the least likely to say they would choose another field of study.


The connection between sources of advice and “second thoughts” about college attendees’ choice of major suggests the current model of advising students may need some change, including potentially diversifying advice on choosing a field of study.

The Major Influence report shows that the two least commonly used sources of advice — guidance from informal work-based and informal school-based sources — have been the most helpful. Vocational coursework, internships, apprenticeships or other workplace learning opportunities could broaden students’ exposure to potential careers and skills. Likewise, consulting with a variety of knowledgeable staff and faculty at their schools could expand students’ understanding of the options available to them.


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