A descriptive analysis of differentiated patterns of decision- making in choice of educational major

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Undecidedness of choice of major field of study for undergraduates is a prevalent condition in higher education and represents a problem for academic advisors who may be unable to offer the best assistance to students uncertain of their educational plans. Little is known of the consequences for academic advising programs of such student undecidedness. This study employed an exploratory method designed to obtain information on students' patterns of decision-making regarding major field choice with a sample of university students who initially enrolled in a medium-sized, public university in Southwest Virginia in the Fall 1981 and a sample of community college students who transferred to the university in the Fall 1983 by (a) using student records to identify the major fields selected by undecided students, (b) analyzing differences between "undecided" students and two other groups of students: those who changed majors several times (multiple changers) and those who declared a major and never changed (decided), and (c) measuring the extent to which students perceived certain factors to be influential in the selection of a major field of study by using a researcher-constructed Senior Perception of Major Field Questionnaire. The Internal-External Locus of Control Instrument was used to assess the relationship between certain patterns of decision-making with regard to major field and locus of control.

Major findings of this study include:

  1. Undecided students do not appear to differ in any important way from decided or multiple change students. Their lack of initial commitment to a major does not distinguish them, especially in any way associated with negative consequences in higher education, from students who were committed to a decision.

  2. Interest in major field was the most important influence in choice of major field.

  3. No conclusions were possible regarding differences between the student types in the community college transfer sample because of the small number of subjects classified as undecided.