The Economics of Choosing and Changing Undergraduate Majors – Summer Summary

Summer Summary

I began the summer hoping to research the economics of undergraduate major decisions, make and administer a pre-survey, create a larger survey and build the sample for it, and then administer this to students at William & Mary.  I did not accomplish everything I set out to do, but I was able to make it all the way to beginning sample building for the final survey.  Through correspondence with a Duke University professor, Peter Arcidiacono, who graciously provided me with an undergraduate major survey of his own, I was better able to craft my final survey.  Having combed through several books and dozens of articles, I now have a solid grasp on the implications of undergraduate major choices, and have a firm hold on the literature related to my project.  I took the results of my pre-survey and have created what I believe to be a comprehensive survey on why students at William & Mary choose the majors they do.  It is my hope that once I analyze the survey results, I will be able to take the results to several pieces of the administration, and have them reflect on the process of academic advising at William & Mary.

Despite not quite making it through my research, the summer did have several valuable lessons which I will apply as I continue my project this semester.  I learned not to wait too long in seeking IRB approval.  I figured out professors largely do not respond to emails requesting them to email their students surveys, which I will avoid by making a personalized pitch to professors in their office hours this semester.  The preliminary survey has prepared me for analyzing results and provided me with a wealth of valuable insight on how students at William & Mary choose their majors.  Broadly, practice with the survey software has made me aware of several glitches that I will seek to avoid on my next run through.  Overall, I feel well prepared to move into the final stage of my project in the form of an independent study in economics.

Preliminary to Final Survey

The goal of my preliminary survey was twofold: to run a sort of beta test to better understand the survey software and what I might expect running another survey, and to put together a list of possible motivations for a student’s choice of undergraduate major.  Ultimately, choosing to conduct a preliminary survey was invaluable.  I must credit Google Forms for providing the world with free survey software and helpful analytical tools to make basic surveys seamless; I especially have enjoyed their graphics, some of which I show in this paper.  Below I will share some of my results and detail how I plan to avoid making some of the same mistakes:

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As far as major is concerned, I received 33 different responses, which is a significant portion of the 58 majors offered by William & Mary.  Needless to say, I hope to see greater diversity in the final survey.Screen Shot 2016-09-14 at 11.26.42 AM

Conducting my survey over the summer clearly biased my sample.  With 37% of my respondents representing the junior class, and only 2 respondents from the freshman class, I did not have the diversity of class years that I will pursue in my final survey.  I would speculate that some of the problem may have arisen from confusion over class year in the interim between spring and fall semesters.Screen Shot 2016-09-14 at 11.30.57 AM

Although William & Mary is disproportionately female, the percentage of male respondents was certainly underwhelming.  I hope by pulling my sample from large class sections instead of posting my survey in each of William & Mary’s class Facebook pages, that I can avoid this sort of disparity.Screen Shot 2016-09-14 at 11.33.08 AM

Of those who have yet to declare a major, the overwhelming majority know what they intend to declare.  I am fairly certain that the number of those who are unsure as to what they will declare will significantly increase as the percentage of freshmen in my sample rises.

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Unsurprisingly, we see a drop between those intending to double major and those double majoring.  I would guess that the number decreases even further by graduation.

In response to this question, “Please list any major factors in your decision below (ex. Personal interest, career opportunities, preparation for graduate school, etc.)” I received anywhere from a single word to two detailed paragraphs.  Unsurprisingly, 52 of the 82 participants who received this question listed “personal interest” as a factor.  I will not make the same mistake in listing personal interest first next time.  I will accomplish this by shuffling the order of the options.

I hesitate to give too much more away.  I could not be more excited to administer my final survey and I truly hope that my results will at least get people talking about reforming the process of academic advising at William & Mary.  I am very thankful to Lisa Grimes, the Charles Center, John Parman, those who disseminated my preliminary survey, and those who too