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August 12, 2013

How do college students choose their majors?

Are finance majors lured by Wall Street and potential future earnings? Are English majors hoping to become the next Walt Whitman or Billy Collins? Are political science students looking for an easy A in ‘Intro to Government,” hoping to boost their grade point average and to increase their chances of getting into law school?

Professor of sociology Dan Chambliss at Hamilton College in upstate New York said it's more simple than that. As undergraduates descend on college campuses across the country, Chambliss has found many of them will be more likely to major in a certain field if they have a caring and charismatic professor at the front of the class.

In his article "Faculty Gatekeepers and Academic Taste in Undergraduate Students’ Choice of Major, "Chambliss says if students have a negative experience with a professor in a field, they’ll be more likely to write it off.

“English and history can probably survive a bad course, but geology can’t,” Chambliss told Inside HigherEd.

While new technologies such as massive open online courses, or MOOCs, promise to expose students across the world to top-notch professors in certain fields (e.g. Harvard Political Philosopher Michael Sandel's "Justice" course), the study concludes that colleges and universities should focus on teaching quality in their own classrooms because students' tastes for learning is due, largely, to one-on-one interactions with faculty.

How did you choose your major? Email oncampus@wgbh.org.

college students, higher ed, majors

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