College students, especially those in Generation Z, struggle to pick a college major, increasing the time and cost associated with obtaining a degree, according to a new study from Ellucian.

Many incoming students are not confident in their career path and nearly two-thirds of students say they feel overwhelmed by the process of selecting a major. This leads students to change their majors without understanding the ramifications–they wind up taking unnecessary courses and delaying their expected graduation, sometimes by multiple semesters.

Related content: Here’s how students pick a college major

Students are looking for more support when choosing a major, selecting courses that work towards completion and transferring from a two-year to a four-year institution. While students most often turn to advisers for help, pathways approaches can simplify choices for students by providing structured, clear paths through college coursework and on to the start of their careers. Additionally, personalized technology tools can ensure that students have clarity into their individual goals and the requirements needed to achieve them.

A technology solution can help bring institutions better support students as they work towards their goals. Email nudges and predictive analytics help advisers better serve students’ needs with more frequent and personalized communication.
Students also showed interest in virtual “one-stop shops” for all of their registration, advising and other administrative needs and an online “what-if” tool for majors and degrees that allows them to best plan their path to completion under any given circumstances.

Key findings include:

1. Today’s college students are confused and anxious when it comes to selecting a major.
• 51 percent of students are not confident in their career path when they enroll in college.
• Almost two-thirds of students feel overwhelmed by the process of selecting a major. Gen Z (68 percent) and Millennials (63 percent) feel the most stress, followed by a large percentage of Gen X students (49 percent).
• 18 percent found their schools to be less than helpful in providing guidance on majors.
• One in three students are not sure which major aligns with their chosen career path.

2. Changing majors increases the time and cost associated with obtaining a degree.
• More than half of students change their major at least once. Gen Z (44 percent) stayed the course more often than their Millennial (58 percent) and Gen X (54 percent) peers.
• 39 percent of students said they needed to take additional general education courses as a result of a change in major.
• 31 percent of students needed to take additional major courses as a result of a change in major.
• 28 percent of students said their change in major delayed their expected graduation rate by two or more semesters.

3. Students rely on advisers for support when choosing classes but could use more attention when transferring.
• 57 percent of students turn to their school advisers most often for helpful advice when registering.
• However, 64 percent only met with their adviser 2 times or less during the most recent academic year.
• Academic plans, required courses and current courses are the top topics discussed in meetings with advisers.
• One in three students did not receive advice from their two-year school on what courses were eligible for transfer.
• 54 percent of transfer students did not get advice about on-campus resources from their four-year schools.

4. Changing majors increases the time and cost associated with obtaining a degree.
• 59 percent of students find it helpful that their college groups majors into categories or meta majors, rather than individual majors during their first two years of college.
• 71 percent of students find value in learning communities and block scheduling.

5. Students are highly interested new, personalized technology to help them stay on track.
• 80 percent of students say an online “what-if” tool for majors and degrees would help them stay on track.
• 70 percent say an online “one-stop shop” for all essential student services would be very or extremely helpful.
• 66 percent would benefit from proactive advising/targeted interventions.
• 62 percent expressed interest in date reminder nudges.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura


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