Academic journal article College Student Journal

College Students' Interest in Their Major

Academic journal article College Student Journal

College Students' Interest in Their Major

Article excerpt

The goal of the present study was to assess college students' interest in their major and to determine whether interest played a role in why they selected that major. The sample included 144 education majors and 151 business majors at a small liberal arts college. Students were asked about their general interest in their major and also their interest for learning education and business vocabulary words. All measures demonstrated converging evidence that students had interest in their own major and that they were interested in learning their own majors' vocabulary. Even first year students who had declared their majors reported greater interest and favored learning words from their own majors over another major. Students in both areas rated interest as one of the top three reasons they selected their major.


Anyone who has taught college students has fielded the "is this on the exam?" question. Often faculty wonder: Are college students really interested in their major? One could argue that declaring a college major may not necessarily reflect a college student's interest in the area. Perhaps students choose college majors for other reasons (e.g., money) rather than interest in the subject area. Moreover, many colleges force students to declare a major earlier in their academic career than some students would prefer to do so. The present study examined the level of interest students who were majoring in education, business, economics, and accounting had in their college majors, and whether that interest varied as a function of their year in school.

Whether or not students are interested in their major is not a moot point because interest plays an important role in the acquisition of knowledge. Bergin (1999) claims there is "a reciprocal relation between knowledge of a domain and interest in the domain" (p. 92) and explains that interest may drive knowledge acquisition which then continues to fuel interest. Hidi and Anderson (1992) suggest that individuals who have more interest in an area probably pay more attention to information that is to be learned.

There are different types of interest, some of which may be more important for knowledge acquisition. For example, Hidi (1990) differentiated personal, individual interest from situational interest. Whereas personal, individual interest takes a longer time to develop and affects a person's knowledge and values over time, situational interest appears more suddenly and as a result of something in the environment. Situational interest is thought to have only short-term impact, whereas personal interest is believed to fuel one's pursuit of knowledge toward the development of expertise. The present study involved students' personal interest rather than situational interest.

Alexander (1997) proposed a Model of Domain Learning (MDL) to explain the nature of academic learning. The MDL suggests that there are three stages of learning during which the interrelations of knowledge, memory, and interest change. According to Alexander, Kulikowich, and Schulze (1994) as the individual progresses through the three stages of knowledge (i.e., the acclimation period, the competency stage, and the expert stage), interest becomes less situational, and domain knowledge becomes more highly structured and cohesive. Alexander (1997) claimed that situational interest was the primary motivator during the acclimation stage, but that with increasing expertise situational interest becomes less important and personal interest takes on a greater role.

This model would suggest that there would be a significant difference between students' stated level of interest in their major depending on whether students were in the initial stages of course preparation for their major, or they were in the later stages. As they pursue their major, students complete a number of courses, so that by their senior year they would have progressed to the expert stage of knowledge. …

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