Academic journal article College Student Journal

Change of Academic Major: The Influence of Broad and Narrow Personality Traits

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Change of Academic Major: The Influence of Broad and Narrow Personality Traits

Article excerpt

The relationship between academic major change and ten personality traits (the Big Five and five narrow traits), was investigated in a sample of 437 college undergraduates. Contrary to expectations, Career Decidedness and Optimism were positively related to academic major change, regardless of class ranking. When parsing data by college year, additional relationships emerged. Extraversion and Sense of Identity were positively related to academic major change among sophomores and seniors. Work Drive was negatively associated with academic major change among juniors and sophomores. Openness was both positively (sophomores) and negatively (juniors) related to major change. Emotional Stability was positively associated with students changing major at least one time, as were the traits of Conscientiousness, Extraversion and Agreeableness, but only for some grades. For students who changed majors two or more times; both Self-Directed Learning and Work Drive significantly and positively correlated with the dependent variable. Both Career Decidedness and Optimism increased the odds of being a major changer in a logistic regression analysis. Implications for career planning and advising are discussed, along with future research recommendations.

Keywords: Academic major change, personality traits, Big Five, narrow traits

Academic major change is a common occurrence, with 50% to 75% of students changing their major at least once during their undergraduate education (Gordon, 2007; Kramer, Higley & Olsen, 1994); only 30% of graduating seniors will major in the same field they selected as freshmen (Willingham, 1985). A change of major field can have "important implications for one's immediate academic future and as well as one's entire life," (Theophilides, Terenzini & Lorang, 1984; p. 277), and some investigators have submitted that college major choice is the most frequent life regret for Americans (Beggs, Bantham & Taylor, 2008).

Academic major change is associated with a number of important academic outcomes, such as time to degree (Anderson, Creamer & Cross, 1989), graduation rates (Cuseo, 2005) and attrition (Allen & Robbins, 2008). However, there has been no attempt to establish a profile of the type of student most likely to change their major, particularly utilizing Big Five and narrow personality traits as predictors of academic major change.

Personality traits are thought to be relatively stable across the lifespan (McCrae et. al, 2000), and consistent and predictable patterns of behavior can be found by the time an individual reaches adulthood (ibid). Indeed, the choice of personality traits as a framework for studies involving college students has been advocated by many researchers in the vocational decision literature (e.g., Chartrand et al., 1993; Gordon, 1998; Lounsbury, Hutchens & Loveland, 2005). To this end, the Five Factor model (FFM) provides a systematic structure for assessing an individual's personality within a five-factor structure of Agree-ableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, Extraversion, and Openness (Digman, 1990). Recent findings suggest that the Big Five can help understand important outcomes across academically-oriented domains such as achievement (e.g., Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2003; Trapmann, Hell, Hirn & Schuler, 2007) and retention (Tross, Harper, Osher & Kneidinger, 2000).

Although the Big Five has proven to be a useful heuristic for organizing personality trait research (De Raad, Hendriks, & Hofstee, 1992), there is evidence that narrow traits can account for additional variance in validity criteria above and beyond the broad facets of the Big Five (Ashton, 1998 ; Timmerman, 2006). While not all investigators have agreed with this conclusion (e.g., Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2003; Ones & Viswesvaran, 1996), the evidence in support of narrow traits influenced their inclusion in the present study. …

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