Academic journal article Journal of the Academy of Business Education

Choosing Business as a College Major: A Survey of High School Students

Academic journal article Journal of the Academy of Business Education

Choosing Business as a College Major: A Survey of High School Students

Article excerpt


Each year, over 3 million students in the U.S. graduate from high school. Seventy percent of these students will enroll in colleges [NCES 2013]. Statistics from the Higher Education Research Institute demonstrate that the percentage of college freshmen who plan to major in business is falling [HERI 2012]. Although it appears to have stabilized over the past two years, since 2008 the number of freshmen who plan to major in business has fallen from 18% to 14.4% in 2012, the lowest percentage since 1974, when 14% of college freshmen chose business as their major. HERI data is conducted with a sample of college freshmen.

In an effort to better understand college students' choice of major, numerous perspectives have been adopted. Analyzing general models, several researchers have studied inputs such as gender, personality, income, academic ability, parental characteristics, influence of significant others, and desired outcomes, such as enjoying coursework and job satisfaction [Beffy, Fougere and Maurel, 2012; Cohen and Hanno, 1993; Paolillo and Estes, 1982; Stinebrickner and Stinebrickner, 2009; Zafar 2011], Others have developed models based upon financial and economic theory, such as comparative advantage, and risk and returns to investments [Betts, 1996; Paglin and Rufolo, 1990]. Still, others have adopted an information processing model, viewing the college major choice as continuous, where students update their choice as they receive more information [Altonji, 1993; Arcidiacono, 2004; Zafir, 2011]. Assigning context to the choice of major, several researchers have also studied choice of university, where quality, cost and investment have been identified as key drivers (Avery and Hoxby, 2004; Montgomery, 2002).

While a few studies concentrate on business [Pritchard, Potter and Saccucci, 2004; Kim, Markham and Cangelosi, 2002], the majority of research focuses on all college majors. Additionally, across the board, the samples chosen have always been current college students, and not high school students, who may be forming their initial preferences for a particular major. While we know that 70% of high school students enroll in secondary institutions, there is no research uncovering why and how they choose business as a major.

Specifically, the objectives of this study are to understand the process that high school students go through in choosing business and its sub-disciplines as a major. This research will determine:

1) Why and when high school students choose business as a major;

2) What sources of information they use in making their decisions of whether to pursue business as a major;

3) The factors that influence their choice of business as a major;

4) The factors that influence their choice of a university for a business major.

This study is significant for several reasons. First, it makes a unique contribution to the research dialogue; ours is the first study that surveys high school students on their choice of a business major and it is a comprehensive investigation of the consumer behavior process in choosing a business major. Second, as we are determining if and when high schools students make the major decision, the findings of this research can inform business college recruiters when to approach potential majors. Third, we will identify the specific beliefs that lead a potential major to choose a business major versus other majors. This will allow business college recruiters to focus on modifying incorrect beliefs that are turning business majors away and accentuate correct beliefs that are attracting majors. Fourth, research demonstrates that students are highly likely to change majors once they have completed some college studies. By understanding the beliefs they hold when they choose a major, we can better understand why they change majors once they are in college.


In this section, we will first discuss general reasons for going to college, followed by a review of the different streams of research on students' choice of major. …

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