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Major Decision: The Impact of Major Switching on Academic Outcomes

Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) Annual Conference
March 23, 2019
Kansas City, MO

This presentation discussed researchers' findings related to major switching. One third of the undergraduates who began college in 2011–2012 changed their major in their first three years, and 10% changed their major more than once. Major switching can be a double-edged sword: It may delay or impede college completion through excess credit accumulation, or it could increase the probability of completion due to a better academic match. Yet, few studies have studied the effects of major switching on student outcomes.

Using state administrative data and propensity scores matching, CCRC researchers found that major switching increases certification completion rates and transfer rates but lowers the bachelor’s completion rate slightly. The benefit seems to outweigh the cost if students can take the time to learn about their abilities, interests, and career trajectories associated with certain majors. Instead of pushing students to declare a major in their first term, colleges should allow students up to two years to explore and help them do so without a high penalty. Policies such as common course sequencing across programs in combination with more flexible choices of elective requirements can allow students to take courses in different fields while having those credits count toward graduation.

Associated Papers


Associate Director, Office of Research, Evaluation, and Program Support
City University of New York
Soumya Mishra
Senior Research Assistant
Senior Research Associate
Community College Research Center

Associated Project(s)