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Pay doesn’t really matter when choosing a major – report

No regrets. Source: Facebook/Roger Williams University School of Law

When picking a major, university students are not influenced by information like future salaries or job security, a new survey has found.

Researchers from Rutgers University’s Education and Employment Research Center surveyed more than 49,000 undergraduates at various levels and fields of study, all based among the institution’s three campuses in New Brunswick, Camden and Newark.

The students were separated into three groups: 1) no information given, 2) given information on median earnings only (median condition), and 3) given information on the variation in earnings and job security (variation condition).

They were then presented with a choice of six broad fields: business, education, health, humanities, social science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

For all conditions, students then took the survey which asked three key questions about each field of study: 1) their personal salary expectations for full-time employment five years after graduation; 2) their perceived job security on a scale of 1 to 9; and 3) the likelihood or chance out of 100 of them completing a degree in their field of study.

Researchers found that showing participants the earnings data neither influenced their choice of major or their perceptions of job security.

“Students’ choice of major is a highly complex process influenced by many factors, and this information on earnings alone is likely to be insufficient to substantially sway students’ decisions,” the researchers wrote.

The findings appear to contradict common thinking today that students are choosing college majors based mainly on their links to employment. From students to parents, policymakers and universities, the issue of return on investment (RoI) for the high fees put into higher education is one that is live and kicking. This is especially so when it comes to low-income and/or first-generation college students.

Rutgers’ survey differs from indications offered by another recent survey of male Duke undergraduates, in which it was found that students’ knowledge of average earnings is not always correct. Authors there had estimated that a small portion of students (7.5 percent) would be likely to change majors if they had more information about future earnings.

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