42% of Incoming College Freshmen Say the Pandemic Affected Their Choice of Major

42% of Incoming College Freshmen Say the Pandemic Affected Their Choice of Major

Students prioritizing practical areas of study, perhaps due to the financial instability they witnessed over the past year
College students participating in class

After over a year of turmoil and transformation on a national and global scale, the country is attempting to make sense of the changes brought by the coronavirus pandemic — and college students are no exception.

In its latest survey, higher education resource Intelligent.com found that this year's incoming college freshmen are interested in different areas of study than those that came before them. It revealed that, for 42% of college entrants, the pandemic has directly influenced their major of choice — or lack thereof.

COVID-19 pandemic affects student interest in different areas of study

Intelligent.com's findings show that the newest batch of college students are interested in studying different topics than their predecessors. Areas of study that have seen an over 50% increase in interest among the incoming class of 2021 compared to the classes of 2018 and 2019 include:

  • Legal professions and studies
  • Area, ethnic, cultural, gender and group studies
  • Communications technologies
  • Engineering technologies

On the other hand, majors that have seen more than a 50% decline include:

  • Liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities
  • Communication, journalism and related programs
  • Public administration and social services
  • Social sciences and history

Additionally, students that said their major of choice was influenced by the pandemic showed greater interest in fields like public administration and social services and less interest in health professions. Those that weren't influenced by the pandemic, meanwhile, were more likely to take up STEM majors or go undecided.

Money and career opportunities drive many students' choice of major

In addition to the majors that incoming college freshmen are most interested in, Intelligent.com also assessed why students chose the fields of study they did. Survey participants offered responses such as:

  • Interest in the field (55%)
  • Future job opportunities (51%)
  • Earning potential (42%)
  • Desire to leave a positive impact on society (35%)
  • Job security (28%)
  • Return in financial investment (16%)

Interest in the field influenced respondents’ choice of major the most, especially for those who said that the pandemic didn't affect their decision of what to study. In fact, the majority of this group (60%) chose this option, according to Intelligent.com.

Other top responses revolved around these students' future careers and earnings, particularly for the subset that said the pandemic had affected their chosen area of study. These students gravitated to more fiscally practical options for the future job opportunities that await them. This is unsurprising, since 98% of all college applicants in a Princeton Review survey said they would need some sort of financial assistance to pay for their education — and may need to pay it back after graduation.

However, it's likely that some students won't have to pinch pennies after graduation: A survey conducted by AIG Retirement Services and EVERFI found that more college students expect to make over $85,000 in their first post-grad job than in previous years.

Methodology: Using Pollfish, Intelligent.com gathered data on June 2, 2021 from 1,250 American high school seniors (ages 17-19) who plan on attending college in the fall semester.