Student Confusion About Majors Leads to Higher College Costs

Just 49% confident of career path during enrollment
A serious student using a laptop

It’s no secret that college costs pose a financial challenge for many students, but a new study suggests some expenses can be avoided.

To gain insight into whether college students may be paying for classes they don’t need, education solutions provider Ellucian teamed up with research company Market Connections to survey 1,000 U.S. students attending either two-year or four-year public and private colleges. They learned that many students are indecisive about picking a major, which could lead them to take longer to get a degree and pay more overall.

Often, the course correction comes with time and financial consequences. After changing their major:

  • 39% of students said they needed to take additional courses in their major
  • 31% needed to take more general education courses
  • 28% experienced a significant delay in their degree completion date
  • 23% experienced a slight delay in their degree completion date
  • 23% spent more money on tuition as a result

Let’s face it: Not all students enter college knowing what career path they want to pursue. In fact, only 49% of respondents said they were confident of their career path when they enrolled. Even those who know what career they are interested in don’t necessarily know what courses will help them get there, as one in three students reported being uncertain of which major would best align with their career goals.

A majority of respondents said they felt overwhelmed by the process of deciding on a major, with 68% of Generation Z respondents, 63% of millennial respondents and 49% of Generation X respondents feeling that way. (Generation Z is generally defined as those through age 22 in 2019; millennials as those ages 23 to 38 in 2019; and Generation Z as those ages 39 to 54 in 2019.)

With so much confusion surrounding the process, it’s not surprising that many students change their minds about the directions they want to go in with their studies. In fact, 51% of students changed their majors at least once and more than 20% of students changed their majors more than once. Among the generations, millennials were the ones most likely to change majors at least once, with 58% having done so, followed by 54% of Gen X students and 44% of Gen Z students.

When it comes to breaking down the average cost of college, it’s important to consider such expenses as tuition, room and board, and books. However, tuition is based on the number of credit hours you take. If you end up taking classes and paying for credits you don’t need, your tuition costs can be higher than they need to be.

Taking the time to not only research schools but to research potential career paths before starting college can save you money in the long run. If you’re considering a certain major, talk to career counselors at potential schools and reach out to professional organizations to see if they can give you some insight into the field. If you’re unsure what major aligns with your career, check with college faculty members, academic advisors and professionals in the field. Finally, consider how long it will take you to get your degree, particularly if you will be taking out student loans to pay for it.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

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