Effects of Socioeconomic Status on the College and College Major Decision

Dylan Janovic, Class of 2020; Business Management Major, Economics Major

Blake Ferretti, Class of 2020; Business Management Major, Education Minor

Emma Burke, Class of 2020; Business Management Major, Dance Minor

Why do we choose the colleges that we do? What draws us to study certain fields or concentrations? How do our backgrounds affect our educational choices? Previous research has been conducted on the links between socioeconomic status and educational decisions at an undergraduate level. Many of these studies have concluded that family socioeconomic status plays an important role in maintaining educational advantages for children. Our team, which includes members Blake Ferretti, Emma Burke, and Dylan Janovic, along with the help of Professor Bray and Susan Beard, director of Student Financial Services at Wheaton College, decided to study the educational decisions of current Wheaton College students. The purpose of this study was to understand how a multitude of socioeconomic and demographic factors affect the educational decisions of Wheaton College students. Among the approximately 1,765 students at this university, the responses of 100 students were recorded and analyzed. The study body was sent a survey consisting of 13 questions that pertained to one’s familial income and parent(s)’s education levels, as well as questions relating to major choice. Following their responses, it can be concluded that the majority of parents of respondents (83.6%) went on to complete at least an associate’s degree after high school. While there was no clear correlation between major choice and income level, students whose family income is less than $200,000+ may be more likely to pursue majors that are deemed practical such as Business Management. Based on the findings of this study, we believe that further research on a larger scale will add to the existing literature in the hope to illustrate the effect of SES on the higher education pursuit.

In the USA, higher education is more often viewed as an individual investment. The choice of a college major may be one of the most important and impactful decisions a student can make. The type of college major that students choose directly influences their career opportunities, which, in turn, results in differential earning power. The major choice determines where students will take most of their courses within a university, and thus affects much of their interactions with faculty and other students. Several authors (Cameron & Ettington, 1988; Hartnett & Cention, 1977; Pascarella, Ethington, & Smart, 1988; St.John et al., 2004) have done extensive research on the impact of academic majors on students, and have concluded that they often produce quite different influences on the development of students’ interests and abilities.

This study focuses on understanding the different income brackets, how parents/guardians’ occupations have an effect on their children, financial aid offered, and major choice. The three questions related to this study are:

R1: To what extent does family income affect an undergraduate’s major choice?

R2: Does a parent(s)’s educational history influence their child(ren)’s educational choices?

R3: How much do financial aid/grants influence a student’s college choice?

By providing perspectives from students at a private institution in the northeastern United States, we hoped to further the discussion on SES in college decisions. It was through internal research via a survey that the study was enriched. The study further supported existing literature and analytics out there today. Similarly, we hope our research allows prospective students and families to understand the impact of SES on college choice, as well as offer professionals in academia an intuitive perspective presented by current student researchers affected by the factors of SES in college.