Advice From Employers Is Most Valued but Least Used When Choosing a College Major

“Major Influence: Where Students Get Valued Advice on What to Study in College” examines the source and helpfulness of the advice students receive on what to study in college and follows the release of June 2017 Education Consumer Pulse™ data, which showed that 36 percent of U.S. adults would change their major if they could.

The report analyzed open-ended responses from 22,087 U.S. adults aged 18 to 65 who attended both two-year and four-year colleges, including those who did not complete their degree. They were asked:

  • From what resources or people did you get advice about the major or field you were going to study during your degree program?
  • How helpful was the advice you received from each source?

The report categorized responses into four groups: Formal sources (high school and college counselors, print and internet media); informal social network (family, friends and community leaders); informal school network (non-counselor staff and coaches); and informal work-based sources (employers, co-workers, people with experience in the field and military).

Key insights include:

  • Informal work-based sources of advice were rated as most valued but least used. Compared to all other sources of advice, work-based sources were rated as most helpful (83%) in choosing a major, but only 20% of respondents mentioned receiving employment-based guidance. Students over the age of 30 were much more likely to receive advice from informal work-based sources than students 18-29. All students who received advice from work-based sources were less likely to regret their choice of major.
  • First-generation and minority students value advice from all sources but have gaps in access. Compared to their peers, first-generation and minority students were more likely to rate guidance from all sources as helpful. Seventy-four percent of black students and 69% of Hispanic students rate advice from counselors and media as helpful, compared to 62% of white students. About seven in 10 first-generation students consider the advice they received from formal sources as helpful — seven percentage points higher than people whose parents hold a four-year degree. In addition, only 47% of those whose parents completed a high school diploma or less received advice from their informal social network of family and friends compared to education consumers with a parent who earned a bachelor’s degree (60%) or graduate degree (65%).
  • The internet’s impact is growing but nascent. Although just 6% of all respondents reported seeking advice about their major online, the use of online tools nearly doubled among more recent attendees, from 2010-2017. And while the perceived value of advice from formal sources like counselors and media lags other sources overall, about two in three people rate the guidance they received from internet (68%) and print media (69%) as helpful.

Download the report. For more information, visit

View the video from our Sept. 25 panel discussion at the Close It Summit in Chicago.

See what others are saying about the findings and follow the conversation via #EduPulse.