Students’ orientations towards choosing their college majors lead them to make different major choices with long-term stratification implications. In this paper, we investigate what orientations students use to choose their majors, how these orientations vary by student characteristics, how stable orientations are across the first year of college, and what mechanisms might explain how orientations change. We use mixed-methods data from an original longitudinal survey (N=1,117) and longitudinal in-depth interviews with 50 first-year students at UNC-Chapel Hill (N=146 interviews). We find that students rely on many different orientations, including learning interesting things and helping others, and that their most important orientations frequently change during the first year of college. These findings challenge the existing assumption that major orientations are stable and suggest the need to incorporate changing orientations into models of the major decision process if we hope to successfully intervene to disrupt inequality reproduction.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Alanna Gillis, Renee Ryberg