Story Highlights

  • Informal social networks are the most common source of advice about college major
  • Work-based sources of advice viewed as most helpful

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than half of U.S. adults who attended college (55%) say they received advice about their major from their informal social network -- friends, family and other contacts such as community leaders. An individual's social network is the most common source of advice, followed by formal sources intended to provide guidance -- such as college and high school counselors and college advice publications or websites -- and advice from school-based sources, like faculty and staff. Individuals are least likely to have received advice from work-based sources, such as from employers, coworkers or experts in a field.

Source of Advice Among U.S. Adults Who Have Attended at Least Some College
From what resources or people did you get advice about the major or field you were going to study?
%
Informal social network (e.g., family, friends, community leaders) 55
Formal (e.g., college and high school counselors, internet and print media) 44
Informal school-based (e.g., nonadviser staff/faculty at college, coach) 32
Informal work-based (e.g., employer, coworker, person with experience in the field, military) 20
Figures are based on coding of open-ended responses into the four broad categories
Education Consumer Pulse

One possible reason that few college attendees received advice from work-based sources is that younger college students may have a smaller network of work-based sources to consult. In fact, students aged 30 or older at time of enrollment are more likely than younger enrollees to consult work-based sources of advice about their major and are less likely to receive advice from their social network.

These findings are based on interviews with U.S. adults with either an associate degree, bachelor's degree or some college but no degree. The interviews were conducted Jan. 2-Aug.13, 2017, as part of the Education Consumer Pulse survey. The findings are featured in a new Gallup-Strada Education Network report released today -- Major Influence: Where Students Get Valued Advice on What to Study in College. The report explores the sources and perceived value of the advice students received about their field of study.

Respondents were asked using an open-ended format to identify the sources of advice they relied on when choosing their major. These answers were categorized into four broad categories and defined as formal or informal sources: informal social networks, informal school-based, informal work-based, and formal sources of advice. Respondents then rated the helpfulness of that advice.

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Work-Based Sources of Advice Rated Most Helpful

Despite it being the least common source of advice, college attendees rate informal work-based sources as more helpful than the other three categories. Eighty-three percent of adults who relied on advice from a work-related source say the advice they received was "very helpful" or "helpful."

By comparison, attendees rate formal sources of advice about college majors as least helpful, at 64%. Informal school-based sources (78%) and students' personal network of friends, family and other contacts (72%) fell in the middle.

Helpfulness of Advice About Major Among U.S. Adults Who Have Attended at Least Some College
How helpful was the advice you received from each source?
Very helpful/Helpful
%
Informal work-based (e.g., employer, coworker, person with experience in the field, military) 83
Informal school-based (e.g., nonadviser staff/faculty at college, coach) 78
Informal social network (e.g., family, friends, community leaders) 72
Formal (e.g., college and high school counselors, internet and print media) 64
Education Consumer Pulse

Implications

There is a disconnect between the sources students rely on when choosing their major and the perceived value of the advice they receive. College students are least likely to seek out advice from employers, coworkers and experts in the field, but those who do are most likely to say the advice they received was helpful.

These findings suggest a need to make the current model for advising students more effective. One possible improvement is to increase individuals' exposure to work-related experiences, particularly for younger students.

Experiential learning opportunities -- vocational coursework, summer jobs programs, internships, apprenticeships or other workplace learning opportunities -- could broaden students' exposure to careers and the skills required to succeed in them.

To learn more, read Major Influence: Where Students Get Valued Advice on What to Study in College report. Follow @GallupHigherEd and @StradaEducation online and use #EduPulse to join the conversation.

Survey Methods

Results for the Education Consumer Pulse are based on telephone surveys conducted Jan. 2-Aug. 13, 2017, with a random sample of 22,087 U.S. adults aged 18 to 65, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

The Education Consumer Pulse sample includes national adults with a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using RDD methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member will have the next birthday.

Interviews are conducted in English and Spanish. Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability and nonresponse. The data are weighted to match national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education and region. Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the population aged 18 to 65 years with a U.S. bachelor's degree or higher level of education.

All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

For results based on 22,087 of those with either some college (no degree), an associate degree, or a bachelor's degree the margin of sampling error is ±0.9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Learn more about how the Education Consumer Pulse survey is conducted.

Gallup