Consistency of College Major

When students register for the ACT, they can select a college major that they plan to enter upon enrolling in college. Throughout this report series, we will refer to this selection as students’ “planned major.” Among ACT-tested graduates, 79% selected a specific planned major, whereas 15% indicated that they were undecided; 6% did not provide a planned major (i.e., Missing).

During the first year of college, many students declare a major (or program of study) that they will follow in order to attain a college degree or certificate. For this report, “declared major” is based on the 6-digit Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code that accompanies the ACT-tested students’ enrollment record that colleges submit to the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). Colleges have the option to report both a first and second major field of study for the student as a 6-digit Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code and/or as a write-in response. This report is based on information reported for the students’ first major field of study.

Among ACT-tested high school graduates who were identified as being enrolled in college by the NSC, only 61% had some major information (i.e., a CIP code or write-in response) reported by the college. Of this subset of students, 64% had major information that was usable for the purposes of this report. This means that this section and the other sections that follow in this report are based on (at most) 39% of all ACT-tested high school graduates who attended college. Although this is a relatively small sample of the entire ACT-tested college population, it does appear to be fairly representative of that population along a number of key student characteristics. Technical documentation that describes the preparation of NSC college major data and the representativeness of the sample is provided under Technical Notes.

The blue bars in the charts below show the distribution of 4-year and 2-year college students by the area of their planned major (selected when they registered for the ACT). The orange bars show the redistribution of these same students by the area of their declared major (selected during their first year of college).

Distribution of Four-Year and Two-Year College Students by Planned Major Area and by Declared Major Area

  • At both 4-year and 2-year colleges, more students declared a major in areas such as Business; and Community, Family, and Personal Services than would be expected given their distribution across planned major areas.
Chart showing Distribution of Four-Year and Two-Year College Students by Planned Major Area and by Declared Major Area

Graph reads: 12% of 4-year college students and 11% of 2-year college students planned to major in the area of Business; however, 15% of 4-year college students and 14% of 2-year college students declared a major in the area of Business.

Four-Year College Students
Area of StudyPlanned Major AreaDeclared Major
Health Sci. & Techno.25%13%
Business12%15%
Engineering12%12%
Social Sciences & Law10%10%
Sciences: Biological & Physical10%16%
Arts: Visual & Performing7%6%
Education6%6%
Communications3%4%
Comp. Sci. & Mathematics3%4%
Health Admin. & Assisting3%1%
Commun, Fam., & Personal Svcs2%7%
Agric. & Nat. Res. Cons2%2%
English & Foreign Lang.2%2%
Architecture1%1%
Eng. Tech. & Drafting1%1%
Philosophy, Religion, & Theology0.5%0.5%
Repair, Production, & Construction0.4%0.5%
Area, Eth. & Multidiscip. Studies0.1%0.1%

Two-Year College Students
Area of StudyPlanned Major AreaDeclared Major
Health Sci. & Techno.25%23%
Business11%14%
Engineering8%4%
Social Sciences & Law8%3%
Sciences: Biological & Physical4%4%
Arts: Visual & Performing8%4%
Education7%5%
Communications2%2%
Comp. Sci. & Mathematics4%4%
Health Admin. & Assisting6%5%
Commun, Fam., & Personal Svcs6%14%
Agric. & Nat. Res. Cons3%2%
English & Foreign Lang.1%1%
Architecture2%0.2%
Eng. Tech. & Drafting3%5%
Philosophy, Religion, & Theology0.4%0.02%
Repair, Production, & Construction4%8%
Area, Eth. & Multidiscip. Studies0.1%0.03%

Note: Based on 33% of the college-enrolled ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2013 who selected a planned major when they registered for the ACT and for whom a college major was provided.


Fifty-seven percent of students attending 4-year colleges and 44% of students attending 2-year colleges declared a major during their first year of college that falls within the same area as their planned major.

Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and Planned Major Area

  • Several major areas (marked with an asterisk) in which college students were least likely to declare a major within their planned major area have relatively fewer colleges offering undergraduate degrees or certificates in these areas (see appendix for college offerings by major area).
  • With a few exceptions, students attending 2-year colleges were less likely than those attending 4-year colleges to declare a major during their first year of college that falls within the same area as their planned major.
Chart showing Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and Planned Major Area

Graph reads: 69% of 4-year college students and 59% of 2-year college students who selected a planned major in the area of Business declared a major in the area of Business during fall 2013.

Area of Study4-year College2-year College
Business69%59%
Engineering67%26%
Health Sci. & Techno.64%63%
Arts: Visual & Performing57%36%
Agric. & Nat. Res. Cons55%38%
Sciences: Biological & Physical55%23%
Communications53%23%
Education52%38%
Comp. Sci. & Mathematics52%51%
Social Sciences & Law49%23%
English & Foreign Lang.46%17%
Commun, Fam., & Personal Svcs40%53%
Philosophy, Religion, & Theology36%3%
Repair, Production, & Construction34%70%
Architecture28%7%
Eng. Tech. & Drafting10%28%
Area, Eth. & Multidiscip. Studies9%
Health Admin. & Assisting3%16%

Note: Based on 33% of the college-enrolled ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2013 who selected a planned major when they registered for the ACT and for whom a college major was provided. Percentage not provided when sample size is less than 50.


The charts below show the percentage of female and male students who declared a major in their planned major area.

Percent of Female and Male College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and Planned Major Area

  • In the areas of Health Sciences and Technologies; and Education, females at both 4-year and 2-year colleges are far more likely than males to declare a major in the same area as their planned major area.
  • In the areas of Computer Science and Mathematics; and Community, Family, and Personal Services, males at both 2-year and 4-year colleges are more likely than females to declare a major in the same area as their planned major area.
Chart showing Percent of Female and Male College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended
and Planned Major Area

Graph reads: 66% of 4-year college females and 71% of 4-year college males who selected a planned major in the area of Business declared a major in the area of Business during fall 2013.

Female
Area of Study4-year College2-year College
Business66%59%
Engineering66%28%
Health Sci. & Techno.67%68%
Arts: Visual & Performing57%35%
Agric. & Nat. Res. Cons55%35%
Sciences: Biological & Physical56%24%
Communications55%24%
Education57%42%
Comp. Sci. & Mathematics46%35%
Social Sciences & Law51%26%
English & Foreign Lang.47%17%
Commun, Fam., & Personal Svcs35%47%
Philosophy, Religion, & Theology25%5%
Repair, Production, & Construction32%51%
Architecture32%8%
Eng. Tech. & Drafting6%26%
Area, Eth. & Multidiscip. Studies10%
Health Admin. & Assisting4%17%

Male
Area of Study4-year College2-year College
Business71%60%
Engineering68%26%
Health Sci. & Techno.55%45%
Arts: Visual & Performing57%38%
Agric. & Nat. Res. Cons55%39%
Sciences: Biological & Physical53%23%
Communications48%22%
Education35%29%
Comp. Sci. & Mathematics53%54%
Social Sciences & Law44%18%
English & Foreign Lang.43%16%
Commun, Fam., & Personal Svcs49%62%
Philosophy, Religion, & Theology44%2%
Repair, Production, & Construction34%70%
Architecture25%6%
Eng. Tech. & Drafting11%28%
Area, Eth. & Multidiscip. Studies8%
Health Admin. & Assisting2%12%

Note: Based on 33% of the college-enrolled ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2013 who reported gender and selected a planned major when they registered for the ACT and for whom a college major was provided. Percentage not provided when sample size is less than 50.


Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and ACT Composite Score

  • Regardless of the level of the college attended, the percentage of college students who declared a major in their planned major area increases with ACT Composite score.
  • At every range of the ACT Composite score scale, a larger percentage of 4-year college students than 2-year college students declared a major in their planned major area. This gap widens as ACT Composite score increases.
Chart showing Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and
ACT Composite Score

Graph reads: 43% of 4-year college students in the ACT Composite score range of 1–15 declared a major during fall 2013 that was in the same area as the planned major they selected when they registered for the ACT.

ACT Composite
Score Range
4-year College2-year College
1–1543%39%
16–1951%44%
20–2355%47%
24–2759%46%
28–3261%50%
33–3666%52%

Note: Based on 33% of the college-enrolled ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2013 who selected a planned major when they registered for the ACT and for whom a college major was provided.


Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and Certainty of Planned Major Choice

  • The percentage of students who declared a major in their planned major area increases with their level of certainty about their planned major choice, regardless of the level of college attended.
  • Within each level of certainty of planned major choice, a larger percentage of 4-year college students than 2-year college students declared a major in their planned major area.
Chart showing Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and Certainty of Planned Major Choice

Graph reads: 64% of 4-year college students who were very sure of their choice of planned major declared a major during fall 2013 that was in the same area as the planned major they selected when they registered for the ACT.

Level of Certainty4-year College2-year College
Not sure44%31%
Fairly sure54%40%
Very sure64%50%

Note: Based on 33% of the college-enrolled ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2013 who selected a planned major when they registered for the ACT, indicated their level of certainty of their choice of major, and for whom a college major was provided.


Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and Interest-Major Fit for Planned Major

  • Among both 2-year and 4-year college students, the percentage of students who declared a major in their planned major area increases with the level of fit between their planned major choice and their measured interests.
  • 2-year college students were less likely than 4-year college students to declare a major in their planned major area. This gap increases as Interest-Major Fit improves.
Chart showing Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their
Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and
Interest-Major Fit for Planned Major

Graph reads: 63% of 4-year college students who had good interest-major fit with their planned major declared a major during fall 2013 that was in the same area as the planned major they selected when they registered for the ACT.

Interest-Major Fit4-year College2-year College
Poor48%39%
Moderate56%45%
Good63%49%

Note: Based on 28% of the college-enrolled ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2013 who selected a planned major when they registered for the ACT, completed the ACT Interest Inventory, and for whom a college major was provided.


When examined separately, students with higher ACT Composite scores, better Interest-Major Fit, and greater certainty about their planned choice of major are more likely than their peers to declare a major in their planned major area. In the chart to the left, we see the benefit of knowing all three:

Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area, by ACT Composite Score, Interest-Major Fit, and Certainty of Planned Major Choice

  • Among students in the lowest ACT Composite score range (1–15) who selected a planned major that had a poor fit with their measured interests and who were not sure of their planned major choice, about 1 out of 4 (23%) declared a major in their planned major area.
  • Among students in the highest ACT Composite score range (33–36) who selected a planned major that had a good fit with their measured interests and who were very sure of their planned major choice, about 3 out of 4 (76%) declared a major in their planned major area.
Chart showing Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area, by ACT Composite Score, Interest-Major Fit, and Certainty of Planned Major Choice

Graph reads: 53% of students in the ACT Composite score range of 1–15 who had good Interest-Major Fit with their planned major and who were very sure of their planned major choice declared a major during fall 2013 that was in the same area as the planned major they selected when they registered for the ACT.

ACT Composite
Score Range
Level of CertaintyPoor FitModerate FitGood Fit
1–15Not sure23%27%35%
1–15Fairly sure32%38%44%
1–15Very sure41%48%53%
16–19Not sure30%35%37%
16–19Fairly sure39%46%50%
16–19Very sure49%56%63%
20–23Not sure34%39%47%
20–23Fairly sure44%51%56%
20–23Very sure55%62%67%
24–27Not sure37%43%49%
24–27Fairly sure48%55%61%
24–27Very sure61%66%72%
28–32Not sure40%48%52%
28–32Fairly sure53%59%65%
28–32Very sure64%68%74%
33–36Not sure51%54%58%
33–36Fairly sure59%67%68%
33–36Very sure71%75%76%

Note: Based on 28% of the college-enrolled ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2013 who selected a planned major when they registered for the ACT, indicated their level of certainty of their choice of major, completed the ACT Interest Inventory, and for whom a college major was provided.


Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and Degree Plans

  • Among 4-year college students, the percentage of students who declared a major in their planned major area increases with their degree plans.
  • Among 2-year college students, those who planned to earn less than a bachelor’s degree were more likely to declare a major in their planned major area than students who planned to earn more advanced degrees.
Chart showing Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and
Degree Plans

Graph reads: 45% of 4-year college students who planned to earn less than a bachelor’s degree declared a major during fall 2013 that was in the same area as the planned major they selected when they registered for the ACT.

Degree Plan4-year College2-year College
Less Than a Bachelor’s Degree45%47%
Bachelor’s Degree53%43%
Graduate Degree59%45%

Note: Based on 31% of the college-enrolled ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2013 who reported their degree plans, selected a planned major when they registered for the ACT, and for whom a college major was provided.


Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and Importance of Major as a College Choice Factor

  • College students who indicated on the ACT registration form that the availability of their college major is the most important factor in choosing a college were more likely than other students to declare a major in their planned major area.
  • The gap between 2-year and 4-year college students in the rate at which students declared a major in their planned major area is slightly larger among students who indicated that the availability of their college major is the most important factor in choosing a college.
Chart showing Percent of College Students Who Declared a Major in Their Planned Major Area by Level of College Attended and Importance of Major as a College Choice Factor

Graph reads: 59% of 4-year college students who indicated the availability of college major as the most important factor in choosing a college declared a major during fall 2013 that was in the same area as the planned major they selected when they registered for the ACT.

Level of
Importance
4-year College2-year College
Major is Not Most Important53%42%
Major is Most Important59%46%

Note: Based on 29% of the college-enrolled ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2013 who selected a planned major when they registered for the ACT, ranked in order of importance at least 1 of the 7 college choice factors listed on the ACT registration form, and for whom a college major was provided.