Interest-Major Fit

College majors have different academic cultures. Selecting a college major that is rewarding—that provides opportunities to do preferred activities and express one’s values—is an example of interest-major fit. While many students gravitate toward majors that fit their interests, many do not. This has important implications. Evidence is accumulating that the fit between students’ interests and their college major is important in understanding and predicting student outcomes. Research at ACT and elsewhere suggests that if students’ measured interests are similar to the interests of people in their chosen college majors, they will be more likely to:

  • remain in their major
  • persist in college
  • complete a college degree in a timely manner

Interest-Major Fit clearly benefits both students and the colleges they attend: students engaged in good-fit majors are more likely to stay in college, stay in their major, and finish sooner.

ACT’s Interest-Major Fit score is derived from two data elements that are collected during ACT registration: (1) the student’s ACT Interest Inventory scores and (2) the student’s intended major from a list of 294 college majors.

The Interest-Major Fit score used here measures the strength of the relationship between the student’s profile of ACT Interest Inventory scores and the profile of interests of students in a given major. Interest profiles for majors are based on a national sample of undergraduate students with a declared major and a GPA of at least 2.0. Major was determined in the third year for students in four-year colleges and in the second year for students in two-year colleges.

The Interest-Major Fit score ranges from 0–99, with values of 80 and higher indicating good fit, values between 60 and 79 indicating moderate fit, and values less than 60 indicating poor fit.

An Interest-Major Fit score can be calculated for only 281 of the 294 planned major alternatives. Planned majors for which an Interest-Major Fit score cannot be calculated are indicated by an asterisk in the List of College Majors and Occupational Choices.

Percent of Four-Year and Two-Year College Students Who Had Good Interest-Major Fit by Planned Major Area and by Declared Major Area

  • With the exception of a few major areas (e.g., Health Administration and Assisting at 4-year colleges and Communications at 2-year colleges), a smaller share of college students had a good Interest-Major Fit within each declared major area than within the respective planned major area.
  • With the exception of students who declared a major in the areas of Repair, Production, and Construction; Agriculture and Natural Resource Conservation; and Engineering Technologies and Drafting, a larger share of 4-year college students than 2-year college students had a good Interest-Major Fit for their declared major.
Chart showing Percent of Four-Year and Two-Year College Students Who Had Good Interest-Major Fit by Planned Major Area and by Declared Major Area

Graph reads: 42% of 4-year college students and 36% of 2-year college student who planned to major in the area of Business and a good interest-major fit with their planned major. However, only 37% of 4-year college students and 29% of 2-year college students who declared a major in the area of Business had good interest-major fit with their declared major.

Four-Year College Students
Area of StudyInterest-Major Fit for Planned MajorInterest-Major Fit for Declared Major
Sciences: Biological & Physical57%49%
Arts: Visual & Performing51%50%
Repair, Production, & Construction50%36%
English & Foreign Lang.47%42%
Communications44%43%
Business42%37%
Health Sci. & Techno.41%38%
Agric. & Nat. Res. Cons40%38%
Engineering38%37%
Social Sciences & Law31%30%
Education31%29%
Eng. Tech. & Drafting29%33%
Philosophy, Religion, & Theology28%27%
Comp. Sci. & Mathematics28%27%
Commun, Fam., & Personal Svcs25%22%
Health Admin. & Assisting24%30%
Architecture22%26%
Area, Eth. & Multidiscip. Studies22%22%

Two-Year College Students
Area of StudyInterest-Major Fit for Planned MajorInterest-Major Fit for Declared Major
Sciences: Biological & Physical53%40%
Arts: Visual & Performing45%48%
Repair, Production, & Construction62%53%
English & Foreign Lang.36%17%
Communications31%33%
Business36%29%
Health Sci. & Techno.30%27%
Agric. & Nat. Res. Cons41%44%
Engineering36%34%
Social Sciences & Law20%21%
Education23%21%
Eng. Tech. & Drafting39%39%
Philosophy, Religion, & Theology25%
Comp. Sci. & Mathematics31%27%
Commun, Fam., & Personal Svcs20%18%
Health Admin. & Assisting23%22%
Architecture22%23%
Area, Eth. & Multidiscip. Studies

Note: Based on 27% 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. Percentage not provided when sample size is less than 50.


Change in Interest-Major Fit From Planned to Declared Major

Chart showing Change in Interest-Major Fit From Planned to Declared Major

Graph reads: 61% of college students who had good Interest-Major Fit with their planned major declared a major during college that was in the same area as the planned major they selected when they registered for the ACT.

Interest-Major Fit for Planned Major Declared Major Interest-Major Fit for Declared Major
Good Fit130,31039% Declared Major Inside Planned Area79,652 61% Good Fit69,86088%
Moderate Fit8,53411%
Poor Fit1,2582%
Declared Major Outside Planned Area50,65839% Good Fit20,73741%
Moderate Fit15,27330%
Poor Fit14,64829%
Moderate Fit105,14132% Declared Major Inside Planned Area57,02954% Good Fit7,89914%
Moderate Fit43,21276%
Poor Fit5,91810%
Declared Major Outside Planned Area48,11246% Good Fit12,31326%
Moderate Fit17,77537%
Poor Fit18,02437%
Poor Fit98,06229% Declared Major Inside Planned Area45,23146% Good Fit1,0732%
Moderate Fit5,93213%
Poor Fit38,22685%
Declared Major Outside Planned Area52,83154% Good Fit9,32618%
Moderate Fit14,82728%
Poor Fit28,67854%

Note: Based on 27% 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. The percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding error.

The above diagram shows the distribution of college students by the Interest-Major Fit category for their planned major, the share of these students who declared a major either inside or outside of their planned major area, and the Interest-Major Fit category for their declared major.

  • Among college students who selected a planned major during ACT registration, 39% chose a major that had good fit with their measured interests as collected by the ACT Interest Inventory, 32% selected a major that had moderate fit with their interests, and 29% picked a major that had poor fit with their interests.
  • 39% of students who had good Interest-Major Fit for their planned major declared a major that was outside of the general area of their planned major. Three out of 5 (59%) of these students declared a major that was a worse fit with their interests than their planned major.
  • 46% of students who had moderate Interest-Major Fit for their planned major declared a major that was outside of their planned major area. Only 1 out of 4 (26%) of these students saw an improvement in the fit between their declared major and their measured interests; more than one-third (37%) of these students declared a major that was a worse fit.
  • More than half (54%) of all students who had poor Interest-Major Fit for their planned major declared a major that was outside of their planned major area. Forty-six percent of these students declared a major that had an improved fit with their interests, whereas 54% had no change in their Interest-Major Fit.
  • The overall change in Interest-Major Fit (not shown in the graph) from the students’ planned major to their declared major resulted in 36% declaring a major during the first year of college that had good fit with their measured interests, 32% having moderate Interest-Major Fit for their declared major, and 32% declaring a major that had poor fit with their interests. This represents an overall decrease in Interest-Major Fit from planned major to declared major.