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 college they attend: students engaged in good-fit majors are more likely to stay in college, stay in their major, and finish sooner.

Interest-major fit 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 4-year colleges, and in the second year for students in 2-year colleges.

Interest-Major Fit for a Subset of Planned Majors, 2011

Bar chart showing interest-major fit for a subset of planned majors

Graph reads: 62% of the ACT-tested graduating class of 2011 with a planned accounting major and an interest-major fit score had good fit between their personal interests and the major environment.

MajorGood FitModerate FitPoor Fit
Accounting62%26%12%
Music52%28%20%
Pharmacy41%32%27%
Special Education37%31%32%
Philosophy26%30%44%

Note: Not all planned college majors are included in the graph. Based on 66% of the ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2011 for which the interest-major fit index could be calculated. For students who tested more than once, planned major from the last ACT test was used. Interest-major fit 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.

There is a lot of variation by planned major in the share of ACT-tested high school graduates who selected a major that is a good fit with their personal interests. The chart shows the level of interest-major fit for a subset of college majors selected by the graduating class of 2011.

  • Sixty-two percent of students who planned to major in accounting had personal interests that were a good fit for this major, and only 12% had personal interests that were a poor fit for accounting.
  • In contrast, only 26% of students who planned to major in philosophy had personal interests that were a good fit for this major, whereas 44% had personal interests that were a poor fit for philosophy.


Interest-Major Fit by ACT Score Range, 2011

Line graph showing interest-major fit by ACT Composite score range

Graph reads: 27% of the ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2011 with an ACT Composite score between 24 and 27 and an interest-major fit score had poor fit between their personal interests and the major environment.

ACT Composite Score Range Good FitModerate FitPoor Fit
1–1527%31%42%
16–1933%31%36%
20–2338%32%30%
24–2742%32%27%
28–3245%32%24%
33–3647%32%21%

Note: Based on 66% of the ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2011 for which the interest-major fit index could be calculated. For students who tested more than once, planned major from the last ACT test was used. Interest-major fit 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.

A student’s likelihood of having a good fit between personal interests and planned major increased with ACT Composite score.

  • Slightly less than half of all students with a score between 33 and 36 selected a major that was well aligned with their interests, compared with only 27% of students with a score of 15 or lower.
  • Conversely, 42% of students with a score of 15 or lower had a poor interest-major fit, whereas only 21% of students with a score between 33 and 36 selected a major with poor fit.


Persistence in Major by ACT Score Range and Interest-Major Fit

Line graph showing persistence in major by ACT Composite score range and interest-major fit

Graph reads: 58% of ACT-tested college students with an ACT Composite score between 16 and 19 and good fit with their entering college major persisted in the same college major family through the start of their third year of college.

ACT Composite Score Range Good FitModerate FitPoor Fit
1–1555%54%48%
16–1958%52%45%
20–2360%53%45%
24–2763%56%47%
28–3268%58%51%
33–3673%65%55%

Note: Based on a sample of 62,494 ACT-tested students who entered college between 2000 and 2006 and remained enrolled in the second (2-year students) or third (4-year students) year of college. College major family represented by 2-digit CIP code. Interest-major fit 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.

Evidence from a sample of ACT-tested college students illustrates the added value of interest-major fit in predicting student persistence within their major.

  • Students with a good interest-major fit persisted in their major at higher rates than students with moderate and poor fit, with the largest difference at the upper ranges of the ACT Composite score scale.
  • A student with an ACT Composite score between 33 and 36 who had a poor fit between personal interests and college major had the same chance of persisting in the major as a student with an ACT Composite score of 15 or lower with a good interest-major fit.