Modeling college major choices using elicited measures of expectations and counterfactuals

Journal Article

The choice of a college major plays a critical role in determining the future earnings of college graduates. Students make their college major decisions in part due to the future earnings streams associated with the different majors. We survey students about what their expected earnings would be both in the major they have chosen and in counterfactual majors. We also elicit students’ subjective assessments of their abilities in chosen and counterfactual majors. We estimate a model of college major choice that incorporates these subjective expectations and assessments. We show that both expected earnings and students’ abilities in the different majors are important determinants of a student’s choice of a college major. We also consider how differences in students’ forecasts about what the average Duke student would earn in different majors versus what they expect they would earn both influence one’s choice of a college major. In particular, our estimates suggest that 7.8% of students would switch majors if they had the same expectations about the average returns to different majors and differed only in their perceived comparative advantages across these majors.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Arcidiacono, P; Hotz, VJ; Kang, S

Published Date

  • 2012

Volume / Issue

  • 166 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 3 - 16