In this study, we examined patterns of persisting in and switching from an intended college major (chosen in high school) in the third year of college. We focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) major persistence because of the national effort to increase those entering STEM careers. Results showed differences in persistence by academic field as well as by gender, parental income, and first-generation college student status with the largest variation by ethnicity. Further examination of STEM major persistence showed that high school performance in math and science, taking advanced placement exams in STEM, articulating positive science self-efficacy beliefs, and professing a goal of obtaining a doctorate were also related to persistence in varied ways across STEM majors.

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Author notes

Emily J. Shaw, PhD, is an associate research scientist at The College Board. Her research focuses on test validity as well as higher education issues related to college admissions, preparation, and success. She also manages the development and maintenance of a national database of higher education outcomes for use in efficacy and validation research. Shaw earned a BS in human development from Cornell University and an MSEd in counseling and personnel services and a PhD in educational psychology from Fordham University. Inquiries may be sent to eshaw@collegeboard.org.

Sandra Barbuti is a senior analyst for Safety at JetBlue Airways. She is pursuing a master's degree in statistics from Baruch College and holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Villanova University.