Some Roads Lead to Psychology, Some Lead Away: College Student Characteristics and Psychology Major Choice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Understanding which students enter and leave psychology majors in college is critical to understanding the pipeline into the field. In this study, we compared psychology majors with nonpsychology majors on the basis of demographic, degree planning, academic preparedness, and academic performance variables using a unique longitudinal sample of nearly a million college students at 249 colleges and universities. Guided by prior research, we examined which students would persist in psychology, enter psychology from another major, or leave psychology for another major between three points in time: intended major before entering college, second-year college major, and fourth-year college major. Critically, most students who majored in psychology did not initially express interest in the field, but entering and persisting in the field was strongly associated with high school exposure and performance in psychology. Students with poorer performance in college often transfer into psychology from majors that may be perceived as difficult (e.g., science, technology, engineering, and math), whereas higher-performing students appear to leave psychology for these same majors, which may also be perceived as more lucrative. These results are concerning for the field of psychology if individuals with high potential who are originally interested in the field eventually leave.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-777
Number of pages17
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • application
  • education
  • individual differences

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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