New Survey: Student Confusion Selecting Majors Increases Higher Education Cost and Time to Earn Degree

Students strongly support a guided pathways approach and personalized technologies to stay on track

RESTON, Va.--()--Ellucian, the world’s leading provider of software and services built to power higher education, today published the findings of its new survey, “Course Correction: Helping Students Find and Follow a Path to Success.” The Ellucian survey, conducted in partnership with Market Connections, queried 1,000 U.S. students currently enrolled in two- or four-year public and private college programs.

The survey found that college students, especially those in Generation Z, struggle to pick a major, which increases the time and cost associated with obtaining a degree. Many incoming students are not confident in their career path and almost two-thirds of students feel overwhelmed by the process of selecting a major. The result can be that students change their majors without understanding the ramifications, take unnecessary courses and delay their expected graduation, sometimes by multiple semesters.

Students are looking for more support when choosing a major, selecting courses that work towards completion and transferring from a two-year to a four-year institution. While students most often turn to advisors for help, pathways approaches can simplify choices for students by providing structured, clear paths through college coursework and on to the start of their careers. Additionally, personalized technology tools can ensure that students have clarity into their individual goals and the requirements needed to achieve them.

The right technology can help bring institutions into the digital future, both encouraging and augmenting human interaction to better support students as they work towards their goals. Email nudges and predictive analytics help advisors better serve students’ needs with more frequent and personalized communication. Students also showed interest in virtual “one-stop shops” for all of their registration, advising and other administrative needs and an online “what-if” tool for majors and degrees that allows them to best plan their path to completion under any given circumstances.

“Many students feel overwhelmed and confused about selecting a major, which ends up costing them serious time and money—and for some students a one semester delay could put them off the track to completion entirely,” said Ellucian Senior Vice President of Digital Transformation Kari Branjord. “It’s essential that institutions look at pathways approaches alongside technologies that scale the student-advisor relationship to help guide students as they work towards their personal successful outcomes.”

The Findings

Today’s college students are confused and anxious when it comes to selecting a major.

  • 51 percent of students are not confident in their career path when they enroll in college.
  • Almost two-thirds of students feel overwhelmed by the process of selecting a major.
    • Gen Z (68 percent) and Millennials (63 percent) feel the most stress, followed by a large percentage of Gen X students (49 percent).
  • 18 percent found their schools to be less than helpful in providing guidance on majors.
  • One in three students are not sure which major aligns with their chosen career path.

Changing majors increases the time and cost associated with obtaining a degree.

  • More than half of students change their major at least once.
    • Gen Z (44 percent) stayed the course more often than their Millennial (58 percent) and Gen X (54 percent) peers.
  • 39 percent of students said they needed to take additional general education courses as a result of a change in major.
  • 31 percent of students needed to take additional major courses as a result of a change in major.
  • 28 percent of students said their change in major delayed their expected graduation rate by two or more semesters.

Students rely on advisors for support when choosing classes but could use more attention when transferring.

  • 57 percent of students turn to their school advisors most often for helpful advice when registering.
  • However, 64 percent only met with their advisor 2 times or less during the most recent academic year.
  • Academic plans, required courses and current courses are the top topics discussed in meetings with advisors.
  • One in three students did not receive advice from their two-year school on what courses were eligible for transfer.
  • 54 percent of transfer students did not get advice about on-campus resources from their four-year schools.

Students are finding value in pathway approaches and technologies that provide structure, clarity, and personalization.

  • 59 percent of students find it helpful that their college groups majors into categories or meta majors, rather than individual majors during their first two years of college.
  • 71 percent of students find value in learning communities and block scheduling.
  • Students are highly interested in new, personalized technology to help them stay on track.
    • 80 percent of students say an online “what-if” tool for majors and degrees would help them stay on track.
    • 70 percent say an online “one-stop shop” for all essential student services would be very or extremely helpful.
    • 66 percent would benefit from proactive advising/targeted interventions.
    • 62 percent expressed interest in date reminder nudges.

To learn more, read the full survey report.

About Ellucian

Ellucian is the market leader charting the digital future of higher education with a portfolio of cloud-ready technology solutions and services. From student recruitment to workforce analytics; from fundraising opportunities to alumni engagement; Ellucian’s comprehensive suite of data-rich tools gives colleges and universities the information they need to lead with confidence.

Working with a community of more than 2,550 institutions in over 50 countries, Ellucian keeps innovating as higher education keeps evolving. Drawing on its comprehensive higher education business acumen and suite of services, Ellucian guides its customers through manageable, sustainable digital transformation—so that every type of institution and student can thrive in today’s fast-changing landscape. To find out what’s next in higher education solutions and services, visit Ellucian at


Ali Robinson
Director, Media Relations

Release Summary

Survey data shows that students strongly support a guided pathways approach and personalized technologies to stay on track.


Ali Robinson
Director, Media Relations