Staff Reports
Determinants of College Major Choice: Identification Using an Information Experiment
June 2011  Number 500
Revised August 2014
JEL classification: D81, D84, I21, I23, J10

Authors: Matthew Wiswall and  Basit Zafar

This paper studies the determinants of college major choice using an experimentally generated panel of beliefs, obtained by providing students with information on the true population distribution of various major-specific characteristics. Students logically revise their beliefs in response to the information, and their subjective beliefs about future major choice are associated with beliefs about their own earnings and ability. We estimate a rich model of college major choice using the panel of beliefs data. While expected earnings and perceived ability are a significant determinant of major choice, heterogeneous tastes are the dominant factor in the choice of major. Analyses that ignore the correlation in tastes with earnings expectations inflate the role of earnings in college major choices. We conclude by computing the welfare gains from the information experiment and find positive average welfare gains.

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