The origin of major choice, academic commitment, and career-decision readiness among Taiwanese college students.

Author:Liao, Chen Ning
Position::Global Visions

The present study aimed to examine if and how career-decision readiness relates to the origin of college major choice among Taiwanese college students. A total of 375 junior and senior college students (147 women, 228 men) responded to measures of college major choice, academic commitment, career self-efficacy, and career-decision readiness. Results indicated that students' academic commitment to a college major tend to increase when they choose their majors based on personal and career preferences. In sequence, high levels of academic commitment lead to high levels of career self-efficacy, and increased self-efficacy augments the extent of career-decision readiness that students manifest near the end of their college education. These findings have practical implications insofar as many Asian students choose a college major because of parents and other authority figures, and these findings demonstrate that a full understanding of career-decision readiness may require incorporating the origin of college major choice and its academic effects into future research.

Keywords: Asian students, academic commitment, career self efficacy, career-decision readiness, college major choice


Factors that shape the choice of college major generally belong to one of four broad categories: personal, career, others', and institutional preferences (Lee & Lee, 2006). Personal preference refers to selecting a major based on personal factors, such as self-interest, aptitude, and perceived competence. In this view, students make a decision based on their individual perception of fit and interest in a major, perceived knowledge base regarding the major, and the belief that they can be successful in completing the major (Beggs, Bantham, & Taylor, 2008; Downey, McGaughey, & Roach, 2009). In terms of career preference, college major choice has a connection with job availability, average salary, career flexibility, and career security; on the other hand, others' preferences in relation to major choice bears on the influence of other people, such as families, peers, and teachers. In Asian cultures, for example, family influence is a salient factor for high school graduates in determining their college major. Asians also give high priority to social mobility and professional prestige, along with income and job security (Kim & Hong, 2007; Leong, 1986; P.-W. W. Ma & Yeh, 2005; Tang, 2002). Institutional preferences concern students' decisions based on departmental reputation, faculty reputation, college name recognition, and schools' marketing efforts. For example, Lee and Lee (2006) analysed students who majored in accounting and found that perceived quality of instruction and departmental reputation are important factors for major selection.

Apart from the origin of major choice, scholars have also long studied the issue of career indecision. In light of the literature, career indecision has been widespread among college students (Gordon, 2007; P.-W. W. Ma & Yeh, 2005), which may be worrisome because career indecision frequently engenders various academic and psychological problems, such as anxiety (Gordon, 2007), identity crisis (McCowan & Alston, 1998), low self-esteem (Bandura, 1993), and school attrition (Willcoxson & Wynder, 2010). According to Gordon (2007) and Osipow (1987), career-decision readiness mainly results from cognitive and emotional ability to make progress and from consistency between self-information and selected career choice. Similarly, Eccles (1987) noticed that career indecision is contingent on aspiration for achievement, the urge to fulfill personal needs, and the time commitment involved. For Kuykendall (2008), career indecision is significantly linked with haphazard personal interests that defy being narrowed down. Career indecision has also been viewed as a functional state of positive uncertainty (Gelatt, 1991) and open-minded career exploration (Krumboltz, 2009).

In line with these studies, the present study aimed to examine whether or not Asian students' career-decision readiness is linked with the origin of their college major choice. In addition, the study attempted to expand on previous research of major choice and career decisions by exploring the intermediate roles that academic commitment to a college major and career-related self-efficacy have between the origin of major choice and career-decision readiness. Scholars have recognized the importance of parents, influential others, professional prestige, and future earnings to Asian students' major choice (Y. Ma, 2009; P.-W. W. Ma & Yeh, 2005). However, the long-range effect of the origin of major choice on career-decision readiness and the basic mechanism that connects students' origin of major choice early in their college years and their career-decision readiness near the end of their college education has gone largely unnoticed.

We hypothesized that students' academic commitment to a college major would increase when they chose a major that closely aligns with their self-interests and talents and when they see the major as likely to award them a stable, well-paid, and prosperous future career. This position is in accord with the role of personal fit in college students' motivations toward and satisfaction with their learning and academic choices. Researchers have claimed that a sense of fit can affect student persistence in academic learning and thereby result in higher academic commitment and career success (Leppel, 2001; Porter & Umbach, 2006). In a similar fashion, Astin (1999) advanced the idea that students are motivated to pursue work and behavior consistent with personal interests and self-actualization. Farmer (1985) contended that personal interest in and satisfaction with an academic field helps students commit to academic goals that they are then motivated to accomplish.

We further expected that academic commitment would enhance students' self-perception, knowledge, and skills related to their major and career options and their confidence to confront dilemma situations that can originate when exploring different career options. This expectation was associated with the research of Bandura (1993) and Hambourger (2004), who noted that students make career decisions based on perceived self-efficacy in career-related skills and knowledge to obtain the greatest chance for success and to minimize the possibility for failure. Bienvenu (2000) and Ewen (2003) also argued that people are willing to put forth greater effort regardless of the difficulty of a task or perceived obstacles if they think they are capable of doing the task, but they avoid or easily give up the task if it exceeds their abilities and understanding.

We propose a path model that connects Asian students' career-decision readiness with the origin of their major choice, academic commitment, and career self-efficacy. As seen in Figure 1, personal and career preferences are hypothesized to have positive effects on the students' academic commitment to a chosen major. In sequence, high levels of academic commitment would lead to high levels of career self-efficacy, and finally, increased self-efficacy is expected to increase the students' career-decision readiness.

In theoretical terms, part of our path model is aligned with trait-factor theory, which defines personal interest and motivation as significant sources of career decision making (Porter & Umbach, 2006). However, our model suggests the indirect effects of personal factors on career-decision readiness via academic and career-related variables. Trait-factor studies presume that they are directly related to one's career-decision readiness (e.g., Garfinkel, Bagby, Schuller, Dickens, & Schulte, 2005; Obschonka, Silbereisen, & Schmitt-Rodermund, 2012). In addition, the proposed model partially coincides with social cognitive career theory (SCCT), which defines outcome expectations and self-efficacy as key figures in accounting for career decision making (Lent et al., 2001; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994, 2000). It also overlaps SCCT in that both approaches consider high self-efficacy as significantly helping individuals make effective career decisions.

For reference, some readers might be interested in whether or not career and others' preferences directly affect career-decision readiness. SCCT contends that outcome expectations help people to set career goals and progress in decision making (Diegelman & Subich, 2001; Lent et al, 1994, 2000). If so, major choice based on career preference is likely to directly augment career-decision readiness. Related to this view is the direct impact of parents and other people on career-decision readiness. SCCT asserts that besides...

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