Timing is Everything: Evidence from College Major Decisions

67 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2019

See all articles by Richard Patterson

Richard Patterson

United States Military Academy; Cornell University - Department of Policy Analysis and Management

Nolan Pope

University of Maryland

Aaron Feudo

United States Military Academy, West Point

Abstract

People rely on their experiences when making important decisions. In making these decisions, individuals may be significantly influenced by the timing of their experiences. Using administrative data, we study whether the order in which students are assigned courses affects the choice of college major. We use a natural experiment at the United States Military Academy in which students are randomly assigned to certain courses either during or after the semester in which they are required to select their college major. We find that when students are assigned to a course in the same semester as they select a major, they are over 100 percent more likely to choose a major that corresponds to that course.Despite low switching costs, approximately half of the effect persists through graduation. Our results demonstrate that the timing of when students are assigned courses has a large and persistent effect on college major choice. We explore several potential mechanisms for these results and find that students' initial major choice best fits a framework we develop that incorporates salience and availability. Furthermore, our results suggest that once students select a major, they are less likely to switch majors than the standard model of economic choice predicts. Instead, students' decision to remain in a major is more consistent with status quo bias.

Keywords: availability, major choice, higher education

JEL Classification: D91, I23, J24

Suggested Citation

Patterson, Richard and Pope, Nolan and Feudo, Aaron, Timing is Everything: Evidence from College Major Decisions. IZA Discussion Paper No. 12069. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3323184

Richard Patterson (Contact Author)

United States Military Academy ( email )

600 Thayer Rd
West Point, NY 10996
United States
(435) 640-9054 (Phone)

Cornell University - Department of Policy Analysis and Management ( email )

Ithaca, NY
United States
(435) 640-9054 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/richpattersoncornell/

Nolan Pope

University of Maryland

College Park
College Park, MD 20742
United States

Aaron Feudo

United States Military Academy, West Point ( email )

600 Thayer Rd
West Point, NY 10996
United States

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