Unprecedented Survey Finds Advice from Employers is Most Valued but Least Used When Choosing a College Major; Reveals Troubling Gaps for First Generation and Minority Students

Broad-based reliance on informal social networks suggests limitations of formal counseling and advising. Role of internet is growing, but all students place greatest value on work-based guidance.

INDIANAPOLIS – Gallup and Strada Education NetworkSM today released the latest findings from the Education Consumer PulseTM(ECP), the first-ever daily survey of U.S. adults designed to understand and track Americans’ perceptions of their education experiences and how they relate to their career and life goals.

The latest report, titled “Major Influence: Where students get valued advice on what to study in college,” examines the source and helpfulness of the advice students receive on what to study in college and follows the release of June ECP data which showed that 36 percent of U.S. adults would change their major if they could.

“We now know that, if given the chance, more than half of U.S. adults would make a different choice about where or what they studied in college. Today’s report takes a deeper look at why so many college attendees have second thoughts,” said Bill Hansen, President and CEO of Strada Education Network and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. “Understanding how and why students decide what to study in college is critical to helping them not only to complete, but make successful transitions from education to meaningful employment. This report calls for fresh thinking on how we increase access to valued advice, especially from work-based resources, for all students.”

Key insights generated by the survey of nearly 23,000 U.S. adults who attended both two and four-year colleges include:

  • Informal work-based sources of advice were rated as most valued but least used. Compared to all other sources of advice, work-based sources were rated as most helpful (83%) in choosing a major, but only 20% of respondents mentioned receiving employment-based guidance. Students over the age of 30 were much more likely to receive advice from informal work-based sources than students 18-29. All students who received advice from work-based sources were less likely to regret their choice of major.
  • First-generation and minority students value advice from all sources but have gaps in access. Compared to their peers, first-generation and minority students were more likely to rate guidance from all sources as helpful. Seventy-four percent of black students and 69% of Hispanic students rate advice from counselors and media as helpful, compared to 62% of white students. About seven in 10 first-generation students consider the advice they received from formal sources as helpful; seven percentage points higher than people whose parents hold a four-year degree. In addition, only 47% of those whose parents completed a high school diploma or less received advice from their informal social network of family and friends compared to education consumers with a parent who earned a bachelor’s degree (60%) or graduate degree (65%).
  • The internet’s impact is growing but nascent. Although just 6% of all respondents reported seeking advice about their major online, the use of online tools nearly doubled among more recent attendees from 2010-2017. And while the perceived value of advice from formal sources like counselors and media lags other sources overall, about two in three people rate the guidance they received from internet (68%) and print media (69%) as helpful.

“We know that an individual’s course of study has long-term impacts on their career opportunities and economic mobility, and yet the field has historically only considered how students make decisions about whether and where to attend college. There have been no large-scale efforts to understand how students actually decide what to study,” notes Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Education & Workforce Development at Gallup. “This analysis offers new consumer perspective with actionable implications to help close the gap in valuable advice for all students, and especially for first-generation and minority students.”

The report analyzed open-ended responses from 22,087 U.S. adults aged 18 to 65 who attended both two-year and four-year colleges, including those who did not complete their degree. They were asked:

  • From what resources or people did you get advice about the major or field you were going to study during your degree program?
  • How helpful was the advice you received from each source?

The report categorized responses into four groups: Formal sources (high school and college counselors, print and internet media); informal social network (family, friends and community leaders); informal school network (non-counselor staff and coaches); and informal work-based sources (employers, coworkers, people with experience in the field and military).

To view complete findings, download the full report at stradaeducation.gallup.com.


The Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Pulse is a daily survey of approximately 350 U.S. adults, with more than 122,500 interviews annually exploring the extent to which students in the U.S. are pursuing and completing postsecondary education programs that advance their chosen career and life goals. The survey launched in June 2016 and includes a representative sample of Americans aged 18-65 currently living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.


Strada Education Network is a national nonprofit dedicated to improving lives by strengthening the pathways between education and employment. We engage innovative partners across education, nonprofits, business and government to advance Completion With a Purpose, building a more purposeful path for America’s students to rewarding careers and fulfilling lives. Learn more at StradaEducation.org.


Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students and citizens than any other organization in the world.