Investigating the Spatial & Temporal Trends of Declaring a Major

The start of the school year is a time many students start putting thought into what disciplines to study for the remainder of their collegiate careers. Many on-campus resources such as the Center for Careers, Life, and Service are already in the full swing of advising students, such as the “Choosing Your Major” info session on Sept 21st from noon to 1 in the Joe Rosenfield Center. Here in DASIL, we thought it would be fun to investigate what Grinnell College students majored in over the years to illustrate the transformation of student academic patterns. Using data from the Office of Academic Affairs, Office of the Registrar, and the Office of Analytic Support and Institutional Research, we created two interactive graphics. One is a line graph presenting the number of declared majors over time from 1991 to 2015 by major and rank compared to other majors. Our second visualization is a geographic map with two layers: the US layer breaks down the proportion of students by state and major from 1985 to 2015, while the world layer illustrates the proportion of international students by country and major.

Click on the Details button below to find out more about the data for each visualization.

For the map:

    • The Contents button(contentsbutton) will display all layers. Unclick the checkbox next to the layer name to hide the layer. To view the legend, click on the “Show Legend” icon (contentsbutton) below the layer name.
    • To examine other majors, find the “Change Style” button (contentsbutton) below the layer name you wish to view, then select the desired major from the “Choose an attribute to show” drop-down menu.  You may alter the map with colors, symbols or size.
    • Click on an individual country or US state to see available data on all majors.

For the line graph:

  • Choose your major(s) of interest in the “Select a major to display” field.
  • Hover over each point to display information on a major’s rank by class year and the number of students declared. Hover over a line to view the path of a major over time.


 

 

The Biology major holds the record for most students declared within this time frame, at 53 students for the Class of 1995. Since its creation, the number of students who major in Biological Chemistry increased leaps and bounds, ranking as the second most-declared major in the Class of 2015, tied with Psychology. Economics shows a general increasing trend over time, while majors like English and Sociology show erratic variability throughout.

American Studies majors appears to be representing the South and Southwest regions of the US, while Sociology is prominent in states located in the Midwest and, similarly, the South. A large proportion of students hailing from California study the hard sciences, especially Biological Chemistry. Surprisingly, there is a significant proportion of biology majors represented in most of the states.

Scoping out, the social sciences and hard sciences are popular disciplines among international students. Economics, Biological Chemistry, and Math are popular, especially in countries like China and India. Several humanities majors are not well-represented by international students, such as Theatre and Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies.

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MythBusters: Career Development Style

Political Science majors enter politics. Biology majors become physicians. History majors…wind up teaching history. We’ve heard it all before: The major you declare during your college days has a strong influence on your career options and your marketability in those fields. The data presented in this “Grinnell College Career Paths” visualization help to debunk the “major=career” myth.  It also reveals the complexity of the career development process. Especially in a liberal arts setting, where conversations of transferable skills and experiential education abound, students choosing a career should consider both their major and experiences gained outside of the classroom.

Grinnell College Alumni Career Paths

Your first glance at these data might be at one of the potential majors you are considering.  Let’s say you find your Anthropology classes fascinating.  You could read your textbooks all night and find yourself conversing with classmates during lunch about the topics you’ve learned.  These are all good signs.  However, at some point, you might ask yourself, “What can I do with this major?”  According to the data presented here, an Anthropology major can lead you to any number of fields.  There is a fairly equal spread of career paths — from public service to information systems — chosen by Grinnellian Anthropology majors.  How do you decide which path might be a better fit for you? Similar to how you figured out whether or not you like pancakes. You gave it a try, or, as we formally suggest, you participate in some form of experiential education.  You get your feet wet in the world of work via serving, interning, or shadowing. Additionally, you talk to alumni about their career paths. You do all of this with the intention of discerning if this particular path aligns with your strengths, interests, and values, and is something you’d like to pursue long-term. Learning about — and being able to articulate to others — the transferable skills of your Anthropology degree is essential to applying your major to whatever field you choose.

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