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College Majors and RIASEC Types (Part 2)

In last week’s entry I reported on the research of Smart, Feldman, and Ethington on the effect of students’ congruence or lack of congruence (in RIASEC terms) with their college majors.

In last week’s entry I reported on the research of Smart, Feldman, and Ethington on the effect of students’ congruence or lack of congruence (in RIASEC terms) with their college majors. The researchers measured the degree of congruence before and after completion of the major and found that the experience of being in the particular college major tended to amplify personality tendencies that were consistent with the RIASEC type of the major, whether or not those tendencies were strong in the students at the outset of the major. The research therefore emphasized the socializing aspect of the college experience–that is, the principle that people are shaped by their environment.
This research project did not, however, deal with the issue of whether or not RIASEC-defined congruence can predict students’ persistence, satisfaction, and achievement in the major–the outcomes that we usually think of as defining “success” and a correct choice. RIASEC assessments are often used in career development with the assumption that congruence can predict success in work, so it would be valuable to know whether it can predict it for college majors.
The research on this topic shows at best only a weak link between congruence and success in college majors. One of the few studies that found a connection, published in 2004 by Leuwerke (of Drake University), Robbins, Sawyer, and Hovland (these last three of ACT), found that RIASEC information predicted second-year retention of engineering majors better than did scores on a standardized math achievement test, although not as well as the two factors taken together.
A 2005 dissertation at the University of Toledo focused on achievement as defined by the likelihood that students will achieve a bachelor’s degree within six years. The researcher, Cameron Scott Cruickshank, found that students’ congruence with their major did not predict their degree completion, whereas other factors, such as high school GPA, did.
The Smart team, in a 2004 article, focused mainly on student satisfaction. They found that “students entering incongruent academic environments appear to have collegiate experiences comparable to their peers who enter congruent environments in terms of the level of their involvement in academic activities, the frequency of their engagement in social activities, their satisfaction with their academic programs and career counseling services, and the degree of various personal costs and discontents they experience.”
What should we conclude? Perhaps the Smart team said it best: “It appears that students have little or nothing to lose from their choice of an incongruent environment in terms of the level of their involvement in and satisfaction with multiple components of their overall collegiate experience.” And, I might add, in terms of their achievement in college.
Does this mean we should pay no attention to RIASEC types in academic advisement? Not exactly. Rather, it means that in considering students’ RIASEC types–or any other indication of interests and abilities–we should focus not on college majors per se, but rather on the occupations that the majors lead to. And this, in fact, is the approach that I use in my book 10 Best College Majors for Your Personality (JIST Works). I define the college majors in terms of the RIASEC types of the occupations that are commonly linked to the majors, rather than in terms of the experience of being in the major.

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