Determinants influencing college major choice and their relationship to self-determined motivation, achievement, and satisfaction
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Postsecondary curricula are often the first opportunity where students can and are compelled to make choices regarding their adult professional life and the first opportunity students have to engage in serious and focused exploration of the various career options that might be available to them. While the general impact of a postsecondary education on career experience, including job satisfaction and success, is well documented, the factors influencing postsecondary students' career choice and how those factors impact college outcomes, including motivation towards, satisfaction with, and achievement in their chosen major field, appear to be more obscure and uneven. Self-determination theory (SDT) is a well-established motivational construct in the educational psychology field and the goal of this study is to explore the role that SDT may play in the relationship between determinants influencing a student's choice of major and their satisfaction and achievement outcomes. Using self-reported survey data from students across five disciplines at a large public four-year university, a cluster analysis was performed to determine if students could be grouped meaningfully based on their self-determination and the determinants that influenced their choice of major. Meaningfulness was assessed based primarily on the differences across the clusters on the satisfaction and achievement measures. Students were found to be too similar across the clusters on the achievement measure for meaningful interpretation on that outcome, but there did appear to be an important relationship between the influence of future outcomes and personal experiences in choosing a major and the students' satisfaction with their major. Multiple regression analysis was also employed to assess the degree to which achievement could be predicted by students' satisfaction, self-determined motivation, and determinants influencing choice of major. Self-determined autonomy was an important mediator and moderator of the effects that the determinants influencing choice of major had on satisfaction and achievement. Future directions in the research program, as well as the practical implications of the results, are discussed.