Visible yet invisible : exploring the experiences and sense of belonging of East Asian American students post-college major decision




Yang, Hollie Hayoung

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Choosing a college major is an important decision, setting the academic trajectory for undergraduate students. Therefore, extensive researched has been conducted to understand the influential factors in their college major decision-making process. While existing research posits personal interests as the main influential factor, studies have found that parental influence and other external factors play a critical role in Asian American students’ decisions. For these students who are heavily influenced by external factors, the impact of their decision on their overall college experience is unknown. Because Korean and Chinese American college students reported experiencing lower levels of sense of belonging compared to their Asian ethnic peers (Li, 2018) despite having among the highest rate of degree attainment, this study focused on the experiences of East Asian American college students. Using a phenomenological approach, this study explored the potential contribution of college major decision on the overall college experience and sense of belonging for nine second-generation East Asian American students. To guide the study, a conceptual framework incorporating Astin’s (1991) Input-Environment-Output Model, Accapadi’s (2012) Point of Entry Model for Asian American Identity Consciousness, and Cultural Identity Theory was constructed. The findings supported existing literature that personal interest was a significant factor in participants’ college major decision, but parental influence and cultural values were found to also play an integral role in this decision and continued to impact the ways in which participants navigated their undergraduate career. While mixed findings were discovered regarding participants’ belonging in their major, participants largely experienced belonging through the social connections built on campus. Overall, the findings of the study revealed the complexities that participants had to navigate through in their college major decision and demonstrated the interconnectedness of their decision with their academic and social experience and overall sense of belonging. Furthermore, these findings indicate the need for further research on the experiences of East Asian American students and Asian American students broadly to better support this student population.


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