Academic Minute Podcast

Shinwon Noh, University of St. Thomas – Pathways of Peer Influence on Major Choice

Studio headshot of Shinwon Noh, Visiting Faculty of Entrepreneurship within the Opus College of Business, taken August 16, 2021 in St. Paul.

On University of St. Thomas Week: Did you choose your major based on peer pressure?

Shinwon Noh, assistant professor of entrepreneurship, says maybe so.

Shinwon Noh, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Her research interests are cultural entrepreneurship, emergence of new occupations and organizational fields, and paradoxes in management. She is particularly interested in examining these issues in the creative industries. She has published papers in several academic journals including Journal of Media Business Studies, Poetics, Social Forces, and Journal of International Management. She received a PhD in Organizational Behavior from Cornell University.

Pathways of Peer Influence on Major Choice

There is a large body of research showing that peers have significant influences on a student’s academic-related decisions such as college major choice. However, understanding which peers are influential is essential to link theory to practice. In my research, we compare peer influence effects on major choice across five distinct peer types including spend time, close friends, holds in high esteem, has difficulties with which is a negative tie, and study partners.

Using the data from a 3-year panel study of university scholarship recipients across 14 U.S. colleges who lived in a dormitory, we find that peer influence for major choice primarily flows through simple exposure. In other words, students are most likely influenced in their choice of major by the other students with whom they spend the most time. It is neither our friends, study partners, nor those we esteem who hold the greatest influence over our major choice.

This may reflect a social comparison process that is driven by knowledge of and experience with our peers rather than friendship, antagonism, or instrumental connections like work partnerships. Through this study, we show that peers do play a significant role in college major choice and we identify the pathway of that peer influence which is spending time peers.


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