Abstract: College students are required to select a major but are often provided with only a modest amount of support in making this important decision. A poor decision is detrimental to the student, since it may result in the student later switching to a different major with a delay in graduation—or even result in the student leaving the university. This also impacts the university since time to graduation and retention rate are used to evaluate the quality of a university. There is a general lack of research on recommender systems for college majors, with the most relevant systems focusing on course-level recommendations. This study describes and evaluates a recommender system for selecting an undergraduate major, utilizing nine years of historical student data from a large university. The system bases its recommendations on the courses that the student takes in the first few years of college, and how well they performed in these courses. The system is designed to recommend majors that the student is likely to be interested in and will perform well in. Recommendations are evaluated based on the likelihood that the student's actual major was in the top five recommended majors, and whether the student performed above average in that major. The recommendation system dramatically outperforms the baseline strategy of randomly selecting a major, and when the recommendation is followed the student is 12% more likely to perform above average in the major.
Authors: Samuel Stein, Gary Weiss, Yiwen Chen, Daniel Leeds (Fordham University)