What Your College Major Says About Your Personality
College is a time of discovery, exploration, socializing, and considered by many to be one of the greatest care free times in a person’s life.
Many of us either entered college as undeclared, or switched majors while in college. Little did we know that our personalities may have played a big role in determining which major we ended up choosing.
Likewise, we may be able to determine a few traits about a person, depending on which academic path they ultimately selected.
Anna Vedel is someone who’s interested in the interaction between personality and college majors. She’s also a serious psychologist from the University of Denmark.
To get at the heart of how the two might be related, she undertook a review of existing literature that measured and recorded the two. After diving into the past literature for clues, she found a total of 12 studies that included data on over 13,000 students.
Her research revealed that there are, in fact, some groupings among personality traits when it comes to academic majors, and the results have been published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Rundown of the Big Five
The study analyzed the data using using the “Big Five” personality traits. A brief overview may be in order before we examine the results, so let’s take a look.
Openness to Experience: Love a variety of ideas and experiences, are curious, and have a range of interests. They can be described as creative, imaginative, independent, and adventurous.
Conscientiousness: Organized and self-disciplined. They are generally seen as hard working and detail oriented. They are planners, high achievers, and tend to control their impulses well.
Extraversion: Assertive, outgoing, and what some may call gregarious. They get energy from being around others.
Agreeableness: Friendly and cooperative by nature. The get along with others, aren’t antagonistic, and are trusting.
Neuroticism: Tendency to experience negative emotions more easily. Can be more sensitive, irritable, and have less emotional stability, proneness to anger, stress, worry, or anxiety. Can also seen to be more insecure.
Here’s a quick overview of what Anna found in her review:
- Law, business, and economics students scored lower on agreeableness than other majors.
- Arts and humanities majors scored consistently higher in neuroticism than other majors. Psychology majors also had high levels of neuroticism, although not as high as students in arts and humanities.
- Arts and humanities are less conscientious than other majors such as law, science, or engineering.
- Econ and business majors had lower scores in neuroticism than the other majors.
- Political Science, arts, humanities, and psychology majors scored higher in openness than economics, engineering, science or law majors.
- Economics and business students are lower than neuroticism than most other majors.
- Economics, law, political-science, and medical students were more extroverted than students in the arts, humanities, and the sciences.
Cause and Effect
Is it the major and potential job that draws students to make their academic choice, or does the curriculum, information, and skill taught to students cause these personality differences to emerge?
In other words, does the personality choose the major, or does the major cause students to exhibit these particular traits?
The study’s author, Anna, argues that there’s a good case that it’s the personality that is drawn to the major. She points out that a couple of studies used in the analysis measured personality right after enrollment. Those studies found the same results as other studies. Anna concludes in the paper:
This supports the interpretation that the personality group differences across academic majors are preexisting and not a result of socialisation processes.
It would be silly to think you could know a person simply by determining their major. Personalities happen in a range. You can be on either end or fall somewhere in the middle. Personalities don’t fit into a one size fits all type of category.
Sweeping generalizations about a person based on a single factor is liable to backfire on you. And besides, nobody likes to be judged.
However, it can help you identify possible behavior or types, as long as you don’t use it as a hard and fast rule. There will always be people that buck the trend. As for those that may be trying to choose which academic path to take, maybe think about what fits well with your own personality.