by Stephanie Marken and Zac Auter
Approximately half of all U.S. adults who pursued or completed a postsecondary degree would change at least one aspect of their education experience if they could do it all over again, including their major or field of study, the institution they attended, or the type of degree they obtained.
These results are based on nearly 90,000 interviews conducted as part of the Education Consumer Pulse survey from June 29, 2016-March 26, 2017. The Education Consumer Pulse, launched in 2016 by Gallup and Strada Education Network, consists of interviews with U.S. adults aged 18-65 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia about their education paths and experiences.
Among the three key education decisions Gallup asked about — field of study, institution and degree type — U.S. higher education consumers most commonly say they would change their field of study. Thirty-six percent of U.S. adults who pursued or completed a postsecondary degree would choose a different field of study. Significantly fewer (28%) would select a different institution, and 12% would obtain a different degree type.
Across Education Levels, Major/Field of Study Is Most Common Regret
Across all education levels, U.S. adults are much more likely to say they wish they could change their major or field of study than the type of degree they obtained. Those with some college, but no degree, and those whose highest level of education is a bachelor’s degree are the most likely to have second thoughts about their major, 42% and 40%, respectively. By comparison, associate degree holders and those who completed a technical or vocational program are slightly less likely to say they would change their field of study.
Postgraduate degree holders are the least likely to report they would pursue a different field of study, with about a quarter of those who pursued or obtained a postgraduate degree saying they would change their field of study.
Those with some college, but no degree, are the most likely to say they would change at least one of their education decisions. Surprisingly, even though individuals in this group were unable to complete their degree, the 59% who would redo an education decision if they could is roughly similar to the 54% of associate degree holders and 52% of bachelor’s degree holders who say the same.
Meanwhile, those who pursued (41%) or obtained (37%) a postgraduate degree are by far the least likely to say they would change at least one of these education decisions.
Most U.S. Adults Say They Had High-Quality Postsecondary Education
Although approximately half of all U.S. adults regret at least one of their education choices, most report they had a high-quality postsecondary experience. For all education levels, other than those who left college without a degree, at least half of adults strongly agree that they received a high-quality education.
The finding that half of all U.S. adults would change at least one aspect of their education path if they could suggests students need more information and guidance before making important education decisions.
Of the three critical education decisions Gallup asked about, individuals are most likely to say they would choose a different field of study. This could be rooted in the challenges consumers face in using their education to obtain their preferred job, such as when their field of study does not directly align with their desired career. It also could reflect changes in the employment market since graduates pursued or obtained their postsecondary degree.
Still, U.S. adults’ mostly positive assessments of the quality of their postsecondary experience suggest that students can benefit from postsecondary training and that institutions are largely delivering on students’ expectations for meaningful training and education.
These data raise several key questions for postsecondary leaders, policymakers, employers and consumers of education. These include how and why students select their field of study and why so many would change this, or some other aspect of their education path. Like those in other industries, education leaders can learn a great deal from surveys asking current and former students about their experiences as education consumers. This is an important first step to improve outcomes for future students and encourage innovation in postsecondary education.
Learn more via the Education Consumer Pulse Inaugural Report: On Second Thought: U.S. Adults Reflect on Their Education Decisions. Follow @GallupHigherEd and @StradaEducation online and use #EduPulse to join the conversation.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 29, 2016-March 26, 2017, with a random sample of 89,492 U.S. adults, aged 18-65, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting and are calculated at the 95% confidence level.
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