Expected earnings matter for college major choices, and majors differ in both their average earnings and the age profile of their earnings. We show that students' family background is strongly related to the earnings paths of the major they choose. Students with more educated parents, especially those who have graduate degrees, choose majors with lower early-career earnings but much faster earnings growth. They are also less likely to choose safe majors with little early-career earnings or unemployment downside. Parental income has a weaker relationship with major choice and operates mostly through the type of institution the student attends.
We study the importance of job-related and non-job-related factors in students’ college major choices. Using a staggered intervention that allows us to provide students information about many different aspects of majors and to compare the magnitudes of the effects of each piece of information, we show that major choices depend on a wide set of factors. While students do not change their choices when given information about earnings, they do update their choices when told about other aspects of majors. The non-job-related factors, such as a major’s course difficulty and gender composition, are important to students but not well-known to them. We also find that male and female students value different major characteristics in different ways. Lower-ability females flee from majors that they learn are more difficult than they had believed, while other students do not. On the other hand, male students are averse to being taught by female faculty, while female students are not. Overall, our results show that a variety of factors are important for students’ major choices and that different factors matter for male and female students.