Forecasting undergraduate majors: A natural language approach

Elective curriculums require undergraduates to choose from a large roster of courses for enrollment each term. It has proven difficult to characterize this fateful choice process because it remains largely unobserved. Using digital trace data to observe this process at scale at a private research university, together with qualitative student interviews, we provide a novel empirical study of course consideration as an important component of course selection. Clickstream logs from a course exploration platform used by most undergraduates at the case university reveal that students consider on average nine courses for enrollment for their first fall term (<2% of available courses) and these courses predict which academic major students declare two years later. Twenty-nine interviews confirm that students experience consideration as complex and reveal variation in consideration strategies that may influence how consideration unfolds. Consideration presents a promising site for intervention in problems of equity, career funneling, and college completion.