Students Believe You Should Study What You Love

Students believe there's value to studying what you love, but financial constraints, realistic goals, and changes in interests actually drive their choices.
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  • 83% of students believe you should love what you study.
  • Yet, 68% still pursue "realistic" fields of study instead of their passions.
  • 85% are satisfied with their choice of major, while 10% are not.
  • Students of color say financial woes are why they've stuck with or changed their major.

In a new BestColleges survey of 1,000 currently enrolled undergraduate students, 83% agreed that it is important to love what you study, but just 40% say they are pursuing their passions.

A majority of students (86%) also agreed that it is important to love what you do for a living, yet only a third (34%) say they are pursuing their current field of study with a dream job in mind.

Countless surveys over the years have shown that only a small percentage of Americans get to work in their dream job. And the majority of college graduates would go back and change their major if given the chance.

Still, when it comes to choosing a field of study to pursue, students tend to value certain factors over others.

Field of Study: one's discipline or major(s).

This definition was provided to survey participants.

White students were more likely than students of color to pursue their field of study because it is their passion (42% vs. 35%). They are also more likely to pursue their choice as a career interest than students of color (46% vs. 38%).

Women were more likely than men to pursue their field of study because they felt called to the work (29% vs. 20%), while men were more likely than women to pursue their field of study because of its income potential (34% vs. 20%).

A Majority of Students Pursue Realistic Fields of Study

About two thirds of students (68%) report that their current field of study is more realistic than idealistic. However, an even higher percentage of students (74%) report that pursuing their current field of study will help make their dreams a reality.

This may seem contradictory. But pursuing a field of study that provides job security, financial success, and/or flexibility can be just as dreamy as pursuing a passion that may not provide those same benefits. It all depends on the life you hope to live, and it's clear that students are hoping that their chosen fields of study will pay off in big ways.

Despite survey findings that many graduates would change their major if possible, most current students are actually satisfied with their choice to pursue their current field of study. While 85% report satisfaction with their choice, just 10% are not satisfied.

Among students who did not feel that switching majors was an option, 58% say that it would require them to stay at college longer than expected and that they are unable to do so for financial reasons.

Students Tend to Stick With Their Major

Many students already have their major in mind when they start college. About two thirds of respondents (62%) report that they entered college pursuing their current field of study. For 64% of respondents, their overall college choice was impacted by their desired major.

More than a third (39%) of students who initially pursued a different field of study than their current major switched fields because it was not their passion. Just over a third (36%) report they changed their field of study because it was too academically challenging.

White students who changed their major were more likely than students of color to do so because it did not academically interest them (31% vs. 23%). They were also more likely to shift fields because they discovered a completely new interest while in college (31% vs. 22%).

Meanwhile, students of color were more than twice as likely as white students to change their major because their initial one was too financially challenging (21% vs. 10%). They were also significantly more likely than white students to change majors because they were not initially eligible for a scholarship/funding but are now (10% vs. 2%).

Overall, students believe in the value of pursuing fields of study and career paths they love, but financial constraints, changes in interests, and realistic career goals seem to be the real drivers of students' choice in major.


The survey was conducted from September 9-22, 2021. Student respondents were fielded by Lucid LLC. Survey participants included 1,000 currently enrolled undergraduate students nationwide. Respondents were 18-26 years of age, enrolled at a college or university, and pursuing a bachelor's degree. The respondents for the survey were screened by various quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy.

Feature Image: Kilito Chan / Moment / Getty Images