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STEM-ing the Tide: The Influence of the First Year of College on the STEM Gender Gap

Prior research points to the first year of college as a critical time in selecting a college major. Considering the number of studies focusing on the STEM gender gap, surprisingly little research has examined gender differences and the influence of the first college year on the STEM major selection. Using data from the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, this study examined how women and men compared in STEM college major selection and whether the effects of academic competence, first-year career preferences, life values, and related student experiences influenced their decision in different ways. After controlling a variety of influences, results suggested that women were significantly less likely to be enrolled in a STEM major in the fourth year of college compared to men. Additionally, there were substantial differences between women and men in how various first-year influences shaped the STEM major decision. Findings from this study provide important implications for maximizing women’s participation in STEM fields during the first college year.

Liu, J. & Barnhardt, C. STEM-ing the Tide: The Influence of the First Year of College on the STEM Gender Gap. Journal of College Student Development.