Why do different people choose different university degrees? Motivation and the choice of degree

Anya Skatova*, Eamonn Ferguson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)
336 Downloads (Pure)


Different people choose undergraduate degrees to study at university for different reasons. To date, there have been limited attempts to identify individual differences in motivation that drive undergraduate degree choice. We identified that people choose university degrees for four reasons: career concerns (Career), intrinsic interest in the subject (Interest), an opportunity to help others (Helping) and because they are looking for an easy option to get into higher education (Loafing). We investigated whether these motivations apply to the choice of undergraduate degree in two samples: (1) undergraduate (N = 989) and (2) prospective (N = 896) students. We developed the Motivations Influencing Course Choice (MICC) questionnaire to measure these motivations. Scales of Helping, Career, Loafing, and Interest showed good psychometric properties, showed validity with respect to general life goals and personality traits, and predicted actual and prospective degree choices. We demonstrated that medical degrees were chosen due to a mixture of Helping and Career, while engineering degrees were associated with Career and low Interest in the degree. The choice of arts and humanities degrees was driven by Interest and low concern about future career, accompanied with high Loafing. We also demonstrated gender differences: females were high in Helping (both samples) and Interest (only in the undergraduate sample) motivation, while males scored higher in Career (only in the undergraduate sample) and Loafing (both samples). The findings can feed into both theoretical accounts of proximal motivation as well as provide help to improve degree programmes at universities and support better career advice.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1244
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2014


  • Choice of undergraduate degree
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Motivation
  • Prosocial motivation
  • Proximal motivation
  • Real life choices
  • Undergraduate degree choice motivation


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