Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Leadership and Policies


Educational Administration

First Advisor

Jennifer L Bloom

Second Advisor

Christian K Anderson


This multi-campus, qualitative study investigated how undergraduate students previously enrolled in selective majors described coping resources utilized during the transition of leaving their previous major and selecting a new academic degree program. The study also examined which resources students identified as most valuable, and coping resources most influential in their retention decisions. Research about students in selective degree programs has been absent for the last 20 years, and previous research studies have not given voice to the experiences of students in transition between majors. The conceptual underpinning of this study was the 4 S System (Goodman, Schlossberg, and Anderson, 2006), used to assess how participants described managing the transition using four factors of situation, self, support, and strategies. A qualitative research design employing 26 semi-structured individual interviews allowed in-depth data collection. Participants included second, third, and fourth-year undergraduates enrolled in their new degree program at two state flagship universities. The findings enable institutional leaders to gain valuable insight into students' coping resources utilized in the program transfer process. Four key findings were identified from data analysis: While students relied upon multiple resources during their transition, they most frequently described support, primarily from family; students perceived a lack of support from the university in the major change process; the most valuable coping resource during the transition was support from others; and situation, specifically contentment at their current institution, was most influential in students' decisions to persist at the university. Additional findings in the form of advice to students facing a similar transition focused on researching options before switching degree programs. Through a greater understanding of students' perceptions about coping resources, academic advising administrators can develop interventions designed to foster or strengthen family partnerships, improve the major change process, increase personal attention, strategize major retention, and centralize advising for students in transition. As pressure from external sources mount for institutions to provide and for students to earn a degree within financial, job-related, and timeframe constraints, academic advisors and students must strengthen partnerships so students can achieve realistic and attainable academic goals.