- Xin Li
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This paper provides one of the first natural experimental evidence on the consequences of a transition from college-major (early specialization) to college-then-major (late specialization) choice mechanism. Specifically, we study a recent reform in China that allows college applicants to apply to a meta-major consisting of different majors and to declare a specialization late in college instead of applying to a specific major. Using administrative data over 18 years on the universe of college applicants in a Chinese province, we examine the impacts of the staggered adoption of the reform across institutions on student composition changes. We find substantial heterogeneous effects across institutions and majors despite the aggregate null effects. This paper provides important policy implications regarding college admissions mechanism designs.
One of the most important mechanism design policies in college admissions is to let students choose a college major sequentially (college-then-major choice) or jointly (college-major choice). In the context of the Chinese meta-major reforms that transition from college-major choice to college-then-major choice, we provide the first experimental evidence on the information frictions and heterogeneous preferences that students have in their response to the meta-major option. In a randomized experiment with a nationwide sample of 11,424 high school graduates, we find that providing information on the benefits of a meta-major significantly increased students’ willingness to choose the meta major; however, information about specific majors and assignment mechanisms did not affect student major choice preferences. We also find that information provision mostly affected the preferences of students who were from disadvantaged backgrounds, lacked accurate information, did not have clear major preferences, or were risk loving.
Despite the growing evidence of informational interventions on college and major choices, we know little about how such light-touch interventions affect the gender gap in STEM majors. Linking survey data to administrative records of Chinese college applicants, we conducted a large-scale randomized experiment to examine the STEM gender gap in the major preference beliefs, application behaviors, and admissions outcomes. We find that female students are less likely to prefer, apply to, and enroll in STEM majors, particularly Engineering majors. In a school-level cluster randomized controlled trial, we provided treated students with major-specific wage information. Students’ major preferences are easily malleable that 39% of treated students updated their preferences after receiving the wage informational intervention. The wage informational intervention has no statistically significant impacts on female students’ STEM-related major applications and admissions. In contrast, those male students in rural areas who likely lack such information are largely shifted into STEM majors as a result of the intervention. We provide supporting evidence of heterogeneous major preferences for extrinsic incentives: even among those students who are most likely to be affected by the wage information (prefer high paying majors and lack the wage information), female students are less responsive to the informational intervention.