Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership



First Reader/Committee Chair

Schnorr, Donna


Choosing a college major and career are the most critical decisions that college students make and students are expected to make these impactful decisions early in their academic careers. First-generation, community college students are a group that are especially affected by this early decision process as they require the knowledge and experience to make informed decisions. Their parents often lack the experience to guide them through this process since they are unfamiliar with being a college student and providing the necessary support in this area. These barriers cause stress among these students and inefficiencies in the decisions that they make. Nevertheless, first-generation, community college students are a group that possess a tremendous amount of motivation and determination for reaching their goals regardless of the barriers they encounter.

Community colleges and high schools are in a position to create intervention programs that help promote career development at a time when it’s most critical. The aim of this hermeneutic phenomenological study was to understand the decision-making process that first-generation, community college students experienced as they made college major and career choices. The study focused on understanding the factors that influenced students’ college major and career choices.

This study found that the factors that influenced students’ college major and career choices were: a desire to break the cycle of poverty for a better life; the desire to set a good example; the desire to become something real; the exposure to knowledge, engaging instructors, and to authentic careers during their educational experience; knowing there is a future; and the support and guidance students received while pursuing their education.

Furthermore, students reported that their exposure to knowledge, engaging instructors, and to their authentic careers during their educational experience, as well as the support and guidance they received, helped bolster their level of confidence about reaching their career goals, thus, providing students with a heightened sense of career self-efficacy. Results of this study indicated that having the proper support and guidance, both moral and financial, influenced the choices that they made related to their college majors and careers. Being confident about reaching a career goal gave students the determination and resiliency to keep moving forward in their academic path.

Participants described their major and career choice process as confronting unclear futures with determination and resilience; encountering and overcoming financial barriers; being stressful; and as a process of searching.

This new knowledge that emerged as a result of this study will assist counselors in utilizing effective counseling approaches in order to maximize the assistance provided to first-generation, community college students based on their actual career development needs. The study results will also help in directing the development of intervention programs focused on career development at community colleges and pre-collegiate institutions.