Major Transitions: Cultural Capital and Major Selection for Chinese International Students at Historically Women’s Liberal Arts Colleges



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This thesis explores major selection for Chinese international students and the role of cultural capital in this process. Previous research has predominantly examined the impact of cultural capital on academic achievement among domestic students, with limited attention given to its role in shaping college major selection, particularly among Chinese international students. This thesis uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze the process of major selection and the transition of cultural capital across nations. The findings reveal that cultural capital accumulated through strategic approaches employed by families at different life stages significantly influences the major selection process for Chinese international students, particularly women. Specifically, embodied cultural capital acquired through pre-high school cultural activities decreases the likelihood of choosing STEM majors. Furthermore, science-related cultural capital influences the significance of career aspirations in major selection, highlighting the role of parental education in this process. Additionally, parents play an active role in shaping their children's major selection through strategic plans, such as investing in shadow education and working with private counselors. Shadow education develops both embodied and institutionalized cultural capital, indirectly influencing college major choices. Accessing private counseling services facilitates the transition to U.S. colleges, enabling the acquisition of transnational cultural capital, and impacting the selection away from STEM fields.



cultural capital, major selection, chinese students, STEM, higher education