Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

J. Beth Mabry, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

D. Alex Heckert, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Holley A. Belch, Ph.D.


The purpose of this study was to analyze admissions policies pertaining to the declaration of academic majors for incoming students and structures of academic advising at American universities and how they relate to student outcomes. The student outcomes considered for the study were first to second year retention rates and graduation rates. Students may not choose their major based on research or facts and allow external influences to guide their selection. Traditional aged college students are typically not developmentally prepared to undertake such self-directed decisions. The forced declaration of an academic major at the time of admission can impose a premature selection, potentially negatively impacting student outcomes. Nationally, institutions vary on their admission policy structures in regard to the declaration of academic majors. Literature has linked academic advising with increased retention and graduation rates. Different organizational models of academic advising seem to be more or less influential on retention and graduation rates and vary depending on individual student characteristics. The exploratory study used primary and secondary data sets. The primary data collected were from individual college websites to obtain admission policy structures and academic advising models. The secondary data were collected from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Analysis of the data included analysis of variance measures to identify patterns and multiple regressions examined any predictive factors in the data. The results of the study were not straightforward and patterns varied based on institutional characteristics, such as the composition of the student population. Two main themes emerged as a result of this exploratory study. Lower levels of academic major declaration structure and shared or decentralized academic advising seemed to mesh with the needs of the full-time, more traditional college students. The non-traditional and historically “at-risk” student populations appeared to benefit from high structure admission policies by declaring their academic major at the time of admission and also seemed to have better retention and graduation outcomes when exposed to decentralized academic advising. The findings for the study point to possible policy considerations for universities in reference to the declaration of academic major and academic advising models.