Student explores how socioeconomic status affects choice of college major

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
July 29, 2016

As Emma Korolik ’17 looked around at the other students taking her English classes, she wondered: do class backgrounds affect what major a student might choose in college? And if so, why? Korolik decided to focus her senior honors thesis on the questions.

"I think there will be interesting variables that I uncover, such as the intersection between race and class and gender and class and rural vs. urban students and their choices,” she said. “I’m very lucky that I can follow my passions (as an English and sociology major) because my parents can afford to let me do that, but I know that not all students have that same luxury,” Korolik said.

Korolik is working in Ithaca over the summer as a resident advisor on west campus, taking a summer class and focusing on this research project, under advisor Kendra Bischoff, assistant professor of sociology.

During her research, which will use a nationwide database of college financial aid statistics, she hopes to uncover which majors attract a more diverse group of students based on socioeconomic factors and which majors are more “segregated” when it comes to income.

“We talk a lot about diversity at Cornell,” she said. “And while you can find diverse friends in your dorm and through your clubs, you may not find them in your major. I think that’s something really interesting to look into.”

Korolik, who is minoring in education, has great mentors at Cornell as she explores this topic. Kim Weeden, professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Inequality, has done research on class, gender, and racial disparities in college majors, and two of Bischoff’s main research interests are social stratification and inequality and the sociology of education.

Outside of her senior research project, Korolik has an interest in inequality and community building. She served last year as a facilitator in one of the Intergroup Dialogue Project courses, a project of the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, and will lead another section this fall. The courses include 14-15 students with two undergraduate facilitators. They blend theory with experiential learning and are designed to facilitate communication across social, cultural, and power differences, in a critical and meaningful way.

“The classes focus on delving into different social identities and building towards a mutual understanding when discussing topics that are generally taboo to talk about,” Korolik said.

As she thinks about the future, Korolik has already been accepted into the Teach for America program in New York City and looks forward to a career in education. As the oldest of four, she said she’s been practicing her teaching skills on her younger siblings since she was little.

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