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The Career Key By Lawrence K. Jones, Ph.D., NCC
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The Holland College Major Environments

When you choose a major, you are also choosing an environment – surroundings and conditions that,

  • Encourage students with a certain personality, and often

  • Discourage students with a different kind of personality.

Of course, you want to choose a major-environment that encourages you, one in which you will earn good grades and graduate on time. The first step is to read Personality-Major Match, Why it is Important and to follow its recommendations.

Second, you want to learn about the Holland college environments here and follow the “next steps” we recommend at the end.

Getting started, according to the Holland Theory – there are six kinds of personality types and six kinds of environments. They both have the same names – Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional -- sometimes abbreviated RIASEC. College major environments are created by the professors teaching in the major. For example, research studies show that professors who teach artistic kinds of majors have a dominant Artistic personality, and they create an Artistic environment.1, 2

They do this by the teaching methods they use, the classroom goals and requirements they set, how they interact with you, and the opportunities they offer.

The environment they create rewards students who have personalities like theirs. Together, they and the students in the major share similar interests, abilities, values, and attitudes. Students who have a different personality, on the other hand, are not similarly rewarded; they may face negative consequences and do poorly.

This helps explain why you are likely to do well in a major, in an environment, that fits your personality. It will reward and support your interests, abilities, and values.

To help you match your personality with a compatible major environment we,

  1. Describe the six Holland college major environments, and

  2. Give you the “next steps” we recommend.

 

Realistic College Major Environments

Professors who have a Realistic personality type "dominate" this environment. There are more of them than there are professors having one of the other five Holland personality types. They create an atmosphere and opportunities that encourage students to,

  • Do Realistic activities, like working with animals, tools, machines, or electronic equipment;

  • Develop technical skills and competencies in these activities;

  • Display traditional values and attitudes of being concerned about goods, money, and power.

  • See themselves as practical, mechanical, and realistic; and seeing the world in simple, traditional, concrete, direct ways; and

  • Become involved in Realistic occupations and roles.

Generally, the professors believe that students learn best by meeting specific, clear-cut requirements; and place a high value on grades, examinations, acquiring specific skills and credentials.

Examples of Realistic Majors

Crop Production, Aquiculture, Turf Management, Criminal Justice, Architectural Engineering Technology, Robotics Technology, Materials Engineering, Natural Resources Management.

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Next steps

Investigative College Major Environments

Professors who have an Investigative personality type "dominate" this environment. There are more of them than there are of the other five Holland personality types. They create an atmosphere and opportunities that encourage students to,

  • Do Investigative activities, like systematic observation, understanding and solving science and math problems;

  • Develop scientific, analytical, and mathematical skills and competencies;

  • Display scientific values and attitudes, like scholarship, intellectualism, academic and scientific rigour;

  • See themselves as precise, scientific, and intellectual; having mathematical, analytic, and scientific abilities; and seeing the world in complex, abstract, and original ways; and

  • Become involved in Investigative occupations and roles.
Generally, these professors,
  • Believe that students learn best by meeting specific, clear-cut requirements; and rely more heavily on formal, structured teaching-learning strategies, like lecture-discussion;

  • Place a high value on grades, examinations, acquiring specific skills and credentials; and

  • Prefer rational and systematic methods of investigating questions; and encourage students to rely on thinking, gathering information, and careful, objective analysis.

Examples of Investigative Majors

Meteorology, Chemistry, Animal Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, Biotechnology, Ecology, Dentistry, Pharmacy.

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Next steps

Artistic College Major Environments

Professors who have an Artistic personality type "dominate" this environment. There are more of them than there are of the other five Holland personality types. They create an atmosphere and opportunities that encourage students to,

  • Do Artistic activities, like art, drama, crafts, dance, music, or creative writing;

  • Develop skills and competencies in these activities;

  • Display Artistic values and attitudes; appreciate creativity, literature and the arts;

  • See themselves as expressive, original, and independent; having Artistic abilities; and seeing the world in complex, independent, unconventional, and flexible ways; and

  • Become involved in Artistic occupations and roles.

Generally, the professors,

  • Prefer more informal, unstructured teaching-learning situations in which students set their own goals and pursue their own interests.

  • Place a high value on students’ freedom and independence. They believe that students do their best work when they are on their own; they consider students competent to make their own educational decisions, to participate with faculty in planning courses and academic programs;

  • Put more emphasis on goals related to character development (students’ emotional development, deeper level of self-understanding, develop moral character);

  • Encourage students to use imagination and emotions in their work, to be original, expressive, and intuitive when solving problems; and

  • Prefer a collegial mode of interaction with students.

Examples of Artistic Majors

Applied Linguistics, American Literature, Philosophy, Creative Writing, Architecture, Graphic Design, Fine Arts, Dance, Acting, Music, Conducting, Journalism

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Next steps

Social College Major Environments

Professors who have a Social personality type "dominate" this environment. There are more of them than there are of the other five Holland personality types. They create an atmosphere and opportunities that encourage students to,

  • Do Social activities, like training, teaching, developing, curing, or counselling;

  • Develop skills and competencies in these activities;

  • Display Social values and attitudes;

  • See themselves as agreeable, cooperative, friendly, helpful, responsible, empathic, tactful; people who like to help and understand others, work with others by being friendly, helpful, and cooperative;

  • Become involved in Social occupations and roles.

Generally, these professors,

  • Prefer more informal, unstructured teaching-learning situations in which students set their own goals and pursue their own interests; they rely heavily on informal, student-centred teaching strategies (e.g., small group discussions);

  • Place a high value on students’ freedom and independence. They believe that students do their best work when they are on their own; they consider students competent to make their own educational decisions, to participate with faculty in planning courses and academic programs,

  • Put more emphasis on goals related to character development (students’ emotional development, deeper level of self-understanding, develop moral character);

  • Put greater emphasis on humanitarian, teaching, and interpersonal skills –abilities to help and understand others; encourage students to use social beliefs, empathy, and patience in their work while perceiving problems in a social context.

  • They particularly value people who are helpful, friendly, and trustworthy -- who are good at good at teaching, counselling, nursing, giving information, and solving social problems.

  • Prefer a collegial mode of interaction with students.

Examples of Social Majors

Counselling psychology, Child Development, Social Work, Deaf Studies, Clinical Nutrition, Physician Assistant, Nursing, Dance Therapy, Library Science, Teaching

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Next steps

Enterprising College Major Environments

Professors who have a Enterprising personality type "dominate" this environment. There are more of them than there are of the other five Holland personality types. They create an atmosphere and opportunities that encourage students to,

  • Do Enterprising activities, like selling or leading others;

  • Develop skills and competencies in these activities, like leadership and speaking abilities;

  • Display Enterprising values (e.g., money, power, status) and attitudes;

  • See themselves as assertive, popular, self confident, sociable, adventurous, enthusiastic, extroverted, optimistic, forceful;

  • Become involved Enterprising occupations and roles.

Generally, these professors,

  • Put greater emphasis on learning managerial, leadership, and persuasive competencies – than faculty in other Holland, college major environments.

  • Motivate students to to acquire and use power to attain organizational and career goals;

  • Put a great emphasis on the vocational and career development of their students; prefer teaching specialized courses to students with definite career plans;

  • Use equally, both faculty-centred and student-centred instructional strategies;

  • Encourage their students to be ambitious, assertive, and domineering and to regard social influence (e.g.,power and status) in considering alternative problem-solving.

Examples of Enterprising Majors

Auctioneering, Real Estate, Hair Styling, Law/Legal Studies, Dispute Resolution, Music Management, Business Administration, Labour Studies, E-Commerce, Accounting, Public Policy Analysis, Public Administration, Advertising

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Next steps

Conventional College Major Environments

Professors who have a Conventional personality type "dominate" this environment. There are more of them than there are of the other five Holland personality types. They create an atmosphere and opportunities that encourage students to,

  • Do Conventional activities, like recording and organizing data or records according to a set plan; operating business and data processing equipment;

  • Develop skills and competencies in these activities;

  • Display Conventional values and attitudes;

  • See themselves as conforming, orderly; having clerical competencies; careful, conforming, conscientious, obedient, thrifty, practical, persistent, and orderly.

  • Become involved in Conventional occupations and roles.

Generally, these professors,

  • Place more emphasis on goals related to the provision of a congenial work environment;

  • Emphasize the vocational development of students (prep students for employment after graduation)

  • Prefer a collegial mode of interaction with students.

Examples of Conventional Majors

Taxation, Accounting Technology, Air Traffic Controller, Agricultural Business Technology, Retailing and Retail Operations, Banking and Financial Support Services

 

Next Steps
  1. Print this article. Check back. Soon we'll offer it as a low-cost e-book in our eBookStore.

  2. Read “Special Situations” below to see if they apply to you.

  3. Read Learn More about College Major Environments. This article will give you practical, concrete steps you can take to investigate the environments for the majors that interest you.

  4. If you haven’t already,

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Special Situations

  1. There may be compelling reasons for choosing a major that is not the closest fit to your dominant personality type.

    • Persons with a dominant Conventional personality are limited in the number of 4-year Conventional college majors from which they can choose. They may decide on a major in an adjacent area on the Holland hexagon, like Enterprising;

    • The occupational outlook for majors in another RIASEC type may be more attractive;

    • Students who have broad interests and desire a “broad” educational experience;

    • Adults returning to school to broaden their competencies – such as a Science Technician (Investigative) choosing a major in Agricultural Business and Management (Enterprising) to advance his or her career.

  2. Will you begin taking coursework in the major that interests you, in your freshmen year?

    Colleges with “General Studies” requirements may have you postpone this until your Sophomore or Junior year. Instead, you will take courses in a variety of areas, and be exposed to a variety of academic environments. Some of these will match your interests and abilities, others likely will not.

    In other words, you will not be a part of the college major environment that interests you until after the freshmen year. This may be critical if you have a narrow set of interests (see “#4” below). Does it matter to you?

    The freshmen year is especially important because the student dropout rate is highest at this time.

  3. Do you want to be in a major where the environment is a mix of the RIASEC environment types?

    Interdisciplinary and Liberal Arts majors are often like this. Generally, these majors are less likely to have a homogenous, consistent environment than majors that are more career-oriented.

    In a Liberal Arts and Sciences major, for example, your coursework will be in the Social, Artistic, and Investigative environments. On the other hand, the environment of a career-oriented major like Accounting is going to be consistently Enterprising. Which type of environment best fits your needs? Does it matter?

    Read Liberal Arts, Humanities, and General Studies Majors to learn about the pros and cons .

  4. Are your RIASEC interests flexible? When you look at the RIASEC scores on the career test you took, is there one personality type, like Investigative, that is high but the scores for the other five types are low? If so, experts would say that you have “low interest flexibility”.

    Research shows that students with low interest flexibility need a closer fit with their college major environment if they are to be satisfied and stay enrolled in school. For that reason, choosing a major that has a mix of RIASEC environments (like those majors described in “#3”, above) is generally not a good choice for students with low interest flexibility. For more on this, see pages 12-14 of Choosing a College Major Based on Your Personality -- What does the research say? our free downloadable e-book.

In all of these special situations, consulting with a professionally trained counsellor is highly recommended.

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Note:

1 The descriptions of the college environments for the Investigative, Artistic, Social, and Enterprising types are supported by existing research as of 2011. The descriptions for the Realistic and Conventional types have not been investigated fully and are primarily based on Holland’s Theory.

2 In the research and professional literature the descriptions of these environments are called “vignettes”. For clarity, we call them descriptions or profiles.

Supporting Research

Allen, J., & Robbins, S. (2008). Prediction of college major persistence based on vocational interests and first-year academic performance. Research in Higher Education, 49, 62–79. Allen, J., & Robbins, S. (2010). Effects of interest – Major congruence, motivation, and academic performance on timely degree attainment. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 57, 23-35. Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd ed.). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources. Jones, L. K. (2007). Testing the Test. ASCA School Counsellor, November/December, 44-47. Jones & Jones, 2010 5 Steps to Choosing the Right Career Cluster, Field, or Pathway Jones & Jones, 2011 Match Up! Your Personality to College Majors Kristof-Brown, A. L., Zimmerman, R. D., & Johnson, E. C. (2005). Consequences of individuals’ fit at work: A meta-analysis of person-job, person-organization, person-group, and person-supervisor fit. Personnel Psychology, 58, 281–342. Morstain, B. R., & Smart, J. C. (1976). Educational orientations of faculty: Assessing a personality model of academic professions. Psychological Reports, 39, 1199-1211. Pascarella, E. T. & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students. Volume 2, A third decade of research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Peters, D. S. (1974). The link is equitability. Research in Higher Education, 2, 57-64. Porter, S. R. & Umbach, P. D. (2006)., College major choice: An analysis of person-environment fit. Research in Higher Education, 47, 429-449. Prime, D. R. & Tracey, T. J. (2010). Psychometric properties of the Career Clusters Interest Survey. Journal of Career Assessment, 18, 177-188. Smart, J. C. (1982). Faculty teaching goals: A test of Holland’s theory. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 180-188. Smart, J. C. (2010). Differential patterns of change and stability in student learning outcomes in Holland’s academic environments: The role of environmental consistency. Research in Higher Education, 51, 468-482. Smart, J. C., Feldman, K. A., & Ethington, C. A. (2006), Holland’s Theory and Patterns of College Success, Commissioned Report for the National Symposium on Post secondary student success: Spearheading a dialog on student success, National Post secondary Educational Cooperative. Smart, J. C., Feldman, K. A., & Ethington, C. A. (2000). Academic disciplines: Holland’s theory and the study of college students and faculty. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press. Smart, J. C., & McLaughlin, G. W. (1974). Variations in goal priorities of academic departments: A test of Holland’s theory. Research in Higher Education, 2, 377-390. Thompson, M. D., & Smart, J. C. (1999). Student competencies emphasized by faculty in disparate academic environments. Journal of College Student Development, 40, 365-376. Tracey, T. J. (2008). Adherence to RIASEC structure as a key decision construct. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 55, 146–157. Tracey, T. J., & Darcy, M. (2002). An idiomatic examination of vocational interests and their relation to career decidedness. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 49, 420–427. Tracey, T. J., & Robbins, S. B. (2005). Stability of interests across ethnicity and gender: A longitudinal examination of grades 8 through 12. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 67, 335–364. Tracey, T. J., & Robbins, S. B. (2006).The interest-major congruence and college success relation: A longitudinal study. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 69, 64–89. Tracey, T. J., Robbins, S. B., & Hofsess, C. D. (2003). Stability and change in interests: A longitudinal study of adolescents from grades 8 through 12. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 66, 1-25.
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