Differences in Career Outcome Expectations of College Students by Race/Ethnicity and Gender


  • Jacqueline Doyle Harvard University, USA
  • Elyse Postlewaite Harvard University, USA
  • Philip M. Sadler Harvard University, USA
  • Gerhard Sonnert Harvard University, USA




socialization, career interest, race/ethnicity, gender, STEM careers


This study examined how U.S. college students’ career outcome expectations—what they hope to get out of their careers—vary by intended career path, racial/ethnic groups, gender, and other individual difference factors. The data were drawn from the Persistence Research in Science and Engineering (PRiSE) survey, a national study of U.S. college students enrolled in college English courses (n = 7505). An exploratory factor analysis revealed four foci of career outcome expectations, which we labeled as follows: extrinsic (rewards are external, such as money or status), work-life balance (work does not consume all of a person’s time/energy), pioneering (work is intellectually stimulating and cutting edge), and people-related (work involves working with and helping others). While controlling for career interest, our findings indicate that students’ gender and race/ethnicity influence their career outcome expectations in a wide variety of ways. Due to the differences in career outcome expectations associated with student backgrounds and demographics beyond career interest, recruiters and program directors looking to attract more diverse populations may benefit from matching the career outcomes they present and offer with those populations’ outcome expectations.


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Author Biographies

Jacqueline Doyle, Harvard University, USA

JACQUELINE DOYLE, PhD, is a data scientist at The Hanover Insurance Group. Her major research interests focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM and science education, with a particular interest in physics education and how to increase student interest and engagement. Email: doylejackd@gmail.com.


Elyse Postlewaite, Harvard University, USA

ELYSE POSTLEWAITE, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Researcher for the Institute for Research on Youth Thriving and Evaluation at Montclair State University.  Her major research interests lie in the area of youth thriving and optimal development in and out of school settings.  Email: elyse.postlewaite@gmail.com.


Philip M. Sadler, Harvard University, USA

PHILIP M. SADLER, EdD, is the Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ Science Education Department and F.W. Wright Senior Lecturer in Harvard’s Department of Astronomy. His research program includes assessment of students' scientific misconceptions and how they change with instruction, the transition to college of students who wish to purse STEM careers, and the enhancement of the skills of teachers. Email: psadler@cfa.harvard.edu. 

Gerhard Sonnert, Harvard University, USA

GERHARD SONNERT, PhD, is a senior research scientist in the Harvard College Observatory and a lecturer on astronomy at Harvard University. His major research interests lie in the areas of science education, gender in science, and science policy.  Email: gsonnert@cfa.harvard.edu.


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