Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Students’ interests and their higher educational choice

How do students’ interests develop over time and which interests are subsequently pursued in the higher educational choice of students?

2015 - 2020


  • J.P. Vulperhorst MSc - PhD candidate
  • prof.dr. S.F. Akkerman - supervisor
  • dr. R.M. van der Rijst - co-supervisor

Students’ interests seem crucial in deciding which programme they pursue. Nonetheless, we do not know how interests change over time nor do we know why students aim to pursue specific interests. This project is aimed at uncovering how interests develop over time, how choices are dependent on students’ interests and whether students drop out of the programme when they are not able to pursue their interests in the programme.


Students often experience problems when deciding which higher educational programme to pursue, as support is often minimal and students face many possible programmes. Students’ interests seem to be the key in making a fitting choice, which prevents them from attrition and increases their satisfaction with the programme.

However, we do not know yet how students decide on pursuing specific interests and whether is related to a choice they are satisfied with or not. Moreover, we do not know yet how interests may change over time and whether students may become more interested in their programme over time.


This project focuses first on what things students find interesting in their daily life to fully capture their interests. Next, we explore why and how many interests are pursued in specific programmes. Finally, we explore whether initial interest levels in the programme and changes in interestingness may explain why students drop out of their programme.


To uncover what exactly students find interesting and how interests change over time we follow 250 adolescents over the course of 3 years, starting in high school and ending in higher education, with a smartphone application in which they report activities and objects they find interesting. Moreover, to uncover students’ choice processes interviews were held.

Practical implications

The overall goal is to help high schools improve their counseling practices in order to reduce drop-out in higher education. Our findings may help structure counseling sessions. 

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