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Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics university majors are critical pathways toward prestigious careers, yet women are still underrepresented in many of these domains. In this chapter, we review the role that self-beliefs play in the development of educational aspirations and attempts to realize those aspirations at the end of secondary school. In particular, we use the internal/external frame of reference model to explore the potential of achievement and self-concept profiles as predictors of university major aspirations and attainment as one possible explanation for gender differences in these domains. After reviewing previous research in this area, we provide a research example using a large longitudinal database from Germany (N = 1,881). Results suggest that (a) high math achievement and self-concept predicted math-intensive university major choice and lower likelihood of entering verbal-intensive majors (and vice versa); (b) there appeared to be a continuum of university majors such that strong mathematics achievement and self-concept profiles predicted entry into hard sciences, while the opposite profile predicted entry into the humanities with biology and medicine displaying more mixed patterns; and (c) after controlling for achievement and self-concept there were still important gender differences in university majors. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Open Access Book Chapter

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