Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Adult, Career and Higher Education

Major Professor

Johanna Lasonen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Victor Hernandez-Gantes, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Tonisha B. Lane, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lillian C. Wichinsky, Ph.D.


alternative breaks, exploratory students, higher education, service-learning, service work, undecided students


Research shows that 50-80% of college students are exploratory/undecided or appear as declared and will change their major at least once. Although higher education institutions have developed and implemented several initiatives to assist students with selecting an academic major, students are struggling to reach this milestone. According to Gebhard (2015), real-world and experiential opportunities successfully prepare students to select an academic major. Thus, the purpose of this qualitative exploratory study is to describe in-depth a phenomenon: how a service-based experience, offered through an Alternative Breaks (aB) program may prepare student participants for the selection of an academic major. The study will focus on the Alternative Breaks program in a four-year college (FYC). The conceptual framework guiding this study and supporting the need for real-world and contextual experiences are Astin’s I-E-O Model, Reyes’ Three Areas of Focus, and Hansen’s Integrative Life Planning. Data for this qualitative exploratory study was collected using a semi-structured interview and a survey designed specifically for this study. The target population for this study was n=6 aB participants in a FYC between the ages of 18-22, who participated in a five-to-ten day, local, national or international aB Spring break in 2019. Data was analyzed through Braun and Clark’s (2006) six-phases of thematic analysis. Student participants found the aB experience to be relevant to their personal life-giving them purpose and applicable to their professional life exposing them to field-knowledge. They also indicated that they were exposed to soft and hard skills as well as career-related abilities. The participants indicated the experience supported their career interest. The study highlighted the significance of utilizing a service-based experience offered by programs like aB, among others, as a career development strategy.

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