Using social cognitive career theory to understand why students choose to study computer science

Amnah Alshahrani, Isla Ross, Murray Wood

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution book

47 Citations (Scopus)
369 Downloads (Pure)


The aim of this research is to use Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) to identify and understand reasons why students choose to study Computer Science (CS) at university. SCCT focuses on students’ prior experience, social support, self-efficacy and outcome expectation. The research is part motivated by the desire to increase female participation rates in CS, particularly in the UK. Policymakers can use the factors that both females and males identify as influencing their choice of studying CS to enhance the experiences of all students prior to coming to university, but female students in particular. The study uses a semi-structured interview with 17 mixed gender subjects currently studying CS at three Scottish universities. The findings are that social support from family, teachers, friends and mentors is a particularly important factor in choosing to study CS, especially for female subjects. The career paths offered by a CS degree is another major factor, not just the potential jobs, but also the general value of a CS education and the potential to make useful contributions to society. School education appeared to have limited influence, though exposure to problem solving, programming, online self-learning and internships are positive influences. The stereotypical view of CS students as ‘geeks’ is outdated and unhelpful – it is more appropriate to see them as ‘analytical’ or ‘over-achievers’. Subjects make many suggestions for improving the CS education provided at school, especially to make it more attractive to females, including: make it compulsory, teach it earlier, include more programming and problem solving, and increase the visibility of female exemplars and role models.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2018 ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research
Place of PublicationNew York, N.Y.
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2018


  • social cognitive career theory
  • gender
  • computer science
  • higher education
  • careers
  • students


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