Since the mid-1970s, the dental hygiene profession has experienced a decline in the number of applicants. Reasons cited for this decline are fewer traditional college-age students, an increase in the career opportunities available to women, and a decrease in student financial aid. Four-year dental hygiene programs have experienced applicant decline faster than two-year programs. The purpose of this study was to determine factors that influenced university freshmen to designate dental hygiene as a career choice. Factors examined included reasons for choosing or not choosing a career in dental hygiene, and retention in the college major chosen. A questionnaire was mailed to three groups of students who entered the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill as freshmen from 1985 through 1987: (1) all students who designated dental hygiene as a major on their entrance application; (2) a random sample who did not; and (3) all the freshman during that time period who subsequently matriculated into the dental hygiene program. The overall response rate was 78% (n = 80). Subjects began to explore career opportunities at a mean age of 16. Having a family member/friend in the selected field was found to be the most influential factor in career selection. Among dental hygiene students, contact with a dental hygienist was perceived to be influential in their career choice. Entering college freshmen exhibited a lack of knowledge about the dental hygiene profession, and most had not received any information about dental hygiene in high school. These findings can be used to develop recruitment strategies.