The 10 Most Popular College Majors
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Business | Health Professions | Social Sciences and History | Engineering | Biological and Biomedical Sciences | Psychology | Communication and Journalism | Visual and Performing Arts | Computer and Information Sciences | Education
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. colleges and universities awarded 2 million bachelor's degrees in 2018-19. More than half of these degrees were concentrated in just six fields of study.
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Plentiful job opportunities and high entry-level salaries make certain fields more attractive. For example, business and health degrees account for nearly one-third of all undergraduate degrees. Both fields continue to experience strong employment growth, making it easier for students to secure jobs after graduation.
Here are the 10 most popular college majors based on NCES data.
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $72,250
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 8%
- Common Specializations: Accounting, business administration, business intelligence, business management, entrepreneurship, finance, international business
Business majors are among the most popular undergraduate degrees in the U.S. Nearly 1 in 5 bachelor's degrees, or 390,600, was awarded in business in 2018-19.
Business programs explore fundamental business principles and practices that enable companies to run efficiently. Students pursuing a business major often study multidisciplinary concepts so they can develop strong communication, leadership, and critical thinking skills.
2. Health Professions
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $69,870
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 16%
- Common Specializations: Health informatics, health sciences, health services, healthcare administration, healthcare management, medicine, nursing, nutritional science, public health, sports medicine
As the population ages and people become more reliant on healthcare, the demand for health professionals is projected to rise. This demand may help explain why health-related majors are among the most popular degrees. According to NCES, colleges awarded 251,400 bachelor's degrees in health professions and related programs in 2018-19, accounting for 12% of all bachelor's degrees.
Each healthcare career path requires different training and coursework. For example, nurse practitioner programs require clinical practice (i.e., working directly with patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and public health offices). Nearly all healthcare programs cover basic topics like wellness, anatomy, and physiology.
3. Social Sciences and History
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $69,760 (all life, physical, and social sciences)
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 8% (all life, physical, and social sciences)
- Common Specializations: Anthropology, criminology, economics, geography, history, legal studies, political science, social work, sociology
To help meet the growing demand for life, physical, and social sciences professionals, more students are pursuing social sciences majors. NCES data shows that 160,600 degrees in social sciences and history were awarded by colleges in 2018-19. This means nearly 1 in 10 students majored in a social science.
Undergraduate social sciences coursework generally takes an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating topics like economics, sociology, and history. Social sciences programs often provide a liberal arts education, developing students' analytical, communication, and leadership skills, while preparing them for an array of potential career paths.
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $83,160 (architecture and engineering jobs)
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 6% (architecture and engineering jobs)
- Common Specializations: Chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, electronics engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering
The demand for engineers is projected to rise as the market for renewable energy and other alternative energy methods expands. Around 126,700 students earned a bachelor's degree in engineering in 2018-19.
While major coursework varies depending on the type of engineering, all programs develop students' skills in areas like project management, graphical communication, and problem-solving. Students can also expect to find solutions using math models and quantitative methods.
5. Biological and Biomedical Sciences
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $94,270 (biochemists and biophysicists), $85,290 (all other biological scientists)
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 5% (biochemists and biophysicists)
- Common Specializations: Biomedical engineering, biotechnology, chemistry, environmental science, microbiology, wildlife biology
U.S. colleges bestowed 121,200 bachelor's degrees in biological and biomedical sciences in 2018-19. This figure represents a 35% increase since 2010-11, when 89,980 degrees were conferred. Many biology-related occupations promise high earning potential and growth, which may help explain why this field is so popular.
Undergraduate biology programs explore several subjects, such as ecology, cell biology, and genetics. Often biology majors specialize in a particular area of study to pursue a certain career path.
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $82,180
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 8%
- Common Specializations: Applied psychology, behavioral psychology, child and adolescent psychology, clinical psychology, forensic psychology, organizational psychology
As the number of people with mental health conditions rises, more are turning to psychologists for help. In 2018-19, colleges conferred 116,500 bachelor's degrees in psychology, accounting for 6% of all bachelor's degrees awarded that year.
Psychology coursework typically focuses on research methods, statistical analysis, and cognitive processes. Graduate programs also usually include supervised clinical experiences.
While a career as a clinical psychologist generally requires a doctorate, a bachelor's degree in psychology can qualify you for roles in business and education. Because psychology programs develop students' understanding of human behavior, bachelor's degree-holders often find success in fields like marketing, advertising, and sales.
7. Communication and Journalism
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $61,310
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 14%
- Common Specializations: Advertising, editing, marketing, media communication, public relations, technical writing, translation, writing
A communication or journalism major helps students learn marketable skills like writing, editing, and critical thinking. In 2018-19, approximately 92,500 students earned a bachelor's degree in communication or journalism. Both fields prepare students for careers in business, marketing, and writing.
Undergraduate journalism courses are designed to enhance students' reporting and writing skills. Students study a variety of media-related subjects, including philosophies of modern journalism, media law and ethics, and storytelling.
Undergraduate communication programs are best suited for those seeking a general liberal arts education. Coursework often includes topics such as public speaking, public relations, and broadcasting.
8. Visual and Performing Arts
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $49,600
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 4%
- Common Specializations: Animation, art history, dance, fashion design, film, fine arts, graphic design, illustration, interior design, music, photography, video game design, web design
Given that earning potential is somewhat lower for artists than it is for workers in less creative fields, the financial burden of an art degree is often viewed as the primary drawback. Nevertheless, a whopping 89,700 bachelor's degrees were conferred in visual and performing arts in 2018-19.
For many, pursuing a career in the arts is less about the financial benefits and more about the intrinsic rewards.
Undergraduate art courses build creative, collaborative, and time-management skills. Students can expect to spend a lot of time working in studios and labs. Some art programs focus on theory and practice, whereas others delve more into areas related to administration and design.
9. Computer and Information Sciences
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $91,250
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 13%
- Common Specializations: Computer programming, cybersecurity, data science, database management, information technology, network administration, software engineering, web development
As technology becomes more ubiquitous, businesses are looking for trained computer professionals to solve technical problems and improve efficiency. In 2018-19, colleges and universities awarded 88,600 bachelor's degrees in computer and information sciences.
Undergraduate computer science programs generally cover topics like information theory, programming, data structures, and operating system fundamentals. Computer science majors often work with several programming languages and solve complex coding problems.
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $52,380 (education, training, and library jobs)
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 10% (education, training, and library jobs)
- Common Specializations: Early childhood education, elementary education, health education, math education, music education, physical education, secondary education, special education
More students means a bigger demand for teachers. In 2018-19, colleges conferred 83,900 bachelor's degrees in education.
Educator salaries vary depending on the level they teach. For example, whereas college professors earn a median annual salary of $80,560, middle school teachers earn $60,810, or about $20,000 less per year. Preschool teachers make even less at $31,930 annually.
In education and teaching programs, undergraduates learn how to manage classrooms, design curricula, and support students. Common courses include contemporary teaching practices, social contexts of education, and adolescent development.
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