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Most Popular College Major



Whether you already have a college major or are trying to choose a college major, you will find this article interesting because it covers the most popular college majors of the past as well as most popular college majors today.

It’s interesting-as a former, current, or potential college student-to see which academic area is exciting the most undergraduates today. Read along for information about the most popular college major, both today and over time.

The yearly Princeton Review tour of the most popular college majors found that degrees in Business Administration and Management/Commerce was the area that ranked as most popular college major for 2008. The rest of the rankings they reported are as follows:

  1. Psychology
  2. Nursing
  3. Biology/Biological Sciences
  4. Education
  5. English Language and Literature
  6. Economics
  7. Communication Studies/Speech Communication
  8. Political Science and Government
  9. Computer and Information Sciences

As you read this list, it’s important to keep several things in mind:

  • that college students often change their majors
  • that the order does not convey either specialized fields within the areas listed or numbers of students who chose the major
  • that this is only a snapshot

In order to gain a view with more breadth, I consulted the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) website and found a table of  “Bachelor’s Degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions by discipline division: Selected years, 1970-1 through 2004-05.” I’ve used the table there to construct a chart of the top ten most popular college majors over the past 38 years, which we can use to give the Princeton Review data more context. The full names of the disciplines are given below.

Chart of Most Popular College Majors 1970-71 to 2004-05

Yr/Rank

70-71

75-76

80-81

85-86

90-91

93-94

94-95

95-96

97-98

98-99

99-00

00-01

01-02

02-03

03-04

04-05

1

Educ.

Educ.

Business

Business

Business

Business

Business

Business

Business

Business

Business

Business

Business

Business

Business

Business

2

Soc Sci

Business

Educ.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

3

Business

Soc. Sci.

Soc. Sci.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

Educ.

4

English

Biology

Health

Health

Health

Health

Health

Health

Health

Health

Health

Health

Psych.

Psych.

Psych.

Psych.

5

Engineer.

Health

Engineer.

Engineer

Engineer

Psych.

Psych.

Psych.

Psych.

Psych.

Psych.

Psych.

Health

Arts

Arts

Arts

6

Psych

Psych

Biology

Computer

Psych

Engineer

Engineer

Engineer

Biology

Biology

Biology

Arts

Arts

Health

Health

Health

7

Biology

Arts

Psych

Commun.

Commun.

English

Biology

Biology

Engineer.

Engineer.

Engineer

Biology

Commun.

Commun.

Commun.

Commun.

8

Arts

English

Arts

Psych

English

Commun.

English

English

Arts

Arts

Arts

Engineer

Engineer

Engineer

Engineer

Engineer

9

Health

Engineer

English

Biology

Arts

Biology

Arts

Arts

Commun.

Commun.

Commun.

Commun.

Biology

Biology

Biology

Biology

10

Math/Stats

Phys. Sci.

Commun.

Arts

Genl Std.

Arts

Commun

Commun

English

English

English

English

English

Computer

English

English

  • Arts = Visual and performing arts
  • Biology = Biological and biomedical sciences
  • Business = Business
  • Commun. = Communications, journalism, and related programs
  • Computer = Computer and information sciences
  • Educ. = Education
  • Engineer. = Engineering
  • English = English language and literature/letters
  • Genl. Std. = Liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities
  • Health = Health professions and related clinical services
  • Math/Stats = Mathematics and statistics
  • Phys. Sci. = Physical sciences and science technologies
  • Psych. = Psychology
  • Soc. Sci. = Social sciences and history

We can guess that Nursing in the Princeton list would translate to Health in the NCES list and that Political Science and Government  and Economics in the Princeton list would translate to Soc. Sci. in the NCES list. And given this, we can see that the similarities of this year’s data with most popular college major choices back to 1970 outweigh the differences.

The most significant difference in terms of coverage is that the Arts are not represented in the Princeton Review data as being among the most popular college major choices. Without more information, it’s difficult to know how to interpret this finding.

The NCES report also used the same data to show trends in most popular college majors over time, by looking at bachelor’s degrees conferred by academic area from 1994-95 to 2004-2005. Some interesting facts from this chart include the facts that:

  • The absolute number of degrees awarded in Education and Health fell slightly over this period.
  • The largest increases in degrees awarded in this period were in the fields of Business, Communications and communications technologies, Computer and information sciences, Social sciences and history, and Visual and performing arts.
  • The number of degrees awarded in Biological and biomedical sciences and Engineering and engineering technologies showed little change from the beginning to the end of the decade under review.

Sources

Princeton Review

NCES  

Written by Mary Elizabeth