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Most popular majors

Question:
What are the most popular majors for postsecondary students?

Response:

Of the 1,956,000 bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2016–17, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (381,000), health professions and related programs (238,000), social sciences and history (159,000), psychology (117,000), biological and biomedical sciences (117,000), engineering (116,000), communication, journalism, and related programs (94,000), and visual and performing arts (91,000). At the master’s degree level, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (187,000), education (146,000), and health professions and related programs (119,000). At the doctor’s degree level, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of health professions and related programs (77,700), legal professions and studies (35,100), education (12,700), engineering (10,400), biological and biomedical sciences (8,100), psychology (6,700), and physical sciences and science technologies (6,000).

In recent years, the numbers of bachelor’s degrees conferred have followed patterns that differed significantly by field of study. While the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred increased by 28 percent overall between 2006–07 and 2016–17, there was substantial variation among the different fields of study, as well as shifts in the patterns of change during this time period. For example, the number of degrees conferred in foreign languages increased 7 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12, but then decreased 19 percent between 2011–12 and 2016–17. Also, the number of degrees in social sciences and history increased by 9 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12, but then decreased 11 percent between 2011–12 and 2016–17.

In a number of other major fields, the number of bachelor’s degrees increased by higher percentages in the second half of the 10-year period than in the first half. The number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in the combined fields of engineering and engineering technologies increased 21 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12, and then increased a further 36 percent between 2011–12 and 2016–17. Computer and information sciences was 12 percent higher in 2011–12 than in 2006–07, and then increased 51 percent between 2011–12 and 2016–17. Some other major fields had smaller increases between 2011–12 and 2016–17 than between 2006–07 and 2011–12. For example, the number of degrees conferred in agriculture and natural resources increased by 34 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12 and then by 22 percent between 2011–12 and 2016–17. The number of degrees conferred in health professions and related programs increased by 61 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12 and then by 45 percent between 2011–12 and 2016–17. Also, the number of degrees conferred in public administration and social services increased by 28 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12 and then by 19 percent between 2011–12 and 2016–17. Other fields with large numbers of degrees (over 10,000 in 2016–17) that showed increases of 25 percent or more between 2011–12 and 2016–17 included parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies (37 percent), and mathematics and statistics (28 percent).

Some other fields with sizable numbers of degrees did not have increases during the 2011–12 to 2016–17 period. For example, the number of degrees in philosophy and religious studies decreased 23 percent between 2011–12 and 2016–17. Also, the number of degrees in English language and literature/letters decreased 23 percent; the number of degrees in education decreased 19 percent; and the number of degrees in liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities decreased 7 percent. The number of degrees in visual and performing arts was 5 percent lower in 2016–17 than in 2011–12.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Digest of Education Statistics, 2018 (NCES 2020-009) Chapter 3.

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