When choosing a major, it makes sense to look at the most popular college majors. The question is, how do you choose the right major for you?
Think realistically about your strengths and interests. Although people talk a lot about the value of a STEM degree, you’re unlikely to succeed in these areas if you’re a poor math student. You might be happier pursuing a program that better matches your skills, like journalism if your favorite subject is English. Asking what majors are most in-demand can help you choose between majors you’re considering, but a positive job outlook won’t mean much if you hate the coursework you have to take.
Smart students consider their return on investment. What do future employment opportunities look like for students in the major you’re considering? What income level can you expect throughout your career in this field?
The next question students ask is how to go about choosing a school. Students should look for a school with a great reputation for the subject they plan to study. They should also keep their budget in mind to avoid sinking too deep into student loan debt.
Students may have to make some tough decisions. Do you spring for a more expensive school, maybe out of state, just for the prestige, or do you keep debt down by going to a more affordable but less prominent school? It’s a personal decision with no right or wrong answer.
Looking at the programs of study other students have chosen can inspire your major search. What are the most popular majors of 2021? Read on to find out.
What are the top majors in college? Business is consistently one of the top-ranked college majors. Since the 1980s, colleges have awarded more bachelor’s degrees in business than in any other field, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). During the 2017-2018 school year, colleges awarded 386,201 bachelor’s degrees in business. When you study business administration, you take coursework in all areas of business, including management, marketing, finance, and accounting.
One of the most popular majors of 2021, nursing is the most popular bachelor’s degree program in the healthcare profession. During the 2017-2018 school year, colleges in the U.S. awarded 139,952 registered nursing bachelor’s degrees, according to the NCES. In Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs, students take classes like nursing fundamentals and gain clinical experience in areas like mental health, women’s health, and medical-surgical nursing.
3. Biomedical Sciences
With technological innovation transforming the future of healthcare, biomedical sciences is one of the best college majors for the future. The 4,460 bachelor’s degrees awarded in general biomedical science from 2017-2018 represent a 173% increase from the 1,633 degrees awarded a decade earlier, the NCES reported. Biomedical sciences students take courses in natural sciences, bioengineering, and healthcare and medicine.
Biology and biological sciences are the top majors for many students who want to go to medical school, become a pharmacist or physical therapist, or work in biological research. Colleges awarded 73,983 bachelor’s degrees in biology and biological sciences from 2017-2018, according to the NCES. Expect to take classes in all types of biology—animal, plant, cellular, clinical, and population—along with interdisciplinary biology electives.
An undergraduate background in psychology could be your first step toward a psychologist or counselor career, or it can also lead to roles in business, marketing, communications, and criminal justice, according to the American Psychological Association. The NCES reported that colleges awarded 116,432 total bachelor’s degrees in psychology from 2017-2018. Psychology students study areas like cognitive, social, biological, and abnormal psychology.
Fewer students major in history than they did a decade ago. The NCES reported that 23,382 bachelor’s degrees were awarded from 2017-2018, compared to 34,441 from 2007-2008. Still, the discipline remains popular. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an overall median salary of $63,100 for professional historians and a $102,530 median salary for those working for the federal government.
One of the college majors with the best return on investment is engineering, for which the BLS reported an overall median salary of $83,160. Engineering refers to the use of science and math principles in designing solutions to a variety of problems. There are many disciplines and subdisciplines of engineering, including mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and chemical engineering.
If you’re wondering which majors are the most successful, consider communications. This soft skill applies to every discipline, from the technical to the artsy, philosophical, or practical. Colleges awarded 96,521 degrees in communications and communications technologies from 2017-2018, according to the NCES. Improve your writing and public speaking skills as you study communication theory and strategy, business communications, and digital communication.
9. Criminal Justice
Criminal justice encompasses studies in safety, law enforcement administration, police science, and corrections. All told, U.S. colleges awarded more than 50,000 bachelor’s degrees in these areas of criminal justice study, according to the NCES. Undergraduate studies in criminal justice might include criminal and constitutional law, criminal investigation and procedures, corrections and rehabilitation, ethics and multicultural issues, and criminal justice administration.
10. Computer Science
If you have ever wanted to develop video games and software applications, program artificial intelligence systems, or create computer security solutions, consider majoring in computer science. This program of study is broader and more versatile than a degree in software engineering or cybersecurity. Optional areas of emphasis allow students to tailor their studies to specific interests while cultivating a breadth of technical skills.
11. Political Science
Politics may seem like an inexplicable game to the uninitiated, but students of political science learn about political theory, the American government system, foreign relations, the global political economy, matters of terrorism and homeland security, and comparative politics. In the 2017-2018 school year, U.S. colleges awarded 33,845 bachelor’s degrees in political science, the NCES reported.
The field of economics doesn’t just revolve around money. Instead, economics is concerned with the analysis of all types of resource-related human decision-making, according to U.S. News & World Report. While finance focuses on financial wealth, economics emphasizes the forces that drive resource allocation behavior. Colleges awarded 29,275 economics bachelor’s degrees from 2017-2018, according to the NCES.
13. Social Sciences
Social sciences combine the curiosity of scientists with interests in the social world. Social sciences like sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, and psychology use scientific principles to analyze societies and social structures. Some schools offer an interdisciplinary major in social sciences. Colleges awarded 136,585 total bachelor’s degrees in social sciences from 2017-2018, the NCES reported.
Despite the cliche of the starving artist, tens of thousands of American students earn bachelor’s degrees in art each year. Schools offer fine arts and studio arts degrees in creative visual media such as drawing, painting, ceramic arts, sculpture, and weaving. Art majors spend a lot of time in the studio, polishing their skills and creating new works for their portfolios.
15. Environmental Science
If knowledge is power, knowledge of environmental science gives you the power to shape the future of environmental conservation. Students earned 6,697 bachelor’s degrees in environmental science during the 2017-2018 school year, according to the NCES. This interdisciplinary major brings together the studies of ecology, geology, and hydrology, with coursework in environmental policy, environmental politics, sustainability, and global climate change.
16. Information Technology
What sets information technology (IT) apart from other computer-focused disciplines is its focus on using computers to solve the problems and needs of businesses and organizations. IT encompasses the hardware and physical infrastructure of computer systems and networks as well as governance policies, system maintenance, tech support services, and network security. Colleges awarded more than 10,000 IT bachelor’s degrees from 2017-2018, the NCES reported.
17. Religious Studies
As of 2020, more than two-thirds of American survey respondents reported having some religious affiliation, according to the Pew Research Center. Majoring in religious studies will expand your knowledge of religions like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Students of religious studies gain knowledge about the world around them and improve skills in reading, writing, and critical thinking.
Mastering an instrument takes years of practice. If you prioritize your art in college, you might opt to pursue a Bachelor of Music or Bachelor of Arts in music. The NCES reported that 7,318 bachelor’s degrees were awarded in general music, while 4,031 degrees were awarded in general performance, 564 in music theory and composition, and 1,531 in music management.
Physics is a math-heavy branch of science that explores the matter, forces, and laws that compose the universe. Students earned 7,211 bachelor’s degrees in physics during the 2017-2018 school year, the NCES reported. Although physicists often need a doctorate, the American Institute of Physics reported that companies in technology, banking and finance, engineering, and healthcare are hiring candidates with bachelor’s degrees in physics.
Teachers shape the knowledge of the next generation, so it’s difficult to overstate their importance. Education as a whole is one of the most popular fields of study, with schools awarding 82,621 bachelor’s degrees in the subject from 2017-2018, according to the NCES. In traditional coursework and student-teaching experience, aspiring teachers learn the theories of teaching and strategies for lesson planning and classroom management.
The misconception that an English degree is worthless for earning a living hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of reading and writing aficionados. From 2017-2018, American students earned a total of 40,002 bachelor’s degrees in English language and literature, the NCES reported. English majors spend a lot of time reading and writing, although some write literary analyses and others produce creative works.
22. Legal Studies
A major in legal studies may appeal to anyone who wants to work in the legal industry, whether as a legal assistant, paralegal, probation or law enforcement officer, lawyer, or judge. A bachelor’s degree in legal studies provides an undergraduate background in all varieties of civil and criminal law and helps students build their skills in legal writing and conducting legal research.
The aesthetic and functional design of buildings and structures is the focus of the field of architecture. Students in a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) degree program spend so much time “learning by doing” in the design studio that these programs require a fifth year of study. They also study building, structural, and environmental systems that affect architectural design.
24. Culinary Arts
Foodies flourish in a culinary arts program, which teaches them the skills to master safe and delicious food preparation. Although culinary arts programs are more common (and popular) at the associate’s degree level than the bachelor’s degree level, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the subject is particularly helpful if you want to work as a head chef or restaurateur.
25. Pharmaceutical Sciences
You won’t be qualified as a licensed pharmacist after earning a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences, but that is one path to consider if you pursue doctoral training. Pharmaceutical sciences graduates often work in drug research and development in the pharmaceutical industry. Bachelor’s degrees in pharmaceutical sciences cover drug classes, immunology, biochemistry, pathophysiology, dosage forms, and drug discovery and development methods.
More than 50,000 bachelor’s degrees in accounting were awarded from 2017-2018, according to the NCES. Accounting is the discipline concerned with financial recording and reporting. Undergraduate accounting students learn to create financial statements such as balance sheets and income and cash statements, as well as studying managerial accounting methods to develop the skills for identifying opportunities for business improvement.
Often confused with sales, marketing focuses on the strategies and campaigns used to generate customer interest in a product, service, or brand. Marketing students study the process of conducting market research, analyzing data, developing marketing strategies with consumer behavior in mind, and coordinating and managing campaigns. Colleges awarded 37,010 bachelor’s degrees in marketing from 2017-2018, according to the NCES.
28. Elementary Education
Within the education field, elementary education is the most popular major, comprising 27,484 of the 82,621 bachelor’s degrees awarded in the field from 2017-2018, according to the NCES. Elementary school teachers generally teach the first through fifth or sixth grades, although at certain schools, they may teach up to the eighth-grade level, according to the BLS.
Finance is the business major that deals with monetary wealth. Coursework in finance might encompass investments, security analysis and valuation, risk management, banking, business finance, financial analysis, financial management, and financial technology. A finance major might end up working in high-paying roles in financial planning, portfolio analysis, financial analysis, and other roles in banking, insurance, and risk management.
30. Mechanical Engineering
The engineering discipline that awards the most degrees—35,182 for the 2017-2018 school year—is also the broadest. Mechanical engineering refers to the application of engineering principles to mechanical systems, or systems made up of moving parts. Mechanical engineers design large and small machines, from automotive engines and HVAC systems to minuscule microbots for biomedical applications.
Sociology is among the most popular social science majors, with 27,294 students completing a bachelor’s degree in the subject during 2017-2018. In sociology, you study social relationships, behaviors, institutions, and norms. Sociology students take classes in the principles of sociology, statistical methods and data analysis for sociology, qualitative research methods, and areas of specialized interest, such as social groups or problems.
32. Commercial Art & Graphic Design
For artistic students, a major in graphic design might be a happy medium between pursuing their passion and preparing for a plausible career. Graphic designers, who create the visual messaging used by businesses and organizations, may be self-employed or work for design agencies, advertising agencies, printing companies, and publishers, according to the BLS.
Even a bleak job outlook—with the BLS expecting an 11 percent decline in opportunities—hasn’t deterred students from majoring in journalism. American students received 11,049 bachelor’s in journalism degrees from 2017-2018. Journalism students take classes in writing and reporting, news editing, and audio/visual newsgathering. Additional coursework may focus on investigative reporting and newsroom management.
34. Computer and Information Systems
If IT is an interdisciplinary computer field due to its focus on business needs, computer information systems is even more so. This field emphasizes the strategic choice of computer solutions for businesses. Computer information systems professionals aren’t just looking at how business technology works but instead at which technologies to choose, so they need a big-picture view of business operations and strategies.
35. Social Work
Another of the most popular college majors of 2021 is social work, the discipline concerned with promoting the welfare of families and communities. The BLS reported that opportunities for social workers are growing at a much faster than average rate from 2019-2029. Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs emphasize the skills for social work practice.
So, what is the best degree to get in 2021? The answer is specific to your personal goals, interests, and skills. It’s wise to consider the most in-demand college majors, but the most popular college majors and the subjects that correspond to the jobs with the most growth aren’t the right fit for every student. Getting to know yourself and your plans for the future will guide you in the right direction.
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