What Are the Most Popular College Majors?
The most reliable source for higher education data is the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which periodically updates its numbers on enrollment, demographics, and other factors.
We list the 10 most popular fields of study according to the most recent data from the NCES below, along with specific majors in each broad field of study.
Many business degrees aim to prepare you for careers in for-profit companies, but graduates also use these skills in government and nonprofit positions. You can earn many types of business degrees at all levels and with various focus areas. Depending on your major, you might study entrepreneurship, finance, healthcare management, human resources, marketing, or project management.
An associate degree may help you land a job or prepare for a business bachelor's degree, which features more advanced coursework. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is the most popular graduate degree in the U.S., with many graduates going on to leadership roles in all sectors. Most doctoral business degree candidates are interested in academic jobs rather than business practice.
With a business degree, you can qualify for a wide array of occupations. Below, we've listed some of the more common entry-level business careers.
Financial analysts report on organizations' financial health and make recommendations. They typically start with a bachelor's degree in finance or business.
Human resources specialist
HR specialists can specialize in hiring, training, or payroll and benefits for their employers or for HR consulting firms. A bachelor's degree is usually required.
Management analysts often work for consulting firms advising businesses on how to improve operations. They can typically start on this career path with a bachelor's degree, but some employers might require an MBA or a few years of professional experience.
Market research analyst
Market research analysts determine the ideal audience for specific products and services. They usually need a bachelor's degree, often in marketing or another business discipline.
Purchasing agents buy supplies or services for their employers. A bachelor's degree is often sufficient to work in this field.
Health Professions and Related Programs
Healthcare is crucial to daily life, but it's also big business, and the popularity of healthcare majors reflects this. This category of majors includes the following online degree programs, among many others:
Some health professions majors cover the range of degree levels, including nursing. But others require no more than a certificate or associate degree — for example, there are no degrees higher than associate for medical assisting. Still other jobs call for higher degrees, such as a master's for physician assistants or a Doctor of Medicine (MD) for physicians.
The following details the most popular jobs for healthcare graduates:
Home health or personal care aide
These aides care for patients in need of help at home. This job doesn't always require formal education, though some employers prefer applicants with a certificate from a trade school program.
Medical assistants might perform a mix of clinical and administrative duties or favor one over the other. They can be hired with a certificate, but may be more marketable with an associate degree.
Nursing assistants perform basic patient care tasks to help free up nurses for other duties. They need a certificate from a state-approved program to earn a license to practice.
Physicians' pay and job outlook varies by specialty. They must earn an MD and complete a four-year residency to practice medicine.
Social Sciences and History
Social scientists study human behavior in different contexts. Majors in this category include the following:
Most of these disciplines run the gamut from associate to doctoral degrees. Earning an associate or bachelor's degree might qualify you for a variety of work in social services, business, education, or law. At higher levels, you might be able to teach college and conduct original research.
We've listed some common social science jobs here:
Economists analyze the function of the economy and the players within it. They typically need a master's degree to work in business, governments, or nonprofits, and a doctorate to work in academia.
Survey researchers create surveys and present their findings to clients. This data-heavy work usually calls for at least a master's degree.
Urban or regional planner
Most engineers start their careers after earning a bachelor's degree. You might earn a master's to improve your employment and salary prospects, especially if you want to manage engineering teams. Associate degrees typically cover general engineering basics with an eye to transferring credits into a bachelor's program.
The table below lists the most popular types of engineers. To become any of these, you'll need a bachelor's degree in that form of engineering or a closely related variety.
Aerospace engineers design and improve airframes for planes and spacecraft.
Civil engineers build and improve infrastructure such as roads and bridges. They need state licenses because they work on public projects.
Computer hardware engineer
A team of computer hardware engineers designed your computer's physical components, along with any mobile devices you use.
Electrical engineers work on power generation systems and products that use and generate electricity.
Industrial engineers design manufacturing systems, equipment, and processes.
Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Biological science students examine the building blocks of life. Majors in this category are all variations on biology, such as plant biology, cellular biology, or toxicology.
You can study general biology at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. More specialized majors might not offer many associate options, but you can typically find programs at the other degree levels.
A biology or biomedical education might qualify you for a variety of career opportunities. A few of the more popular ones are below:
Biochemist or biophysicist
Biochemists and biophysicists are doctoral-level scientists that study the interplay of biology with chemistry and physics.
Biological technicians work in laboratories performing experiments under the supervision of scientists. They require at least a bachelor's degree, and some doctoral candidates do this work while they work on their degrees.
Conservation specialists work to preserve and protect natural resources. A bachelor's degree is necessary to become one.
Environmental science or protection technician
Environmental technicians investigate the sources of environmental damage. Associate graduates might secure these jobs, but some employers prefer bachelor's alumni.
Environmental scientist or specialist
Environmental scientists take pollution data from technicians and devise solutions for protecting habitats and wildlife. They need a bachelor's degree at minimum, with many positions calling for more education.
Psychology is a perennially popular bachelor's degree major because, as professor of psychology R. Eric Landrum wrote, it "qualifies a person for a large number of jobs, but the degree does not uniquely qualify a person for any particular job." Indeed, many psychology graduates work in management, community and social services, and education.
There are several types of psychologists. Clinical psychologists are doctoral-level practitioners who counsel patients or groups on their mental health and life problems.
Forensic psychologists apply psychology to criminal justice. They need at least a master's degree in forensic psychology to practice.
Industrial-organizational psychologists help employers improve their working conditions and employees' mental health and productivity. Many IOP psychologists hold master's degrees.
To start on a related counseling career, you need to earn a programmatically accredited bachelor's or master's degree in the specific counseling discipline you want to practice — a psychology degree might not cut it.
Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services
This category consists of technical subjects that are important to the modern economy, such as coding, cloud computing, data security, and machine learning. Common majors include the following:
Most of these majors are available at all undergraduate and graduate degree levels, though only researchers and future academics tend to enroll in doctorate programs. In addition, certifications are important to most computer professionals' careers.
Computer support specialist
Computer support specialists help other employees with computer or connectivity problems. They usually need an associate degree and can qualify for a number of IT certifications.
Computer systems analyst
Computer analysts design computer hardware, software, and network infrastructure for organizations. They usually need a bachelor's degree.
Network or computer systems administrator
These administrators ensure the smooth operation of their employers' technology. A bachelor's degree is typically sufficient to secure a position.
Software developer, quality assurance analyst, or tester
Developers create new software and apps, while analysts and testers make sure they work in different formats and under nonideal conditions. Each role might require a bachelor's degree or an associate degree with relevant certifications.
Web developer or digital designer
Web developers and digital designers are for people who want to create websites and make them appealing and accessible. As with many computer jobs, a bachelor's degree is a good bet but certifications may allow you to land work with less education.
Visual and Performing Arts
These degrees allow creative students to practice their art while getting feedback from trained instructors. Majors span the range of the performing arts, such as dance and drama. But this category also includes the following applied arts subjects:
For most of these majors, you can typically enroll at the associate, bachelor's, and master's level. Performing arts degrees are often called Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA). The MFA is often the terminal degree that qualifies you to teach at the college level, though some fields may also have doctorates.
The following list contains some common jobs for visual and performing arts majors:
Art directors develop and maintain a consistent visual style for their employers' products. They can generally start this work with a bachelor's degree.
Graphic designers use software to generate images in every industry. A bachelor's degree is the most common starting credential.
Musician or singer
Musicians don't need higher education, but many find it helpful to refine their craft in a formal setting.
Special effects artist or animator
These artists create moving images using software. Most employers prefer to hire artists or animators who've developed a work portfolio during a degree program.
Communication, Journalism, and Related Programs
These majors cover the various media that people use to communicate information, including print journalism, radio, and television. Below are some of the common majors you might encounter.
Most communication-related fields feature degrees from associate to master's. You can also earn a doctorate in general communications.
There are many jobs you can do with a communications degree, including the popular choices below:
Broadcast, sound, or video technician
Technicians operate equipment that lets audiences see and hear journalists and actors. These roles may require no more than an associate degree.
Editors refine writers' output to make it more readable and understandable. They typically need a bachelor's degree.
Film or video editor or camera operator
Film editors and operators cut together raw video footage to create a pleasing final product. A bachelor's degree is the usual requirement.
Public relations specialist
PR professionals write press releases and speeches to help improve their clients' public images. They need bachelor's degrees to embark on this career.
Education majors learn techniques for teaching subject matter in their area of expertise. You can pursue several types of teaching degree majors, including the following:
You generally need a bachelor's degree to teach at the early childhood through high school levels. This education will help qualify you for certification in your state, though you still need to pass the exam. Many teachers also earn master's degrees in education online to improve their salary prospects. Doctorates are more common for school or district administrators than for teachers.
We've listed the most common jobs for education majors. Each of these typically calls for a bachelor's degree and state certification.
High school teacher
High school teachers educate teenagers in their final four years of school before going to college or entering the workforce.
Kindergarten and elementary school teacher
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers work with students from kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade, or about ages 6-12.
Middle school teacher
Depending on the state, middle school teachers educate students from ages 12-14.
Preschool specialists teach young children until about age five.
Special education teacher
Special education teachers educate students at all levels with various special needs.
FAQs About the Most Popular College Majors
What Are the Most Popular College Majors in 2023?
What Are the Most Popular Online College Majors?
We couldn't determine the most popular online majors using reliable data. But several of the popular majors on this page feature a wealth of online options. For example, more students are currently earning their MBAs online than in person, and even in 2017 half of all RN-to-BSN learners were studying online.
What Is the Least Popular College Major?
What Major Will Make You Rich?
Your major alone won't make you rich, but some fields of study increase your chances of qualifying for one of the highest paying jobs. As an undergraduate, your best bet is probably earning a business bachelor's degree in hopes of qualifying for a lucrative management occupation. However, you typically need some experience before you're ready for leadership.
To become an anesthesiologist — the highest paid professional by median salary — you need to get an MD and spend years in anesthesiology residency. Many doctors major in biology or biomedical science as undergraduates, but there aren't usually any major requirements to enter medical school.