Georgetown Study Ranks the 20 Most Popular College Degrees

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Posted By Terri Williams on August 7, 2015 at 10:56 am
Georgetown Study Ranks the 20 Most Popular College Degrees

We’ve written recently about the highest-paying and lowest-paying college degrees, and about which degrees lead to the most in-demand jobs. We’ve even discussed the top 5 most commonly earned degrees among millionaires.

But what are the most popular degrees among college students? Georgetown University’s recent study, “The Economic Value of College Majors,” ranks 137 major subgroups to determine which degrees are most prevalent. The top 20 most popular degrees are listed below, along with median annual salaries:

Rank Major Subgroup Majors Per 10,000 College Graduates* Median Annual Wages*
1 Business management and administration 814 $62,000
2 General business 539 $65,000
3 Accounting 463 $69,000
4 Nursing 448 $66,000
5 Psychology 404 $49,000
6 Communications and mass media 352 $54,000
7 Marketing and marketing research 315 $63,000
8 General education 287 $46,000
9 Elementary education 279 $43,000
10 English language and literature 251 $53,000
11 Computer science 243 $83,000
12 Finance 233 $73,000
13 Criminal justice and fire protection 219 $54,000
14 Biology 206 $56,000
15 Political science and government 189 $64,000
16 Economics 186 $76,000
17 Electrical engineering 168 $93,000
18 History 164 $54,000
19 Liberal arts 162 $53,000
20 Sociology 158 $51,000

* Among college-educated workers ages 25-59

To put the numbers in perspective, at the opposite end of the spectrum, 1 person per 10,000 graduates majored in geological and geophysical engineering, and 2 people per 10,000 graduates majored in metallurgical engineering, physical sciences, geosciences, neuroscience, social psychology, mining and mineral engineering, and oceanography.

Interestingly, electrical engineering is the only major on both the top 20 most popular degrees and the top 20 highest-paying degrees list. Both general and elementary education are also among the top 20 lowest-paying majors. (The highest-paying bachelor’s degree is petroleum engineering, at $136,000; the lowest-paying bachelor’s degree is early childhood education, at $39,000).

Business management and administration is the run-away favorite degree among college students, and general business, accounting and nursing are also widely popular choices.

GoodCall contacted several experts to discuss the top 5 most popular degrees choices:

Business management and administration/general business

Students who major in business management and administration or general business can pursue a variety of in-demand career choices, including management analysts, human resource specialists, and advertising and promotions managers.

“Companies are looking for applicants with analytical and quantitative skills,” says Dr. Jeff Kudisch, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, as well as Assistant Dean of Corporate Relations and Managing Director of the Office of Career Services. “Those who major in business administration have a combination of a variety of skills in management, marketing, budgeting, etc., and in a swiftly-changing business environment, this blended skill set is very attractive to employers.”

And Cheryl Milmoe, a New York City-based career coach and job strategist, adds, “No matter the business, companies need smart, operational thinkers. Graduates with a general [business] degree know the mechanics of how businesses run.”

She says that general business degree holders have been taught how to gather information on customers, they recognize the importance of forming and nurturing key partnerships, and they know how to evaluate the competitive landscape.

“Their talents are cross-functional, and this appeals to employers of all genres – IT, media, finance, and healthcare industries, in particular, know there are a multiplicity of operational needs that require this expertise,” concludes Milmoe.

Accounting

In addition to working as accountants, graduates with this degree can also pursue careers as auditors, tax examiners, financial analysts, and personal financial advisors.

“Society is demanding more accountability due to declining trust over the last decade,” according to Philip Reckers, director of the School of Accountancy at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “As a result, the demand for accountants has exploded – not only to handle all the data, but even more so to provide for increasing levels of assurance of data in such matters as sustainability and ‘green’ accounting, corporate governance and environmental impact.”

And Donna Sweidan, a career and executive coach and the founder of Careerfolk in New York City, adds, “As a result of corporate financial scandals, an increased need for corporate accountability, and a focus on business ethics and more stringent business regulations, employers are searching for accounting graduates who not only have good math skills, but are also detail-oriented and have good analytical skills.”

Nursing

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects faster-than-average growth rates for nurses through 2022. Robin Schooling, a Baton Rouge-based HR consultant and managing director at Silver Zebras, notes that an aging population and an increase in individuals with access to healthcare will significantly increase the number of people seeking medical treatment.

“The demand for RNs with a bachelor’s degree exceeds the supply, so graduates have the opportunity to easily find employment, whether that be in hospitals, clinics, or a variety of other settings working with a variety of populations,” Schooling says. And, she adds, the demand won’t diminish anytime soon.

Psychology

The career options for graduates with a psychology degree include industrial-organizational psychologists, school psychologists, social psychologists, developmental psychologists, forensic psychologists, counseling psychologists, and clinical psychologists.

Employers want insight regarding consumer and employee behavior, according to Susan Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts, and the author of the Psych Today blog. “Psychology is an in-demand degree because it teaches highly desirable job skills, including how to interpret, predict, understand, and control behavior.” She says this information helps companies reach their target audiences and motivate their employees.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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