Top 10 Most Popularly Enrolled Bachelors Majors

As competition in the global job market intensifies, the world of education is simultaneously becoming more competitive.  Colleges are trying to enroll as many students as they can in every enrollment cycle. With some graduates being “more equal than others”, students are becoming more concerned with choosing the “right” major. The biggest question for most remains, how much will they earn with a specific degree?

Most Popularly Enrolled Bachelors Majors

All these questions and concerns are answered below in the list ofthe Top 10 Most Popularly Enrolled Bachelors Majors at the undergraduate level, based on total enrollment data provided by the National Center for Educational Statistics along with the median incomes.

  1. Business
  2. Social Sciences & History
  3. Education
  4. Health Professions & Related Programs
  5. Psychology
  6. Visual & Performing Arts
  7. Biological & Biomedical Sciences
  8. Communication, Journalism and Related Programs
  9. Engineering
  10. English Language


Total Enrollment (2000-2012): 3,872,859
Percentage Increase(2000-2012): 39%
Median Earnings for Bachelors in Business Majors in 2011: $66,605

The business major has made it to the top of our 10 most popularly enrolled majors with a total enrollment of 3,872,859, as of 2012.In the 12 year period observed, the overall trend shows the growth rate steadily slowing down to a low 0.47%. Another negative trend isseen when we look at the percentage of student interest over the years in the field of business, as compared to all other fields.  However, this is not material. With an average percentage decrease as insignificant as 0.29% over the 12 year period, it is evident that even though relative enrollment numbers may be experiencing minor volatility, on the whole, business continues to be a popular major choice among students.

What could be the reason for this popularity? One possible reason could be that the workload is considered relatively less intensive. According to the National Survey of Student Engagement, 46% of business majors spent less than 11 hours preparing for classes every week in their senior year – a percentage higher than that of any other major. Another possible reason could be the varietyof professions business majors can enter once they graduate; marketing, accounting, finance, human resources and sales are just to name a few fields.

Total Enrollment (2000-2012) Comaprison

   Total Enrollment (2000-2012)
A Business
B Social Sciences & History
C Education
D Health Professions & Related Programs
E Psychology
F Visual & Performing Arts
G Biological & Biomedical Sciences
H Communication, Journalism and Related Programs
I Engineering
J English Language

Social Sciences & History

Total Enrollment(2000-2012): 1,901,413
Percentage Increase(2000-2012): 39%
Median Earnings for Bachelors in Social Science& History in 2011: $70,197& $58,761

The second most popular major in terms of enrollment is social sciences and history with a total of 1,901,413 students enrolled in the years 2000 to 2012.The overall trend seen in the 12 years is positive, with a steady, gradual increase. However, looking at the year by year figures, a different trend is observed with growth rates of absolute enrollments slowing down to a low 0.79%. Student interest levels in this major have also seen fluctuations but on the whole, they paint an optimistic picture. Averaging around 10.5% with an insignificant standard deviation of 0.28%, it can be deduced that social sciences and history continue to be a popular major.

The fluctuations in enrollment in social sciences and history can be explained by a number of factors. There is a misconception that majoring in subjects other than math and science is a waste of time and that students who go for these majors might not get good jobs. The relative stability of student interest level in this field can be explained by the skills it helps them develop and the career paths those skills open up for them. According to the National Survey of Student Engagement, a high percentage of students learn to write and speak clearly, think critically and analyze quantitative problems while majoring in social sciences. These skills come in very handy in the job marketfor the jobs relating to sales, marketing, hospitality and public relations.


Total Enrollment (2000-2012): 1,257,538
Percentage Increase(2000-2012):0.31%
Median Earnings for Bachelors in Education in 2011: $50,902

The third most popular major, in terms of annual enrollments is Education, with a total number of 1,257,538 enrollments. Even though this major lands at number 3 on our list, the number of enrollments has grown by a very small percentage over the 12 year period. The student interest levels in enrolling in education majors as opposed to all other majors have experienced fluctuations, averaging at 7.05% with a rather high standard deviation of 0.87%. This shows how over a period of time, the interest levels in this major have varied with reference to other majors.

So why has this major landed at number 3? What is attracting so many students towards this major? Schools are required to hire a certain number of special education teachers. In addition to that, schools have increased dependence on standardized test scores, which increases demand for private tuition facilities. Education majors, especially with concentrations in communications, mathematics and journalism may have the opportunity to work as policy analysts, public relations officers and corporate strategists. Executive coaching and corporate trainings is another domain for education majors; a domain which has developed into a career.

Health Professions & Related Programs

Total Enrollment(2000-2012): 1,236,953
Percentage Increase (2000-2012): 115%
Median Earnings for Bachelors in Health in 2011: $69,615*

Health professions and related programs had a total enrollment of 1,236,953 as of 2012. What is more interesting though is the staggering 115% change in enrollments that this field has seen over a matter of only 12 years; an increase higher than the top 3 most popularly enrolled majors, listed above. Student interest levels have also seen a50% positive increase between 2000 and 2012. Another encouraging trend is the average annual growth in enrollments, which happens to be higher than the top 3 majors.

There are several factors that could explain the popularity of this major. The first and foremost is the general belief that majoring in any sort of sciences is the way to landing that ‘dream job’. While this isn’t entirely correct, it is, to some extent true, especially in the case of this industry.

Increasing average lifespan, the advancement of medical technology, increasing population and the aging baby boomer generation have all heightened the demand for health professionals. In addition,  there is a great deal of job variety and flexibility in terms of choosing an area of interest.  For instance, many people who are in the administrative sector of the health industry combine this with another area of interest like marketing, fundraising, finance or social awareness programs.

Percentage Increase Comparison (2000-2012)

   Percentage Increase
A Business
B Social Sciences & History
C Education
D Health Professions & Related Programs
E Psychology
F Visual & Performing Arts
G Biological & Biomedical Sciences
H Communication, Journalism and Related Programs
I Engineering
J English Language


Total Enrollment(2000-2012): 1,068,908
Percentage Increase (2000-2012): 47.9%
Median Earnings for Bachelors in Psychology in 2011: $55,509

Psychology has experienced nearly 50% increase in its enrollment numbers between 2000 and 2012. The student interest level in this major has increased steadily over time, averaging at 5.92% with a standard deviation small enough to be considered negligible. This shows how over the 12 year period, students have showed constant interest in psychology.

Wondering why has this major remained so popular over time? The answer to that question is somewhat interesting.  According to Complete Psychology by Graham Davey (2007), a mere 15 to 20 percent of psychology majors end up becoming professional psychologists. The greater majority applies their skills in a vast variety of careers including marketing, criminal justice, education, health services, public affairs, human resources, advertising and so on.

This is however not to claim that psychology, despite being a popular major, guarantees employment after graduation. According to a report compiled by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, based on the data from the US Census Bureau, certain fields of psychology face the following unemployment rates:

  • Clinical psychology (19.5%)
  • Educational psychology (10.9%)
  • Industrial and organizational psychology (10.4%)
  • Social psychology (8.8%)

This contradiction can only be explained by the multiple skills learned by psychology majors, which help them seek employment in other popular professional domains.

Visual & Performing Arts

Total Enrollment(2000-2012): 984,420
Percentage Increase (2000-2012): 57%
Median Earnings for Bachelors in Visual & Performing Arts in 2011: $50,484

In the 2000-2012 period, this major has seen an overall percentage increase of 57%, which is higher than the increase in the top 3 majors in this list. Looking at the number of students choosing to enroll in this major expressed as a percentage of the total enrollments, a steady trend is observed, averaging at 5.44%. Within these 12 years, the interest levels of the students have remained somewhat steady, depicting how this field continues to remain a popular choice, for a certain group of individuals. 

So who are these individuals? And why do they choose this major?Individuals interested in the following careers pursue this major:

  • Advertising Illustrators
  • Art Therapists
  • Art Librarians
  • Art Directors
  • Book Designers
  • Painters
  • Jewelry Designers
  • Journalistic Artists
  • Photographers
  • Filmmakers
  • Film Critics
  • Cartoonists
  • Production Assistants
  • Sculptors
  • Set Designers
  • Tattoo Artists
  • Sound & Special Effects Specialists

This list is not exhaustive and most of these require a bachelor’s degree only as the entry level education (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - BLS). The larger majority of people who enroll in visual and performing arts majors are very passionate about it. Some are naturally talented while others have the drive to want to make it big in any of the abovementioned fields.

Biological & Biomedical Sciences

Total Enrollment(2000-2012): 893,063
Percentage Increase (2000-2012): 58%
Median Earnings for Bachelors in Biological &Biomedical Sciences in 2011: $70,025

Since 2001, the number of enrollments haverisen constantly, along with the student interest levels, which have averaged at 4.9%. With positive trends witnessed in this field, it is safe to assume that biological and biomedical sciences continue to be a popular enrollment choice.
One of the most obvious reasons is that the biomedical science workforce has increased substantially over the past few decades. The traditional clinical and laboratory investigations have been revamped with the advent of new technical and scientific breakthroughs. In addition to that, a greater urgency is witnessed in some fields of biological research due to international and economic factors such as the threat of bioterrorism and constantly emerging infectious diseases. Governments and the private industry have increased their funding of biomedical research and development, expanding the size of this already  growing field.

Communication, Journalism and Related Programs

Total Enrollment(2000-2012): 883,821
Percentage Increase (2000-2012): 44%
Median Earnings for Bachelors in Communications, Journalism and Related Programs in 2011: $55,859

If we look at absolute enrollment numbers in this major, irrespective of the total number of enrollments in all majors, we come across a positive trend, with enrollments rising steadily. But this trend might be slightly misleading. Over the years, student interest levels in this field have shown fluctuations, which towards the end, slowed down and spiraled into a steady and slow downward trend.

Whether this trend will continue or not, is a different discussion altogether, but why is this major experiencing a negative trend? One reason could be the known fact of layoffs in the news industry, which makes students question whether it’s a good time to get into the journalism field. A closerlook  reveals that while communication programs have been growing consistently, the journalism and mass communication (specializations within communication) have experienced stagnant growth according to the 2012 Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Enrollments. An explanation for this, according to the director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, is that journalism is not going away; it’s just becoming more complex and advance. For instance, there was a time when journalism was just about newspapers and print media, but now it has expanded into fields of advertising, public relations and the constantly growing social media. Such changes in the industry show that journalism has evolved.


Total Enrollment(2000-2012): 809,898
Percentage Increase (2000-2012): 40%
Median Earnings for Bachelors in Engineering in 2011: $91,611

Over these 12 years, the enrollments have shown an increase every year.  However, when we look at enrollment figures relative to total enrollments in all majors, we see fluctuations, dominated by downward trends in most years. But even after incorporating these fluctuations, the relative enrollments average at 4.49% with a very small standard deviation, illustrating how the total share of enrollments held by this major has pretty much, remained the same.

So why does engineering continue to be a popular major choice? The answer is simple. According to a report by The American Scholar, public schools, which educate a larger number of students, as compared to private schools, focus more on promoting subjects relating to engineering, research and science. In addition, engineering concentrations make up nearly one third of Forbes’ most valuable majors list. Software engineers, environmental engineers, civil engineers and petroleum engineers have all ended up on this list, earning high salaries, with petroleum engineers earning the maximum median salary of $155,000 per year.

Median Wages Comparison

   Median Earnings
A Business
B Social Sciences & History
C Education
D Health Professions, Nursing & Related Programs
E Psychology
F Visual & Performing Arts
G Biological & Biomedical Sciences
H Communication, Journalism and Related Programs
I Engineering
J English Language

English Language

Total Enrollment(2000-2012): 645,466
Percentage Increase (2000-2012): 6%
Median Earnings for Bachelors in English Language & Literature/Letters in 2011: $58,616

The final major in the list for Top 10 Most Popularly Enrolled Majors at the undergraduate level is English language and literature/letters with a total enrollment of 645,466 and a percentage increase of 6% from 2000 to 2012. The absolute enrollments rose consistently for the first 6 years and then experienced minor fluctuations.  The share of this major in total enrollments across all majors has consistently decreased over the 12 years in question.
So is the English language and literature on the decline? Students’ demographics have changed with a good number of students not having English as their first language. However demography alone does not paint the whole picture.  One very evident cause is the fact that English majors do not generally earn as much as science or math majors.  Another cause is the rise of research-driven education.  Economists, chemists, psychologists, biologists and computer scientists can manage to generate funds in the name of research, unlike the English department. Even with all these factors, the realityis that enrollments in this major are still high enough to havelanded this major a spot on this list, which speaks volumesabout its continuing popularity.

All enrollment numbers and percentage increases have been taken from the National Center for Education Statistics for the years between 2000 and 2012.

  • All median income figures are taken from ‘What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors’; A report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce
  • Student Interest Level is the number of students enrolling in a particular major expressed as a percentage of total enrollments in all majors/the share of total enrollments that a particular major manages to grab.
  • *Health Professions & Related Programs falls under Science & Engineering related fields: and the earning are pertaining to Science & Engineering related fields:



States with the highest employment level in this occupation:



Employment per thousand jobs

Location quotient

Hourly mean wage

Annual mean wage

California 16600.111.2618.1337720
Florida 11300.141.6817.9737370
Illinois 9600.161.9217.937240
Texas 7600.070.7816.6234570
New York 6500.070.8520.1241840


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