The 10 Most Popular College Majors In America

Job & Salaries

Only 32 percent of high school seniors who take the ACT (American College Testing) exam select a college major that correlates with their interests, according to ACT, Inc., a nonprofit organization that assesses college readiness. When students register to take the exam, they also complete an ACT Interest Inventory. In 2013, the company compared the high school students’ data with those of previous test-takers who chose the same majors. The results reveal that 32 percent of students select a major that poorly correlates with their interests, and 36 percent choose a degree path that only moderately fits their interests.

These statistics are important because ACT research also reveals that students who pursue degrees closely related to their interests are more likely to remain in those fields, and also more likely to graduate on time. In addition, these students are more likely to be happy both in school and in their chosen career field.

Another survey by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce analyzed data on 171 undergraduate majors to determine the most popular undergraduate choices among college students. It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 majors are in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and technology) areas – which may or may not be a problem. On one hand, some experts say that there is a severe shortage of U.S. born STEM graduates, and the popularity of other degree choices does nothing to address this issue.

On the other hand, a 2013 study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) refutes the theory of a STEM worker shortage. According to the EPI, it’s true that only a small number of U.S. students earn a STEM degree. However, EPI’s study reveals that American STEM graduates have difficulty finding jobs – even those who major in engineering and information technology. In fact, IT jobs account for 59 percent of STEM careers, and the study reports that foreign workers occupy a higher percentage of IT jobs.

In any event, the 10 most popular majors pay median annual salaries ranging from $40,000 to $63,000. Females overwhelmingly pursue some of the degrees, while others have an equal gender mix, and a few appear to be more popular among males.

10. Communications – Mean Annual Salary $50,000

The tenth most popular major is communications, with a gender composition that is 58 percent female and 42 percent male, according to the GU report. The material covered by the study of communications may vary by college, ranging from advertising and public relations to journalism to strategic public communications and public relations to telecommunications to film, video and media studies. Career opportunities are representative of these areas of study.

9. English Language And Literature – Mean Annual Salary $48,000

The ninth most popular major is English language and literature, with a 67 percent female and 33 percent male gender composition. Students study a variety of areas and topics, including the works of Chaucer, literary theory and criticism, poetry and poetics, and American literature before 1900. Typical careers for graduates include writers, technical writers, and copywriters; news analysts, reporters, and correspondents; editors and copy editors; adult educators; and public relations specialists.

8. General Education – Mean Annual Salary $42,000

General education is the eighth most popular major. The gender composition of general education majors is 76 percent female and 24 percent male. Students typically take courses in educational psychology, teaching methods, philosophy of education, and instructional technology. Popular career choices include elementary, middle, and high school teachers; special education teachers; instructional coordinators; and educational administrators.

7. Marketing and Marketing Research – Mean Annual Salary $58,000

Marketing and marketing research, the seventh most popular choice of undergraduates, is about 51 percent female and 49 percent male. Coursework may include classes in consumer behavior, marketing strategy, marketing research, marketing communications, and advertising and promotions. A degree in marketing and marketing research may lead to a career in advertising, marketing and public relations; market and survey research; copywriting; and buying and purchasing.

6. Elementary Education – Mean Annual Salary $40,000

Elementary education is the sixth most popular major, and the most female-dominated degree choice on the list: 91 percent vs. 9 percent male. Students take classes in teaching methods, reading fundamentals, classroom management and behavior, and child development and learning. Elementary education graduates typically become elementary school teachers, school counselors, librarians, and education administrators.

5. Psychology – Mean Annual Salary $45,000

Women also heavily dominate the fifth most popular major, psychology: 71 percent vs. the 29 percent composed of men. Coursework for these students includes developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, social psychology, cognitive psychology, statistical methods in psychology, and research methods in psychology. Career options include working as a clinical psychologist, marriage and family therapist, research psychologist, school psychologist, and mental, health and substance abuse counselor.

4. Nursing – Mean Annual Salary $60,000

Nursing, the fourth most popular major, is also the second most female-dominated major: 92 percent vs. 8 percent male. Classes include anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, nutrition, pharmacology, pathophysiology, and childbearing-family nursing. Besides pursuing a career in nursing, graduates may also go on to become general practitioners, physician assistants, and emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

3. Accounting – Mean Annual Salary $63,000

The third most popular major, accounting, has a relatively equal gender composition that is 52 percent female and 48 percent male. Coursework for accounting majors may include introductory, intermediate, and advanced accounting; auditing; tax accounting; business law; and accounting information systems. Career paths for accounting majors include positions as public accountants, government accountants and auditors, management accountants and internal auditors, budget analysts, financial analysts, and financial managers.

2. General Business – Mean Annual Salary $60,000

In the second most popular major, general business, men have a distinct compositional advantage: 61 percent vs. the 39 percent composed by women. Typical courses include accounting, business law, economics, management, finance, and marketing. Jobs for general business majors include working as market and survey researchers, public relations specialists, human resource assistants, and insurance and real estate sales agents.

1. Business Management and Administration – Mean Annual Salary $58,000

Business management and administration is the most popular undergraduate major, and has a higher composition of men: 56 percent vs. 44 percent women. Students take such classes as financial management, operations management, human resources management, marketing, economics, business statistics, and business policy and strategy. Career options include working as a financial manager, medical and health services manager, human resources manager, top executive, or an advertising, marketing and public relations manager.