Sometimes when you’re not sure what your next step is, the easiest thing to do is to take a look at what others are up to. If you’re thinking about getting a bachelor’s degree, you might want to take a look at which ones are most popular (and why).
Thanks to the National Center for Education Statistics Digest of Educational Statistics, we’ve got pretty good data on the number and type of degrees conferred since 1960. Spending a little time with the data gives you a pretty good handle on the most popular degrees in the U.S. over the last 50 years.
The Popularity Contest: Which Bachelor’s Degrees Are on Top
Overall the top five areas of study are pretty consistent: business, education, engineering, health professions (and related sciences) and the social sciences (history, anthropology, sociology, etc) are consistently topping the charts in terms of most popular bachelor’s degrees. The chart below shows what percentage of degrees conferred were in each of those fields in 1960,1970,1980, 1990, 2000, and 2008 (the most recent year for which statistics are available):
Bachelor’s in Business
As you can see, currently business degrees are ruling bachelor’s degrees number: between 1970 and 1980 they rose to the top and have stayed pretty consistent since that point. It will be interesting to see where these numbers have gone since 2008, and where they will go in the future.
Social Science Bachelor’s Degrees
Social sciences are currently in the second position with approximately 10 percent of degrees conferred in 2008, and have stayed pretty much between 10-15 percent since the 1960s, except for the noticeable spike in 1970. (Perhaps a sign of the social revolution at the time spurring students to study law, history, political science, or some other field that would help them to make a difference in society?)
Of course, of all of the degree types mentioned here, social sciences is the broadest category, encompassing everything from history to law to psychology. However, it is still worth noting that degrees in this field have been in consistently high demand – it may well be a reflection of the flexibility that these degrees provide in terms of future career and graduate study possibilities.
Bachelor’s Degrees in Health Care and Science
Health professions and related sciences is currently in the third spot with about 7 percent of degrees conferred in 2008, and has been slowly climbing from a low point of about 3 percent in 1970. It’s not surprising that degrees in the field are becoming more common, as healthcare professionals are among the most in-demand workers in today’s job market. In fact, if anything, these statistics underreport the number of people entering the healthcare field, as the category does not take into account students majoring in biology, chemistry, or other scientific areas in preparation for graduate study in a health-related field.
Bachelor’s Degrees in Education
Education, currently in fourth place with about 6 percent of degrees in 2008, has taken the most noticeable dive in the last fifty years. From 1960, when nearly a quarter of all bachelor’s degrees were in the education field, the area has steadily declined each decade. This trend, while certainly discouraging, may not be entirely indicative of the state of education in this country: as with healthcare, more and more students pursue educational specialties in graduate school, after getting undergraduate degrees in more general subjects.
Bachelor’s Degrees in Engineering
Finally, engineering rounds out the top five with about 5 percent of degrees conferred in 2008. Engineering has been declining, but at a much lower rate than education.