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Choosing a college major is a defining moment in your academic journey. You may be influenced by factors like lucrative salaries, diverse job opportunities, personal passion, or simply a desire to make a positive impact on society. This article explores the 11 most sought-after college degrees and takes a look at why they’re so popular. 

1. Business

Average salary (May 2022): $76,850

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 6%

Number of degrees awarded (2020–21): 391,375

Common specializations: Business management, marketing, finance, accounting, logistics, human resources, healthcare management, and related support services such as culinary, entertainment, and personal services.

According to Pew Research Center, business has been the most common college major in the U.S. since the 1980–81 academic year. In fact, 391,375 business degrees were awarded in 2020–21. The popularity of business degrees can be attributed to their versatile and transferable nature, equipping students with essential skills in leadership, marketing strategy, economics, and more. Accordingly, business graduates have the potential to pursue careers across a wide range of industries and roles.

Overall employment in business and financial occupations is projected to grow faster than the average employment rate for all occupations from 2022 to 2032. About 911,400 openings are projected each year in business occupations.

2. Health Professions and Related Programs

Average salary (May 2022): $77,760

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 9%

Number of degrees awarded for 2020–21: 268,018

Common specializations: Nursing, healthcare management, physical therapy, medical assisting, dental, pharmacy, physicians, and surgeons.

Health professions and related degree programs equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to serve in various healthcare roles. The number of degrees awarded in these programs in recent years has been substantial, reflecting a growing interest in healthcare careers.

The estimated job growth rate in healthcare is exceptionally high, with about 1.8 million annual job openings projected from 2022 to 2032. The median annual wage for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations is $77,760. This surpasses the median annual salary for all occupations, making healthcare related degrees financially appealing to prospective students. It should be noted that healthcare support occupations such as home health aides, medical transcriptionists, and occupational therapy assistants have a lower average annual wage for all occupations.

3. Social Sciences and History

Average salary (May 2022): $74,330 (including life, physical, and social science)

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 5%

Number of degrees awarded for 2020–21: 160,827

Common specializations: Anthropology, communications, environmental studies, history, political science, and sociology.

Various majors are in demand under the umbrella of social sciences and history. Disciplines like anthropology, communications, environmental studies, history, political science, and sociology offer diverse career opportunities. Social science and history degree programs equip students with critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, allowing them to pursue careers in economics, politics, social work, teaching, urban planning, and more. The field offers promising job prospects and a wide array of specializations to suit various interests and career goals.

In the broader scope of social sciences—which includes life and physical sciences—these occupations are projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations from 2022 to 2032. For history degree holders, the average salary is around $65,000, with a projected job growth of 3% from 2022 to 2032. Specializations within this field include history teaching, museum curators, archivists, and related professions. Historians with a master’s degree command an average salary of $64,540, as of 2022.

4. Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Average salary (May 2022): $103,810 (biochemists and biophysicists),

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 7%

Number of degrees awarded for 2020–21: 131,499

Common specializations: Biochemistry, biophysics, biomedical engineering, biotechnology, chemistry, environmental science, microbiology, and wildlife biology.

Biological and biomedical sciences are popular college degrees due to their promising career prospects, above average job growth rate, and high pay. The median annual wage for biochemists and biophysicists was $103,810 in May 2022. The lowest 10% earned less than $61,540, and the highest 10% earned more than $171,010. The job growth rate is projected to be 7% from 2022 to 2032.

In the academic year 2020-–21, U.S. colleges awarded approximately 131,499 degrees in biological and biomedical sciences, a 35% increase since 2010-–11. Students in this career field explore various subjects, including ecology, cell biology, and genetics, tailoring their studies to their specific interests and career goals.

5. Psychology

Average salary (May 2022): $74,330

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 6%

Number of degrees awarded for 2020–21: 126,944

Common specializations: Applied psychology, behavioral psychology, child and adolescent psychology, clinical psychology, forensic psychology, and organizational psychology.

Psychology delves into the intricacies of the human mind and behavior. Specializations within the field of psychology offer diverse career prospects, and require relevant degrees in the focus area. These specializations include clinical psychology, which focuses on mental health treatment; cognitive psychology, which explores mental processes like memory and problem-solving; and organizational psychology, which focuses on workplace dynamics.

Overall employment in life, physical, and social science occupations is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations from 2022 to 2032. About 136,800 openings are projected each year. The average annual salary in this profession is $74,330 as of May 2022.

6. Engineering

Average salary (May 2022): $83,700

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 7%

Number of degrees awarded for 2020–21: 126,037

Common specializations: Aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, electronics engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, and nuclear engineering.

Jobs related to engineering are in high demand across almost every industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a large need for engineers from 2022 to 2032, projecting around 188,000 annual job openings. With higher than average annual salaries and job opportunities, this field is promising for long-term career growth.

Most engineering jobs will require an engineering degree. These programs vary according to speciality, but typically include advanced math and quantitative methods, as well as broader skill sets such as project management, graphical communication, and effective problem-solving. A large number of tech-focused engineering roles are also available to those with an IT degree. Approximately 126,037 students pursued bachelor’s degrees in engineering during the academic year 2020–21.

7. Computer and Information Science

Average salary (May 2022): $66,240

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 14%

Number of degrees awarded for 2020–21: 104,874

Common specializations: Computer programming, cybersecurity, data science, database management, information technology, network administration, software engineering, and web development.

Computer and information sciences and support services are in-demand fields encompassing the study of cybersecurity, database analysis, software development, IT management, and tech support. Degrees in this field equip students with the skills needed to navigate the continually evolving technological landscape, and prepare graduates for diverse, rewarding, and lucrative careers.

This field is poised for 14% job growth between 2022 and 2032, which is almost five times higher than the overall job growth of 3% for the same time period. About 377,500 openings are projected each year across all sectors of information technology. The median annual wage for this group was $100,530 in May 2022, which was higher than the median annual wage for all occupations.

8. Communication and Journalism

Average salary (May 2022): $66,240

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 3%

Number of degrees awarded for 2020–21: 90,775

Common specializations: Public relations specialists, journalism, writing, editing, digital media, public relations, marketing, and social media management.

Professionals in communication, journalism, and related programs utilize words and visuals to effectively convey information and concepts. The field encompasses a vast range of specializations, including public relations, journalism, advertising, digital media, corporate communications, marketing, social media management, broadcasting, technical writing, editing, and publishing.

A degree in communications equips individuals with critical thinking, writing, and multimedia skills, vital for careers in media and communication. The average annual salary for media and communications professionals is $66,240. Employment in this field is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations from 2022 to 2032. About 114,300 openings are projected each year.

9. Visual and Performing Arts

Average salary (2022): $51,150

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 3%

Number of degrees awarded for 2020–21: 90,022

Common specializations: Animation, art history, dance, fashion design, film, fine arts, graphic design, illustration, interior design, music, photography, video game design, and web design.

Visual and performing arts include a diverse range of professions, from painting and sculpture to graphic design and film. For those aspiring to pursue a career in the arts, a degree in your chosen specialty is essential. However, a degree in business or marketing can also enhance opportunities. The employment outlook for arts and design occupations is promising.

Job growth is projected to be faster than the average for all occupations from 2022 to 2032, with approximately 95,800 annual job openings, respectively. Moreover, the median annual wages for these occupations exceed the national average, providing an added incentive for individuals passionate about visual and performing arts to pursue a rewarding career in this field.

10. Education

Average salary (2022): $57,490

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 1% (K–12 teachers), 8% (post-secondary teachers), 3% overall

Number of degrees awarded for 2020–21: 89,398

Common specializations: Early childhood education, elementary education, health education, curriculum design, librarians and media specialists, math and science education, music education, physical education, secondary education, and special education.

Education includes a variety of specializations, including childhood education, which focuses on young learners; elementary and secondary education, which emphasize K–12 teaching; and special education, which tackles the unique needs of diverse learners. Secondary teachers often specialize in a single area, such as English, math, or science. Each specialization plays a vital role in shaping the future of education and empowering young students. Each specialty also requires specific training and degrees in that area.

Overall employment in educational instruction and library occupations is projected to grow by about 3% from 2022 to 2032. This is on par with the national average for all career fields. About 857,600 openings are projected each year.

11. Homeland Security, Law Enforcement and Firefighting

Average salary (2022): $45,450

Estimated job growth (2022–2032): 3%

Number of degrees awarded for 2020–21: 44,922

Common specializations: Homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting.

When it comes to public safety, the career fields of homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting are essential for maintaining order and ensuring safety. According to 2022 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage in this sector was $45,450, which is slightly lower than the average annual wage for all workers. Overall employment growth in protective service occupations is expected to be minimal from 2022 to 2032. However, approximately 409,500 job openings per year are anticipated. This suggests a stable demand for skilled professionals in public safety.

Although many entry-level positions in public safety require only a high school education, more advanced roles may require a bachelor’s degree. For example, law enforcement can include specialized fields like finance, accounting, and cybersecurity. Homeland security officers in particular may benefit from degrees in criminal law. For aspiring public safety professionals, pursuing an online degree in one of these areas makes acquiring the necessary skills for a career in criminal justice more accessible than ever.

Next Steps

From business to engineering, healthcare to technology, there’s a course of study for every interest and ambition. The abundance of online college degree programs ensures that no matter your passion or goals, there’s a fitting major waiting to be pursued. So, take the first step in your academic journey with confidence, knowing that the perfect fit is out there for you.

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