10 Most Popular College Majors + Their Annual Salaries

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Some people decide on their future career as a child, and others remain undecided well into college (or even beyond). Regardless of where you’re at, choosing the right major is an important life decision. Not only should you consider your passions, but also the future opportunities, lifestyle, and potential earnings that different majors will bring you.

 

This guide explores the 10 most common majors in the United States and is meant to give you an idea what skills you will learn in each, what skills each major requires, and what future careers are available. 

 

How to Choose a College Major

 

Choosing a major can be a daunting decision, as it will set you on your future career path. There are a few questions to ask yourself while weighing your options. Students often consider the popularity of the major and how the degree will impact future salaries.

 

But does the work actually interest you? You will spend the next four years specializing in a subject. Not only will you be happier studying something that interests you, but you will likely get better grades if you are passionate about the concepts you are learning. 

 

There are a host of other questions to consider, like does the type of work in the major come naturally to you? How study-intensive is the major? And of course, what job prospects does the major have? We have a whole post about how to choose a major, where you can learn more about the different factors to weigh.

 

To help you explore your options, we’ve created a list of the 10 most popular college majors. 

 

10 Most Popular College Majors

 

This data comes from Georgetown University’s report, The Economic Value of College Majors. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown analyzed wages for 137 college majors, using Census Data.

 

1. Business management and administration

Majors per 10,000 college grads (ages 25-29): 814

Median annual salary: $62,000

 

A degree in business management and administration is the most popular major in the United States, perhaps because the skills students learn are applicable to many different fields. Students will learn how businesses operate and gain knowledge in management, marketing, and budgeting. 

 

The degree provides a broad education that teaches how to “think” and approach a variety of challenges creatively. If you’re a good communicator and have strong leadership skills, you will likely thrive in this setting. This degree opens doors to careers as management analysts, human resource specialists, advertising and promotions managers, as well as a host of other entrepreneurial endeavors.

 

2. General Business

Majors per 10,000 college grads (ages 25-29): 539

Median annual salary: $65,000

 

Majoring in general business will give you a similar experience to majoring in business management and administration. Students seeking broad exposure to many areas of business, but may be unsure what specific aspect of the industry they are interested in, are a good fit for this major. 

 

The curriculum includes courses in economics, accounting, statistics, organizational behavior, critical reasoning, human resource management, etc. You will learn a broad understanding of many areas of business that will make you marketable. Students go on to pursue careers in many different fields, including financial advising, consulting, budget analysts, sales management and more. This major is appealing because it offers flexibility in your future career. 

 

See our rankings of the best colleges for business.

 

3. Accounting

Majors per 10,000 college grads (ages 25-29): 463

Median annual salary: $69,000

 

An accounting degree teaches students to create, maintain, and audit the finances of a business or organization. Students study how to analyze the financial position of a firm or organization. Coursework in this major will cover a broad set of skills in taxation, law, finance, and information systems. 

 

Depending on the school, students may have the opportunity to specialize their degree in forensic accounting or internal auditing. If you have strong math skills, are detail-oriented, and love analyzing data, this could be the right path for you. 

 

An accounting degree doesn’t limit students to becoming accountants. Students can pursue careers as auditors, tax examiners, financial analysts, and even personal financial advisors. 

 

See our rankings of the best colleges for finance.

 

4. Nursing

Majors per 10,000 college grads (ages 25-29): 448

Median annual salary: $66,000

 

A degree in nursing emphasizes service. If you are compassionate and want to dedicate your career to helping others, this may be the right choice for you. The degree is hands-on, as students will explore the interaction between theoretical and practical learning in the classroom and in the lab. Coursework covers the natural, physical, social, and behavioral sciences, such as chemistry, psychology, anatomy, and physiology. 

 

Most nursing degrees include a clinical component where students will gain experience for their future careers in hospitals and clinics. This exercise helps students develop critical thinking and clinical judgment, which is critical for success in the field. 

 

Students should consider this major if they have strong interpersonal skills and are comfortable working long nontraditional hours. Many students go on to become registered nurses, however, the degree also opens up doors to pursuing leadership positions in nursing administration, or entering the research field. 

 

5. Psychology

Majors per 10,000 college grads (ages 25-29): 404

Median annual salary: $49,000

 

A major in psychology ultimately teaches students how to understand human behavior. The degree will cover coursework in various areas of psychology like social, cognitive, abnormal, personality, and developmental. Students will also learn research and statistical methods applicable to the field. 

 

If you are people-oriented and naturally curious about human behavior and understanding thought processes, this may be the right major for you. Psychology majors go on to become industrial-organizational psychologists, school psychologists, social psychologists, developmental psychologists, forensic psychologists, counseling psychologists, and clinical psychologists. Other students chose to pursue graduate degrees in business, law, or even go to medical school. 

 

See our rankings of the best colleges for psychology

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6. Communications and mass media

Majors per 10,000 college grads (ages 25-29): 352

Median annual salary: $54,000

 

A communications and mass media degree teaches students how to craft messages for a diverse audience. Students interested in reporting, disseminating information, or understanding media culture should consider majoring in communication. 

 

Coursework will explore the evolving role of the media in society, and students may specialize in how the media  impacts feminism, war, race, etc. The major may also cover techniques for filmmaking. 

 

If you are a news junkie or enjoy using social media, you should consider this major. The degree is versatile as students go on to pursue careers in fields like public relations, broadcasting, journalism, writing, filmmaking, speech-writing and more. 

 

7. Marketing and marketing research

Majors per 10,000 college grads (ages 25-29): 315

Median annual salary: $63,000

 

A degree in marketing teaches students about promoting organizations, services, and consumer products as well as analyzing data to guide businesses in their marketing decisions. Students with strong skills in communication, creativity, and teamwork will enjoy the marketing major. 

 

Market research has a slightly different focus, and depending on the school, could consist of a separate major. It is focused on using statistical analysis techniques to figure out which products will sell well, who the consumers are, and how much a company could charge for a product. 

 

Students who like working with data and have an analytical mind are a good fit for the market research major. With a marketing and marketing research degree, students can pursue careers in brand or product management, fundraising, event planning, sales, or as market research analysts, social media managers, and even college admissions representatives. 

 

8. General education

Majors per 10,000 college grads (ages 25-29): 287

Median annual salary: $46,000

 

A general education degree prepares students with strategies and techniques of how people learn and how best to portray information. The major is all about understanding how to teach. If you like working with children and are a strong and patient communicator, this may be the major for you. 

 

Students take courses like educational psychology, history of education, and even public policy classes. Programs typically require students to complete a period of supervised classroom experience, also known as student teaching. Teaching may be the most obvious future career, but students can also enter other fields like library sciences and curriculum design. 

 

9. Elementary education

Majors per 10,000 college grads (ages 25-29): 279

Median annual salary: $43,000

 

A degree in elementary education is similar to a degree in general education, but with a focus on teaching young children. Students will learn effective ways to engage children from kindergarten through grade eight. If you love working with kids, are a strong listener and have the power to motivate and engage, this is a great option for you.

 

 The curriculum may vary at different schools but generally students will take child psychology and development, curriculum development, philosophy of education, among other electives. Some schools offer specializations in special education, where students learn how to teach children with disabilities. Similarly as with a general education degree, students can pursue a variety of careers, with the obvious option of becoming an elementary school teacher.

 

10. English language and literature 

Majors per 10,000 college grads (ages 25-29): 251

Median annual salary: $53,000

 

A degree in English language and literature may seem like it’s only for people who want to become authors, but this is not the case. Studying English allows students to develop close reading and critical writing skills and also examine how literature relates to society, culture and history. If you value clear communication, love to read, or are interested in graduate degrees like law and business, a major in English can provide you with a solid writing foundation. 

 

Topics covered in the curriculum include creative writing, critical theory, and literary history among many electives depending on the program. Future career options include editing, publishing, public relations, grant writing, and fundraising.

 

See our rankings of the best colleges for English

Which Colleges Are Best for You?

 

We hope you now have a better idea about which major is right for you and a better understanding of the versatility of many of these degrees. Choosing a college, however, is another beast—it’s about more than finding a top-ranked school for your major.

 

There are other factors you should consider when making your list of schools, just as admissions committees will review your application holistically. Feel free to use our school search tool to explore what different schools have to offer. You can filter schools based on major, size, cost, and many other factors. You may also find our free Admissions Chances Calculator useful to determine how competitive you are for your best-fit schools.

 

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Short Bio
Leonie Rauls is 2018 grad of Amherst College with a degree in political science and Spanish. She is a journalist and has lived in Bogotá covering politics in Latin America. In her spare time, she loves to run and try out new recipes.

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