Kate Sundquist 5 min read Applying to College, College Lists

Why You Should Check Out a College’s Top Majors

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There are many metrics for comparing and weighing college choices. Some, like class size and academic quality are often released in the form of official rankings. Others, like location and cost, are more personal factors that each individual will weigh on his or her own terms. Further, if you visit a campus, you will often get a certain “feel” for its culture, its students, and its community.


One sometimes under-recognized metric that can be used to lend even more insight into college application choices is a college’s most popular majors. These provide a unique perspective that might not otherwise be available. To learn more about why it’s worth checking out a college’s top majors and what the top majors are at some of the top schools around the country, keep reading.


When is it worth checking out a college’s top majors?

The short answer is that it’s always worth it to check out a college’s top majors. You never know what insights you’ll gain if you don’t at least look into them.


Of course, at some schools the top majors are predictable, especially when the school is known for certain courses of study. For example, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the top majors unsurprisingly include engineering, physics, and other sciences.


At other schools, though, the top majors might be less immediately obvious and are representative of a broader student body. At Harvard, for example, the top majors range from economics to social sciences, math, biology, and history.


The bottom line is that a college’s top majors are a unique representation of the student body, and they are easily found through a basic web query. Even if the top majors are not explicitly listed on a particular school’s website, they can usually be found elsewhere online with fairly little effort expended, so there’s no excuse for not checking them out.


What can the top majors tell me about a school?

The top majors at a college are a great indicator of the interests of a large percentage of students. You might use this data for different purposes, but in general, the top majors give you an idea of what most people are interested in studying at each college.


If you’re interested in psychology, you might specifically seek out a school with many other students who also pursue this field of study, if you enjoy being surrounded by people who have the same academic interests.


However, if you prefer to keep your academic life separate from your social life, you might specifically seek out a school where psychology is a less popular option, thereby exposing yourself to a broader base of academic interests outside of the classroom while allowing plenty of focused study in possibly smaller class sizes.


Sometimes, the top majors can give you an idea of the priorities and values of a student body. If most students are science majors, you might find a student body who values evidence-based arguments and empirical research. If most students are business or economics majors, you might find students who are more financially motivated.


Of course, all of these are generalizations and there will always be exceptions, sometimes more than others, but you can use a college’s top majors as one more piece of information to use in making informed decisions about a college. By talking with current or recently graduated students, you can get a better idea if your suspicions about what the top majors say about a school are well-founded.


Another factor that top majors give insight into is how well-rounded a student body’s academic interests are. At some schools, you will find that the top majors represent a broad variety of fields, while at others, like MIT, you will find that the top majors are clustered closely within related fields of study.


Finally, sometimes top majors can give you an idea of how popular upper-level classes will be. If you intend to major in economics along with a majority of your peers, you might find that upper-level economics classes tend to be larger or harder to get into than classes in other departments.


Again, this is a generalization and it’s best to ask a current or recently graduated student if this is the case to get a better idea about how a major’s popularity affects class size.


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What are the most popular majors at some of the top colleges?

Because we think it’s always worth exploring a college’s top majors, we’ve done some of the leg work for you and have gathered a list of the top majors at some of the top colleges in the country. In general, we found that economics is overall the most popular major at top colleges, with many STEM field majors following close behind.


Here are the most popular majors at some of the top colleges in the US:


  • Harvard: Economics, government, and computer science 


  • Princeton: Economics, Woodrow Wilson School (policy making, analysis, and evaluation), and computer science 


  • Yale: Economics, political science, and history 


  • Cornell: Engineering, business, management & marketing, and biological and biomedical sciences 


  • Dartmouth: Economics, government, and history 


  • Brown: Economics, computer science, and biology 


  • UPenn: Finance, economics, and nursing 


  • Northwestern: Economics, psychology, and communication and journalism


  • Stanford: Computer science, human biology, and engineering


  • MIT: Computer science, mechanical engineering, and mathematics


  • Williams: Economics, math, and biology


  • Amherst: Economics, math, and child development and psychology


  • Columbia: Economics, political science, and psychology 


  • Vanderbilt: Economics, social sciences, political science and government, and neuroscience


  • Duke: Economics, biology, and computer science



While the most popular majors at a specific college might not be the kind of data point that changes everything for your college application decisions, it’s still an important consideration that can lend insight that might be difficult to find elsewhere. Consider a college’s top majors as a general indicator of academic interests and values of the student body, and then ideally visit the campus and speak with current students to get a better idea of how accurate this is.


For more information about choosing a college or comparing colleges, consider enlisting the help of CollegeVine’s Applications Guidance service. Here, your student will be paired with a personal admissions specialist who can provide step-by-step guidance through the entire application process, including how and when to create the perfect college list.


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.