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Oct. 5, 2006 • Volume 15 Number 3

Sciences Continue Surge

Finance now second most popular major among undergrads

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

While communication continues to be the most popular major at Boston College, the number of students majoring in the natural sciences is at its highest level in five years.

In addition, for the first time in memory, a concentration in the Carroll School of Management is the second most popular area of study at BC: finance, with 805 students.

These trends are among the highlights of the annual statistical snapshot of student enrollment compiled recently by the Office of Student Services.

When the fall 2006 semester enrollment period closed last month, 966 undergraduates had declared majors in the sciences: biology (641 students), biochemistry (127) chemistry (97), physics (62) and geology and geophysics (39). The numbers represent a steady increase since 2001, when 690 students declared science majors.

According to Student Services, communication (945 students) continues to attract the highest number of majors overall, as has been the case for the last six years.

The other most popular majors at BC are political science (777) English (770) and history (618), all in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In CSOM, marketing (386) and accounting (316) represent the most popular concentrations after finance. [Carroll School students do not declare majors, but rather choose concentrations in particular fields.]

In the Lynch School of Education, secondary education, with 175 majors, is at a 25-year high while human development (306) and elementary education (223) are again the most popular majors.

The Connell School of Nursing has 377 majors, up from 230 in 2001.

Also hitting quarter-century highs in enrollment are art history (66), classics (37), Slavic and Eastern languages (34) and German Studies (27).

Director of Student Services Louise Lonabocker cautioned that the enrollment figures represent a picture taken at a single point in time and that the numbers are typically quite fluid over the course of the school year.

"I am sure that if we did this study at the end of the year we would have a different picture," said Lonabocker.

One year's totals do not indicate student interest in a particular field over time, adds Lonabocker. "There are cyclical trends over the course of a decade: For example, history has seen an upward climb over a long period while political science has been steady for many years."

Still, Lonabocker termed finance's rise to second among BC majors - representing 40 percent of CSOM undergraduates - as "a notable event," given that most of CSOM's nearly 2,000 students don't declare their concentrations until sophomore year.

CSOM Associate Dean for Undergraduates Richard Keeley said the rise in finance majors is the fruit of a "virtuous circle" of renowned faculty raising the stature of a department from which employers want to pluck talented graduates.

"Recent finance graduates have done very well in the job market and there's an extraordinary BC presence on Wall Street and in the Boston financial community," he said, noting that the recent establishment of the Center for Asset Management and its corporate membership speaks to the high regard in which the faculty is held.

"Better students and exceptional faculty draw more of the same," said Keeley.

Finance Department chair Prof. Hassan Tehranian noted the profession's emergence as "an innovative and cutting edge career."

"The mutual fund industry has at least doubled in size in last decade, investment banking has grown substantially, the hedge fund industry has mushroomed by a factor of 10 to more than $1 trillion in the last decade," he said.

BC science faculty hailed, but were not surprised by, the enrollment trends.

Vice Provost for Research Kevin Bedell, a member of the Physics Department, said the figures may reflect a reversal of a trend observed several years ago, when many of the smartest science students wanted to be computer scientists and cash in on the dot-com craze.

"Of course, we know that many of the dot-coms became dot-bombs, and so the science students came back to biology and chemistry and to a lesser extent physics and engineering," said Bedell.

Prof. Michael Naughton (Physics) said the Physics Department - which has nearly doubled its enrollment in five years - has worked to communicate with students and prospective students about the work that's being done at BC and beyond. He noted that most - and last year, all - BC physics majors have found employment or are accepted to graduate school within a year after receiving their degrees.

"Hopefully people are starting to see the renewed value of physics. It isn't about balls rolling down an incline, it's about things like nanotubes and retinal implants, it's about the integrated work we're doing within other fields," he said.

Biology faculty cite the research opportunities offered to students and the prospect of regular collaborations with professors as major factors in the major's popularity.

Prof. Clare O'Connor said families seem to appreciate that BC research labs are small enough for students to actually play a substantive role in research projects.

"Increasingly, we're seeing students who have also had some research experiences as high school students and would like to continue them in college," she said.

Adj. Assoc. Prof. Robert Wolff (Biology) said students' growing interest in applying to medical school was another likely reason for the rise in science majors.

"I think the strengthening of all our science departments in general has also made our Premedical Program more attractive to potential applicants, and this has probably also influenced biology enrollments," said Wolff, who serves as the program's director.

Student Services data supports Wolff's comment: The number of students enrolled in the Premedical Program (1,261) is well above the 2000 total of 900.

At least one BC student also agrees with Wolff.

"BC students have a strong acceptance rate to medical school and that was certainly a draw for me," said Kathleen Brennan '07, a biology major from Portland, Me., planning to apply to medical school following graduation next May.

Other highlights of the Student Services fall 2006 enrollment report:

*History (159), International Studies (157) and Hispanic Studies (99) are the most popular minors.

*The number of undergrads in the College of Arts and Sciences is 5,919, followed by the Carroll School of Management (1,997), Lynch School of Education (727) and Connell School of Nursing (377). The Woods College of Advancing Studies undergraduate enrollment is 729.

*Graduate students number 4,632, which combined with all part-time students brings the total University enrollment to 14,381.

*BC undergraduates come from 49 states (Mississippi is the only unrepresented state), with 50 students from Puerto Rico and two from Guam. The undergraduate population includes 200 international students.

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