For the first time in 15 years, finance is the most popular major at Boston College, with 1,360 undergraduates enrolled for the 2022-2023 academic year, followed by economics (1,260), which had topped the list annually since 2012-2013—and ahead of finance since 2013-2014.
Other notable changes in the top 10 popular majors list saw neuroscience (411) rise to ninth place in its fourth year as an undergraduate program, while psychology (571) and communication (570) swapped fifth and sixth places from last year.
Biology (883) and political science (743) retained their positions at, respectively, third and fourth, as they have since 2016-2017.
Three other perennially popular undergraduate programs round out the top 10: computer science at seventh (556), nursing at eighth (418), and applied psychology and human development at 10th (382)—the latter two having been among BC’s most-enrolled majors since 2011-2012.
These and other data for the University’s 9,484 undergraduate day students and 5,250 graduate students were compiled during the fall 2022 semester by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning (IR&P) as part of its yearly compendium of facts and figures for administrators, faculty, staff, and students. Current and past editions of the Boston College Fact Book are accessible at bc.edu/factbook.
Other reported statistics show the Lynch School of Education and Human Development with the highest number of graduate students (958), followed by the Carroll School of Management (849), Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences (823), BC Law School (813), BC School of Social Work (633), Woods College of Advancing Studies (566), Connell School of Nursing (341), and School of Theology and Ministry (318).
Financial transactions and trade are based on trust between parties, which speaks to a basic aspect of human nature. In the classroom, even as we cover the fundamentals of finance and areas such as corporate finance or investments, we also emphasize ethics and doing the right thing. Those topics dovetail with recent trends in finance, such as corporate social responsibility and environmental, social, and governance investing. So, finance fits in very well with BC’s values of cura personalis.
Statistics such as popular majors, according to administrators and faculty, offer insights into the interests, motivations, and aspirations of BC students, and how these may evolve or remain constant over time. While individual positions may vary from year to year, most of the current popular majors at BC—specifically finance, economics (which includes enrollments from Morrissey College and the Carroll School), biology, political science, communication, psychology, and nursing—have been in the top 10 list at least since the 21st century began, and some far longer.
The data also provide a yardstick for considering BC students’ academic and career interests among wider societal and generational trends. National analyses of undergrad majors are ubiquitous, but at a glance some commonalities emerge: Studies in or related to business, nursing, psychology, biology, economics, computer science, communication, and political science tend to be highly enrolled throughout American higher education.
This is why enrollment data for BC benefits from context, say administrators and faculty: The numbers should be viewed through the lens of a major national Jesuit, Catholic university and the students it attracts.
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Akua Sarr believes BC undergraduates come to the Heights with a mix of pragmatism and a healthy interest in, and concern for, the larger world around them. “Yes, they consider majors that most likely help lead to a job, but they want to study those big issues: climate change, health disparities, economic inequities, racial justice,” she said. “They want also want to address the big questions in matters of faith, values, morals, and ethics. BC’s Core Curriculum and interdisciplinary minors make those explorations possible, and our graduates go out into the world with a unique perspective and global view, whatever their major may have been.
“So, clearly, while our students are attracted to many of the same disciplines their peers are, they know their BC education involves the whole person, and gives them distinctive insights that help guide them in many aspects of their lives.”
Finance not only is the most popular undergraduate major, but also is the most-enrolled minor at BC for the fifth straight year (566). Others, in order, are: marketing (258), management and leadership (257), managing for social impact (170), computer science (148), philosophy (146), history (120), global public health (106), medical humanities (105), and international studies (92).
Finance Chair Ronnie Sadka, the Haub Family Professor in the Carroll School, said the popularity of finance at Boston College—a Jesuit, Catholic university with a solid liberal arts legacy—should not be regarded as a contradiction or anomaly.
“Financial transactions and trade are based on trust between parties, which speaks to a basic aspect of human nature,” he pointed out. “In the classroom, even as we cover the fundamentals of finance and areas such as corporate finance or investments, we also emphasize ethics and doing the right thing. Those topics dovetail with recent trends in finance, such as corporate social responsibility and environmental, social, and governance investing. So, finance fits in very well with BC’s values of cura personalis.”
The appeal of the finance program lies in its high quality of teaching, expert faculty recruited from top research programs around the world, and rigorous, challenging, relevant classes that constantly adapt to industry trends, said Sadka, pointing to a course in data analytics based on the popular multi-programming language Python. A placement rate of nearly 100 percent, strong ties to Wall Street, and a generous, supportive alumni network are other assets, he said.
As an undergraduate minor, Sadka said, finance “nicely complements students’ sets of related skills acquired in other majors such as math, economics, or computer science, while for others it provides some hedge or option in the job market. Some students just want to pursue finance because of personal interest in the topic.”
IR&P also provides a list of programs and disciplines experiencing the largest percent increase in majors for the past decade. Finance is on it—at third (58 percent), in front of economics (24 percent)—but at the top is computer science, with an uptick of 297 percent in majors (enrolled from the Morrissey College and Carroll School) since 2013.
Associate Professor and Chair of Computer Science Sergio Alvarez said that the department goes beyond the discipline’s technological, mathematical, and operational facets, including discussions on ethical considerations and social impact, as well as offering a course (Technology and Culture) specifically devoted to such areas. The department also is a key contributor to the Morrissey College’s planned minor in data science, under the direction of Fitzgerald Professor of Computer Science George Mohler.
“Our faculty’s research is directly intended to benefit society, through the development and application of advanced computational techniques that enable improved understanding and management of issues that arise in human health and behavior, urban planning, accessibility, and criminal justice, among others,” he said. “A growing number of our undergraduate majors take advantage of opportunities to participate in and contribute to faculty research on these and other topics.”
Sean Smith | University Communications | March 2023