Economics (1,208 students enrolled), finance (1,203), biology (807), political science (769), communication (615), and psychology (548) are once again the most popular undergraduate majors this academic year, a ranking sequence that has changed little in the past decade.
Enrollment statistics for the University’s 9,532 undergraduate day students and 5,574 graduate students were compiled during the fall 2021 semester by BC's Institutional Research and Planning office.
The other most-enrolled majors for the current academic year include computer science (494), nursing (419), and applied psychology and human development (414), while neuroscience—introduced in 2019—has already become the 10th most popular major at BC, with 383 students.
The 2021-2022 IR&P report also found that 37 percent of BC undergraduates are majoring in a STEM field.
In addition to being BC’s second-most popular major, finance is its most-enrolled minor (491), followed by management and leadership (267), marketing (241), philosophy (152), history (144), managing for social impact (128), medical humanities (119), computer science (118), global public health (108), and international studies (94).
Other reported statistics show the Carroll School of Management has the highest number of graduate students at BC, with 1,037, followed closely by the Lynch School of Education and Human Development with 1,035; BC Law is third with 880. The Carroll School and Lynch School also awarded the most graduate degrees between August 2020 and May 2021—366 and 313, respectively—along with the BC School of Social Work (273) and BC Law (235).
Annually assembled statistics such as these offer potential insights into the interests, motivations, and aspirations of BC undergrads, according to University administrators and faculty members. The popularity of certain majors and minors at BC may reflect wider societal and generational trends, they say, but also likely speak to the ethos of students who have chosen to pursue a Jesuit, Catholic education.
“[A]t BC, where the mission is to educate the whole person, undergrads have the best of both worlds. They get a thorough grounding in their chosen field and, through our core curriculum and our interdisciplinary minors, they can also explore those big issues and big questions. So, these students are able to bring a unique perspective and world view to their career in economics, finance, biology, political science—whatever their major may have been.”
“I’m not surprised that our top majors have stayed constant,” said Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Akua Sarr. “Our students have such an awareness of, and interest in, big issues—climate change, health disparities, economic inequities, racial justice—and big questions in matters of faith, values, morals, and ethics. They also are pragmatic, and so they will consider those majors they see as most likely to help lead them to a job.
“But at BC, where the mission is to educate the whole person, undergrads have the best of both worlds. They get a thorough grounding in their chosen field and, through our core curriculum and our interdisciplinary minors, they can also explore those big issues and big questions. So, these students are able to bring a unique perspective and world view to their career in economics, finance, biology, political science—whatever their major may have been."
Economics faculty have previously cited a greater awareness and appreciation of the discipline as a reason for its continued popularity among students, who view economics as a useful analytical lens for a multi-faceted understanding of issues such as climate change, income inequality, crime, and now, the effects of the pandemic.
Professor Christopher Baum, the current department chair, cites two developments in recent years that also have had a favorable impact on enrollment. Like a number of colleges and universities, he said, BC opted to reclassify economics from a social science to a STEM field, which for many undergraduates—especially international students—makes it more attractive in terms of potential career prospects. In addition, the Carroll School’s decision in 2018 to make its minors available to non-management students has led some students to choose economics because they can supplement the major with courses in finance, accounting, management and leadership, managing for social impact, and marketing.
Likewise, notes Baum, Carroll School students can complete the full economics major or minor rather than a concentration in economics. “From what we’ve seen in our recent graduating classes, the economics major is providing a strong background for a productive career or further studies,” he said. “We’ve often said that an economics background trains a student to think, to understand costs and benefits, assess externalities, and apply quantitative analysis to the data to produce science-based judgments. The emphasis placed on these learning outcomes is paying off.”
Haub Family Professor and Finance Chair Ronnie Sadka sees the appeal of finance as stemming from its propensity— like many business and management fields—for adapting to new circumstances, especially the pandemic.
“First, the pandemic brought to focus the rise of the retail trader, armed with social media and easy access to financial markets via trading platforms, and some cash in their pockets during the pandemic. Retail traders now significantly impact financial markets. Many asset management firms hired thousands of financial advisers to service individual investors.
“Another aspect is the amount of attention drawn to financial economics, such as the rise in inflation,” Sadka added. “The market and the economy are so dynamic and ever evolving, and I think many students find this interesting.”
Professor Elizabeth Kensinger, who chairs the Psychology and Neuroscience Department, expected the neuroscience major to be popular—“It’s one of the fastest- growing scientific disciplines, and there had been long-standing student enthusiasm for developing the major”—but she and her colleagues are pleasantly surprised by its meteoric rise.
“We are thrilled that the major’s focus, which leverages the study of brain mechanisms toward an improved understanding of the human condition, is resonating with so many students,” Kensinger said.
The arrival of the neuroscience major on the eve of the pandemic proved to be fortuitous, she added. “The societal impacts of the pandemic have highlighted the importance of social connection, and the intricate links between mental and physical health. Our majors are exploring these topics as they take courses on the neural systems of social behavior, or on the effects of stress on learning and development. Our faculty are terrific at encouraging students to think about how the topics they’re studying are relevant to their daily experiences.”
Sean Smith | University Communications | February 2022