Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert

Economics, finance, and biology remain the three most popular majors or concentrations at Boston College, according to enrollment statistics for 2017-18, continuing a decade-long trend.

Several other recent or long-term patterns among the most-enrolled majors are holding, the report indicated.

•The 1,296 economics majors enrolled through the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences and Carroll School of Management constitutes the largest major/concentration in University history for the fourth straight year.

•Finance, with 1,042 students, again established a new standard for the largest concentration in Carroll School history.

•Biology’s upward trajectory (a 34 percent rise from 2007-16) has taken it to its highest-ever enrollment, 927, this year.

•Political science (893) and communication (751) round out the top five majors at BC, as they have the past four years.

Comprising the rest of the top 10 majors are psychology (485), nursing (436), English (433), applied psychology/human development (411) and marketing (390). Sixty-eight percent of BC students are enrolled in at least one of these majors.

Other notes from the enrollment statistics:

STEM on the rise

–Twenty-three percent of BC students now major in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field, compared to 14 percent in 2007. STEM majors also accounted for 25 percent of the undergraduate degrees awarded by the Morrissey College between August 2016 and May of this year.

Faculty members in STEM-related disciplines aren’t the only ones experiencing this trend – it’s keeping administrators and staff at the Career Center busy, too.

For example, last fall the Career Center held an inaugural STEM Career and Internship Fair that attracted nearly 40 employers and more than 300 students. Having had another successful fair this fall, the center plans to make it an annual event.  

The center also holds networking events like “Careers in Health and Healthcare” and “Green Careers Night” and offers career preparation events specifically for STEM majors, including resume and job search workshops – often offered in collaboration with student groups that have a STEM focus.

Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Career Center Director Joseph Du Pont notes that members of the center’s Career Engagement team serve as liaisons with the University’s academic departments, including those in STEM fields.

“Forming these relationships has been instrumental in ensuring that we are providing resources, creating programming, and building external employer relationships that meet the needs of the growing population of STEM students,” he says.

Du Pont adds that according to BC’s First Year Destination Survey, almost 16 percent of the Class of 2016 that pursued employment are working in healthcare, physical sciences, and the environment – a percentage he predicts will increase.

Doubling up

–Nearly a quarter of BC undergrads are majoring in two disciplines. The most popular combination is economics and political science, with 80 double majors this academic year. But don’t get the idea that BC encourages this practice, say academic administrators.

“Many students mistakenly believe that doing a double major is more impressive to employers or graduate schools,” explains Morrissey College Associate Dean Clare Dunsford, “but in fact the transcript still includes the same number of courses and credits as the single major.”

A double major is no more rigorous than a single major, says Dunsford, but students who undertake it are unlikely to have much room for electives or to do a senior thesis or independent research.

“Freshman and sophomore years are meant to be a time for discernment and exploration,” says Associate Dean and Academic Advising Center Director Rory Browne. “Fulfilling the requirements for two majors limits your opportunity to sample different courses and possibly find a new interest or direction.”

Still, it’s not that double majors should never be considered, say Dunsford and Browne. Perhaps the student is thoroughly certain of his or her path, and strongly believes one major will complement or enhance the other. Or perhaps, as Browne says, there is “a certain synergy” between the two fields – music and mathematics, for example, or art and communication.

Minor consideration

–History (137 students) has supplanted International Studies (133) as the most popular undergraduate minor.
Meanwhile, Medical Humanities – in only its third year – is third, with 131 students enrolled, and philosophy is next with 114.

Professor of English Amy Boesky, director of the Medical Humanities minor, says its interdisciplinary approaches to health is what draws students. Courses explore narrative medicine, the history and sociology of medicine, health disparities, HIV/AIDS and ethics, and the literature of mental health, among other areas.

“Minors are proactive and engaged – in the few years since we’ve launched the program, students have spearheaded an interdisciplinary journal and two national conferences, and have collaborated in readings and workshops with Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” says Boesky. “It’s exciting to see recent graduates pursuing careers in public health, policy, counseling, medicine, and law. BC is unusual in offering this program at the undergraduate level, and those of us who teach courses in the program are delighted to see students’ passion for combining courses of study with a wider commitment to social justice.”

A consistent presence among the top five minors is Hispanic Studies, currently fifth with 104 students. Professor Elizabeth Rhodes, a faculty member in Romance Languages and Literatures who directs Hispanic Studies, notes that with Spanish the second most-spoken language in the world, “the practical reasons for Spanish fluency are obvious.” But Hispanic Studies requires students to become culturally literate as well.

“In contrast to ‘what,’ Hispanic Studies students learn ‘why,’ acquiring strategies to understand the complexities of an increasingly complex world,” says Rhodes.

A perfect complement to many majors, says Rhodes, Hispanic Studies attracts students from the Carroll School – the majority of the minor’s enrollees – as well as undergraduates from International Studies, Political Science, Economics and Communication, among others. Some of the hot topics in the curriculum nowadays, she says, include texts (in Spanish) about ghosts and other kinds of hauntings; Amazon environmental culture; films about immigration from and into Spanish-speaking lands; Hispanic Nobel Prize winners; and tales of the “conquest” of the Americas.

“My conversations with Hispanic Studies minors usually wind up with their confession that they’re in the program simply because they love the language, its cultures, and the classes. We teach something students study because they want to, something that has concrete, life-long benefits. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

It was 20 years ago today

–In 1997, the list of BC’s five most popular majors looked like this:

English (931)

Finance (743)

Psychology (694)

Political Science (671)

Biology (665)

—Sean Smith | University Communications. | The Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment provided assistance for this story.