15 Most Popular College Degrees in the United States

Trying to decide which degree is right for you can be difficult at the best of times. There are plenty of things to factor in, such as your passions, the chances of getting a job, potential salary, demand for places, and all the rest of it. It is interesting to know which college degrees are the most popular in the US, as this can give you a good idea of what you might like to do (or not to do). Don’t forget that popular courses could be more difficult for you to find a job in afterward, but they can also reflect employment trends. Use this information to help you with your decision, but don’t base your choice on these facts alone; after all, it’s what you want to do in your heart that counts.


Business Administration

Quite easily the most popular college degree in the United States (and in fact most of the world) is business administration. Over 300,000 business administration degrees were awarded in 2013, with that number continuing to rise over the last year. The great thing about getting a business degree is that it can be useful in all sorts of different careers, especially if you’re thinking of running your own company. Business administration degrees will generally look at all aspects of running a business, from planning and decision making, to leadership and communication. This can then land students jobs in a wealth of different industries, from marketing to management. Average starting salaries with a business administration degree are in the region of $41,000, however the sky is the limit if you decide to run your own company down the line. This is the perfect college degree choice if you consider yourself a natural born leader or want to hone those leadership skills. By the end of it you can work at a management level for most companies or turn to starting your own business. As long as you have plenty of great business ideas then you can make unlimited earnings from becoming an entrepreneur.



Over 200,000 US students graduated with a degree in nursing over the last 18 months, making it the second most popular course choice in the country. Unlike business administration this degree is far more practical and hands-on, opening up the doors for a career that is heavily in demand. Hospitals and medical centers around the world are crying out for more nurses, especially in the United States. This has led to many more students taking that big step towards earning their nursing degree and filling a gap in the market. Those studying nursing will learn more about the human body, health, medicine and how to care for others. There are classes in various aspects of science and public health, with a hands-on approach to give first-hand experience in the field of nursing. According to reports this degree choice is also one of the highest paying as well. Recent graduates in the United States are reporting starting earnings of over $50,000 and mid-career salaries over $70,000. Those who want to move into higher paid nursing roles can also look into a Master’s degree in the subject. If you’re looking for a role where you can get your hands dirty and help others, then nursing may be the one for you.



Many people think that those who earn a college degree in psychology want to become psychologists, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, there are many different roles for which a psychology degree can be an important must-have. As you are studying the human mind and behavior you will find that plenty of career options will open up to you with a psychology degree under your belt. Some examples include business management, marketing, education, politics, research or quite simply as a psychologist. During this degree you will learn more about topics such as personality, development, learning and a whole lot more. This knowledge then becomes useful in a whole range of different career choices. Depending on which route you want to go down after your psychology degree the earnings aren’t too bad either. Most graduates of this subject will start on a salary of around $34,000 which may seem low, but it can lead to some rather impressive mid-career salaries in excess of $60,000. No wonder over 122,000 US students graduated with a degree in psychology back in 2013. This is a great all-rounder college degree that is perfect if you’re not sure exactly what career path you want to travel down once graduated.


Long gone are the days when going to ‘beauty school’ is sniffed at. In fact, cosmetology is now one of the most popular college degrees in the US with nearly 90,000 students graduating every year. Those who study cosmetology will look at every aspect of beauty, from hair to nails and everything in between. This can then open up doors in a wide range of different career paths, including hairstylists, cosmetologists, salon managers and even beauty magazine editors. Within a cosmetology course you will learn how to care for a beauty client as well as the science behind things such as skin disorders and even health and safety. This means that a cosmetology degree offers students a wide range of skills that will become applicable in various career paths. However, the downside of this college degree choice is the expected salary. Most people in the beauty industry, who work for others, are looking at an average salary of $25,000. Of course, if you are really good at what you do then you can make a lot more than this from starting your own salon or becoming a beauty magazine editor. If you’re planning on following this college degree path then ensure you know that it’s exactly what you want to do, and how to make the most of it.


Nearly 80,000 people graduate with an accounting degree in the US every year, making it one of the most popular college degrees out there. However, with so much competition is this the kind of degree worth spending money on? According to reports and statistics, it definitely is! With an accounting degree you can expect to open up the doors of various career paths; of course, all of which will involve numbers. You can also work for businesses as an accountant, set up your own accountancy firm, and even work for one of the big accountancy agencies. The biggest drawback of getting an accounting degree in the US is that it can be costly. Not only will you have to get your main degree, but you will also have to consider the other qualifications required in each state. Once you are certified in the state you want to work in, however, then everything becomes a breeze. The average starting salary for an accounting graduate is around $44,000 and mid-career salaries shoot up to around $75,000. Not bad money at all! You can also go on to study further in the fields of business, management, finance and so on, if you want to combine your accounting skills with something more widespread.


If you’re thinking of becoming a doctor then a biology degree should be your first port of call. Nearly 76,000 students in the United States graduated with a biology degree in 2013; a number which has remained steady over the years. As biology is a wide topic it can prepare you for a wide range of different career choices, along with options for further learning. Classes in this subject will focus on human life, zoology, plant anatomy, genetics, evolution and a whole lot more. It’s also an excellent subject to start with if you’re planning on continuing your higher education. Most people who study biology will continue in education to earn their Ph.D and become a medical doctor, although there are plenty of options available if this isn’t your cup of tea. Those with a biology degree can work as teachers, lab technicians, researchers, or even work for pharmaceutical companies in a range of different departments. Those who leave college after earning just a biology degree will be looking at starting salaries in the region of $37,000. However, those who stay on and continue their education will be looking at much higher starting salaries to compensate for those extra years of learning.

Elementary Education

Although this college degree may seem quite specific, it has been quite a popular choice with US students for quite some time. In fact, over 52,000 students graduate with a degree in elementary education on a yearly basis. Becoming an elementary school teacher can be a tough but demanding job, especially as you will be in constant contact with children on a daily basis; you’ll find that this means you’ll be constantly under scrutiny more than in any other teaching role. However, you’ll also be starting children on their journey through education which is an experience unlike any other. Of course, with a degree in this subject you would be expected to become an elementary school teacher upon graduating. Those who do not go on to teach in elementary schools find themselves working in other environments with children, such as nursery schools. Within this degree you will learn a wide range of skills to help you teach children, monitor their development, plan lessons, and become a leader. Once you have your degree, however, you will have to apply for a license to teach in your chosen state. Once you have all of the necessary paperwork you can expect an average starting salary of around $34,000 upward.


Many people still believe that studying English language or literature is a waste of time, but there are still over 50,000 US students graduating with this major every year; and for good reason, too! As the degree is so broad, and covers a wide range of topics, it opens up plenty of doors in the career world. It also shows prospective employers that you are able to learn, something which is important in this day and age. Studying for an English degree is not just for those who yearn to become writers, as the course covers everything from writing to thinking and communicating. This then opens up doors in a wide range of career choices, including business, marketing, education, public relations and a whole lot more. In fact, some celebrities, famous business people, and even politicians, have studied English language or literature. Imagine earning your degree and then becoming the editor of a famous magazine or newspaper, writing a bestselling book, working in marketing for a FTSE 100 company. The options are truly limitless. However exciting this may be it can make it difficult to work out estimated earnings for those with a degree in English language or literature; although over $36,000 as a starting salary is thought to be typical.

Criminal Justice and Law

Criminal justice and law may be the kind of degree that everyone wants to do, but it doesn’t rank as highly as some of the others on this list. Why? Because it’s a difficult subject to learn and also difficult to secure a place for! Just under 50,000 people graduate in these subjects every year in the United States, with many staying in education to pursue further options. Once a Bachelor’s degree has been earned in law you can then make your way up to a Master’s which will open up even more options. If you have any interest in the legal aspect of the world then this is the degree choice for you. Those studying criminal justice can become law enforcement agents, police detectives, private detectives, and even judges. If you wish to study law then you can become a lawyer, attorney or again a judge. As most people already know, all of these jobs can make someone a very wealthy person indeed. However, the education is tough and you’ll be expected to be at the top of your game if you want to go far in the legal world. If you do go far then a job as an administrative law judge can see you earning over $100,000… All that hard work definitely pays off!

Social Work

Social work is a lot like nursing in the fact that it is a hands-on career choice and is in high demand. Around 48,000 students graduate with a social work or nursing assistant degree in the United States, every single year. Within this course you’d be expected to learn how to care for other people, along with aspects such as nutrition, infection control, physiology and a lot more. This can then set students up for a career in social work or as a nursing assistant, or lead onto them studying further for a full nursing degree. You may also find that this kind of college degree will involve hands-on experience, as you learn to take care of the sick and vulnerable during your studying. This is a degree choice for those who truly want to make a difference in another person’s life. With this in mind, this is not the degree choice for those who want to make a lot of money. Social work isn’t as highly paid as nursing by any means, which is probably why a lot less students study for this degree than nursing. The average salary for a fully qualified nursing assistant is around $24,000 a year, with a low threshold of around $17,000. This can seem disappointing if you’ve spent a lot of money earning your degree.

Auto Mechanic

This one may come as a bit of a surprise to some, who assume that becoming an auto mechanic is not something you would really need to go to college to do. However, it is one of the most popular college degree choices in the US, with 40,000 students graduating with this major every year. Earning a degree as an auto mechanic can open up doors in a wide range of different industries; from working in the military to setting up your own business. Owning your own auto repair shop is by far the best way to make money from this degree, with there being no limit to your earnings. As an example you can chance yourself out at $30 per hour, plus make a profit from the other auto mechanics working under you. As you expand this profit will continue to grow, also. Therefore, it is hard to say how much you can make after qualifying with an auto mechanic degree. However, most students who graduate can expect to make an average of $15 per hour working for another company. Salaries may also be higher if you decide to join a well-known business or the military.


This is another one of those degrees which some people think is just far too broad to be useful, but it is actually one of the most diverse degrees you can get. It isn’t just for those who want to become historians, as a history degree can provide you with excellent critical thinking and research skills. This can then open up doors for a wide range of different career paths, including in business, politics, education, law, research, marketing and communications. Along with the obvious choice of becoming a historian, there are plenty of things a student can do with a history degree. That may be why nearly 40,000 students in the US opt for this major every year. If you do go for a Bachelor’s degree in history then you could be looking at impressive starting salaries, in the region of $37,000 with a mid-career average of $65,500. Studying history may also give you a better idea of what kind of job you want to do in the future, if you’re finding it hard to decide whilst looking at college courses. Overall, this is an excellent choice if you want plenty of doors to be opened once you graduate.


Unlike accounting, a finance degree will look at the world of money in a bigger picture. You can expect to learn about things such as corporate finance, investment, risk management and even how to work the stock markets. As you can imagine, this will then give you plenty of experience for working with money once you have graduated. There will be plenty of options available to you once you have graduated with a finance degree also; you could work in the finance department for a large corporation, move into accountancy, or even become a stock broker. Understanding money and finance may also help you set up your own business, if this is the route you want to go down. Money is a very misunderstood thing in this day and age, which is why a finance degree can become extremely useful to you whichever career path you want to go down. Over 37,000 students graduate with a degree in finance every year in the US, many of whom go onto high paying jobs. As an example, entry level positions as a financial manager starts at around $70,000. As you can tell, it’s a high return on investment if you choose this degree.

Advertising and Marketing

You may have noticed that a lot of the degrees we’ve already mentioned will set you in good stead for a career in advertising and marketing. However, if you have your heart set on working in this industry then the best degree you can get is one actually tailored to advertising and marketing. This industry has grown exponentially over the last few years, which may explain why nearly 35,000 US students have graduated with this major in the last year alone. A marketing course will explore all of the basics of advertising, from newspapers to TV, whilst also looking at more modern methods such as the online world. This can certainly set you up for a wonderful career working in the marketing departments of big brands, or even setting up your own advertising and marketing business. As jobs across the board at growing at such an impressive rate it is almost impossible to say what the average salary may be once you have graduated with an advertising and marketing degree. However, those running their own agencies can expect unlimited earnings as they watch their businesses grow.


Last on the list, but still with an impressive number of students graduating every year, is economics. Around 31,000 US students graduate with an economics degree every year, which is why it makes it onto our top 15 most popular college degrees list. Many people confuse economics with business, however it is good to know where these two differ. An economics degree looks more at the production and consumption of goods and services, economic principles, market systems, mathematics, sociology, and a little bit of everything else in between. It is truly a diverse and interesting topic, which can lead onto a variety of different career paths. Finding a career in the economics industry can be difficult, which is why many students will also undertake another major such as finance, accounting, business or marketing. With several subjects under your belt you can then take on the world as an analyst, researcher, teacher, economist, or even a business owner. The average wage of an economist is nearly $90,000 a year, so it is definitely worth getting that education in and investing in your future.