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Articles / Applying to College / Popular College Majors by State

Popular College Majors by State

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | April 5, 2018

I've often been fascinated about why certain college students choose to pursue certain college majors. The choice of a major, obviously, is important and can supply a direct route to a life's work success and happiness.

Conversely, a certain major may have little or nothing to do with what leads to vocational satisfaction. Engineers can become lawyers, history majors can become surgeons, biologists can end up as FBI agents. The logic of correlation, if there even is a correlation, is hard to track.

The other day I received some interesting information from my friends at Zippia.com. Their slogan is, "Zippia helps you find new career options and land a job now. Search by your major and see who would be interested in hiring you." [Note: Be it known to all present: I have no connection whatever to Zippia -- none -- other than as a sometimes-recipient of their always interesting statistical data. I receive no compensation from them whatever and use their data here sometimes because I think that it might be helpful in some way to my readers. (How's that for a disclaimer?)]

Anyway, now that you know that I'm not on Zippia's payroll, let's take a look at some of their latest information:

The Most Disproportionately Common Majors In Each State

I live in Central Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State University, which is also in Central Pennsylvania. On my many drives from home to campus while I was a student there, I would look at the gorgeous countryside and see beautiful farmland and lots of cows. This would inspire me to think about Penn State's huge selection of undergraduate majors and ponder the relationships among what's happening here in Central Pa., the students from this region who attend college (not just Penn State), and the kinds of work they end up pursuing.

Yes, I have to admit that I more than once thought, "Hmm. I wonder if a lot of young people from this area go into agriculture." Penn State is a leader in agriculture sciences, but that's Penn State. I don't recall seeing ag sciences (or anything relating to farming) on the lists of majors from other Pa. schools like Lycoming College, the University of Pennsylvania, and others, unless they have added ag options since the last time I looked.

So, let's take a look at some of Zippia's interesting findings. Maybe these revelations will spark an idea or two in your head and heart. Zippia's McLeod Brown says:

We used the most recent Census ACS data to map what majors are over represented in each state compared to the national average.

The following two sentences are in the top five (or bottom five depending how you look at it) of most annoying statements for enrolled college students to encounter:

“What are you gonna do with THAT degree?"
“I've never even HEARD of that major."

However, there could be a legitimate reason some people do not recognize a major. They truly may have never heard of it. That's because there are some majors that are far more popular in certain areas than the rest of the United States.

Using the PUMS data from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey (ACS), we've discovered the most disproportionately popular major for each state compared to the rest of the country.

Location quotients are the focus in this study, since we're looking at how concentrated a major is in certain parts of the country compared to the rest. The higher the location quotient, the more concentrated that major is in that respective state.

Summary of findings:

  • The major with the highest location quotient is Maine's Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering with 13.84
  • The same major has a location quotient of 3.39 in Massachusetts
  • An argument could be made that 42 of the majors fall under the STEM tree (DE, FL, GA, MN, NY, OH, UT, VA are the outliers)
  • Pennsylvania and its Information Sciences major ranks lowest by location quotient with 2.04
  • Georgia has the highest major count for their unique degree with 26,284 students focusing on Early Childhood Education
  • Three states had location quotients higher than 10 for their respective majors
    • Maine – Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering
    • North Dakota – Agricultural Economics
    • Wyoming – Mining and Mineral Engineering
  • Mining and mineral engineering was the most “popular" major of the study, with four states having it as their representative
  • Hawaii is one of three states (South Carolina and Washington) repping oceanography which makes sense given, you know, it is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean.


Looks like many potential farmers in Pennsylvania choose, first, to arm themselves with data-handling and computer skills before they head to the barn to milk the cows or plow the back 40.

Skipping a lot of important and highly interesting information from the Zippia article, we find:

Now, if you wanted to look at the most popular degree for each state, the data becomes much more mundane. A grand total of six majors compose the most popular majors for all 50 states.

Business management and administration is by far the most popular major in the United States, with 36 states having it as their number one degree. In those states alone, over 3.3 million people majored in the field.

The state with the most popular popular major? California with over 467,000 students majoring in business management and administration.

Most popular majors:

Lots of nurses in Alaska and accountants in New Jersey. Figures.


If this information is at all interesting to you, please take the time to read the entire article, which contains much more detail than I have shared here. I can vouch for the first line item in that "most popular majors" list. That's where my collegiate career started -- Business Administration, with a chaser of Accounting. Well, you can see where that propelled me -- to college admissions consulting.

I would suggest a takeaway for you seniors heading to college this fall, especially those of you who are undecided about which major to pursue. That takeaway would be:

Don't be too worried about which major you finally choose. It's a big world out there and there's plenty of room for you to fine-tune and apply your innate skills and talents, even if you finish college holding your degree in Adventure Education or Bowling Industry Management and Technology. That thought should brighten your day!


Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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