The Ivy League schools are supposedly the repository of U.S.A.’s best and brightest talent. Despite the way in which politicians frequently bemoan the nation’s lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates, Ivy Leaguers aren’t toiling away in the lab, but most frequently studying social sciences, in particular economics, and, at the few schools where they are allowed to, undergraduate business.
The Popularity of Economics and Business
As tuition at Ivy League schools has soared over the decades, students have increasingly abandoned the traditional prelaw and premed tracks to pursue degrees in economics. This is because Wall Street has become a major draw for Ivy League talent, according to the "New York Times," handsomely rewarding alumni for their expensive degrees, and Ivy Leaguers see the “dismal science” of economics as the closest thing they can get to a business degree. While business is the most popular major in the United States, accounting for one in every four college students, the major’s academic standards tend to be the lowest of any major. With exception of the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell, most Ivy League schools do not allow their students to study business, finance or accounting at the undergraduate level. So undergrads turn to economics instead.
Fortunately, while many Ivy Leaguers merely aspire to pay back their debt, others dream of leading the country in a (hopefully) better direction. The second most popular major at the old Ivies of Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth, and the most favored major at Yale, is political science and government. Of course, political science also makes for a great prelaw degree.
Students at the University of Pennsylvania are more practical. After finance and economics, they are most likely to major in nursing. The stalwart left-wingers at Brown often choose biology if they don’t choose economics, perhaps with the goal of meeting the national shortage of family practice doctors predicted by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Meanwhile the students of Dartmouth, after economics and political science, choose psychology as a major. Fortunately the demand for clinical psychologists in the United States is expected to rise by 22 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Engineers We Need
Only Cornell University and Columbia University, both in New York state, seem set to deliver the engineers the nation’s leaders are crying for. Engineering attracts more students than any other degree at Cornell, accounting for 18 percent of the undergraduate student body. The second most popular major is, of course, business, at 13 percent.
Engineering attracts a whopping 21 percent of students at Columbia, but it is still less popular than the social sciences, which, according to the “Go4Ivy” website, account for 25 percent of all undergraduate majors. Of the social sciences, economics is reputed by the university website to be “very popular.”
- New York Magazine: Why Are College Students Flocking to Economics?
- The New York Times: Out of Harvard, and Into Finance
- The New York Times: The Default Major - Skating Through B-School
- The New York Times: The Humanities in Crisis? Not at Most Schools
- U.S. News & World Report: Best National Universities Rankings
- Go4Ivy: Ivy League Colleges and Universities
- NBC News: 'It is getting a lot harder to do this': Doctor shortage strains practices
- Columbia: Economics
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Psychologists
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