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Ranked: Most Popular U.S. Undergraduate Degrees (2011–2021)

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A bar chart showing the number of  undergraduate degrees awarded in many university departments in 2020–2021 and the % change since 2010–2011.

Ranked: Most Popular U.S. Undergraduate Degrees (2011–2021)

In an era of soaring tuition fees and mounting student debt, choosing which undergraduate degree to pursue has become a crucial decision for any aspiring college student. And it always helps to see which way the winds are blowing.

This visualization by Kashish Rastogi, based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), examines the changing landscape of undergraduate degrees awarded between the 2010–2011 and 2020–2021 academic years.

Undergraduate Degrees Growing in Popularity

The NCES classifies all four-year bachelor degrees into 38 fields of study. Of these fields, 21 saw an increase in graduates in 2020–2021 compared to 2010–2011.

While only those with more than 30,000 graduates have been shown in the graphic (to prevent overrepresentation of large changes in small pools of graduates), the full list is available below.

RankField of Study2010–20112020–2021% Change
1Business363,919390,781+7%
2Health Professions143,463268,018+87%
3Biomedical Sciences89,984131,499+46%
4Psychology100,906126,944+26%
5Engineering76,356126,037+65%
6Computer Sciences43,066104,874+144%
7Communication83,23190,775+9%
8Security & Law
Enforcement
47,60058,009+22%
9Interdisciplinary
Studies
42,47354,584+29%
10Leisure &
Fitness Studies
35,93454,294+51%
11Public Administration26,79934,817+30%
12Physical Sciences24,33828,706+18%
13Mathematics 17,18227,092+58%
14Agriculture Sciences15,85121,418+35%
15Natural Resources
& Conservation
12,77920,507+61%
16Engineering
Technologies
16,18718,562+15%
17Transportation4,9415,993+21%
18Legal4,4294,589+4%
19Military Technologies641,524+2,281%
20Science Technologies367532+45%
21Library Science96119+24%
Note: Field of study names have been edited slightly from their NCES labels for better readability.

Let’s take a look at the areas of study that were most popular, as well as some of the fastest growing fields:

Computer and Information Sciences

Bachelor’s degrees in this discipline have grown by 144% since 2010–2011, with over 100,000 graduates in 2020–2021. The allure of the tech sector’s explosive growth likely contributed to its popularity among students.

Health Professions

Undergraduate degrees in health professions saw an 87% increase, attracting nearly 260,000 graduates in 2020–2021. This field accounted for 13% of the total graduating class, reflecting the growing appeal of the healthcare sector.

Engineering

There were 50,000 more engineering graduates in the U.S. in 2021, up 65% from 2011. With a median income over $100,000 per year, engineering graduates can usually rely on good wages as well as versatility in future careers, capable of finding jobs in tech, design, and communication fields, and of course, becoming future entrepreneurs.

Biomedical Sciences

University graduates in this field, which focuses on the integration of the study of biology with health and medicine, grew by 46%. A subset of this category—epidemiology—has been in the limelight recently thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Business

While this category recorded a modest 7% growth in graduates, its popularity has been indisputable in the last decade, representing the largest proportion of the graduating class in both 2011 and 2021.

Fields with Declining University Graduates (2011‒2021)

Meanwhile, 17 areas of study experienced declines in the number of completed university degrees. We explore some of the notable ones below:

RankField of Study2010–20112020–2021% Change
1Social Sciences142,161137,908-3%
2Visual &
Performing Arts
93,93990,022-4%
3Education104,00889,398-14%
4Liberal Arts46,71741,909-10%
5English52,75435,762-32%
6History35,00822,919-35%
7Human Sciences22,43822,319-1%
8Foreign Languages21,70515,518-29%
9Philosophy
& Religion
12,83011,988-7%
10Architecture9,8319,296-5%
11Ethnic, Cultural
& Gender Studies
8,9557,374-18%
12Theology9,0736,737-26%
13Communications Tech4,8584,557-6%
14Personal &
Culinary Services
1,214594-51%
15Construction Trades328221-33%
16Mechanic & Repair226221-2%
17Precision Production4328-35%
English

Popular in the 1970s, the English undergraduate degree has gone through peaks (80s and 90s) and troughs (2000s and 10s) of popularity in the last 50 years. Between 2010–2011 and 2020–2021, the number of students with an English degree has fallen by a third.

The state of English’s woes are even making its way to pop culture, like in Netflix’s The Chair, which follows the head of a struggling English department at a major university.

Education

The existing teacher shortage in the United States does not seem to be getting fixed by a burgeoning supply of new grads. In fact, the number of university graduates in Education fell 14% between 2011 and 2021. With concerns around stagnant wages, burnout, and little to no support for supplies, many teachers are seeing an already demanding job becoming harder.

Liberal Arts

In the classic era, the liberal arts covered seven fields of study: rhetoric, grammar, logic, astronomy, mathematics, geometry, and music. Now, liberal art degrees include several other subjects: history, political science, and even philosophy—but students are meant to primarily walk away with critical thinking skills.

The modern world rewards specialization however, and a wider-scope liberal arts degree is seeing fewer takers, with a 10% drop in graduating students.

Where Does This Data Come From?

Source: The National Center for Education’s statistics from their Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System surveys. Numbers for both 2010–2011 and 2020–2021 academic years can be found from their summary tables by changing the award level code (bachelor degrees) and the year on the left-hand toolbar.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Maps

Ranked: Countries with the Most Embassies Around the World

The Global Diplomacy Index attempts to quantify and compare diplomatic networks by ranking countries with the most embassies worldwide.

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A map of the countries with the most embassies worldwide.

Mapped: Countries with the Most Embassies Around the World

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

It’s easy to contextualize a country’s economic might (GDP) or military prowess (military budgets), but what about diplomatic influence?

The Global Diplomacy Index by the Lowy Institute is an attempt to measure and compare diplomatic networks worldwide to understand the foreign ties that influence geopolitics.

From their 2024 update, we visualize the top 25 countries with the most embassies worldwide. Data for this graphic is current up to November 2023, and does not reflect diplomatic consequences from the Israel-Hamas war.

Ranked: Countries by Worldwide Embassy Count

China leads with 173 embassies around the world, eclipsing the U.S. (168) by just five more foreign posts.

Former colonial powers, France (158) and the UK (156) rank third and fourth respectively. Japan (152) rounds out the top five.

RankCountryEmbassies Overseas
1🇨🇳 China173
2🇺🇸 U.S.168
3🇫🇷 France158
4🇬🇧 UK156
5🇯🇵 Japan152
6🇩🇪 Germany148
7🇹🇷 Türkiye145
8🇷🇺 Russia143
9🇧🇷 Brazil135
10🇮🇳 India135
11🇮🇹 Italy124
12🇪🇸 Spain114
13🇰🇷 South Korea114
14🇳🇱 Netherlands106
15🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia104
16🇨🇭 Switzerland102
17🇨🇦 Canada98
18🇿🇦 South Africa98
19🇮🇩 Indonesia92
20🇵🇱 Poland91
21🇨🇿 Czech Republic91
22🇵🇰 Pakistan89
23🇦🇷 Argentina87
24🇭🇺 Hungary87
25🇸🇪 Sweden87

Note: As of November, 2023.

The index notes some key findings in the regional footprint of all these foreign posts as well.

For example, China has a larger diplomatic presence in Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific, while the U.S. leads in the Americas, Europe, and South Asia. This reflects the two superpowers’ trade and economic ties as well.

Meanwhile, Türkiye and India have grown their diplomatic networks the most in recent years. Interestingly, both countries prioritized Africa in their new outreach. In fact, India is a key export destination for many African countries.

Russia meanwhile had to close 14 foreign missions since it invaded Ukraine in 2022, slipping two ranking spots between 2017 and 2022.

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