10 Hot College Majors: Then and Now

Alexandra Pannoni

30 Years of College Majors

When U.S. News & World Report released the inaugural college rankings in 1983, many of today's most popular majors were already in demand -- while others barely existed.

Since then, the content of some of these degree programs has changed, but their core missions are the same. Check out how these 10 college majors have transformed since the early 1980s.

Business Analytics

Then: Business analytics undergraduate degree programs didn't exist in the 1980s, but there were some in the field's predecessors, such as management sciences, says Michael Goul, information systems department chair at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

Now: In the emerging field of business analytics, professionals use data to help organizations make decisions, he says. Course work involves statistics and information systems.

Human Resources Management

Then: Human resources programs in the 1980s often focused on legal compliance and administration, says Jon Decoteau, a leader within the Society for Human Resource Management.

Now: Today, human resources degree programs teach more strategy, such as consulting skills, in addition to covering classic human resources duties, he says. Managers make a median salary of nearly $100,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Then: Programs began to place a stronger emphasis on preparing students to teach children with special needs or from lower-income backgrounds in the 1980s, says David Imig, an education professor at the University of Maryland.

Now: Students spend more time than they did in the 1980s learning how to teach all children in the classroom through practical student-teaching training, he says. Teachers still earn a relatively low salary -- an average $55,000 at high schools, according to the BLS.

Dietetics and Nutrition Sciences

Then: The discipline started within home economics and agriculture, but took on a more medical focus in the 1980s when the link between nutrition and health became more established, says dietitian Lauri Wright.

Now: Heightened interest in health and wellness has upped demand for these professionals: The BLS anticipates about 14,000 positions will be created through 2022. Course work today often includes psychology, necessary in helping people make behavioral changes, Wright says.

Biomedical Engineering

Then: The field emerged in the 1960s, but few undergraduate programs existed in the 1980s, says Joe Tranquillo, a biomedical engineering professor at Bucknell University. The field -- which uses biology, engineering and other disciplines to solve medical problems -- took off in the 1990s.

Now: Many undergraduate students specialize in subfields, such as imaging, where they can learn how to create next generation X-ray machines, he says.

Forensic Sciences

Then: In the 1980s, only a handful of forensic sciences degree programs existed, says Victor Weedn, forensic sciences department chairman at George Washington University.

Now: Interest grew with the popularity of TV show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," he says, but employment can be competitive. Only 700 forensic science technician jobs are expected to be created through 2022, according to the BLS. Students study many different sciences in the interdisciplinary curriculum.

Speech-Language Pathology

Then: Even in the 1980s, a graduate degree was usually necessary to work as a speech-language pathologist, says Loretta Nunez, an expert who works with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Undergraduate programs introduced students to various speech disorders.

Now: Curriculums have evolved to include the latest scientific advances, she says. And as the population ages, more jobs will be available in the field, according to the BLS.

Graphic Design

Then: Before computers were a common tool of the profession, students studying graphic design -- sometimes known as visual communications -- created everything by hand, says Alice Drueding, head of graphic and interactive design at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

Now: "The computer, in some ways, has empowered our imaginations," says Drueding. Today, graphic designers work in industries such as film and advertising, but still strive to communicate ideas visually.

Computer and Information Sciences

Then: The curriculums in computer science and information sciences programs were relatively similar to today, says Phillip Laplante, vice president of educational activities at the IEEE Computer Society, a professional association. Students generally took a course in operating systems, for example.

Now: There is a stronger focus on the human element in courses today, says the Penn State professor. Jobs in the field often yield a high median salary too, according to the BLS.


Then: About half of nurses in the 1980s didn't have a degree -- many completed training programs, usually at hospitals, and received a nursing diploma, says Elaine Marshall, a registered nurse with a Ph.D. and fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.

Now: Students can still enter the profession with a diploma or associate degree, but nurses' expanding health care roles have led to calls for a bachelor's as the preferred credential, she says. A 2010 report recommends the number of nurses with baccalaureate degrees increases to 80 percent by 2020.

Find the Right Major and College for You

Find out more about in-demand majors that lead to jobs and figure out which school is the best for you by using our 2015 Best Colleges rankings.

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Alexandra Pannoni is an education staff writer at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at apannoni@usnews.com.