This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

The top 10 most popular majors?

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Students walking up the stairs to UCLA's Haines Hall. Photo by Stephanie Diani
Photo by Stephanie Diani
What’s the fastest-growing department on campus in terms of students? Which department has the most students? What majors are students flocking to these days?

UCLA number-cruncher Robert Cox does the math and – dare we say – finds the most popular majors on campus.

Cox, the manager of UCLA’s Office of Analysis and Information Management, compared data on how many undergrads had committed to majors or pre-majors in each department in 2007 and in 2012, and came up with some interesting results. Since transfers are admitted in part based on whether there's room in their chosen major, Cox looked exclusively at undergrads who entered UCLA as freshmen to get a sense of where students these days are flowing.

The Department of Psychology saw the largest growth, increasing from almost 1,700 students taking one of its majors or pre-majors in 2007 to 2,100 students five years later. Mathematics saw a similar jump, from about 500 to nearly 900. Rounding out the top five were integrative biology and physiology, economics and neuroscience.

Psychology also takes the cake for being the largest department with its 2,100 majors and pre-majors, followed by the Department of Economics with close to 2,000 students, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with almost 1,500.

“If you’re trying to figure out what majors students want and where students are flowing, these are the numbers to use,” Cox said.

Looking at all undergraduates who entered UCLA as freshmen, here are the 10 departments with the largest growth in the number of majors and pre-majors in 2012, compared to 2007:

1)    Psychology – 403 more students than five years ago (from 1,697 to 2,100)
2)    Mathematics – 396 (from 494 to 890)
3)    Integrative Biology and Physiology – 331 (from 582 to 913)
4)    Economics – 297 (from 1,670 to 1,967)
5)    Neuroscience – 278 (from 311 to 589)
6)    Ecology and Evolutionary Biology – 264 (from 1,229 to 1,493)
7)    Institute of the Environment and Sustainability – 179 (from 48 to 227)
8)    Chemistry and Biochemistry – 173 (from 808 to 981)
9)    Society and Genetics – 157 (from 0 to 157)
10)    Anthropology – 150 (from 132 to 282)


“What I’ve seen is big-time growth in the Division of Life Sciences, like in biology and psychology, and in the Division of Physical Sciences, like in chemistry, math and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability,” Cox said.

He also noted an interesting connection linking some increases to the jump in international students.

“International students are the big driver behind gains in math and economics,” Cox said. “Almost 40 percent of this year’s incoming international freshmen picked math or econ as their likely major.”

Some of the fastest growth came from the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, which grew more than 370 percent, and from Society and Genetics, which grew from zero five years ago.

“We’ve seen very rapid enrollment growth recently, so the question of where students are flowing is very important,” Cox said. “We’ve had two large cohorts the past two years — larger than previous years by 1,000 — and they’re about to become juniors and flow into upper-division courses. We’re going to see pattern changes from this growth, and this will help us plan.”
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