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Volume 49,
Number 3


Serving to learn, and learning to serve

It's showtime!


The University of Iowa

Gray matter is still red hot! Psychology among University's most popular majors

“What’s your major?”

Ah, the inquiry that no college student can avoid; this question breaks more ice than the busiest ships in the Arctic.

At The University of Iowa, students often answer with one of these three words: business, engineering, or psychology. Truth is, there are more than 100 unique answers, according to a comprehensive report issued by the registrar’s office. The report, compiled each spring and fall, offers an inside look at the UI student profile.

Photo of a young woman studying in the library.The major leagues

Some students have yet to find a calling, and declare an open major. Such a student would have some 1,500 peers—only pre-business students can claim a larger population.

While students may cite “business” and “engineering” more often as their chosen field of study, those programs offer majors in multiple disciplines. Technically speaking, psychology is the most popular degree-granting major. The University of Iowa had 1,148 undergraduate students majoring in psychology during the fall 2005 semester.

English and communication studies occupy the next two slots in the University’s top majors, followed by biology (a popular major for pre-med students, according to Lola Lopes, associate provost for undergraduate education) and political science. Art, nursing, elementary education, finance (the most popular of the six business majors), and history round out the top 10. See graph of most popular majors.

Conventional wisdom says that few students will go on to be psychologists, so why do so many UI students gravitate toward psychology?

Lopes—who, by the way, holds a PhD in psychology—calls it an “excellent general liberal arts and sciences major” because it touches all the bases of academe.

“Psychology graduates are able to apply for many jobs,” Lopes says, citing human services and data-related fields as some examples. “For companies that hire liberal arts and sciences grads, psych majors are great, because these employers know the graduates have a little bit of this, a little bit of that in their educational background.”


Open major allows for open-minded exploration

OK, it’s true: no one likes to answer the “What’s your major?” question for the umpteenth time. But for some students, it may be more than repetition that makes the question bothersome.

They might not know the answer yet. Hey, it happens.

But students at The University of Iowa can keep an open mind as they venture into their college-level course work, thanks to the University’s open major.

“We like students to try the open major in order to explore the possibilities The University of Iowa has to offer,” says Pat Folsom, director of the University’s Academic Advising Center. “The students who come in with a major may not explore the University as extensively.”

Declaring the open major doesn’t brand students with a scarlet “O”—far from it, in fact. For the fall 2005 semester, about 7.5 percent of undergraduate students (1,513) declared an open major. Of those, 52 percent are first-time students.

Eventually, these students will have to select a major—by the time they have earned 72 semester hours—as no open-major degrees are granted. Meanwhile, “Being open allows them to explore, work at their studies, and discover their interests,” Folsom says. “I’m a firm believer in students seeking their passion at the undergraduate level.”

Advisors’ doors aren’t closed to open majors. UI open majors are assigned advisors from the University’s Academic Advising Center who help identify academic goals and desires and work to keep the student on track to graduate in a timely fashion.

Although not a major, there’s no business like pre-business. More than 2,000 undergraduate students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences were in the pre-business program for the fall 2005 semester—2,085, to be exact. This group will soon follow the 1,514 undergraduates in the Tippie College of Business last fall who were exploring majors such as accounting, economics, finance, management, management information systems, and marketing.

Undergraduate students in the College of Engineering also are a large group (1,200). Of the six engineering majors, biomedical engineering touts the most overall students (271); of those, more than 35 percent are women and more than 15 percent are minority students. See table of the 10 most popular undergraduate majors.

Women’s (and men’s) studies

Yes, the registrar’s report also breaks down majors by gender. Iowa women are flocking to psychology, communication studies, nursing, elementary education, and art. Of the 1,148 psych majors, 818 are women, the largest group of women among the majors.

Although not as large in size, majors such as dance and speech and hearing science attract mostly female students—women make up 97 percent and 92 percent of those fields, respectively. Pre-business appeals to a substantial number of women (718), although they make up only 34 percent of all pre-business students.

So that means there are more than 1,300 men working under the declaration of pre-business, easily the leading classification among male students. The College of Engineering had 965 men among its majors; 195 of the 203 electrical engineering majors are male. Computer science, cinema, finance, and history also yield a high percentage of guys among their ranks.

Many popular majors find a gender balance. English, political science, biology, and marketing have similar numbers of men and women. The open major also finds equal interest from both sexes.

The bottom line

Regardless of the major your student is pursuing, the offerings at The University of Iowa translate well for the job market.

Pat Folsom, director of the University’s Academic Advising Center, says many employers aren’t necessarily looking for specific majors. “They look for transferable skills developed through liberal arts education,” she says.

“What’s important about basic liberal arts and sciences majors is that the students gain very strong communication skills,” Folsom says. “They are able to write topresent a point, they can analyze both data and words. These majors are the kinds that build multiple skills.”

For everything you ever wanted to know about the student profile, see

by Christopher Clair



Published by University Relations Publications. Copyright The University of Iowa 2004. All rights reserved.

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