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Almost any time you meet a new person in college the conversation will steer, sometimes immediately, toward majors. You could be at a party, the student union or talking before class and inevitably the question pops up: What’s your major?

Billy Penn has taken this question to the next level. Five of Philadelphia’s biggest universities — Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Drexel, Temple and Penn — provided us with their top 10 majors for undergraduate students from their most recent data available. And while each of these universities offers dozens — if not hundreds — of majors, a large portion of the student body clusters into these few categories. At St. Joe’s, for instance (the only university that provided numbers to back up their list of top majors) about 30 percent of its entire undergraduate student body falls into just five majors. About 50 percent of its undergraduate student body studies its top 10.

This index reveals these popular majors for Villanova, St. Joe’s, Drexel, Temple and Penn (La Salle did not respond to multiple requests for data). We also found these schools’ most distinctive popular majors, whether their popular majors lead to good salaries, and how their popular majors compare to the most popular majors in the U.S.

The top 10 most popular majors at each school


  1. Nursing
  2. Finance
  3. Biology
  4. Communication
  5. Mechanical Engineering
  6. Accountancy
  7. Economics
  8. Chemical Engineering
  9. Civil Engineering
  10. Political Science

St. Joseph’s

  1. Food Marketing
  2. Finance
  3. Marketing
  4. Accounting
  5. Communication Studies
  6. Biology
  7. Education
  8. Interdisciplinary Health Services
  9. Psychology
  10. English*

*Undecided Business is technically St. Joseph’s No. 10 most-popular major, but because it’s “undecided” Billy Penn did not include it.


  1. Mechanical Engineering
  2. Nursing
  3. Biological Sciences
  4. Business Administration
  5. Biomedical Engineering
  6. Finance
  7. Computer Science
  8. Electrical Engineering
  9. Marketing
  10. Chemical Engineering


  1. Biology
  2. Psychology
  3. Kinesiology
  4. Accounting
  5. Finance
  6. Marketing
  7. Criminal Justice
  8. Business Management
  9. Media Studies and Production
  10. Journalism


Note: Penn declined to provide its most popular majors in order. For what it’s worth, though, this order looks like it could easily be 1-to-10, considering Penn’s reputation as a school for meds and business-related fields.

  • Finance
  • Nursing
  • Economics
  • Biology
  • Political Science
  • Communications
  • Philosophy
  • Marketing
  • History
  • English

The two most popular majors overall in Philly

With only St. Joseph’s providing numbers for its popular majors, it’s not possible to tell the exact most popular major. But recurring appearances of certain majors among the top 10 of each of these schools give an indication of what are likely the most popular majors in this area. And two majors rank far above the rest.

Finance: Finance appears in the top six of St. Joe’s, Villanova and is at least among the top 10 at Penn. It ranks No. 2 at Villanova and St. Joe’s.

Nursing: Nursing is the most popular at Villanova, in the top 10 at Penn and the second-most popular at Drexel. At Temple and St. Joseph’s, however, nursing is not among the top 10 majors. St. Joseph’s nursing degree comes through a joint program with Thomas Jefferson. 

Are Philly college students studying majors that will make them money?

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently looked at 137 college majors and ranked them by median annual wage for a person age 25-to-29. Here’s how the list of the top 25 looks.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 10.09.30 AM
Credit: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

As you can see, STEM and business majors are the highest paying without exception. Are students at these schools paying heed? At Drexel and Villanova they are anyway. Here’s how each school ranks by number of these highest-paying majors among their top 10 most popular majors.

  • Drexel: 5
  • Villanova: 4
  • Penn: 1
  • St. Joe’s: 0
  • Temple: 0

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce also put salary data into major subgroups, like so:

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 10.11.41 AM

The median annual salary for a college graduate age 25-to-29 with any type of degree is $61,000. For those with architecture, STEM or business degrees, it’s higher. Here’s how each school ranks by number of these higher-paying subgroups of majors (business, STEM, architecture, physical sciences, health, statistics) among their top 10 most popular majors.

  • Drexel: 10
  • Villanova: 8
  • St. Joe’s: 6
  • Penn: 5
  • Temple: 5

Drexel’s engineering and science programs set it above the other schools in both of these rankings, with Villanova close behind. Drexel students are being far wiser at choosing a career path that will lead to stability and a high-paying salary than the Ivy Leaguers at Penn, according to this measure. As for Villanova, its engineering college consistently ranks among the best in the country so it’s no surprise to see many Villanova students choosing those types of majors.

Most distinctive majors by school

This is the major most popular at a given school that’s not popular elsewhere.

St. Joseph’s: Food marketing. This is St. Joseph’s most popular major, and it’s a niche program not offered at these other four schools or at many colleges throughout the country.

Temple: Kinesiology. You won’t find many kinesiology students in Philadelphia aside from Temple, but the major is also popular at Penn State. Athletes often like this major, too.

Drexel: Computer Science. This major is becoming vastly more popular throughout the country because of the high-demand, high-paying jobs it leads to, but only Drexel has enough students on this degree path to make it a top-10 popular major.

Penn: Philosophy. Ivy Leaguers love them some liberal arts majors! In addition to philosophy, history, among the top 10 at Penn, is not in the top 10 for any of these other schools, and English is only among the top 10 at St. Joe’s in addition to Penn.

Villanova: Civil Engineering. And barely. It’s the only one of Villanova’s top 10 majors that stands out from the rest, and it’s ‘Nova’s ninth-most popular major.

How basic are each school’s majors?

USA Today came out with a list of the top 10 college majors in the United States last year. It looks like this:

  1. Business Administration and Management
  2. Psychology
  3. Nursing
  4. Biology
  5. Teacher Education
  6. Criminal Justice
  7. Accounting
  8. Liberal Arts/General Studies/Humanities
  9. English
  10. History

Those look pretty familiar, based on what we’ve seen from the five Philadelphia schools included in this article. But how many of each college’s top 10 most popular majors match the top 10 most popular majors in the U.S.? Here’s how that ranking of looks:

  • St. Joe’s: 5
  • Temple: 5
  • Penn: 4
  • Drexel: 3
  • Villanova: 3

Villanova and Drexel, with more popularity in STEM programs, have popular majors differing more from the most common in the United States than the other three schools. And students who go to St. Joe’s and Temple, based on their most popular majors, are kind of basic.

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...