Article posted on April 10, 2012

The phenomenon surrounding the ranking of educational institutions is well known. While there are a number of annual rankings, the U.S. News and World Report ranking of colleges and universities has become the most popular tool for students in their postsecondary selection process. In particular, potential undergraduates use this report as a way to ensure they are attending the most prestigious institutions and maximizing their future earning potential.

Looking at the majors/degrees undergraduates graduate with from these institutions provides further insight into the institutional priorities of each campus. In particular, students at the top 10 institutions appear to focus primarily on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields—68.71% of undergraduate degrees in 2011—while business, education, health-related, and other majors see increases in institutions ranked higher than 25th. This signals a priority of the top-ranked institutions on fields connected to research and research funding.

Interestingly, the selections of the fine arts and English/literature-based degrees appear to be constant across all institutions regardless of ranking. These data provide some evidence that majors within this area provide a foundation to the university experience, and students selecting these are less influenced by institutional rankings.

Percent of 2011 Undergraduate First Major Degrees by
U.S. News and World Report Ranking
2011 University Ranking Education Engineering and Math Business and Management Social Science Life and Physical Science Health Related Arts and Literature Other
1st – 10th 0.01% 17.39% 4.73% 37.51% 13.81% 2.70% 12.42% 11.43%
11th – 25th 0.33% 13.42% 9.95% 32.75% 12.40% 3.04% 13.47% 14.65%
26th – 50th 1.46% 12.78% 11.08% 27.03% 12.92% 3.95% 11.73% 19.06%
51st – 75th 3.67% 11.55% 16.82% 20.67% 8.94% 5.21% 10.62% 22.52%
75th – 100th 3.28% 10.43% 19.16% 21.39% 8.82% 5.82% 11.25% 19.86%
101st – 200th 6.57% 8.67% 18.98% 18.15% 7.19% 7.52% 11.29% 21.63%