Is Philosophy Really The 89th Most Popular Major? Update: No


A site called Match College lists philosophy as the 89th most popular major. It comes in just after “Baking and Pastry” and “Respiratory Therapy,” which is perfect, because if true I will need to take some deep breaths and console myself with a piece of cake.

At least philosophy has more majors than engineering. Wait, what?

The list (which I came across via the article about philosophical consulting discussed here) says that it is based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

At that site, I found the table “Bachelor’s Degrees Conferred by Postsecondary Institutions, by Field of Study.” There are only 33 categories listed there, and “philosophy and religious studies” (still), in the last year for which they present data (2014-15), has the 23rd highest number of majors. So where is College Match’s ranking of 89th coming from? I’ve sent them an email inquiring about it, but if any intrepid readers can figure it out, please enlighten us.

UPDATE: A few readers have provided alternative sources of information that suggest—if we weren’t already skeptical—that the Match College information is not accurate. Robert B. Townsend of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences writes:

The numbers aren’t nearly that dire for philosophy. There are quite a few ways of tabulating the numbers. Just using the public data system for degrees, I pulled out the attached counts for the most recent three years using a more detailed filter. As you can see, philosophy comes out considerably higher—56 out of 332 majors over the most recent three years. And that does not include about a thousand more students who majored in “philosophy and religion” and ethics, which are tabulated separately.

He created a spreadsheet ranking college majors by popularity over the past three years. Below is a shot of the top 65.

 

Philosophy falls just after criminology and just before physics. Neither “Baking and Pastry” nor “Respiratory Therapy” come out ahead of philosophy. So you can breathe easy. And perhaps have a piece of cake to celebrate.

That’s right: cake either way.

See also the helpful comment from Robert Birdsall, below.

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