Could Your College Major Keep You Out of the 1%?

Libby Kane

Could the secret to success lie in sophomore year of college?

That’s about the time most American students declare a major in between a busy social calendar and a deep desire to take classes “outside my comfort zone.”

But the choice you make then could determine whether or not you’re destined to become part of the 1%, according to data from the Census Bureau’s 2010 Community in America survey.

Economics and Biology Reign

The New York Times’ Economix blog narrowed down the top college majors likely to help you gain entry to the 1%. And the top five, in order, are:

  1. Pre-med
  2. Economics
  3. Biochemistry
  4. Zoology
  5. Biology

The data also shows the majors of the people already there. The most common college majors held by members of the 1%, in order, are:

  1. Biology
  2. Economics
  3. Accounting
  4. Political Science & Government
  5. English Language and Literature

Note that this data only presents evidence for college majors with more than 50,000 people, and that your chances of gaining entry to the 1% do change with your circumstances. For instance, one in every eight lawyers is in the 1%, but it’s more like one in three if they work for Wall Street firms.

Time to Change Your Major?

For most of us, college majors are a done deal. Not taken into account in this ranking are the characteristics and abilities that go along with choosing a major. Perhaps biology majors are a self-selected crowd of particularly motivated, ambitious people who would find success no matter what their major.

The survey also does not consider which fields make you happy, which ones you show natural talent for or those that strike your interest. And the data certainly isn’t a reliable prediction of your future. So if your done deal is Art History, there’s no need to be overly worried about your prospects—your major isn’t everything.

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  • CM

    I dunno if I really want to be in the top 1%. The people there didn’t get there by busting their butts in school, they got there by stepping on others. I’ll major in being an ethical human being, hopefully that will keep me employed and living comfortably.

  • Anonymous

    Just an FYI, pre-med is not a major. You have to pick an actual major, like Biology, for example. When you graduate, you diploma will never say “pre-med.” Declaring yourself pre-med just means you plan on going to medical school once you finish your undergrad. 

  • Steven

    I think its a fallacy to say that “having the same major to those in the top 1% will make you more likely to get there,” because if you look at the list of most common majors for all people, biology and economics are up there. Correlation does not equal causation…

  • Buttercup4rocks

    I also think it should clarify, as a biology major myself, there was never, ever any expectation from me or anyone else in my program that we’d be earning anything “decent” but you do it because you love it. I think this list for the 1% is the biology majors who go into medical schools and/or high end research. Most of us are earning just enough to keep us afloat, but certainly not living the posh life. It is also a field that basically requires a MS or pHD to do anything other than teach k-12 or be a lab minion.