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What’s Hot
Market forces influence students’ choice of major
By Sally Atwood

They are advised to major in what excites them, but undergraduate students still gravitate to what they perceive as the hot majors for the job market, even though majors often don’t determine careers. In the late 1990s it was computer science. Today it’s management. It’s possible that biological engineering will be the hot major by the end of this decade.

Robert Redwine, dean for undergraduate education, points to an increasingly diverse undergraduate student body as another possible explanation for recent changes. Since 1993, the School of Engineering has lost 22 percent of its enrollment. Some of that can be attributed to a 9 percent drop in total undergraduate enrollment, but some of it is due to the increased appeal of the Sloan School of Management, which has nearly tripled its undergraduate enrollment in the same period of time. Similarly, at the School of Science, majors in brain and cognitive sciences have more than doubled since 1993.

There are also some notable changes within individual engineering departments. Electrical engineering and computer science remains MIT’s largest department, but since the dot-com implosion in 2000, its enrollment has dropped by about 32 percent. Over the last decade, mechanical engineering has dropped 25 percent, chemical engineering 39 percent, and civil and environmental engineering 41 percent. Ocean engineering, which has a strong graduate program but few undergraduate majors, has merged with mechanical engineering.

Still, some departments in the School of Engineering have seen an uptick in enrollment. Aeronautics and astronautics is up 37 percent, and nuclear engineering is up more than 45 percent. Redwine says nuclear engineering has done a good job explaining to students what its program offers besides the ability to design nuclear power plants.

Another significant change that mirrors marketplace trends is a new major in bioengineering, which will be presented to the faculty for final approval this spring.

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