While the first step in many high school students' college research may be rankings (either national rankings from U.S. News and World Report or global ranking from QS), and while a university's prestige or reputation may be the first thing many prospective students know off the top of their heads about that particular school, choosing the right academic major for your undergraduate studies in the U.S. is equally important. Therefore, finding U.S. universities that have strong undergraduate programs in the major that you want to study is equally important, and an essential part of the college research process.
Even for Ivy League U.S. universities, there is no "one size fits all" approach. In other words, while certain Ivy League schools may be stronger in particular academic majors for undergraduate students, others will be stronger in other fields, or may even lack certain majors. For example, while Princeton University offers an engineering program for undergraduate students, it offers no business major (sorry to you Jack Ma or Elon Musk wannabes).
So what are the most popular majors at the Ivy League universities? Moreover, which undergraduate programs are strongest at which Ivy League schools, and what are some unique major offerings that they provide? Let's take a look.
1) Princeton University
Princeton University, with its more conservative atmosphere and small size compared to other Ivy League schools (for instance, it is a third the size of Harvard), allows its faculty to lavish more personal attention on its undergraduate students. While many of its programs stand out, here are some of its strongest programs:
o Public and International Affairs
o Computer Science
o Operations Research and Financial Engineering
o Molecular Biology
What's unique about Princeton's academic curriculum? Well, one interesting thing is that every liberal arts student must fulfill distribution requirements in epistemology and cognition, ethical thought and moral values, historical analysis, literature and the arts, quantitative reasoning, social analysis, and science and technology. Students must also take a writing seminar. (from the 2019 Fiske Guide to Colleges)
Also, here are the most popular undergraduate majors for students to study at Princeton (according to Niche):
2) Harvard University
Apart from being world famous for its law school (the birthplace of many a U.S. politician), the Kennedy School of Government, and its economics program, Harvard has many other notable, top-notch programs in which its undergraduate students can consider majoring. For instance, some of its top programs include:
o Biological Sciences
o Applied Mathematics
o East Asian Studies
o African and African American Studies
Moreover, in terms of the unique aspects of Harvard's curriculum, its core curriculum is regarded as perhaps the most exciting collection of academic offerings in all of American higher education. The core requires students to complete one letter-graded course in each of eight categories: Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding, Culture and Belief, Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning, Ethical Reasoning, Science of Living Systems, Scienceof the Physical Universe, Societies of the World, and United States in the World. One of these eight courses must also engage substantially with the Study of the Past. (from the 2019 Fiske Guide to Colleges)
Moreover, here are the most popular academic majors to study at Harvard (according to Niche):
3) Yale University
While Yale's academic programs are excellent across the board, its arts and humanities programs are especially outstanding. Moreover, its strongest programs and majors overall include:
o Life Science
o Political Science
o Modern Languages
What's unique about the undergraduate academics at Yale? Well for starters, elite freshmen with aparticularly strong appetite for the humanities can enroll in Directed Studies, a three-course program that examines the literature, philosophy, history, andpolitics of Western tradition. (from the 2019 Fiske Guide to Colleges)
Furthermore, here are the most popular majors for undergraduate students at Yale to study (according to Niche):
4) Columbia University
Globally renowned for its Core Curriculum, one noteworthy thing about Columbia's undergraduate programs is that its engineering program is among the best in the nation for undergraduates, even though it is often overlooked by students who are runningfull speed towards MIT and Caltech.
So what exactly is the Core Curriculum at Columbia? Here is a brief overview:
Two of the most demanding introductory courses in the Ivy League—Contemporary Civilization (CC) and Literature Humanities—form the basis of the Core. Both are yearlong and taught in small sections, generally by full professors. LitHum (as it is affectionately called by Columbia students) covers about 26 masterpieces of literature from Homer to Dostoyevsky, usually with some Sappho, Jane Austen, and Virginia Woolf thrown in for alternative perspectives. CC examines political and moral philosophy from Plato to Camus, though professors have some leeway in choosing 20th-century selections. One semester each of art and humanities is required and, while they are not given the same reverence as their literary counterparts, they are eye-opening all the same. Foreign language proficiency is required, as are two semesters of science; two semesters of "global Core," classes dealing in cultures not covered in the other Core requirements; two semesters of physical education; and University Writing. Students at the School of Engineering and Applied Science complete approximately half of the Core Curriculum (from the 2019 Fiske Guide to Colleges).
In addition, here are some of the strongest undergraduate programs available at Columbia, as well as the most popular undergraduate majors for students to study there (according to Niche):
o Social Sciences
o Biological and Biomedical Sciences
o Foreign Languages
5) University of Pennsylvania
Best known as the home of the Wharton School of Business (U.S. President Trump's beloved alma mater), the University of Pennsylvania's liberal arts programs rival preprofessional programs in their quality and scope. As such, UPenn has a plethora of diverse, top-notch undergraduate programs for its students to choose from, including:
o Management and Technology
o Cognitive Science
Next, despite all of its preprofessional programs, UPenn never lets its undergraduates stray too far from the liberal arts. The general education requirements mandate that students take at least one course in each of seven "sectors": society; history and tradition; arts and letters; living world; physical world; humanities and social sciences; and natural sciences and mathematics. Students must also complete one course in each of five "skills and methods" areas, including the study of a foreign culture as well as a mandatory writing requirement. (from the 2019 Fiske Guide to Colleges)
In addition, here are the most popular undergraduate majors for students to study at the University of Pennsylvania (according to Niche):
6) Dartmouth College
Compared to the other Ivy League schools, Dartmouth is the smallest, and thus places particular emphasis on educating and fostering the development of its undergraduate students. In addition, its academic atmosphere is akinto leading U.S. liberal arts colleges such as Colgate, Middlebury and Williams. Some of its strongest programs for undergraduate students include:
o Biological Sciences
o Computer Science
Moreover, Popular majors include economics, government, history, psychology, and English. Programs in engineering and biological sciences are strong, and the languages are also well regarded; students benefit from the Intensive Language Model developed by Professor John Rassias. Computer science offerings are among the best in the nation, thanks in no small part to the late John Kemeny, the former Dartmouth president who coinvented time-sharing and the BASIC language. Indeed, computing is a way of life here; well before the Internet, all of Dartmouth's dorm rooms were networked, and students would "Blitzmail" each other to set up meetings, discussions, or meals. A Voice-over-Internet Protocol phone systemalso lets students use their laptops as telephones, which means long-distancecalls home are free (from the 2019 Fiske Guide to Colleges).
Furthermore, here are the most popular majors at Dartmouth for undergraduate students to study (according to Niche):
7) Brown University
Unlike Columbia, Brown is famous for the flexibility of its academic curriculum for undergraduatestudents. For instance, it lacks distribution requirements and has an open curriculum, which is summarized below:
Brown’s faculty has successfully resisted the notion that somewhere in their collective wisdom and experience lies a core of knowledge that every educated person should possess. As a result, aside from completing courses in a major, the only university-wide requirements for graduation are to demonstrate writing competency and complete the 30-course minimum satisfactorily. (The assumption is that students will take four courses a termfor a total of 32 in four years.) All students must demonstrate that they have worked at least twice on developing their writing (once during their first two years and again as upper classmen), which they can do by taking approved English or writing-across-the-curriculum courses or by documenting their writing work in any other Brown course (from the 2019 Fiske Guide to Colleges)
Moreover, some of the strongest undergraduate programs at Brown and the most popular majors include (according to Niche):
o Computer Science
o Business, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations
o Applied Mathematics
8) Cornell University
Yes, Cornell University does have the highest undergraduate acceptance rate of any of the Ivy League schools (at 10.6% for the incoming freshman Class of 2023). However, that does not mean that it is easy to gain admission to, nor are its academics something at which to scoff. In fact, being world famous in hotel administration and with top-notch programs in engineering and architecture, Cornell is an academic powerhouse all its own. Some of its other strongest programs for undergraduate students include:
o Industrial and Labor Relations
o Agricultural Economics
o Engineering Physics
o Asian Studies
Moreover, Cornell offers more than 4,000 courses in more than 100 fields of study. Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences boasts considerable strength in history, government, and just about all the natural and physical sciences. The English program has turned out a number of celebrated writers, including Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, and Kurt Vonnegut. Foreign languages, required for all arts and sciences students, are strong (try taking Tamil, Zulu, or Nepali), and the performing arts, mathematics, and social science departments are considered good (from the 2019 Fiske Guide toColleges).
Next, here are some of the most popular majors for undergraduate students to study at Cornell (according to Niche):
So if you think your standardized test scores are up to snuff, if you possess numerous, highly competitive extracurricular activities and honors, and if you also have the "wow!" factor in your applications which can effectively dazzle Ivy League admissions officers, then perhaps you too will find your best fit major and academic environment within one of the 8 Ivy League schools. Game on and good luck!