At UC Santa Barbara, communication, psychological & brain sciences, economics, biological sciences, statistics and data science and physics are among the top growing majors from the 2013-14 school year to the 2022-23 school year.

In recent years, the UCSB has witnessed an increase in the number of overall students enrolled into the school.

While this trend has been growing steadily, the number of undergraduate degrees awarded increased dramatically between the years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 near the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic. There was a slight decline in subsequent years following the pandemic, but the number of undergraduate degrees awarded increased again during the 2022-23 academic year.

The number of degrees conferred has increased since 2013. There was a significant jump during the 2019-20 school year and a small decrease after the pandemic. (Annaka Lee / Daily Nexus)

The College of Letters & Science has particularly seen a significant increase in degrees conferred within several majors. Some of the most consistently growing majors are communication, psychological & brain sciences and statistics and data science. 

Communication, psychological & brain sciences, economics, biological sciences, statistics and data science and physics were majors among the top highest award rates from 2013-2023. (Annaka Lee / Daily Nexus)

Psychological & Brain Sciences, a newer major established in 2016 to replace the B.A. in Psychology, experienced a recent surge in enrollment at UCSB. The interdisciplinary nature of psychology, along with its relevance to various career paths, makes the major an appealing choice for students interested in fields such as clinical or counseling psychology, education, law enforcement or sales and marketing, according to the UCSB Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have played a significant role in shaping academic interests, impacting majors more relevant to the global crisis. Out of the majors that have experienced the most growth, psychological & brain sciences saw the greatest increase in degrees received during the years of the global pandemic, as students likely became interested in addressing the rising public health issues and challenges. 

According to the UCSB Office of Budget & Planning, another major that has experienced especially significant growth is the statistics and data science major. As a newer major, the number of degrees conferred has increased almost 300% from its earliest recorded data in the 2019-20 school year to the 2022-23 school year. 

The Division of Undergraduate Education did not respond to requests for comment regarding the growth of the communication, statistics and data science and psychological & brain sciences majors.

Third-year College of Creative Studies mathematics major Daniel Naylor, the director of technical development of the organization Data Science UCSB, said that just like its computer science counterpart, data science will continue to grow in the foreseeable future.

“I would say the growth of data science now is very akin to the growth of computer science within the last 20 years. Software became very prominent in the public eye and companies started to demand it, so naturally, more people went to study it. Now we’re seeing a similar effect except with data,” Naylor said.

According to Naylor, data science is becoming more and more popular because of its high demand in the job market. 

“I do believe the reason why there’s a lot of people majoring in it is because data science is in high demand,” Naylor said. 

He added that with the continued advancement in technology and artificial intelligence, data science will continue to be a popular major at UCSB. Dealing with the organization and analysis of data, the major could be applied to a broad range of jobs.

“I think most statistics and data science majors here would go into an analytics career. I do have some friends that are going into data engineering and [machine learning] engineering, though,” Naylor said.

Another growing major in recent years is communication. While the major has seen an increase in degrees conferred since 2014, it has seen a huge surge since 2020. 

The UCSB Department of Communication advising team said that what might contribute to the popularity of the communication major is that UCSB offers many opportunities for students within the major.

“Our department offers exclusive research assistant opportunities, and internship credit to support students in their academic and career growth. Students have the privilege to network with Communication Alumni through our UCSB Comm Mentoring Program,” the Department of Communication said in a statement to the Nexus.

Notably, the Department of Communication advisors expect more enrollees in the major in the future, particularly among the transfer students. 

“We have been working to improve our Transfer Student Orientation materials to best prepare students for the next steps they should take as they transition into UCSB and make their way into the full major,” the Department of Communication advisors said.

UCSB’s economics major has also seen quite continuous growth over recent years in contrast to the economics and accounting major. The economics major experienced an increase in growth from 2016-2020 and most recently from 2022-2023. By contrast, economics and accounting has seen a decline in degrees conferred since the 2019-20 school year.  

While degrees conferred for the economics and accounting major generally increased from 2013-2020, its numbers have since declined. In contrast, degrees conferred for the economics major have generally increased from 2013-2023 and are experiencing rapid growth. (Annaka Lee / Daily Nexus)

Fourth-year economics major Reed Callister, co-president of The Finance Connection — a financial club at UCSB — said that a contributing factor to the growth in economics degrees conferred, rather than degrees in economics and accounting, could be the broadness of the economics major. 

It is not specialized in nature, so it allows you to be flexible in terms of career approach and coursework to be taken. Perhaps this reality has been increasingly appealing for students and led to more people choosing to study economics over the past decade,” Callister said.

According to Callister, a degree in economics opens up a wide array of career opportunities for students, spanning across several sectors such as business, sales, accounting, finance and law as many undergraduates may find themselves pursuing careers in financial analysis, market research, management consulting or even public policy. However, Callister is doubtful that the economics major’s current growth rate in degrees conferred will continue due to a lack of space in economics classes. 

“Speaking from personal experience and on behalf of peers in the major, upper-division economics courses are often hard to come by, and many students are frustrated by the lack of courses available during certain quarters,” Callister said. “There are clearly lots of people interested and if there are too many, the department will have to either limit the number of people able to get into the major or add faculty and resources so the demand can be met.”

To combat this issue, the economics department has introduced new upper-division economics courses, including Entrepreneurial Insights and Health Economics. According to Reed, such new courses expand the range of economic topics covered and also provide additional opportunities for students to enroll in economics classes, helping to alleviate the pressure on existing courses. 

However, if UCSB cannot continue to match the demand for more classes and accommodate for the increase in students, the rate of growth in economics and other fast-growing majors may decrease in the future.