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Guide to the Highest Dropout Rates by Major

Guide to the Highest Dropout Rates by Major
Ashley Kilroy
Ashley KilroyUpdated November 21, 2022
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Roughly 40% of undergraduate college students in the U.S. drop out each year, according to data from research company ThinkImpact. While students choose to drop out of college for many reasons, including cost, time commitment, and coursework difficulty, the major they choose also has an impact. Students who major in computer science tend to have the highest dropout rate, followed by advertising and agriculture majors. College is a significant investment, and selecting the right major can aid in your success. Here’s a list of the highest dropout rates by major, a look at the potential consequences of dropping out of college, and tips for choosing a suitable major.

6 Undergrad Degrees With the Highest Dropout Rate

Below is a list of the highest dropout rates by major.

1. Computer Science

The computer science dropout rate is 10.7%, topping the chart with the highest dropout rate of all majors. But why does computer science have the highest dropout rate? While many students pursue computer science majors because they like working with computers, they quickly find the major is more than they bargained for. Folks who graduate with a computer science degree must complete complex technical coursework. On top of that, the degree requires a lot of math. As a result, it makes it highly challenging for those who struggled with math at the high school level. So, while having a love for computers is a great start, students must have a high level of quantitative skills and show proficiency in a broad range of technical areas. For those wanting to pursue a degree in computer science, it’s best to understand the coursework involved and the level of drive necessary for making it to the finish line.Recommended: College Graduation Rates

2. Advertising

Next on the list of majors with the highest dropout rate are advertising and other liberal arts degrees like communications and journalism. Advertising has close to an 8% dropout rate. But why?Well, many students have a preconceived notion of what advertising is like. Then, when they discover how the advertising industry works, some discover it doesn’t align with their career goals. Due to the nature of the industry, some students can find it discouraging and switch to another major. Students who flourish in this industry must demonstrate creativity and critical thinking skills.

3. Agriculture

Due to the program requirements and challenging course load, students who major in agriculture have a 7.4% dropout rate. Agriculture programs cover various subjects, such as soil management, physics, data analysis, agribusiness, and algebra. While some students may think the subject matter is engaging and excel, others may struggle. As a result, some students may find an agriculture major discouraging and drop out.

4. Creative Arts

Roughly 7.3% of art students drop out of an art major before graduation. Creative students often enter an art major with an ideological perception of what the degree requires. Then, they quickly learn that to be a successful art major, you need more than just creativity. You need technical knowledge and a vast skill set, which may cause students to drop out of the program. Additionally, finding employment after graduation may be cause for concern. Thus, students opt for fields that have higher paying jobs and more employment opportunities.

5. Architecture

Architecture degrees have a 7.2% dropout rate, slightly behind an arts degree. Like other technical degrees, architecture requires students to be good at math and have technical design skills. Additionally, many programs require students to complete internships and certifications that cause the degree to extend beyond the typical four-year graduation timeline. These rigorous requirements can discourage an undergrad with an idealist view of what it means to be an architect. Overall, architecture programs are usually highly competitive, which can deter students unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed.

6. Business Administration

Many students choose business as a major in college. For this reason, it’s no wonder it has one of the highest dropout rates among all majors, at about 7%. Also, since a business major is a broad area of study, some students may pick a more granular major with a greater focus, like entrepreneurship or finance.

Downsides of Dropping Out of College

From the cost of tuition to the difficulty of the coursework, there are many reasons why students choose to drop out of school. But what students may not consider are the consequences of deciding to drop out. Here are some downsides worth taking into account before moving forward with dropping out of college.
  • You could face a financial impact. College is a big investment. Whether you pay for it yourself or take out a loan, it’s a significant undertaking. Some students feel that the financial burden is too significant to carry, so they drop out before completing a degree.
However, students that do this have already invested in the coursework they completed. If they took out loans, they still must worry about student loan repayment. Essentially, they waste the investment they already made. On top of the wasted investment, students must consider how not receiving a degree may affect their future earning potential. According to the Center of Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, bachelor's degree holders make 84% more than those who have only completed high school. But, keep in mind while the statistics show that bachelor's degree holders earn more, this might not be the case for everyone. 
  • It may be more difficult to return once you leave. Dropping out of school doesn’t mean you can’t achieve a degree in the future. That being said, it might be more challenging to return once you’ve taken some time off. Once you have full-time employment, financial responsibility, or maybe even a family, fitting school into your life can feel like an uphill battle. In addition, fitting the coursework into your already busy life may require extra motivation. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
  • You may see effects on your future employability. Many employers require job candidates to have some form of a degree. In fact, roughly 35% of job postings require a bachelor's degree and 30% require an associate’s degree. Many of these jobs offer higher compensation than jobs that only require a high school degree. Therefore, forgoing a degree can limit your employment opportunities down the road.
However, some jobs do focus on skill sets instead of degree requirements. So, depending on your career choice, a degree may not matter. It all depends on your chosen path and if a degree will help you excel. 

Why Choosing the Right Major Matters 

One of the most significant decisions you'll make in school is selecting a major. Choosing a suitable major makes all the difference between lasting career success and an education flop. In addition, your major determines everything from your earnings potential to your work/life balance to your professional development throughout your career. So, to help you find a suitable major, here are a few things worth considering:
  • Discover your passion. First, identify what you’re interested in and the skills you possess. From there, you can pinpoint areas of study that align with your unique strengths. Students tend to excel in areas they enjoy and have a knack for.
  • Research different majors. Researching the requirements, coursework, graduation rates, and expectations of different majors can give you a better idea of suitable options for majors. Additionally, all majors are not offered at every school. So, before you decide on the school you want, explore what majors are offered at the schools you're interested in. This way, you can find a university aligned with your interests.
  • Look at salaries. Understanding salary ranges can give you an idea of what you can make once you graduate. Then, you can start budgeting and planning for future expenses like student loan payments, including how long it will take to pay off student loans.

3 Student Loan Tips

  1. Refinancing your student loan can lower your monthly payments and help you adjust your loan term. Compare student loan refinancing rates to find a loan that works for you.
  2. One pain-free way to pay down your student loan sooner: send in your tax refund to put against the principal balance. Since it’s money that has already been taken out of your pay, you won’t miss it.
  3. If you teach full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school, you may be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness.

The Takeaway

Majors like computer science and agriculture that require technical skills and an extensive math background usually have the highest dropout rates. In addition, many students drop out due to the coursework and rigorous requirements of the major. Therefore, it’s essential to understand the program criteria and skills necessary to succeed. This way, you can choose a major that suits your interests and strengths. Students might also feel tempted to drop out due to the student loan debt they’re racking up. But the reality is, if you drop out, you’ll still have to pay back what you’ve already borrowed. Those who graduate with federal or private student loan debt can consider student loan refinancing. This can allow you to replace your existing loans with new loans that offer more manageable terms, though there are both advantages and disadvantages of student loan refinancing to consider. Student loan refinancing might make sense if you qualify for a lower rate. Lantern by SoFi can help you explore your options today to find a loan that works for you. Compare student loan refinance options with Lantern.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do students drop out of certain majors?
Which undergrad programs have the highest dropout rates?
What is considered the hardest college major?
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About the Author

Ashley Kilroy

Ashley Kilroy

Ashley Kilroy is a personal finance expert with years of experience in radio, newspapers, magazines, and online content. Her work has appeared on websites including Forbes and Yahoo Finance. Ashley writes on a variety of personal finance topics for SoFi, including student loans, taxes, and insurance.
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