Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Class of 2023 Declare Their Majors: MCS and Global Affairs Replace PPE as Most Popular Majors

Story by | Ryan Yeo (he/him/his), Staff Editor 

Illustrations by | Ryan Yeo

Fig. 1: The major declaration numbers for the Class of 2023. MCS is the most popular major, with 33 declarations out of a total of 232.

The major declaration exercise for the Yale-NUS College Class of 2023 concluded this semester, with a total of 232 participants (Fig. 1). This year saw several significant changes in major composition compared to last year (Fig. 2). 

In a dramatic change from last year’s cohort, Mathematical, Computational and Statistical Sciences (MCS), which received 33 declarations, replaced Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) as the most popular major. Meanwhile, Global Affairs (GA) replaced Economics as the second most popular major, with 25 students declaring it as their major. Unchanged from their positions last year, Philosophy and Arts and Humanities remained the least popular major choices, each receiving only six declarations this year.

MCS, which has consistently been one of the most popular majors, saw a 35% increase in declaration rate compared to last year, while GA witnessed a 23% rise in declaration rate. 

It should be noted that these statistics are based on a small sample size. Caution should be exercised when drawing conclusions from statistics on percentage change, particularly for less popular majors, as a small change in absolute numbers can result in a large percentage change.

Fig 2: A comparison of major declaration numbers (percentages) over the last three years.

Perhaps the biggest surprise this year comes from the PPE major. Despite ranking as the most popular major for five of the last six years, it saw a 35% drop in enrollment from last year. PPE is now only the fifth most popular major, ranking below MCS, GA, Environmental Studies, and Psychology. 

The GA major, meanwhile, continued its trend of rapid growth in enrollment over the years. With a declaration rate of only 3% in the Class of 2020, its popularity has almost quadrupled since, with 25 members of the Class of 2023 declaring it as their major. 

The PPE and GA majors have some interchangeable content, such as international politics and economics. Certain modules within the politics track of the PPE program also overlap with GA requirements, namely International Relations and Methods in the Social Sciences. Taking these courses allows one to simultaneously fulfill the requirements for both majors. With several additional GA modules cross-listed under PPE, students would find it even easier to switch from one major to the other if they focused on courses with double affiliations.

This year’s major declaration data suggests that an increasing number of Yale-NUS students are looking to GA as a viable alternative to PPE. This was the case for Lim Tian Jiao ‘23, who declared a major in GA this semester. 

“PPE is a bit too broad for me,” she explained. “For its baseline requirements, you are not required to delve as deeply into a concentrated area.”

“I want to incentivize myself to learn one or two subjects more rigorously. GA modules, like the ones on methods and theory, have academic rigor and value that I may not get if I stick to the bare minimum requirements of PPE.”

To supplement her GA major, Tian Jiao also intends to declare a minor in Economics and to take a few Philosophy modules as electives.

Still, PPE remains an attractive major for many students. Afiya Dikshit ‘23, who was also deliberating between PPE and GA, explained why she eventually chose to declare a major in PPE: “Before I came to Yale-NUS, I was actually pretty adamant about taking GA. But then I looked at the requirements for PPE and found that it was more flexible. I wanted to have the ability to do multiple subjects while complying with my major and I felt that PPE would really help me with that.”

Fig. 3: Percentage changes in major declarations from last year. Anthropology and Physical Sciences experienced the largest gains in popularity, while Literature and Economics experienced the sharpest falls.

Like GA, Environmental Studies continued to see rapid growth in popularity as a major, with its enrollment rate having doubled since the Class of 2020. Environmental Studies is now the third most popular major for the Class of 2023.

Several other majors have also witnessed large swings in popularity this year (Fig. 3). Admissions to the Double Degree Programme in Law and Liberal Arts (DDP) spiked in the years of admission for the Class of 2023, with a 60% rise in its students since last year. Similarly, Anthropology and Physical Sciences have also seen a rise in popularity this year, with Anthropology receiving almost 70% more declarations. Meanwhile, the proportions of Literature and Economics majors have fallen, with Literature receiving almost 50% fewer major declarations compared to last year. 

The Anthropology, Economics, and Literature majors, however, also saw large swings in the opposite direction last year. The statistics for these majors this year seem to be consistent with the usual trends, suggesting that last year’s numbers might have been anomalous for them.

Fig. 4: The composition of different major categories in the Class of 2023. The interdisciplinary category only includes Environmental Studies.

With Literature declining in popularity, the other humanities majors have also remained unpopular, each witnessing no change in the number of declarations from last year. Despite making up 26% of all majors on offer, the humanities division only accounts for 13% of major declarations this year (Fig. 4). 

Although the social science division has seen a small drop in enrollment, it remains the most popular one, accounting for half of all major declarations for the Class of 2023. The science division, meanwhile, has seen a 29% increase in enrollment, owing to the resurgent popularity of the MCS and Physical Sciences majors. The science division accounts for 22% of major declarations this year.

The raw numbers of students by major as declared during major declaration exercises since 2017.

These data seem to align with The Octant’s observation last year that the economic downturn might instigate a shift in demand from the humanities to STEM subjects. As the world picks itself up after COVID-19, it will be interesting to see whether this trend continues in the years to come.

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