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While traditional departments continue to be most popular at Penn, newer interdisciplinary majors are gaining converts.

Economics, history and political science were the most popular majors at Penn based on the number of students graduating with those degrees in May 2004. Also near the top of the chart were international relations, communication, psychology and biology.

In May 2004, the Economics department graduated more students than any other department at Penn, with 263 individuals. History was second with 202 and political science third with 144.

Economics department director of undergraduate studies Petra Todd attributed the popularity of the economics major to its appeal in preparation for careers in sectors including government, law, finance and medicine.

Beth Wenger, undergraduate chairwoman of the History department, also ascribed her field's wide popularity to its broad practicality.

"History is applicable to so many interests," Wenger said, noting that many history majors double-major in areas including political science, English and biology. "Everyone must think critically about the past to decipher the present."

While many argue that economics and history's broad bases are reasons for their popularity, Cristina Bicchieri, director of the philosophy, politics and economics program, called these majors "specialized" and attributed their popularity to students' career aspirations.

"Because of the job market, students [of non-interdisciplinary majors] think that specialized [in a field] is good," Bicchieri said.

She added that a broader interdisciplinary approach is the wave of the future.

"Being more well-rounded is increasingly important in today's job market. [Students with interdisciplinary majors] are unique in this competitive labor market, [and] that might just give them an edge."

In May 2004, 54 undergraduate students graduated with PPE degrees. The major -- which first gave a degree to one student in May 1995 -- is expecting approximately 70 this year.

Samuel Freeman -- a Philosophy and Law professor at Penn who started the PPE program -- attributes the rise in popularity to the versatility such a degree offers.

"There is [an] intrinsic interest in the combination of programs that the major covers ... [and many students see it as good preparation for] law school or policy or civil service work," Freeman said.

Biological basis of behavior -- another interdisciplinary major created in 1978 -- graduated 83 students in May 2004.

BBB graduated seven students from the program in 1979 and expects 118 students this year.

Jennifer Heerding, associate director of the BBB program, believes that the number of students graduating with BBB degrees is pretty stable around 100. The major first graduated over 100 students in May 1984.

Currently, neither the BBB nor PPE program offers graduate degrees or has independent faculty members. They only have "affiliated" staff that are based in other departments.

Bicchieri's ultimate goal for PPE is to found a master's degree program with more interdisciplinary professors.

Meanwhile, departments with the fewest number of students graduating in May 2004 were Slavic Languages and Literature and Jewish Studies, which each three students, while Italian Studies had just two.

Hot Or Not?

Number of graduating students in 2004

Most Popular: Economics: 263 History: 202 Political Science: 144

Interdisciplinary: Philosophy, Politics and Economics: 54 Biological Basis of Behavior: 83

Least popular: Slavic Language Studies: 3 Jewish Studies: 3 Italian Studies: 2

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