Top 20 Majors and Degrees for Thinkers Looking for Intellectual Jobs

An image of an intellectual for our list of the Top 20 Degrees for Intellectuals

Intellect is a marketable commodity. Employers want to hire thinkers. And thinkers look for intellectual careers.

But where do you find them?

Most think smart people end up working higher education jobs or in research. But there are many different jobs for intellectuals.

If you consider yourself a smart person, you might try turning your gift (and your hard work) into a rewarding career.

What makes a job intellectual?

Smart jobs keep your brain active. They don’t cause you to fall asleep at your desk or bore you to tears. There are several things that make a job stimulating, but we’ve chosen three to highlight.

Read on to find out what makes a job stimulate your brain.

You work with data

In some of the most intellectual careers, you work with data. But it’s more than crunching numbers. You process and analyze information to make determinations. You also make estimates or predictions based on your outcomes.

For example, architects estimate measurements to ensure buildings are safe. Aerospace engineers determine flight dynamics through careful data analysis. There are many jobs where you work with data every day.

You work with machines

When you work with unique tools and machines, you keep your brain sharp. Your brain shifts between tasks, keeping it stimulated. You’re less likely to lose focus when you use machinery, for example.

Machine technicians and engineers work with machines. But the machine doesn’t need to be a trinket or gadget to stimulate your brain. Accountants use machines when they work with computers and calculators.

You work with people

When you interact with people, you use and develop your interpersonal skills. You also identify how to communicate in the best way with those around you. Working with people can help keep your mind sharp.

Careers where you work with people include doctors, lawyers, and social workers. If you have clients, you’re meeting with people.

But jobs where you work on teams also require sharp people skills. As a leader or a member of a team, you navigate personalities and adapt to different leadership styles as needed. You become an active part of a team with a single goal and vision. This ensures a job well done.

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20 Smart Degrees to Get for Intellectuals

Below are 20 smart majors for people who like to think. These degrees earn a spot on any intellectual jobs list because of the above criteria. In these majors, you work with data, machines, and/or people. You use critical thinking and analytical skills in your day-to-day activities.

If you love to analyze, ponder, and think, these are the smartest majors in college to study.

1. Actuarial Science

Actuarial science deals with risk measurements in business and finance. Actuaries spend their time evaluating the likelihood of future events. They also try to come up with ways to reduce the impact of those events.

To do their job, actuaries use data analysis. They work for:

  • Accounting firms
  • Banks
  • Colleges and universities
  • Government agencies
  • Insurance companies

Those who work in insurance help establish cost premiums. They assess risk and costs, all while analyzing numbers, charts, and graphs.

To study actuarial science, you should be a thinker. You should also have strong analytical and problem-solving skills.

Since the job requires data analysis, you need to be good with numbers. As an actuarial science major, you improve your math skills by taking courses in statistics and finance. You also take courses that cover financial mathematics and probability.

After college, you need to pass a series of exams so that you qualify for an actuary job.

So if you’re good at taking tests and working with numbers, you will find many benefits to this career. From high earnings to brain stimulation, actuarial science offers a good career for thinkers.

Top programs:

Roosevelt University
University of Central Florida

2. Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace engineers design and build planes, spacecraft, and weapons systems. You need a master’s degree to work in most aerospace engineer jobs, but you can also get a bachelor’s.

Aerospace engineers are thinkers. The top engineers go to work for NASA. But you can also find intellectual jobs at Boeing, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, and Rolls-Royce.

While in college, you take courses that make you a better critical thinker and mathematician. You take courses such as:

  • Design optimization
  • Flight dynamics
  • Fluid mathematics
  • Structural mechanics

You also take many math and physics courses.

After graduation, six-figure salaries await you. But you’ll need to work hard in school and graduate at the top of your class to land a job with NASA because this is one of the smartest majors to study.

Top programs:

Florida Tech
Georgia Tech

3. Anthropology

As an anthropology major, you study human behavior and the development of culture. You focus on questions and answers to different aspects of social relations.

There are four main branches of sociology. These include:

  • Archaeology
  • Cultural anthropology
  • Linguistics
  • Physical anthropology

While you focus your studies on these main branches, you can also specialize in a geographic area. Common areas include Latin America, Eastern Europe, or North America.

A specialization gives you an edge over your competition when you apply for a job. You also improve your research skills as you study a niche of anthropology.

If you want to understand the social world and culture as it relates to human development, then this major might work for you. But plan on learning more than anthropology in your classes. Many programs explore topics in art, history, language, and sociology.

Many consider anthropology one of the most intelligent college majors to pursue.

Featured Schools

Top programs:

Colorado State University Online
University of Florida

An image of an astronomer for our article on the Top 20 Degrees for Intellectuals

4. Astronomy

Astronomers, or astrophysicists, study galaxies, solar systems, and stars. While most students who go into astronomy get a graduate degree, some schools offer bachelor’s degree programs.

You can land an entry-level career in computer science, math, and physics with an undergraduate degree in astronomy. You can also qualify for graduate school if you keep your grades up and get support from your professors.

Courses in undergraduate programs cover topics like:

  • Galactic and extragalactic astrophysics
  • Planetary and stellar astrophysics
  • Solar systems astronomy

After graduation, you can work as an astronomer or astrophysicist. But again, most of these jobs require a master’s degree.

You can also land a job as a data analyst, news reporter, or teacher. The sky’s the limit for this degree, especially if you love to think and don’t want to grow bored on the job.

Featured Schools

Top programs:

Arizona State University
Indiana University Bloomington

5. Bioethics

In bioethics, you study the moral and ethical consequences of biological research. But you also study how it helps. Bioethics programs teach you how to apply ethics to your research, no matter how complicated.

As science advances, demand for this job increases. As a result, the number of undergraduate programs in this field have grown. Some schools offer bioethics as a standalone degree, while others connect it to public health or policy degrees.

In a bioethics program, you learn what it means to be ethical in human advancement. You raise questions on how research intertwines with law, medicine, and technology. You learn about important ideas and topics in biomedical research, such as:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Cloning
  • Pharmaceutical therapies
  • Stem cell research

You take classes that cover topics in health care and law and public health ethics.

Bioethics programs are for thinkers. The major helps you understand the impact of science and research. But it also helps you learn how to analyze moral arguments and contribute to debate.

Featured Schools

Top programs:

Saint Louis University
University of Rochester

6. Biomedical Engineering

If you’re passionate about biology and want to be on the cutting edge of innovation in health and medicine, this major is for you.

To work as a bioengineer or biomedical engineer, you need at least a bachelor’s degree. When you start this program, you take introductory courses like:

  • Biomedical engineering
  • Calculus
  • General and analytical chemistry
  • Physics

You then study more complex topics, from medical device design to numerical analysis of complex biosystems.

Some programs offer accelerated pacing. In such a program, you earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. Other programs might offer a health policy specialization.

But no matter what degree pathway you take, your courses will cover many math and science topics.

Featured Schools

Top programs:

Boston University
The University of Texas at Austin

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7. Chemical Engineering

You don’t have to narrow your interest in biology and chemistry to earn a degree in chemical engineering. In fact, this degree includes both subjects.

In a chemical engineering program, you study both biological and chemical processes. You take courses that explore topics in:

  • Chemical engineering materials
  • Chemical engineering processes
  • Process design and operations

Most programs are math heavy. They require you take many advanced math classes in calculus and differential equations. But you also take a series of chemistry and physics courses.

You need a strong math and science background to do well in this program. In high school, plan on taking as many math and physics courses as you can. Your early planning will give you a strong foundation for your college classes.

When it’s time to apply to college, look for ABET-accredited programs. Employers favor this designation when hiring chemical engineers.

Top programs:

Kettering University
University of North Dakota

8. Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology teaches you how the human mind processes, stores, and recalls information. It is a major for thinkers because it prepares students to ask questions.

  • How do humans learn, perceive, and behave?
  • How do human feelings and behaviors influence the brain?
  • How does the brain influence mental processes?

While learning how to answer these questions, you develop your problem-solving skills. You also become a critical thinker. You also work on your writing, as you research and draft papers.

Your classes cover many science and psychology topics. Some undergraduate programs offer standalone degrees or concentrations with a major in psychology. But with this concentration, you still take many neuroscience and cognitive science courses.

Graduate degrees in this discipline offer research-heavy classes. In a master’s degree program, you will choose a topic of interest and plan your own research. But you’ll also take foundational courses that build upon your undergraduate studies.

This major is for intellectuals who like to question current systems. As the field evolves, research drives new methods and ways of doing things. If you love to research and have a strong interest in how our brains work, cognitive psychology might be a good fit.

Featured Schools

Top programs:

Eastern Kentucky University
University of Virginia

9. Economics

Economics teaches you the principles related to monetary systems. It’s different than finance, which looks at the management of funds. Economics takes a broad look at how resources impact people, society, and location. It also looks at how distribution of those resources impacts us.

Because the major is interdisciplinary, you don’t only take econ courses. You study history, political science, sociology, and more.

There are two main branches of economics.

  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics

Your studies as an econ major cover both branches. Microeconomics looks at the behavior of individuals, households, and organizations. Macroeconomics deals with economies at the regional, national, and even global levels.

You should expect to take both lectures and seminars. These different class styes let you approach subjects from various angles. Seminars allow you to ask questions, talk with your peers, and learn how to debate. Lectures give you information and theories to explore.

If you’re a thinker who enjoys solving problems and studying theory, economics could be what you’re looking for in a major.

The discipline has become more quantitative to give room to data analysis and market research. So, plan on taking statistics and math. Many students earn advanced degrees with hopes of becoming a professor or getting a consultant job.

Featured Schools

Top programs:

University of Delaware
Washington State University

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10. English Literature

Listed as one of the smart degrees on our list, English literature helps you learn to communicate better.
 
Authors and writers use their communication skills to share information and entertain readers. English professors instruct students, perform research, and seek publication for their writings. But these people have more in common than a love for the written word. Many have degrees in English literature.
 
An English degree helps you learn to write. While it won’t teach you how to write the next bestselling novel, it will help you learn how to structure sentences and analyze literature. These skills help you succeed in any field, such as journalism, law, or publishing. English majors often go to law school or another professional school. Even some doctors hold undergraduate degrees in English because the major teaches you how to communicate.
 
While earning your degree in English literature, you take courses such as:
  • British literature
  • Modern drama
  • The modern American novel
  • Shakespeare
Your electives may include creative writing or poetry.
 
You can even pick up a minor or concentration if you love what you’re studying. The degree is for those who love to read and write. It’s also for those who want to improve their critical-thinking skills.

Featured Schools

Top programs:

Maryville University
University of New Hampshire

11. History/Archival Science

History is one of the largest departments on any college campus, due to its popularity as a major. It’s also a major for thinkers.

As a history or archival science major, you learn how to think, research, and write. You also learn how to focus your thoughts and write with clarity.

But because history is an interdisciplinary major, you have hundreds of courses you can take. You can also earn concentrations in different subjects. Popular history concentrations include:

  • American history
  • Asian history
  • Global and transnational history

You can also earn pick up a second major or a minor in areas that relate to history. Popular minors include economics and political science.

No matter which focus-area you choose, your history major will work for you. And if you plan to go to graduate school or even law school, you can with a history degree. In fact, many lawyers working today have history degrees.

As society moves forward, we look at the past for answers. We evaluate what happened and where things went wrong. As a result, we need historians and archivists to help preserve knowledge of the past. By doing so, we learn how the past impacts the future.

Top programs:

National University
Norwich University

12. Linguistics

According to the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), linguistics is a science. For this reason, it’s also one of the smartest college majors on our list.
 
Linguists investigate how people understand language. They also study language across different locations and cultures. Linguists spend most of their time testing and answering questions through scientific methods. They also use math and statistical analysis to look for patterns in language.
 
In this smart major, you take many kinds of linguistics courses. But you also take classes in:
  • Anthropology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Cognitive science
  • Communication sciences
It is in these classes and labs that you learn about the different patterns language has. And once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, you’re prepared to go back to school. In fact, many linguistics majors pursue master’s degrees or doctorates.
 
The field is diverse. With this degree, you can work anywhere, such as in education, IT, or publishing. You might even land a job as a professional speech pathologist with a little extra training.

Top programs:

Portland State University
University of Kentucky

13. Mathematical Sciences

Are you good with numbers? Love solving complicated problems?

If so, math might be the smartest degree to get. As a math major, you use your math skills to identify problems, find new theories, and come up with new and innovative ways to solve issues.

This major is for intellectuals who love research and problem-solving. But if that’s you, you’ve found you dream major. And if you’ve found your dream major, you might find your dream job.

As a math major, you collect data and perform research. You analyze numbers and statistics, then draw conclusions based on your findings.

Most mathematicians hold master’s degrees, but you can also find work with a bachelor’s degree. Career choices include:

  • Actuary jobs
  • Data collection analyst
  • Data scientist
  • Mathematical modeler
  • Software engineer
  • Statistician

Math isn’t for everyone. But if you’re a thinker who loves solving problems, the major can lead you to some intellectual careers.

Top programs:

Drexel University
Indiana University East

14. Neuroscience

Want to explore the neurological connections between behaviors and the brain? Neuroscience might be worth looking at for a major.
 
To do well in this intellectual major, you should have a strong science background. In high school, you should take classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. You should also take as many math and statistics classes as you can. Most programs rely on quantitative analysis.
 
If your high school offered neuroscience as an elective, you will be that much ahead having taken it. Undergraduate programs in neuroscience offer courses and lab work. Students spend time on the anatomy of the brain, neurobiology topics, and neuropsychology.
 
While you can find work after earning a bachelor’s degree, most students go to grad school. A master’s in neuroscience gives you the best job prospects. And if you want to go into research or academia, you’ll need a doctoral degree.

Top programs:

Augustana College
Georgia Tech

15. Philosophy

Want to join the ranks of famous philosophy majors? This challenging major was the choice for many thinkers like:

  • Comedian Stephen Colbert
  • Former United States President Bill Clinton
  • NBA legend Phil Jackson
  • Professor and activist Noam Chomsky

As a philosophy major, you study questions that have no concrete answers. That’s part of the appeal of this major. But if you like pondering existential questions that have confused humankind for centuries, this major might suit you.

A philosophy program teaches you how to engage in arguments. It helps you debate issues and reason through them.

Your coursework covers topics like:

  • Epistemology
  • Logic
  • Metaphysics
  • Symbolic logic

Your studies involve moral, ethical, and analytical issues. They also teach students how to reason through them.

Philosophy majors can combine their degree with other majors, such as economics and political science. Some programs offer concentrations that allow you to focus your studies on an area of interest.

When you graduate, you can go to law school or graduate school. Many philosophy majors go into academia. But to do this, you need a PhD in philosophy.

Top programs:

Arizona State University
Thomas Edison State University

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16. Physics

As a physics major, you learn how the seen and unseen natural world behaves through laws and processes in the universe. You also learn about matter, motion, space, and time.

If you’re STEM-bent and enjoy taking math and science courses, a physics major will improve your skills. But the academic rigor in this major is high. You take many challenging courses on your way to a bachelor’s degree.

Common courses include:

  • Calculus
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • General physics

You can also earn a specialization in a physics niche, such as astrophysics.

Career opportunities are vast with a physics degree. In fact, many graduates move into healthcare, engineering, and science careers.

But if you want to teach physics to college students, you will need a PhD in physics.

Top programs:

Case Western Reserve
Oregon State University

17. Political Science

If you enjoy politics or love to think about current events, a degree in political science might be for you. As a political science major, you dissect election results and learn what impact policy has on communities.
 
You also study different kinds of politics, such as:
  • American politics
  • Environmental politics
  • Global politics
 Most entry-level administrative jobs want at least a bachelor’s degree. But after graduation, you can find careers as market research analysts, educators, and researchers.
 
If you want to specialize in an area of political science, some programs provide options. Concentrations allow you to explore a personal interest. This is great if you have specific career goals in mind.
 
Common political science concentrations include:
  • American politics
  • Environmental politics
  • Foreign policy
  • Global politics

Top programs:

Clemson University
Penn State World Campus

18. Public Policy Analysis

Want to work in government or law? How about a job with a nonprofit? If so, a degree in public policy might be what you’re looking for in a career.

This degree prepares you with research skills and knowledge in the field. You explore topics in:

  • Constitutional law and procedures
  • Contemporary policy changes
  • Public administration
  • Statistics

You also learn how public speaking can benefit your career. You take communications and writing courses that improve your speaking abilities. You also learn how to lead in this field.

If you want to specialize, you can earn a concentration or take classes in areas of interest. Popular specializations include compliance, public leadership and management, and social policy. These specializations are a great way to explore your interests and career goals.

This is one of the smartest majors for people interested in government. Since the major relies heavily on research, it’s ideal for those who like to learn new things. You also get to question how systems work and develop policy for change.

Top programs:

Duke University
Georgia Tech

19. Sociology

Sociology is for thinkers. If you like to learn about different aspects of social life, from small groups to large-scale populations, this major might suit you.

You cover important ideas related to socialization across life cycles. You also study social conflict and how it impacts most people.

In this major, you dig into social inequality. You also look at systems that affect crime rates. Your courses cover a wide range of topics. Common courses in a bachelor’s degree program include:

  • Health and social welfare
  • Mass media and popular culture
  • Social identities
  • Social inequalities

When you graduate, you can seek professional roles as sociologists. You can also take jobs as market research analysts or researchers. But most of these positions need a graduate degree.

Top programs:

Roosevelt University
University of Massachusetts Global

20. Software Engineering

Software engineering teaches you how to design, develop, and maintain complex computer programs. The major is technical and requires a background in math and computers. It also requires strong critical thinking skills.

If you’re a thinker who loves to ponder complex puzzles, you might enjoy this major. It’s also ideal for those who want to learn more about software engineering.

As a student, you take classes that improve your software and engineering skills. You take both computer science and math classes, as well as engineering courses. These classes prepare you for work as a software engineer. But you can also qualify for other jobs, such as:

  • Computer systems analyst
  • Computer systems manager
  • Software developer
  • Web developer

The major is good for students with a math and science background and a love for computers. If you enjoy solving problems and thinking about challenging theories, you might love software engineering.

Top programs:

University of Michigan
University of Texas at Dallas

An image of a chemist for our article on Top 20 Majors and Degrees For Thinkers Looking for Intellectual Jobs

Other Smart Majors for Intellectuals

Other majors that didn’t make the list but still lead to jobs for intellectuals include:

  • Chemistry

Because you need a strong background in science and math, you’ll find smart students majoring in chemistry. Chemistry requires data analysis, research, and strong math skills. You need to take measurements and perform lab work. But your hard work leads to good pay as a researcher or chemist.

  • Foreign language

It’s not easy learning a foreign language, whether it’s French, Hindi, or Korean. To learn a new language in college takes hard work and discipline. You have to put in the time studying new vocabulary. You also have to read, write, and communicate in a new language.

But if you’re willing to start a new language from scratch, it will keep your mind sharp and stimulate your brain. Research shows that switching between languages causes certain parts of your brain to become more active. You process information quicker and filter it more efficiently.

Learning a new language also acts as a gateway to another culture. It opens doors (or excuses) to travel, as it makes it easier and more enjoyable.

  • Genetics

Genetics is another science good for thinkers. As a genetics major, you take many science classes. You also take math and statistics courses. These classes require you to solve complex problems. You also learn how to analyze and research.

  • Other science majors

Any science that requires you to conduct lab work and research is good for your brain. Researchers gather information and collect data. They interpret results based on their findings. They even come up with ways to improve future tests by evaluating where they went wrong. To carry out these tasks, you need to think and question.

Every science major uses the scientific method to gain knowledge. These steps allow you to ask a question about something you observe and to go through the process of drawing conclusions. Through research and tests, you determine results and outcomes.

But to go through the steps, you need to think, question, and wonder. A good scientist always asks questions.

What Major Should You Choose?

If you’re looking for intellectual careers, you’ll want to choose an intellectual major. But there are all sorts of degrees and careers that need creative and critical thinkers.

When you choose your undergraduate major, pay attention to your interests. You don’t want to spend four years studying a subject you hate.

There’s a reason why most colleges don’t require that you declare your major until your second year. If you can, spend your first few semesters exploring different subjects. This will give you time to uncover new interests or develop new passions. You might find out that you love learning a foreign language. You might also find out chemistry isn’t the science for you.

BDP Staff
April 2022

Related:

30 Best Online Engineering Bachelor Degree Programs

Top 30 Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Psychology

Ultimate Guide to Liberal Arts Degrees and Careers

Ultimate Guide to Science and Engineering Degrees and Careers

This concludes our list of the top 20 degrees for intellectuals.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief