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Which stream is best for preparation of IAS/ UPSC Civil Services Exam – Arts, Science or Commerce?

A student, moving to class 11th or joining a graduate course, who has decided to undertake UPSC Civil Services Exam, invariably faces a decision dilemma regarding which stream to choose, i.e. between Science, Commerce and Humanities (Arts), which would prove to be most helpful in the UPSC IAS exam?

This dilemma is even more complex for those students who have been a science or commerce students till class 12th but are now wanting to shift to Humanities stream in graduation considering that the syllabus for CSE is considered to be heavily biased towards Humanities subjects.

Although it is given that it is not the stream but the approach of the candidate towards exam which increases the probability of success but there is no denying the fact that Humanities students certainly have an edge having studied subjects which are recurrent themes across all stages of the CSE.

For e.g. subjects like History, Public Administration, Political Science, Geography, Psychology, Sociology, Economics etc form the major syllabus of General Studies’ papers (which have the maximum weightage across the Prelims and the Mains stages of the CSE).

Not only that, majority of these subjects, also figure in the Optional Subject List of UPSC. All of the following subjects which the Humanities stream offers are also available as optional subjects to be elected by students at the Mains stage of CSE:

  • Political Science
  • History
  • Geography
  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Public Administration
  • Philosophy

 (The list of these subjects doesn’t end here and is quite exhaustive as different schools and boards offer different numbers and combinations of these subjects. Normally, students are required to choose five compulsory and one additional (optional) subject in class 11th and 12th).

The 68th UPSC annual report also contains statistics about distribution of candidates who appeared at this exam vis-à-vis those who were selected (recommended for selection by UPSC), by Optional subjects in CSE 2016 (Pages 118 & 119 of report). For the sake of brevity, the entire data is not being put here but the essence of this analysis as given in the UPSC report is given below:

(i) As far as academic backgrounds of the recommended candidates are concerned,59.3% were from Engineering, followed by 21.9%, 10.3% and 8.5% from Humanities, Medical Science and Science respectively. However, 84.7% of optional subjects opted by the recommended candidates were related to Humanities (including literature of languages), followed by 6.8%, 5.4% and 3.1% related to Science, Medical Science and Engineering respectively. This shows that most of the candidates have made a cross domain shift from their original stream (i.e., Engineering, Science and Medical Science) to humanities.

(ii) Geography was the most preferred subject among the optional subjects chosen by the candidates, followed by Sociology and Public Administration.

(iii) Out of 45 Optional subjects offered by UPSC for CSE 2016, the most popular ones in descending order were; Geography, Sociology, Public Administration, History, Political Science & International Relations, Anthropology, Philosophy, Maths, Medical Science, Law, Literature of Hindi Language, Psychology and Economics.

Looking at the subjects for the General studies papers and UPSC syllabus, one can see an obvious advantage for a student with Humanities background as he has already studied these subjects in school and college.

So if you wish to pursue Civil services as your career aim, Humanities (Arts) is definitely going to provide you with the extra edge to do so. It covers the widest range of subjects which could be taken up for higher studies and also provide a strong base for CSE. If a student wishes to pursue CSE, it’s better to let go of the apprehension that Humanities has fewer career avenues as compared to other streams. It provides equal, if not more, opportunities and requires the same effort and dedication by the students.

Finally, keep in mind that every journey has its ups and downs. Prepare slow and steady, and use every means to expand your knowledge base. CSE demands candidates to have an honest interest in the subjects they study, which can only come from perseverance and devotion.


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