7 Most Difficult College
Majors for 2024

what are the hardest college majors

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Most of our lives are spent trying to alleviate difficulties. We use tools, drive cars, and take medicines to ease various forms of suffering or hardship. However, when it comes to education, those who seek out the most difficult college majors may end up benefiting more than many others. There are many reasons to choose a difficult college major that make the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile in the long run.

Since the most difficult college majors tend to be in subjects that are highly specialized, students will emerge from their undergraduate years with a focused degree. This sort of focus is often rewarded by employers who want to see candidates who have completed focused academic training. Students who pursue these difficult majors may also find that the hard work involved can pay off even if they don't work in that field.

This is because these difficult fields often require students to form diligent habits of mind that can be applied no matter where they end up working. Keen critical thinking skills can be applied in nearly any career imaginable, and they help workers solve problems, discover creative approaches, and take their projects to new heights.

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Benefits of Earning ANY Degree

A college degree takes at least four years, thousands of dollars, and lots of hard work. These facts lead many to wonder if there are any benefits to earning a degree if there’s a chance that you won’t end up using it in your career. Well, the answer to that is a resounding YES. A college degree, whether a four-year bachelor's degree or a two-year associate degree, will pay dividends for a lifetime. This is because the degree will provide many of the hard and soft skills required to get ahead in today's economy.

Even students who only complete a two-year associate degree will benefit greatly. These degrees require that students complete the core college curriculum that is required for most bachelor’s degrees. Those courses impart many of the soft skills that can make a huge difference in the working world. While a common complaint about English 101 is that students will never need to write after graduation, those skills are actually very useful in a huge variety of fields. Employers will recognize a well-crafted cover letter and want to speak to its writer, for one thing. Co-workers will appreciate clear, concise emails and the author may find themselves moving up the ladder to success.

Furthermore, the years spent in college expose everyone to tomorrow's leaders. Students make lifelong friends and form bonds that are great for socializing but also for professional reasons. That friend from an economics course may end up being a terrific person to network with years down the road.

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What Are the Benefits of Earning a Hard College Degree?

Believe it or not, working hard and earning a difficult college degree can pay off even more than a regular degree might. They may not at first seem beneficial because fewer students choose these difficult degrees. However, that in itself can be a major benefit. This is because those classes are sure to have fewer students and thus allow greater access to the professor, which can help make the courses a bit easier.

However, difficult degrees are usually so hard because they demand that students dive deep into their subject matter. Over the course of a college degree, this becomes a habit for the students. Thus, when they arrive at their first job, they will have a strong work ethic that will pay spendable dividends later down the road. Furthermore, such rigorous academic work will be a terrific help when, or if, students go to graduate school. Even students who pursue a totally different subject for their graduate work will have established rigorous academic practices for their research and writing, and their professors are sure to take note.

When it comes to pay, rigorous college degrees are typically in fields that tend to compensate workers very well. The harder degrees are in STEM subjects such as computer science, engineering, sciences, and finance. These degrees often are at the top of the list when researchers survey alumni for their salary information.

What Makes a College Degree Difficult?

All college degrees are difficult to some degree. In fact, much of the issue around difficulty is dependent on the person. A math whiz may find an art major impossible to pass, whereas star English majors flounder in physics courses. Yet, some degrees are universally considered difficult based on objective measures, such as overall GPAs from students. Degrees with lower average GPAs tend to be considered more difficult than those with higher average GPAs. Another measure of a degree's difficulty is the amount of time it takes out of a student's week.

Some courses take only a few hours of preparation each week, with a few more hours added for end-of-term projects such as research papers. Some courses take extra time by their nature. Laboratory sciences can take a great deal more time than a regular course because of the extra time spent in the lab and the required number of lab hours in higher-level courses. Thus, most of the sciences are considered more difficult degrees than those that only require typical classroom time.

Among non-laboratory classes, the more difficult courses are measured by average GPA scores and academic consensus. Certain humanities majors, such as philosophy, are considered more difficult based on the sheer density of the material. For example, academics consider a 20-page philosophy paper to be the equivalent of a 100-page history essay. Perhaps hard experience taught them that a 100-page philosophy paper was nearly impossible for undergraduate students, and those who managed it invariably received poor marks.

What to Consider When Choosing a Degree

Choosing the right college degree is not an easy task. There is so much weighing on the decision that those who are not sure may be paralyzed with indecision. However, this is what the first year or two of college is for. The core college curriculum is designed to provide students an overview of most subjects so that they can make an informed decision as to their major. During those years, most colleges require that students take science courses, writing courses, social sciences, and math, too.

When making the decision, it's important to first consider one's core talents and inclinations. Most will fall into one of two camps: humanities or sciences. Humanities students excel at qualitative analysis, creative thinking, and may love writing. Science-oriented students excel at quantitative analysis, linear thinking, and may prefer numbers to words. Both sets should also consider their long-term goals. Students with more of a tendency towards humanities courses should take a moment to consider what academic programs make more sense in the long-term. They should also look into internships that may spark an interest or help focus their resume for post-college life.

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Hardest College Degree Programs

The most difficult college degree programs tend to cluster in the STEM fields. These college degrees tend to focus heavily on mathematical or analytical abilities, and many come with laboratory requirements that may be quite taxing on a student's time. Those who pursue a lab intensive subject, such as chemistry or physics, should try to avoid the need to work while in school. This is because both work and school will suffer as a result.

The exceptions to this might be philosophy and mathematics, which do not require any mandatory laboratory time. However, they both require deep thinking and long hours working through difficult problems. Thus, both subjects prepare students for either graduate school or brilliant careers where their exceptional problem-solving abilities are a tremendous boon to their employers.

  • Architecture:
    Where most degrees focus on either analytical or qualitative skills, architecture requires both. Architecture students need to have excellent engineering skills, artistic sensibilities, and a thorough knowledge of building materials. They also need to understand design theories and have excellent artistic talents. Thus, architecture students need to be able to think with both sides of their brains. They may take a minor in fine arts, in which they can let their purely creative side thrive or they may minor in a STEM-oriented field, such as mathematics or engineering.
  • Engineering:
    There are many different paths to take under the umbrella of engineering: chemical, biomedical, aerospace, marine, mechanical, electrical, civil, materials, and astronautical engineering are just some of the choices. Each subfield has rigorous requirements for its students. To succeed in this field, students need strong skills in mathematics (including statistics and calculus), physics, geology, and more.
  • Chemistry:
    Students of chemistry need to have a firm understanding of calculus, biology, physics, and more. These students often spend a lot of time in the chemistry lab where they master their science. Their laboratory courses often take a great deal of time, so chemistry students also must be a master of time management. While an undergraduate degree in chemistry is a terrific achievement, launching a career in chemistry often requires a master's degree.
  • Mathematics:
    Mathematics may not come with the hands-on laboratory experiences that other STEM students must endure, but it's still one of the most difficult degrees to achieve. The higher-level and abstract concepts involved in mathematics can be very difficult for students to grasp and may require many hours wrapped in thought. Mathematics students often transition to computer science and programming in their professional lives.
  • Physics:
    Physics is a marriage of the higher-level mathematical concepts with the physical world. Physics students may spend a great deal of time in the physics lab. Physics students who wish to continue working in the field must continue into graduate school. Other students may take their analytical abilities into the technological realm.
  • Finance or Accounting:
    While many focus their business degrees on marketing or management, the real wizards are studying finance or accounting. These fields are very complex and comprise the fundamentals of all businesses. To excel in these fields, students need strong mathematical abilities and a near-legal mind to keep track of the myriad rules and stipulations that govern their field. Accounting may lead students towards the CPA examination, which is considered the most difficult professional examination.
  • Philosophy:
    This humanities field is one of the most difficult college degrees available. In much earlier times, all students went to college to study what was called philosophy including all of mathematics, sciences, letters, etc. Indeed, philosophy is the root subject for all of academia. Students who pair philosophy with a double major in economics, finance, or mathematics are sure to have very interesting careers.
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These Majors Might be Easier for Students with Specific Interests or Talents

  • Accounting/Mathematics:
    While these fields both made the list of the most difficult majors, those who have a natural affinity with numbers may find these courses relatively easy. If these college subjects come easy, students should consider taking honors courses or undertaking an independent study course where they can research topics they find interesting.
  • Arts (Fine Arts):
    Those who have strong talents in the arts may find it easy to create innovative and astounding works of art or new conceptual designs. However, even if art comes easy, it still requires very hard work and discipline. That is, every artist must keep working to discover their true expressive form. Consider that art history shows us that many masters went through many phases in their creative lives.
  • Biology/Chemistry:
    While most of us might recoil at the idea of biology or chemistry being an easy subject, there are those who have a natural talent in these fields. Somehow, these students have an intuitive sense that helps them understand these fields.
  • Computer Science:
    Most students these days grew up with some form of computer in their homes. However, not as many had a knack for grasping computer code or the abstractions that come with computer science. Since computer science relies heavily on a very strict form of logic, there are those for whom it simply makes sense.
  • English/Literature/Creative Writing:
    This field(s) delves into human nature in ways that are less direct than the approaches found in STEM subjects. To thrive in this area, students need to be terrific writers and readers. Their friends in the STEM departments may not understand how they manage to thrive in a field that seems to eschew strict rules and guidelines. Nevertheless, literature lovers who make it through a college degree arise with strong skills that can help them thrive in the working world.
  • Exercise Science:
    This is a somewhat new field that endeavors to understand how to help people move their bodies in ways that foster long-term health and wellbeing. This field may come naturally for those who are already involved in sports and nutrition. Students in this field should also take courses in mathematics, biology, and perhaps physics, as well.
  • Foreign Language:
    Some say that it's harder to learn a foreign language later in life. However, foreign language students may find that it's easy to acquire a new language while in college. To excel in this field, students must have access to others who speak their second language, and it may be beneficial to study abroad. After all, full immersion is vital for those who seek total fluency.
  • Graphic Design:
    This degree marries pure creativity with technological skill. That is, a purely creative and visual sense will only take a student so far in these courses. To become a full master of graphic design, students must understand the underlying computer technology that powers their creations. Various technological and graphic elements all work together to determine whether a design is a success or not.
  • Music:
    This is a field where people certainly seem to need a natural talent. However, there are those who fall in love with music and have no innate talent for the field. These students must work very hard to attune their ears and to develop their musical sensibilities.
  • Visual and Performing Arts:
    Students need to have terrific artistic sensibilities for these fields, but they must also have an innate fearlessness when it comes to performance. Many others in the arts cannot claim the lack of self-consciousness necessary to thrive in these degree programs. However, the theatre arts may also include less extraverted activities such as set design, costume design, and lighting design, among other skills.