2021 Top 10 Hardest College Majors [With Careers & Salaries]

Home » 2021 Top 10 Hardest College Majors [With Careers & Salaries]

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If you’re looking for a challenge, then you may be intrigued to learn what the hardest college majors are.

Top Hardest College Majors

On the other hand, if intense math and science courses aren’t your thing, you may be more interested in selecting college programs that aren’t included on the list of the most difficult majors.

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Either way, it can be fascinating to learn which subjects are considered the hardest majors in college. That knowledge may help you settle on which program to pursue, so you might want to take a look at this list as you choose your degree path.

Hardest College Majors

No matter what you study, earning a college degree requires a great deal of dedication. While hard is subjective, there are some degrees that are commonly considered more challenging than others.

Contributing factors include:

  • Low average GPA
  • More homework required
  • More hours spent studying
  • More lab hours

The following subjects are often ranked among the hardest college majors:

Both of these fields offer plenty of opportunity for growth, a lot of different job prospects, and plenty of job security.

Physics

Physics major

Physics is the branch of science that studies the motion and behavior of matter. While many students take a physics class in college, those who choose this as their major will study the field much more thoroughly.

There are many math and science classes involved in physics studies. The curriculum for a physics program can cover topics like electromagnetism and modern physics. You can also explore waves, mechanics, optics, thermodynamics, and energy.

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Physics programs often cover both classical and modern aspects of this field. Subspecialties within physics include astrophysics and applied physics. Some students major in physics and also take teacher-preparation courses so that they can earn state education licensure.

Physics majors often enroll in graduate school after earning their bachelors. They tend to study engineering, astronomy, or physics. Those who go straight into the workforce may become engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, research associates, or data analysts.

Chemistry

Chemistry major

Chemistry is the branch of science that explores the composition of matter. Chemists explore the properties of matter and the ways that various substances interact with each other.

There are several subdisciplines within chemistry, and college chemistry majors study each of them. These subdisciplines include organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and analytical chemistry. This type of program will often cover course topics like measurements and methods of chemistry. Multiple classes are likely to have lab components.

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While you can expect to take a class dedicated to each of the chemistry areas, you may also be able to pick one for more in-depth study. Some colleges offer specific concentration options, and others simply leave space in the schedule for a few major-related electives.

Alternatively, some colleges offer education courses for students who want to become science teachers. Many graduates continue on to medical school or another graduate program. Others become food scientists, engineers, lab technicians, or technical writers.

Architecture

Architecture major

Architects design and create buildings. They don’t carry out the hands-on work of construction. Rather, they come up with the building plans and may have supervisory roles during the construction process.

Students in architecture programs study materials, design, and construction methods. You can learn to turn ideas from general concepts into well-laid plans that are carefully sketched out on paper or screens.

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Other courses cover the history of architecture so that you can learn about the evolution of various styles. Licensure requirements for architects vary from state to state. Becoming licensed may require studying at a school with National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accreditation.

Many graduates continue into architecture graduate programs before pursuing state licensure. Internships are another common step toward becoming licensed. Not all graduates choose to become professional architects, though. Related careers can include surveyor, building inspector, drafter, interior designer, or city planner.

Chemical Engineering

Chemical Engineering major

If you’re interested in designing or improving chemical products, you might consider chemical engineering as your bachelors degree major. Chemical engineers are influential in the fields of environmental science, energy, aerospace technology, and more.

Statistics for engineering, thermodynamics principles, and plant design are some of the course topics commonly offered in chemical engineering programs.

You may take biology, chemistry, and physics classes that are specifically tailored to the engineering field. Other concepts covered in this program can include kinetics, mechanics, separations, and materials science.

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Licensure is not as common in the chemical engineering field as it is for some other engineering disciplines. Even still, choosing a college that’s accredited by ABET can be a strategic way to select a program that aligns with today’s industry standards.

Chemical engineers are often employed in sectors like petroleum manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and wholesale trade. They can also be employed by research and development firms or engineering services agencies.

Cell and Molecular Biology

Cell and Molecular Biology major

The field of cellular and molecular biology deals with biological processes at a tiny level. Processes at this level form the foundation of all biological activity.

A degree program in cellular and molecular biology includes classes on cell processes and cell metabolism. You can also learn about genetics and microbiology. There are research courses, and programs require plenty of lab work. In addition to biology studies, you can also engage in some physics work and a lot of chemistry.

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Some students who want to become teachers also take education courses. They’ll often apply for educational licensure with the state after completing school. Other job opportunities may be found in fields like food science, agriculture, biotechnology, and technical writing.

Biologists also contribute to developments in the areas of pharmacy and healthcare. In fact, some choose to pursue professional programs to become medical doctors or other specialized healthcare providers.

Biology

Biology major

The science of life is better known as biology. Biologists study organisms. This can include their physiological processes, their behaviors, their body structures, and their classification. Common biology classes cover biostatistics, zoology, and molecular biology. Other topics can include genetics and evolution.

Students usually need a good deal of chemistry coursework to go along with their biology studies. Organic chemistry and biochemistry are particularly important. As a science discipline, biology studies tend to require a lot of lab time.

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Some biology students can choose a degree concentration to focus their studies on a particular area of this scientific field. Schools may offer options like biomedicine, botany, or organismal biology.

Some biology graduates want to become teachers. Others use their bachelors degree as preparation for a professional program in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, or another health field.

This degree can also pair well with a masters in nutrition or respiratory care. Additional paths for biology graduates include environmental science or genetic counseling.

Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace Engineering major

If you’ve always been fascinated with flight and space travel, then you may be interested in pursuing aerospace engineering. This field of study plays a key role in airplane and spacecraft design.

The classes for this program can address materials, structural design, mechanics, and dynamics. You’ll typically take many math courses, including linear algebra, geometry, and calculus. The lab work for this program can involve wind tunnels, water tunnels, and shock tubes.

Concentration options in aerospace engineering include aeronautics, rocketry, and propulsion. In addition, aerospace engineering pairs well with mechanical engineering, so some schools offer combined programs.

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Aerospace engineering programs can be accredited by ABET, which adds credibility to the degree. For additional opportunities to boost your resume, colleges may offer research opportunities, internships, or collegiate engineering organizations.

Graduates tend to work in the aerospace industry. They may be involved with designing aircraft parts or controls. The federal government employs aerospace engineers, too.

Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical Engineering major

The field of biomedical engineering combines principles and techniques from many different engineering branches as well as other disciplines.

Biomedical engineers are well-versed in math, biology, physics, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and more. With their well-rounded expertise, they contribute to the development of healthcare devices.

Statistics, optics, mechanics, fluids, and polymers are some of the subjects that biomedical engineering majors study. You can also learn about medical imaging, signal processing, and stem cells. Many of the courses will have lab work, and you may practice working with circuits, operating equipment, and taking measurements.

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You may spend a considerable amount of time doing extra study in a particular area of the field. Options can include mechanical engineering, tissue engineering, diagnostic imaging, and electrical engineering.

Many biomedical engineering graduates enter medical or veterinary school. They can also work as quality engineers or designers in medical device companies or research firms.

Biochemistry

Biochemistry major

If you can’t decide between biology and chemistry studies, biochemistry could be the answer. Biochemists explore the chemical reactions that take place within plants, animals, and other living things.

Not surprisingly, students in this field take a large number of biology and chemistry classes. After gaining a foundation in both disciplines, you can dive into organic chemistry and analytical chemistry.

Other required courses can include algebra, calculus, and physics. Many of the courses for this program also require a large investment of lab hours. Biochemistry students may choose to enroll in grad school after completing their bachelors degree.

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This undergraduate program can serve as a strong foundation for advanced studies in forensic science or molecular biology. It can also help prepare students for medical or dental school.

Biochemists may also become food scientists, agricultural scientists, or lab techs. They can pursue work for pharmaceutical companies as well. With teaching licensure, they can also go into the field of education.

Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering major

Professionals in mechanical engineering understand the inner workings of devices. Not only do they understand how machines function, but they can also contribute to building machines of their own.

The work of mechanical engineers plays countless roles in people’s everyday lives. Mechanical engineering students study fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, waves, magnetism, and materials.

Learning about manufacturing processes and engineering software can help prepare you for the workforce. The required math curriculum may cover calculus and differential equations. During lab sessions, you may work with robotics or computer-based design software.

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Colleges sometimes include concentration tracks in their mechanical engineering programs. Different options can include sustainability, robotics, manufacturing, or virtual reality. Like other engineering programs, mechanical engineering departments can receive accreditation from ABET.

Mechanical engineers often find work with manufacturing companies. Their responsibilities may involve designing vehicles, machines, computers, or electronic devices. Some graduates pursue a masters in mechanical engineering or another engineering branch.

Electrical Engineering

Electrical Engineering major

Electrical systems play a fundamental role in modern life. Engineers in this discipline understand how electrical systems function, and they can design machines and devices that run on electricity.

Some of the classes that electrical engineering students take cover topics like electromagnetics, power systems, and circuit analysis. Your curriculum may cover topics like signals, switches, semiconductors, and magnetism.

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Lab classes can help you gain hands-on experience with classroom concepts. You may get to select a variety of elective courses as well. Elective subjects may include computer engineering or sustainable energy. Electrical engineering programs can be accredited by ABET, and pursuing licensure may be an option for electrical engineers in many states.

Electrical engineers can work in the power sector, and they can also get jobs in manufacturing or logistics. Some enter a related engineering field, such as aerospace or nuclear engineering. Pursuing masters degrees in business or engineering are other possibilities.

How to Choose a College Major

How to Choose a College Major

As you start your college career, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is what your major should be.

Whether you’re interested in some of the most difficult college majors or ones with less math and science, your school probably has a wide range of degree programs to pick from. The following criteria may help you decide which  program is best for you:

  • Career opportunities. Before selecting a field of study, it can help to explore the type of work that the program’s graduates typically do. Before you commit, consider if you can see yourself doing those jobs. Alternatively, if you already have a career in mind, you can find out which degree programs can get you there.
  • Earning potential. If your goal is to be a six-figure earner, then some degree programs are more likely to contribute than others. For instance, jobs in business and technology usually pay higher salaries than those in education or human services.
  • Interest level. You’ll likely enjoy college the most if you care about what you’re studying. It can be worthwhile to select a field of study that appeals to you, even if it’s not the most popular major.
  • Academic rigor. College always requires hard work, but science and engineering degrees are known for being especially challenging. When it comes to the toughest undergraduate degrees, the coursework can start to demand a great deal of study time. If balancing academics and socialization is a priority for you during college, you might consider whether you want to commit to that sort of workload.
  • Skills and abilities. You know your strengths better than anyone. If your brain is wired for math, then an engineering or natural science major could be a strategic choice. If you’re more skilled in communication, then you might thrive in English or public relations instead.

Your college major can shape not only the next 4 years but also your expertise and qualifications for the workforce. It’s strategic to weigh your options.

What Are the Easiest Majors in College?

Easiest Majors in College

If signing up for one of the most stressful majors doesn’t appeal to you, then you might be on the lookout for a program with a reputation for being less challenging.

Students often view programs as less difficult if they require fewer advanced math and science courses, less time in the lab, more humanities and social science classes, and fewer hours hitting the books.

  • Advertising. If creativity comes easily to you, advertising can be a strategic degree choice. The coursework covers topics like communication and consumer behavior. A master’s degree isn’t a prerequisite for advancement in this field.
  • Business Administration. Most undergraduate business students take an array of classes that cover business concepts at an introductory level. While there may be the option to take quantitative analysis classes, those aren’t always a requirement. Many graduates find jobs with advancement potential without needing to enroll in grad school.
  • Education. Future teachers often major in elementary, secondary, or special education. The math and science coursework may focus on teaching those subjects rather than learning highly advanced concepts. Common topics in this major include behavior management and literacy development.
  • English. For students who love books, English studies can provide the opportunity to read one text after another. This major is likely to focus on writing and literary criticism, and humanities courses are much more common than math and science ones.
  • Social Work. Studying social work doesn’t require long hours of memorizing equations or chemical formulas. Rather, this program focuses on social science concepts, such as motivation and group dynamics. It’s worth noting, though, that emotional resilience is a must for professionals in this field.

Since each student has different strengths, you may find other programs less difficult or stressful than the ones listed above.

What Is the Hardest Degree to Get?

Hardest Degree to Get

Programs that require intense weekly studying, long lab sessions, and multiple STEM courses have a reputation for being more difficult. Fields with low average GPAs or high demand for graduate degrees may be considered challenging as well.

  • Architecture. Being an architect involves sticking to firm deadlines, and that begins in a college architecture program. This field requires being skilled in multiple disciplines, including organization, creativity, drawing, math, and science. Plus, students can often feel that architecture professors are never fully satisfied with their efforts.
  • Biochemistry. Students in biochem programs take a full slate of science courses, including multiple advanced biology and chemistry classes. For many students, biochemistry is only the beginning, and they continue with master’s studies or med school.
  • Chemical Engineering. This is another major that’s heavy on chemistry courses and lab work. Plus, as an engineering program, there is a heavy emphasis on math, too. This field can prepare students to work in patent law after earning additional degrees.
  • Physics. Grading in physics programs is usually based on lab work and exams. Students can spend many hours completing labs and typing up reports on their findings. They may also engage in long study sessions in preparation for frequent tests. While this is a scientific field, math plays an integral role.

Even though someone else may consider a subject to be the hardest major, it may be a good fit for your skills and interests.

Average GPA by Major

Average GPA by Major

The average GPA of students in a particular program can provide clues to how challenging the studies are.

Whether due to the challenging subject matter or the professors’ strict grading scales, it can be tough to earn high marks in certain courses. When a program has one difficult course after another, students may earn lower overall grade point averages.

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Low GPAs sometimes motivate college students to drop out of rigorous programs and turn to courses in which As and Bs are easier to come by.

According to CBS News, a survey of college majors showed that the programs with the lowest average GPAs were:

  • Biology: Average GPA of 3.02
  • Chemistry: Average GPA of 2.78
  • Economics: Average GPA of 2.95
  • Mathematics: Average GPA of 2.90
  • Psychology: Average GPA of 2.98

The same survey revealed that the following five programs produced the highest GPAs, on average:

  • Education: Average GPA of 3.36
  • English: Average GPA of 3.33
  • Language: Average GPA of 3.34
  • Music: Average GPA of 3.30
  • Religion: Average GPA of 3.22

Of course, other students’ performances don’t necessarily dictate how you’ll do in school. While advanced math, chemistry and biology courses confound many college students, you may be highly skilled in those areas. If you’ve excelled in previous STEM courses, don’t let these averages discourage your studies.

Typical College Admissions Requirements

Typical College Admissions Requirements

Getting into a challenging college program may require you to prove your readiness to the admissions committee. Universities often ask for application materials like those listed below to evaluate whether you’re a good candidate for the program.

  • Essay or other personal statement
  • Reference letters
  • School transcripts with college-prep courses and a minimum GPA
  • SAT or ACT scores (not required by all schools)

If you’re leaning toward selective schools, it’s strategic to apply to several so that you can increase your chances of admission.

What Is a Major in College?

What Is a Major in College

Students at the college level select a major for their studies. A major is a specific subject area that they study in great depth.

To earn a bachelors degree, you’ll often take a mix of courses in math, English, science, history, and other subjects. Most students in your college will take those same core classes.

Approximately one-third to one-half of your courses, though, will be related to your major. For example, aside from the general education core, a counseling student will take very different courses than an engineering student. Your major can influence the type of jobs you qualify for after graduation.

Is Physics Hard?

Is Physics Hard

Many students consider physics to be a difficult field of study, but your experience could be different. If you have strong math skills and are good at abstract thinking, this could be a suitable major for you.

You can take courses on waves, electricity, magnetism, mechanics, and optics. There may be course topics like fundamentals of mechanics, interrelationship between philosophy and physics, and physics in medicine.

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You can count on taking multiple math and science classes. Many hours will likely be spent in the lab. You may also complete an internship or write an honors thesis.

What Is the Hardest Engineering Major?

Hardest Engineering Major

“Hardest” is a subjective term. What someone else considers challenging, you might find fairly straightforward. Even still, some engineering majors have a reputation for being more difficult than others.

For instance, some students have a more difficult time with electrical engineering because it involves abstract thinking as you design and evaluate circuits. Aerospace engineering is considered more difficult, too. This major involves advanced math studies and requires a good grasp of fluid dynamics.

Chemical engineering is heavy on math, chemistry, and physics. It helps to be strong in all three of these areas to find success in this field.

What Are the Majors That Don’t Require Math?

Majors That Don't Require Math

In any college program, you may have to take a few math classes. For some majors, though, the mathematics requirements don’t extend beyond the basics. If math is a struggle for you, you might be wanting to pick a low-math degree program.

Humanities majors typically don’t include many math classes. Instead, programs like English, art history, and gender studies usually emphasize reading and writing. Math isn’t a large component of social science programs either. In sociology and psychology, you’re more likely to study culture and behavior.

Nurses use basic arithmetic skills, but advanced math isn’t integral to most nursing programs.

What’s the Difference Between a Major vs. Degree in College?

You may hear people say things like, “I got a degree in chemistry,” or, “My major was in chemistry.” Those two statements sound pretty similar. Your college degree and your major aren’t quite the same, though.

Major Degree
  • Your particular field of study
  • Focused around courses specific to your field
  • Examples: biology, architecture, psychology
  • The level of education you’ve achieved
  • Earned by taking both general education and major-specific courses
  • Examples: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Applied Science

These distinctions apply only to undergraduate studies.

Getting Your College Degree Online

College Degree Online

Whether you choose a challenging college major or a less difficult one, you can expect to work hard, grow your skills, and become better prepared for the workforce.

To help you select a major, it’s beneficial to consider your strengths, your interests, and your career goals. Don’t be scared off just because others rank a program as one of the hardest. It could be just the right degree for you!

No matter what you choose to study, online college may be a convenient option that suits your schedule. You can earn a respected degree online as long as it comes from an accredited college. Why not start exploring your online school options today?

Ready to start your journey?
Jordan Meeks
WRITTEN BY
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.