What Are the Most Difficult College Majors?
Which college majors are the most difficult? That's a matter of opinion, of course. In considering a major's level of difficulty, however, some objective indicators can be singled out for examination. Learn what an unscientific analysis of admissions information, graduation rates and student attitudes reveals about the most difficult college majors.
Establishing Objective Criteria
In examining the level of difficulty among majors, there are some general trends that can be observed. In many cases, for example, majors with a reputation for being among the most difficult to complete are also some of the hardest to get into. Program competitiveness, revealed through admissions information, shows that majors widely reputed to be difficult - think engineering, biology and law - are also among those with the lowest admittance rates.
And here is another correlation: Earning a degree in majors that are recognized to be very difficult often can lead to individuals entering some of the highest-demand, best-paying careers upon graduation. This is not universally true - exceptions certainly can be identified. And other factors can skew results of any attempted 'analysis' correlating these two factors and academic difficulty. Curriculum rigor, for example, can vary considerably between schools. And personals strengths and preferences obviously come into play: A discipline that is difficult for one student may come very easily to another.
While it isn't possible to establish a definitive list of the most challenging majors, a look at the aforementioned indicators of difficulty can provide at least some insight into subject areas that college students struggle with most.
Most Difficult College Majors By Degree Level
Many people may not necessarily equate difficult courses with community colleges and vocational schools. But just because a program doesn't last longer than two years doesn't mean it isn't difficult. At 2-year institutions, fields with high employability that offer generous starting pay are among the most competitive programs to get into. The coursework within these subjects is often considered to be among the most difficult found at 2-year schools. Included among the most reputedly difficult majors at these institutions are nursing, engineering technologies and medical technologies.
At the bachelor's level, the trend of high-employability fields also being perceived among the most difficult seems to hold true. Graduates of science, math and engineering programs typically move on to higher-paying entry-level positions after graduation. Their job prospects in these fields often remain quite good throughout their careers. The competitiveness factor also seems to help indicate challenging subject areas. Engineering, especially electrical and computer engineering or bioengineering - thought to be among the most rigorous academic areas - are also among the most competitive undergrad offerings. Mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology (including pre-med and pre-veterinary programs) are also seen as highly difficult and competitive areas of study.
Graduate degree level courses, by definition, should theoretically be more difficult than any of the previous degree levels. It could be argued that grad programs are nearly universally challenging, from literature to quantum physics. With that said, even at this education level there are subjects frequently considered to be more difficult than others. Included on this list are medicine (including dentistry and veterinary medicine), law, mathematics, theoretical physics and engineering specialties. In keeping with trends in the previous education tiers, these challenging fields often provide some of the highest compensation levels to grads.