Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check (2023)

Some college degrees open doors to some of the most prominent and high-paying jobs. However, they tend to be the most difficult to complete, too.

And if you make the mistake of enrolling in one of them just for the prestige and money but without intending to put in lots of hard work and dedication, you might end up getting terrible grades and even dropping out of college.

The general consensus is that the hardest college degree ever is aerospace engineering, which involves the design, manufacturing and testing of aircraft.

There’s also the fact that it’s a STEM field — a survey by the Pew Research Center says that 52% of American adults believe young people refuse to pursue STEM because it’s too hard.

About to enroll in a degree and want to find out if it’s the hardest out there either because you could use the challenge or because you want to avoid it at all costs to have the smoothest sailing college experience possible?

Read on.

You will learn that the vast majority of them are in the STEM discipline, such as engineering and hard sciences. There’s also a handful of them from the healthcare fields and even in the liberal arts spectrum.

But first, let’s get things straight by answering this burning question…

What’s the Difference Between a Degree and a Major?

Many college-bound teens believe that a degree and a major are the same things.

After all, the name of a major usually leads to a degree having the same name — i.e., majoring in computer science leads to a bachelor’s degree in science and majoring in accounting leads to a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Although it’s true that a degree and a major are closely linked to each other, they are not one and the same.

In a nutshell, you can think of a degree as a utility belt and a major as the set of tools you will need to stash in your utility belt to tackle a particular DIY project. A degree requires you to take certain courses, including courses in an area of focus, which is your major.

To understand things better, let’s take a look at the different kinds of courses there are:

  • General education courses
  • Elective courses
  • Major courses

Most courses, no matter the type, usually consist of 3 credits. And an entire bachelor’s degree is typically made up of 120 credits. By doing the math, you will have to complete a total of 40 courses or classes to get your hands on a bachelor’s degree.

Among the said 40 courses, only around 12 classes, which is equivalent to 36 credits, have something to do with your major. It goes without saying that you will have to take them if you want to graduate and earn a degree.

Usually, you will have to spend the first 2 years of your college taking general education courses and the rest taking electives and major courses.

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No matter the preferred degree, degree-seeking students will have to take the same general education courses — it’s when those electives and major courses have to be taken that the difficulty of a degree becomes apparent.

Needless to say, some of the hardest degrees, which we will talk about shortly, usually have some of the hardest majors.

20 Degrees Ranked From Most to Least Hard

And now we have come to the main part of this post, some of the hardest degrees around.

I based my choices, of course, on the difficulty level of the courses you must take as a part of your major and, ultimately, as a requirement for you to earn your bachelor’s degree.

Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check (1)

Aerospace engineering

  • Median pay: $122,270 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

Leading the list of the hardest degrees known to man is aerospace engineering.

The coursework is extremely difficult as it requires a firm understanding of anything from mathematics, physics to chemistry and from computer languages and computer programming.

If you are not interested in and passionate about these things, getting bad grades is very likely.

It’s also a must to have sufficient amounts of organization and time-management skills when enrolled in an aerospace engineering program as you will have to juggle classes, lab work and study time in your dorm room.

Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check (2)


  • Median pay: $79,760 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

If mathematics and hard sciences had a baby, it would be chemistry.

Because it’s the amalgamation of some of the most challenging disciplines, it isn’t surprising that chemistry is one of the most difficult college degrees you can opt for.

But do keep in mind that the payoff will be worth all the sleepless nights as a bachelor’s degree in chemistry allows you to hold jobs in an array of career sectors and industries.


  • Median pay: $147,450 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 8%

Scared of STEM?

Then stay as far away as you can from a physics program — it’s jam-packed with courses in the STEM field, including biological physics, astronomy, mechanics, cosmology, thermodynamics and electricity and magnetism.

To succeed as a physics student, you will have to be willing to study for 50 to 60 hours per week.

Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check (3)


  • Median pay: $80,180 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 3%

Did you know that architecture majors are some of the most sleep-deprived undergraduate students?

On average, they get a measly 5.28 hours of sleep per night.

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Unlike most other bachelor’s degrees, architecture can take anywhere from 5 to 7 years to complete.

And the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) says that it takes an average of 11 years for one to become a licensed architect with independent or contracted practices within the industry.


  • Median pay: $127,990 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 10%

According to the University at Buffalo School of Law, classes in the program are taught differently than undergraduate classes, which means that you will need some time to adjust to a completely different academic environment.

Being a law student requires lots of critical thinking skills and long-term memory recall and application of acquired knowledge.

And if you cannot thrive under the Socratic teaching method where it’s mainly about self-teaching through discussion and question and answer, then you may fail to survive law school.


  • Median pay: $147,450 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 8%

Especially if you are captivated by the physical nature of celestial bodies, from stars to black holes, then you may find enrolling in an astrophysics degree a phenomenal academic goal.

But be warned: while it’s an interesting degree, astrophysics can be very challenging, too. Leading the long list of the reasons why are various math involved.

For instance, it’s not uncommon for the degree program to entail 2 to 3 semesters of calculus, advanced calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations.

Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check (4)


  • Median pay: $163,220 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

Before admission to a dentistry program, which is typically four years long, you will have to have completed a 4-year undergraduate degree program.

But there are dentistry programs that combine a bachelor’s degree with dentistry training, which you can complete in about 6 years, depending on the institution offering it.

The academics can be hard on the brain, and the cost of a dentistry program can also be hard on the pocket.


  • Median pay: $208,000 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 3%

Enrolling in a medicine program is a serious time and financial investment. It involves some of the most difficult courses known to the degree-seeking sector of the population such as biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, pathology, immunology and human structure and function.

And then there are also clinical and elective rotations.

And while you will have to attend medical school for 4 years only, you will need to have a 4-year bachelor’s degree beforehand and complete a residency program afterward, which can be anywhere from 3 to 7 years long!

Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check (5)


  • Median pay: $77,600 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

What makes nursing a particularly hard college degree is that other than learning about complicated nursing concepts and practical skills in classrooms and labs, students also have to apply everything they have acquired to a variety of real-world patient care scenarios.

So, in other words, you will have to display competence on and off campus.

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Besides the rigorous and fast-paced curriculum, another thing that makes nursing difficult is that graduates will have to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and meet other state requirements.


  • Median pay: $81,040 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

There’s no denying that psychology is one of the most popular majors available.

But not a lot of people know that it’s also one of the most difficult.

That’s because a psychology degree program covers a dizzying assortment of grounds, so students have no choice but to be flexible and embrace whatever subject is thrown their way.

Adult development, psychological measurement and introduction to perception — these are some of the most difficult courses they had to take, say some students working on their psychology degrees.

Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check (6)

Biomedical engineering

  • Median pay: $97,410 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 10%

Here’s why biomedical engineering is a degree that’s not for the faint of heart: it’s a combination of engineering and medicine, both of which can give students some of the most difficult academic experiences.

To be a successful biomedical engineering student, needless to say, you will have to have superb math, analytical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Creativity is also an important skill because, after all, the program’s core is coming up with great solutions to all kinds of healthcare problems and concerns through innovative devices and pieces of equipment.


  • Median pay: $128,570 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 2%

Did you know that the friendly pharmacist at your favorite local drugstore is actually a doctor?

Because of this, like someone who wishes to become a doctor as we all know it, you will have to earn a 4-year undergraduate degree, work on a pharmacy program for 4 years and then complete a 1- to 2-year residency to become a pharmacist.

Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check (7)


  • Median pay: $61,910 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

Biology, cultural evolution, human behavior, medical anthropology, urban anthropology, world politics, ethnicity and identity — these are some of the required courses required to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.

And if you are not interested in learning about all aspects of humanity through the ages, then you may find anthropology a hard degree.

Chemical engineering

  • Median pay: $105,550 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 14%

It may have the word “chemical” in it but chemical engineering is more than just the application of the principles of chemistry.

The program is actually a broad field that requires students to have a strong foundation in mathematics, physics and, of course, chemistry and engineering.

And disciplines can overlap, too, which can leave you perplexed if you are not on your toes.

Electrical engineering

  • Median pay: $101,780 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 3%

As a student who is working on an electrical engineering program, you will spend much of the last couple of years of your college studying the mathematics and physics of electricity, electronics and electromagnetism.

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And more importantly, you will have to apply everything to design and develop everything from a small phone or household appliance to massive and complex communication systems and power networks.

Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check (8)

Foreign languages

  • Median pay: $49,110 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 20%

As if the need for your brain to establish new frameworks to learn a new language is not enough, the fact that you will also have to devote plenty of time to master speaking another language is what makes a degree in foreign languages difficult to earn.

Besides, the US Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute says that it takes 4,400 hours to learn a new language!


  • Median pay: $96,280 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 31%

If you find numbers and math equations disgusting, then you will find a mathematics degree difficult.

End of story.

Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check (9)

Mechanical engineering

  • Median pay: $95,300 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 2%

What makes mechanical engineering a particularly hard engineering degree is that it relies heavily on some of the most difficult mathematics to solve everyday problems.

And they are none other than calculus and trigonometry. The problem with them is that being good in math isn’t enough — you will also have to use a lot of abstract thinking.

Both calculus and trigonometry become more and more non-linear as mechanical engineering majors get closer to graduation, which means that they will have to use a lot of brain power to come up with exact and unpredictable answers.


  • Median pay: $124,300 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 10%

It’s the enormously heavy course load per semester that makes optometry a challenging degree.

The optometry program at the University of Waterloo, for instance, consists of 5 to 7 science courses every semester.

In addition, it can take anywhere from 8 to 9 years for you to become a full-fledged optometrist — to complete the program, you will have to spend 4 years at an optometry school and 1 year of residency after earning a 4-year undergraduate degree.

Quantum mechanics

  • Median pay: $147,450 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 8%

Physics is one of the hardest hard sciences around.

And quantum mechanics is considered the most difficult subfield of physics, which is why it doesn’t come as a surprise that quantum mechanics is one of the most arduous degrees to choose from.

Since many of the concepts of quantum physics can only be visualized through math, it goes without saying that you will have to be extremely good with numbers if you want to make it out of a quantum mechanics degree in one piece.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever? – College Reality Check? ›

The general consensus is that the hardest college degree ever is aerospace engineering, which involves the design, manufacturing and testing of aircraft.

What college degree is the hardest? ›

Top 15 Hardest College Majors Table of Contents
  • Chemistry.
  • Environmental Economics and Policy.
  • Environmental Earth Science.
  • American Studies.
  • Nuclear Engineering.
  • Energy Engineering.
  • Astrophysics.
  • Applied Mathematics.
Mar 16, 2023

What is the #1 hardest major? ›

#1 Chemistry

According to the average Grade Point Average of students in the program, Chemistry wins the prize title hardest major. A Chemistry major overlaps somewhat with biology, but chemistry extends beyond living things.

Is Nursing one of the hardest majors? ›

Nurses provide medical care in a range of settings, from schools to clinics to hospitals. Considered one of the hardest majors in college, it is also a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding career.

What is the hardest major to be accepted into? ›

Aerospace Engineering is notoriously the hardest major in college to get into because of the amount of math and physics required. Aerospace engineers need to be able to think creatively and solve problems on their own, as well as work in a team setting.

What are the top 5 most difficult degree? ›

What are the hardest degree subjects?
  • Aerospace Engineering. Aerospace Engineers study the design, manufacturing and testing of aircrafts. ...
  • Architecture. Architecture is one of those degrees that we wish was easy. ...
  • Pharmacy. ...
  • Psychology. ...
  • Statistics. ...
  • Nursing. ...
  • Physics. ...
  • Astrophysics.

What is the most regretted major? ›

Regret is heavily influenced by salary.

The top three regretted majors, according to ZipRecruiter, are journalism (87%), sociology (72%), and liberal arts and general studies (72%). The top three regret-free majors, all above 70%, are computer and information sciences, criminology, and engineering.

What's the easiest major in college? ›

Business Major

Business isn't just one of the easiest college majors — it's also the most popular major. You'll study core topics like accounting, management, and organizational behavior. You can specialize your skills with upper-level courses in logistics, training and development, or entrepreneurship.

What is the easiest college major ever? ›

As the most popular college major since 1980, business encompasses a variety of sub-disciplines, such as finance, accounting, and marketing. It's also considered to be one of the easiest college majors. With a business degree, you could also work in fields like healthcare, human resources, or public administration.

Is nursing school harder than med school? ›

However, don't take it for granted that nursing school will be much easier than medical school, especially in an accelerated format. Both offer a unique set of challenges and demand the utmost in student commitment and work rate.

What's harder engineering or nursing? ›

Mechanical engineering requires more math, making it harder to study for many but nursing is a physically and emotionally harder job. You can get a two-year nursing degree but this will limit your responsibilities and opportunities on the job.

What is higher than an RN? ›

What Are the Levels of Nursing? There are five levels of nursing: Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Registered Nurse (RN), Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

What major has the highest dropout rate? ›

Students who major in computer science tend to have the highest dropout rate, followed by advertising and agriculture majors.
So, to help you find a suitable major, here are a few things worth considering:
  • Discover your passion. ...
  • Research different majors. ...
  • Look at salaries.
Nov 21, 2022

What majors are not hard? ›

The 16 Easiest College Majors – 2023 Rankings
  • Psychology.
  • Criminal Justice.
  • English.
  • Education.
  • Religious Studies.
  • Social Work.
  • Sociology.
  • Communications.
Nov 1, 2022

What majors are not popular? ›

Here is the list of top 10 least popular majors in the USA.
  • Library Science. ...
  • Educational Psychology. ...
  • Drama and Theater Arts. ...
  • Human Services and Community Organization. ...
  • Clinical Psychology. ...
  • Composition and Speech. ...
  • Visual and Performing Arts. ...
  • Miscellaneous Fine Arts.

What is the very hard subject in the college? ›

For most students, the most difficult subjects in college are math, physics, chemistry and economics. Arguably one of the most difficult subjects to study for is mathematics. Mathematics is the study of numbers in the world around us, how they work, and how they can be found in everything.

What degrees are a waste of time? ›

Most-regretted college majors
Journalism87% 87% 87%
Liberal arts/general studies72% 72% 72%
Communications64% 64% 64%
Education61% 61% 61%
Marketing management + research60% 60% 60%
5 more rows
Nov 12, 2022

What is the lowest paying major? ›

College majors that pay the least for mid-career workers

Data as of Feb. 10, 2023. Graduates who majored in early childhood education earn the least midway through their careers with a median salary of $43,000.

What is an easy major that pays well? ›

8 Easy Degrees That Pay Well
  • Business Administration. Business administration is one major that is usually considered “easy.” Some programs will also only take 3 years to finish! ...
  • English. ...
  • Human Resources. ...
  • Criminal Justice. ...
  • Marketing. ...
  • Supply Chain Management. ...
  • Psychology. ...
  • Communication.
Dec 22, 2022

What majors don t take long? ›

The 14 Easiest Majors to Study in College
  • #1: Psychology. Psychology majors study the inner workings of the human psyche. ...
  • #2: Criminal Justice. ...
  • #3: English. ...
  • #4: Education. ...
  • #5: Social Work. ...
  • #6: Sociology. ...
  • #7: Communications. ...
  • #8: History.
Feb 6, 2021

What is the most popular major in college? ›

The most popular college majors in the United States are business, health, and social sciences, according to data from the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES). Of the 2 million bachelor's degrees conferred in the US during the 2019-2020 school year, these three majors made up almost 40 percent.

What college majors are regretted the least? ›

Top 10 Most Regret-Free College Majors
  • Computer & Information Sciences (72%)
  • Criminology (72%)
  • Engineering (71%)
  • Nursing (69%)
  • Health (67%)
  • Business Administration & Management (66%)
  • Finance (66%)
  • Psychology (65%)
Nov 19, 2022

What to major in college if you don't like anything? ›

Considered the best major for undecided students is liberal studies. This major offers broad studies that apply to different careers. As a liberal studies major, you will take humanities, social science, and other classes. From history to psychology, plan on taking many liberal arts courses.

What is the second hardest major? ›

The second-hardest college major and hardest engineering major is chemical engineering; students in this field spend an average of 19 hours and 40 minutes a week preparing for class.

Is it harder to become a doctor or nurse? ›

In sum, the path toward becoming a doctor can take up to 13 years. In contrast, to become a Registered Nurse (RN), you can opt to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which takes two years, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which traditionally takes four years).

What is the failure rate of nursing school? ›

According to the National League for Nursing, the national dropout rate for nursing programs in the United States is 20%, and this high attrition rate is considered problematic.

What do nurses do that doctors don t? ›

While doctors often specialize in one area, nurses are able to coordinate the care for all aspects of a patient's overall health.

What is the hardest job as a nurse? ›

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses

Data shows that more than half of all critical care nurses experience burnout syndrome. Nurses deal with several ethical dilemmas and trauma each shift. Often, patient outcomes are out of your hands, which can frustrate any nurse.

Who gets paid more engineers or nurses? ›

Do nurses make more money than engineers? Some nursing specialties may earn more than engineers. As far as income potential, the salary ceiling for an engineer is higher for an engineer than for a nurse.

What is the hardest part of becoming a RN? ›

7 hardest parts of nursing
  • Losing patients. ...
  • Being judged for their career choice. ...
  • Working long hours. ...
  • Experiencing physical/verbal abuse. ...
  • Navigating hospital politics. ...
  • Using outdated or time-consuming technology. ...
  • Feeling pressure to know everything.
May 31, 2019

What is the lowest RN degree? ›

In general, nurses fall into three categories: non-degree, degree, and advanced degree. Non-degree nurses include certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), who complete nursing education programs that don't culminate in a degree.

Who are the highest paid nurses in the world? ›

Switzerland: Nurses in Switzerland have some of the highest salaries in the world, with an average annual salary of around $85000. Canada: Nurses in Canada earn an average annual salary of around $75000. Germany: Nurses in Germany have an average salary of around $65000.

What is the highest qualified nurse? ›

Doctor Of Nursing Practice (DNP)

A Doctorate Of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the highest level of nursing education and expertise within the nursing profession. DNPs work in nursing administration or direct patient care as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

What is the easiest degree to get in Canada? ›

What is the Easiest Degree to Get in Canada? The easiest bachelor degrees in Canada are Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of International Relations, Bachelor of Journalism and Communication, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Public relation and Bachelor of Education Arts.

Which degree has the highest unemployment rate? ›

College majors with the highest unemployment rate
  • Sociology (9%)
  • Family and consumer sciences (8.9%)
  • Mass media (8.4%)
  • Commercial art and graphic design (7.9%)
  • Foreign language (7.8%)
  • Performing arts (7.6%)
  • Public policy and law (7.4%)
  • Engineering technologies (7.1%)
Feb 12, 2023

How many people don't finish college? ›

Graduation Rate

57% of students delay their four-year courses while 33% of them drop out (ThinkImpact, 2021). 36% of students from private universities graduate on time while 17% do in public or non-flagship colleges, (Admissionsly, 2021).

What university has the most dropouts? ›

1. Sewanee-University of the South: 22.7% of students did not graduate within six years.


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