In this article, we go through the hardest majors you can pursue in college.
Of course, “hard” means different things to different people, and the school you are studying at has an impact on difficulty!
Additionally, your personal enjoyment in studying a certain topic has an effect on whether you perceive it as “hard.”
However, based on hours spent researching and comparing average GPAs, as well as studying a host of other factors, here is our guide to the 20 hardest majors in college.
20. Fine Arts
Yes, Fine Arts is one of the hardest majors you can pursue! This is because the amount of coursework can be really time-consuming, with classes spanning painting, acting, sculpting, print-making, and more.
All the time spent in the studio prepares fine arts majors for a career in the arts, usually specific to the student’s chosen area of study (for example, someone with a painting focus might pursue a career as an illustrator).
Students with a passion for art would thrive in this environment, while students who prefer logical, concrete studies might struggle more with the subjective processes involved in fine arts.
19 .Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineering is a broad field, and students studying electrical engineering study a wide range of engineering courses to prepare for that. Graduates of this major are prepared to develop and test electrical equipment.
The coursework focuses on circuits, robotics, thermodynamics, and communication systems.
As you might expect, electrical engineering students take a lot of math and science, especially physics, calculus, and computer science courses.
The focus in math and science is what makes electrical engineering such a challenging major. If those classes aren’t your strong suit, this major might be especially difficult.
18. Geological Engineering
As a field, geological engineering is huge, spanning forestry to groundwater surveys to hazard investigations.
Coursework includes geology (of course) along with paleontology, paleoecology, and mineralogy, along with more general courses in math and science.
This degree also requires a lot of fieldwork in the great outdoors, dealing with environmental protection through erosion control and water maintenance. As such, it might not be a good fit for you if you don’t like to get dirty outside.
If you were obsessed over your rock collection growing up, geological engineering might be a good fit for you!
Nursing is one of the most popular majors in the United States, but that’s not for its reputation as an easy degree!
Nursing students spend hours working early morning and midnight shifts for their clinicals, where they shadow real nurses and learn what it’s really like to be a nurse. These experiences make for some pretty intense hours.
If you expect to be able to sleep in while you’re at college, a nursing degree will make that difficult!
In the classroom, nursing students take classes such as anatomy, chemistry, biology, pharmacology, nutrition, and psychology. The standards are high: for many programs, you must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA to remain in the program.
Students with a love for science and helping people would thrive in a nursing program, as would students who want real-world experience while they are still in school.
Some people say math is a language all its own. If that language has always made sense to you and inspired you, majoring in math is a natural fit!
Courses in a typical math major include single and multivariable calculus, linear and abstract algebra, real analysis, probability, and, often, computer science.
Some math majors focus on pure and theoretical math, while others focus on applied and computational math. Regardless of which path you pursue, both avenues are very challenging due to the intense level of mathematical thinking and reasoning.
Neuroscientists study the human brain and nervous system. If you have a passion for both psychology and the hard sciences, neuroscience can be a great opportunity to combine them!
Neuroscience students take a range of courses across math and science departments, but coursework tends to focus on psychology, cognitive science, and neurobiology. If you don’t like science or memorization, neuroscience may not be the best option for you.
Often, neuroscience students have the opportunity to pursue research in the later years of their major. If this real-world application sounds appealing, neuroscience may be a good choice for your college major.
Did you look forward to dissections in high school biology? Are you interested in biology, from the smallest cells to the biggest mammals? If so, a biology major may be a good fit!
Biology majors take courses across the sciences, but they dive deep in the biological sciences (obviously!). These students take courses ranging from genetics and microbiology to evolution and ecology.
Biology majors often require lab experience.
If the thought of observing Petri dishes or dissecting cats makes you queasy, biology might not be the best option for your major. However, if lab experience sounds exciting, many biology students have opportunities to research in biology labs with researchers and professors while in undergrad.
While biochemistry is technically a subfield of biology, biochemistry focuses on the minute aspects of our world: cellular aspects of living organisms. If you prefer to study things you can see, biochemistry might not be the best fit!
Biochemistry students can expect to take courses about biomolecules, learning about enzymes, molecular genetics, and more.
If you are fascinated by the tiniest parts of life that keep the Earth turning, biochemistry is worth looking into as a college major!
12. Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineering is one of the broader fields of engineering you can pursue. This is because it combines physics, math, and materials science and covers problem solving, design, and manufacturing.
Mechanical engineering coursework includes mechanics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and manufacturing.
If you love problem-solving and testing your designs, mechanical engineering is a good fit for you. Additionally, if you know you want to pursue engineering but aren’t sure about which subfield, mechanical engineering might be a good option!
Do you have a favorite constellation? Did you ever ask for a telescope for your birthday? Astronomy may be for you!
However, astronomy is not all about stargazing. Many universities combine astronomy with astrophysics. As an astronomy student, you can expect to study quantum mechanics, electricity and magnetism, physics, calculus, and thermodynamics to help you understand space science and the universe as a whole. If you don’t like science, astronomy is not the choice for you!
This major is so challenging because it encompasses so much: outer space is huge and filled with mysteries. Those who study astronomy must be prepared to study objects millions of light years away.
10. Cell and Molecular Biology
Molecular and cell biology is another broad major, focusing on basic molecular principles and cellular systems. Course requirements include calculus, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and biology labs.
The laboratory and cellular focus is what makes this major so challenging. If running experiments and observing cellular processes sounds exciting, this might be the major for you.
Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines: understanding matter and the universe. However, that doesn’t make it easy – quite the opposite, in fact!
Physics majors have heavy course loads. Coursework can include differential equations, optics, relativity, and quantum mechanics. This is without mentioning physics labs, which are a huge focus for many programs. Students who struggle with lab experiments will likely struggle in a physics program.
If you like experiments, working in a team, problem solving, and high level math (beyond calculus), studying physics may be a good choice for you.
8. Petroleum Engineering
A field of engineering specific to oil and gas, petroleum engineering is one of the more lucrative fields a college graduate can pursue.
If you are interested in energy and resource consumption, and you love math and science, petroleum engineering is a great field to explore.
Coursework for petroleum engineering majors includes chemistry, physics, statics, calculus, and geology. Most programs incorporate classwork and field work, meaning petroleum engineering majors have the opportunity to work out in the field.
Petroleum engineers, and students studying to become petroleum engineers, often travel and work outside extensively, meaning it’s a great fit for you if you like hands-on work!
7. Materials Engineering
Materials engineering focuses on the design and discovery of, you guessed it, materials. New materials are at the forefront of many scientific discoveries, and materials engineering students get to work with new, cutting-edge materials as a part of their studies.
Courses include math, basic sciences, and engineering analysis courses. Additionally, however, materials engineering programs require specific courses covering structural dynamics, mechanical behavior, and process design. If you prefer theoretical work, materials engineering is not for you!
If, however, you love working with and visualizing challenging three-dimensional problems, materials engineering might for you.
6. Biomedical Engineering
Do you love engineering, but are also passionate about helping people in the medical field? If so, biomedical engineering might be the perfect mix between these two fields.
Biomedical engineers take courses in math, chemistry, and physics. They also take extensive courses in the biological sciences, covering everything from biomaterials to cellular dynamics.
If you prefer staying in the classroom, this may not be the major for you. Biomedical engineering students often conduct research while undergrads, conducting experiments about new medical devices, vaccines, genetics, and more.
5. Aerospace Engineering
Aerospace engineering covers two subfield: aeronautical and astronautical engineering. Regardless of which subfield you pursue, aerospace engineering is a very challenging major with a huge emphasis and advanced math and hard sciences.
Coursework generally includes chemistry, physics, magnetism, matrix dynamics, circuits, and thermodynamics, in addition to more technical courses such as propulsion, aerodynamics, and satellite systems.
If technical work with a strong math and science focus sounds appealing to you, aerospace engineering might be a good fit for you! Additionally, if you have an interest in flight or outer space, aerospace engineering is a great way to explore your passions.
4. Computer Science
Computer scientists are in increasingly high demand, but you have to be ready to commit to an intense major if you want to pursue computer science!
Computer science majors spend a lot of time troubleshooting and problem-solving, rather than learning a specific set of curriculum that you might find in the hard sciences.
Students majoring in computer science learn computational methods while also learning the theory and application of computers, from informatics to systems.
Typical coursework for a computer science major includes algorithms, discrete structures, and computer architecture. This is in addition to programming courses that cover many languages – C, C++, Python, Java, and many more (depending on your program).
Those who love tinkering with computers and who love a challenge might find a good match in studying computer science.
3. Chemical Engineering
Chemical engineering combines many of the hardest majors out there: chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. If you love all those fields and can’t bear the thought of just picking one, chemical engineering might be worth investigating!
Specialized coursework for chemical engineers can include organic chemistry, thermodynamics, physics, economics, computational methods, mass and energy balance, and heat transfer. Additionally, many chemical engineering majors have a significant lab and fieldwork portion. Fieldwork can range from manufacturing to pharmaceuticals and healthcare.
Chemical engineers take some of the most advanced courses across many different fields, which is what makes it such a hard – but rewarding! – major.
Architecture may seem like an outlier on this list, but architecture programs are extremely interdisciplinary. Architecture majors study math, physics, engineering principles, art, and computer science (in order to create three-dimensional drafts and models).
If you like math, but not writing and drawing, architecture is not the major for you. By nature, architecture students cover most major fields in their studies.
Students who are interested in architectural history, civil engineering, and drawing, and can’t decide which one to pursue, may be well-suited for architecture. Be warned of the long hours you will spend at your drawing board, though!
At number one on the list is chemistry. Unlike chemical engineering, which usually works with existing materials, chemists are usually at the forefront of developing new materials and processes for understanding chemical processes.
Chemistry majors require not only coursework in calculus, physics, and general chemistry, but also organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, and biochemistry. Chemistry majors often have a significant lab work portion, so expect a lot of hands-on experience. Chemistry majors spend at least 18 hours a week on classwork alone!
If you want to challenge yourself with a major in the hard sciences, chemistry will certainly challenge you!
Conclusion: Hardest Majors
It is important to know that your mileage will vary depending on your personal interests and the school you attend. No matter what, as long as you ask for help when you need it and use your resources, any of these majors are feasible.
Most importantly, don’t let the fact that a major is “hard” deter you from pursuing something you are passionate about studying.