12 Hardest College Majors in 2024

June 12, 2024
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/12/24

Are you interested in the most difficult college majors? This piece has the answers! Read on to learn about what makes these 12 degrees the hardest. 

There are no majors without challenges in college. Each course has a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for the competitive world. Despite each major's peculiarity, some programs are considered the most challenging courses in the world.

The hardest courses usually involve many subjects and projects, have longer durations, and have tough examinations. A few of these majors have more competitive entry requirements and selection processes.

Each course has its competition, which increases daily. As you read, you will discover the 12 hardest college majors and why they are considered more demanding. You will also explore some tips for choosing the right major.

How We Determine the Most Difficult Majors

Determining the most difficult college major is challenging. One student may love solving mathematical questions, while another loves history. Setting aside individual differences, we considered the following factors to compile our list. 

Acceptance Rate

A college's acceptance rate usually indicates the difficulty of a particular major. 

A major with low acceptance rates may signify high competition due to course demands, limited spots, and stringent admission criteria. High competition is expected for medical majors, with about a 12% acceptance rate into Oxford Medical School

However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, a low acceptance rate may not represent a difficult major. This is why it is important to consider other factors like workload and curriculum intensity when determining the difficulty of a college major. 

Average GPA 

Using an average GPA to determine the hardest college major can be subjective since a lower average GPA within a major indicates how challenging it is.  

The Environment Economics and Policy major is one of the hardest, with a low GPA of 2.96. Engineering majors, like nuclear and energy engineering, have a GPA between 3.20 and 3.40 due to their problem-solving and technical skills.

Applied mathematics, data science, chemistry, or legal studies involve formidable coursework and GPAs between 3.30 and 3.40. These programs are regarded as hard because they require high intellectual rigor and persistence.

Attrition Rate

Attrition rate refers to the percentage of students who drop out or switch majors within a particular field. Majors with higher attrition rates can indicate that it is more challenging or demanding. 

However, considering other factors, such as coursework intensity, student satisfaction, and career opportunities, is safer. High attrition rates can suggest difficulty, but they don't always reflect every other challenging detail about the major.

Career Outlook

In general, the toughest undergraduate degrees have high-paying careers. Majors with higher earning potential often require significant investment in education and training, indicating a challenging academic journey.

If a field experiences rapid technological advancements, there is a need for continuous learning and adaptation. Hence, the major is more challenging. Careers like legal practice that require additional licensing or certification exams have difficult majors. 

Majors that demand highly specialized skills or expertise, like specialized surgery and computer science, often require rigorous coursework and practical experience, contributing to their perceived difficulty.

List of Top-12 Hardest College Majors

After considering acceptance rates, GPA, subject matter difficulty, job prospects, post-college unemployment, underemployment, and overall return on investment, among other factors, here is a list of the top 12 hardest college majors. 


Average Career Earnings After College: $260,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $370,000

Average Unemployment: 4%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 90%

Regarding entry and post-degree, Medicine remains one of the majors with the most competition. The coursework has challenging subjects, a vast curriculum, and a long training period. 

The total period from medical school to specialization takes 9-15 years. You must complete a five-year degree in medicine, a two-year general training, two to three years of core medical training, and four to seven years of specialist training.

Medical students must learn almost everything about human conditions to offer care adequately. Aside from the theory, they must also spend ample time training in practice to learn the essential clinical skills. 


Average Career Earnings After College: $50,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $90,000

Average Unemployment: 3.3%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 40.7%

Architecture is one of the hardest degrees to get. Students cover courses on design theory, architectural history, structural engineering, environmental systems, construction management, and sustainability.

This wide scope makes them explore career paths like interior designers, urban planners, and construction managers. The wide curriculum suggests incredibly demanding coursework. 

Getting a license to practice also takes time and effort as you must complete a 3-5 year internship and pass a professional exam.

Aerospace Engineering

Average Career Earnings After College: $90,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $200,000

Average Unemployment: 3.1%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 39.5%

Engineering majors include coursework that covers the use of math and science to solve practical problems. Aerospace engineering is a field that is always in need of specialists to design aircraft, spacecraft, and electronics applied to aviation.

It takes four years to complete an aerospace undergraduate course. However, you need an additional two to five years for licensing and certifications. Students must maintain a high GPA before applying for any course. 

Aerospace engineering is a field that requires continuous research and development. Several individuals and companies invest millions of dollars in research, making it a delicate and difficult major.


Average Career Earnings After College: $60,000

Median Mid Career Earnings: $80,000

Average Unemployment: 1.3%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 29.4%

Nurses are healthcare providers you'll find almost everywhere. Their ubiquity gives you an idea that this is the major with the lowest unemployment rate. 

Nursing is one of the most demanding and challenging college majors. Students must take coursework in anatomy, patient care, lab management, chemistry, pharmacology, and psychology and participate in clinical experiences. 

Concurrently, they have to prepare for licensing exams, which they must pass before they can start working. Undergraduate studies generally take 4 years with a 6-month internship.


Average Career Earnings After College: $50,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $200,000

Average Unemployment: 5.3%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 31%

Law is one of the majors with the broadest volume of subject matter. It requires you to think analytically and create solutions using your theoretical knowledge.

Studying a law course takes between 3 to 5 years. You can study law from any other career. The course involves summer internships at law firms and hours of shadowing barristers. 

The path to becoming a barrister or solicitor takes longer, up to 5 years. This comes after a one-year Legal Practice Course and a two-year training contract with a registered law firm.


Average Career Earnings After College: $50,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $85,000

Average Unemployment: 2.8%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 65.3%

Chemistry majors with masters take up to 6 years to complete. Coursework includes general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biology, calculus, and statistics. 

Students study the function, behavior, composition, and reactions of matter. As one of the toughest undergraduate degrees, you undergo about 10-12 hours of classes, lab, and a separate time for research and study. 

After your degree, chemistry offers various career options, from academic research to drug discovery. You can choose to specialize; remember that specialists are in high demand everywhere. 


Average Career Earnings After College: $50,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $90,000

Average Unemployment: 19.6%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 35.1%

Psychology is among the toughest courses in the world. Students learn about human behavior in different contexts. They study the science of the human mind about functionality. 

Studying psychology requires a rigorous curriculum with numerous lectures and classes and a particular focus on coursework within three years. As an undergraduate, psychology is a tough course. 

After a degree, you must be well-versed in different aspects of the course, including the social aspects of psychology, biology and evolution, social anthropology, politics, philosophy, and sociology.  

Chartered Accountancy

Average Career Earnings After College: $60,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $90,000

Average Unemployment: 2.7%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 72%

An accounting degree combines good mathematical skills with computer science skills, good analytical and problem-solving skills, and knowledge about business management and economic principles. 

Aside from the coursework, accountancy leaves no room for mistakes. The difficulty in the course increases as a result of the requirements post-degree. 

After three undergraduate years, you have to undergo a period of up to three years of training. Then, you await accreditation as a chartered accountant by trusted bodies, including the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. 


Average Career Earnings After College: $30,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $60,000

Average Unemployment: 8.9%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 52.9%

Journalism is not as popular as it is a challenging major. It requires you to report accurate history, facts, and figures without personal bias. 

The coursework teaches students to communicate boldly, use catchy writing styles, be curious, be truthful, and have sharp memories.

The career is demanding, as journalists are always at risk of attack, scams, and threats. Hence, it is one of the most difficult majors to study.


Average Career Earnings After College: $62,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $95,000

Average Unemployment: 6.2%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 67.9%

Physics is among the most difficult college majors. Students who take it as a major or a minor confirm the difficulty of the coursework. 

Unlike medical courses, which are relatable, physics contains some very abstract aspects that are extremely hard to understand. 

You have to learn a lot of formulas and theories. You also have to love calculations. One wrong calculation can affect your whole conclusion. It's a plus if you are good at mathematical calculations. 

Biomedical Engineering

Average Career Earnings After College: $40,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $70,000

Average Unemployment: 5.9%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 20.6%

As a difficult major, Biomedical Engineering requires the study of many subjects all at once, combining biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, mathematics, and medical science. 

Biomedical engineers use their skills to design new technology to improve human health. In addition to developing new equipment, they also develop new drugs and treatments for diseases like cancer and heart disease. 

The first two undergraduate years involve general knowledge of the biomedical background. During your final years, you can specialize in electrical, mechanical, or computational bioengineering. 


Average Career Earnings After College: $60,000

Average Mid-Career Earnings: $105,000

Average Unemployment: 0.3%

Percentage with Graduate Degree: 70%

Statistics sits as one of the hardest college majors. It applies to several careers, including data analytics, economics, financial risk analysis, trading, operational research, and general statistical analysis. 

Statistics is a highly sought-after skill with the lowest unemployment rate worldwide. The coursework includes knowledge of calculus, linear algebra, probability, computer science, and analytical and problem-solving skills. 

While it is similar to computer science, statisticians can accurately interpret and convey data on a large scale. 

This video is all about picking your college major. We'll help you explore your options and give you straightforward advice to make this big decision easier.

Best Majors for Ivy League Schools

Over the years, Nursing has remained one of the best majors at the University of Pennsylvania. Of the eight Ivy League schools, Computer Science and Economics are the best majors. 

Economics is a popular major at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Psychology, Political Science, and Engineering are also among the best in the Ivy League.

How to Choose the Right Major for You?

Choosing the right major requires a thorough thought process, research, and advice from different individuals. These steps will guide you in making the right decision. 

Consider Your Interests

Think about the matters that excite you. These could be the aspects where you enjoy spending time or providing value for individuals. Note that not all interests are potential careers. 

Research the Coursework

Some majors are more difficult than others. If you are strong in rigorous coursework, choose one of the hardest majors. On the other hand, you can choose easier majors.

Easier majors require less strenuous coursework and shorter duration. So, when selecting a major, look for college majors ranked by difficulty.

Consider Your Strengths and Weaknesses 

What are your strengths? What do you find naturally easy to do? Think about your natural talents and, of course, the flip side. To further assist you, consider your school performance. 

The courses with the highest grades may be your strengths, whereas those with the lowest grades are your weak areas.

Check for the Highest-Paying Fields

While your interests are important, also consider the career statistics. Check out the salary potential and employability for each field. Ensure that you are well compensated while pursuing your passion. 

Seek Advice from Your Academic Advisor

After considering all these, check in with your academic advisor. Your advisor has enough experience speaking to people who have had difficulty selecting a major, just like you. They have seen many outcomes and are suitable to guide you. 

You can also use our What Should I Study in College? Quiz tool to help you determine which major is right for you.

FAQs: 12 Hardest College Majors in 2024

Do you have other questions about the hardest majors? These answers will help you make an informed decision.

How Many Majors Can You Have in College at Once?

You can have dual degrees, multiple majors, and minors as an undergrad. However, having multiple majors can create doubts in postgraduate admission officers or potential employers.

What College Major Earns the Most Money?

The most recent highest-paying college major is Chemical Engineering, with a starting salary of $75,000 per year and $120,000 by mid-career. 

What Are the Most Popular Majors?

The most popular majors include business management, psychology, nursing, biology, law, and computer science. The most popular majors vary according to region, school, market demand, societal interests, and time. 

What is the Difference Between College Majors and Minors?

College majors are the primary fields of study representing a significant portion of your coursework. On the other hand, minors complement the major courses. While majors provide in-depth knowledge in a particular subject, minors offer understanding without specialization.

Can You Switch Your Major in College?

Yes, students can switch their major in college. Depending on the institution's policies and requirements, you must meet certain academic criteria or complete additional coursework to switch to a new major. 

Final Thoughts

Each of these 12 hardest college majors is challenging but rewarding. Be sure to research, plan, and decide your major carefully. With the right amount of resources, skill, and dedication, you will succeed at it.

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