Top 10 Easiest and Hardest College Degree Majors (Updated!)
There’s no such thing as an “easy” college degree. Despite the promises of online diploma mills, there simply is no shortcut to a college degree. Whether you’re pursuing an online degree at an online school or at a traditional campus, getting a real college education takes a significant investment of time and effort. Anyone who tells you it will be easy is either ignorant or lying.
With these caveats in mind, we created a weighted formula that helped us rank 10 general college majors from easiest to hardest. We’ve updated this list using a formula that should create a more accurate picture of a major’s degree of difficulty. Using available data from the National Center for Education Statistics, we were able to identify three helpful categories: the average GPA within a major, the average time it took to complete a degree in that major, and the amount of work and leisure time students could afford while studying in that major. We assumed that more difficult majors result in lower average GPAs, longer completion times, and less time for outside activities, and developed the formula with that in mind.
- Education: While we don’t ascribe to the idea that those who can’t do, teach, our research confirms years of evidence that those students who arrive in college with the lowest average SAT scores and graduate with the highest grades tend to be education majors. Education courses emphasize skills like oral presentation and classroom management, which, although they may be difficult for certain personality types, fall into the category of hard to master but easy enough to learn.
- Humanities: Sorry, humanities majors: not only do you have to deal with constant queries about what you plan to do with your dance, English, or classics degree, as a group you’re one of the easiest majors a student can sign up for. The average GPA for humanities students trumped even education for highest percentage of students in the 3.5+ bracket. The good news is despite calls to shutter humanities departments because of a perceived weakness in degree marketability in the job market, a growing body of commentators is calling for more students to enter the field.
- Math: With the third-highest rate of GPAs in the 3.5+ category and tied for the lowest median completion time, math lands in the easy category, popular belief notwithstanding. Math majors sail through college quickly and make good grades, even though nearly a quarter of them that work do so for more than 40 hours a week. It could be that the way many math subjects relate to and build on one another makes them easier for majors and difficult for non-majors who merely take a course or two.
- Computer/information science: The inclusion of CIS in the “easiest” category may surprise some readers, but the major clocks the fifth-highest average GPA while recording the highest percentage of students working or doing leisure activities outside class for at least 40 hours per week. Because the major covers a broad range of topics on technology and information systems, graduates can land positions in tech support, information security, network administration, and elsewhere. But because it is a broad area, industry pros say becoming a programmer, for example, requires the more in-depth study involved in a computer science (CS) degree.
- Health: The difficult years of schooling doctors have to endure before donning the scrubs are well-documented. But for those who wish to work a little more indirectly in the healthcare industry, there is this somewhat easier bachelor’s degree. Holders of a B.S. in health administration study to work on the business side, dealing with human resources and hospital operations. A B.S. in health and wellness allows more direct contact with “patients” but in a much lower-risk, preventative care environment that is more general in scope than the one a heart surgeon works in, for example.
- Engineering: Congratulations, engineers, now you finally have some proof for what you’ve been telling everyone all along: yours is the hardest major. From chemical to civil to electrical to mechanical, the courses you take in chemistry, physics, calculus, statistics, geology, biology, and other tough prereqs give you the lowest rate of As and the highest rate of Cs for any major. Because of this, the path has a notoriously high dropout rate some have pegged as high as 60% per year.
- Life sciences: It’s a rare student who doesn’t find at least one or two concepts that trip him up in cell biology class. The life sciences include anatomy, biochemistry, neuroscience, biology, genetics, zoology, and more tricky subjects, landing this field just behind engineering on the low GPA spectrum. Many graduates of a life sciences path go on to careers in the medical, dental, or veterinary fields, which famously require as many as seven or eight more years of difficult schooling, internship, and residency after a bachelor’s degree is earned.
- Business & management: You may think what your boss does is not difficult at all, and you may be right; a degree in management is probably not what makes this category a difficult one. It more likely lands here thanks to the challenges of getting a degree in finance or accounting. Either way, the data shows well below half of business and management students are able to pull off a 3.5 or better, and they average the second-longest amount of time in which students complete their degrees.
- Physical sciences: Physics, chemistry, and geology all fold into this major, making it one of the hardest paths to take on in college. With the lowest percentage of students able to work full-time (more than 30 hours a week) and the fourth-lowest rate of students with GPAs over 3.5, majoring in this field proves to be a challenging undertaking. And the uphill battle doesn’t end after graduation. A glut of graduates, a poor economy, and a move toward cleaner energy has created a troubling outlook for chemistry majors.
- Social/behavioral sciences: This category seems to be a popular choice for students seeking an easy A, but they could do so more easily by picking something else. The social and behavioral sciences encapsulate what are sometimes known as the “soft sciences”: psychology, economics, sociology, anthropology, and political science. Although they are much more closely related by GPA to some of the easy major entries than they are to engineering, the social and behavioral sciences house the fourth-lowest number of fulltime workers and are tied for shortest median degree completion time.