Top 10 Easiest and Hardest College Degree Majors of 2017

There is no such thing as an “easy” college degree, nor a shortcut when it comes to higher education. Whether you’re pursuing an online degree or studying on campus, there’s a reason the process is called “earning” a degree — it takes a significant investment of time and effort, and anyone who says otherwise is likely not a reliable source for recommending legitimate colleges or academic programs.

However, not all college degrees take the same amount of time and effort, or are the most lucrative post-graduation. Determining which degree will be the easiest bachelor degree to get online for you depends on your own abilities and on the particular school you choose to attend. Some people are naturally adept at complex math, for example, while others excel at writing. Recognizing such natural strengths and weaknesses can help to determine which majors are the hardest college majors or less difficult ones for an individual. Additionally, the rigor and demands of a particular program can influence its relative level of difficulty among students.

Determining Which Degrees are Hardest and Easiest

With these criteria in mind, we created a weighted formula that helped us rank 10 of the most common college majors from easiest to hardest. Using this formula, we believe our list paints an accurate picture of each major’s degree of difficulty. Using available data from three prominent schools — UC San Diego, University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison — we calculated the average GPA within a major, as well as the average employment rate and average salaries for professionals in each major, based on information from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. We assumed that more difficult majors result in lower average GPAs, and developed the formula with that in mind.

The Easiest Online College Majors

1. Special Education

While we don’t ascribe to the idea that those who can’t do, teach — especially when it comes to a concentration in special education — our research confirms that students who arrive in college with some of the lowest average GPAs and graduate with the highest grades tend to study special education. Even with the inclusion of specialty skills like intervention and counseling, special education coursework is commonly perceived as hard to master, but easy enough to learn.

  • Average GPA: 3.8
  • Average unemployment rate for this major: 4.5%
  • Average salaries for professionals with these majors: $45,000

2. Elementary Education

Another subsect of the broad field of education, elementary education is among the easiest bachelor degree to get online for college students today. This field is unique for what some would call a disproportionate balance between proper training and qualified professionals: college coursework in this major has developed a reputation as being unchallenging, even remedial, according to CBS. While the value of an education degree has been debatable throughout the years, it is true that there are countless diverse applications for this major post-graduation, from schools, to churches, to healthcare services.

  • Average GPA: 3.7
  • Average unemployment rate for this major: 3.4%
  • Average salaries for professionals with these majors: $39,000

3. Secondary Education

With the third-highest rate of GPAs in general education, a secondary education degree online lands in the “easiest online college degree” category, though this notion may be news to students who have graduated in this major. Secondary education training is a dual process that requires students to not only learn the subject they plan to teach (i.e. math or English) in its entirety, but also the full range of methods for passing on this knowledge to their own students.

  • Average GPA: 3.6
  • Average unemployment rate for this major: 4.1%
  • Average salaries for professionals with these majors: $48,000

4. Music

It might not surprise some readers to see music in the “easiest” category with the fourth-highest average GPA on our list; music majors, meanwhile, seem to be laughing all the way to the bank. Though music, along with all of the “easy” majors on our list, is among the lowest-earning group overall, its majors can expect to earn the highest income reported in this category — more than comparable professions in psychology, social work, and neuroscience.

  • Average GPA: 3.6
  • Average unemployment rate for this major: 4.5%
  • Average salaries for professionals with these majors: $49,000

5. Social Work

Historically, the notion of pursuing a degree in social work is met with either respect for the selfless nature of this endeavor, or pity for the low-income one should expect to earn after graduating with their degree. But for those majoring in social work, coursework and clinical demands can be intense. The level of difficulty for this major, however, seems largely influenced by the type of program; while undergraduate liberal arts programs in social work may be broader and one of the easiest bachelor degree to get online, most students find it necessary to earn a master’s and/or certification in this field, which typically requires a greater courseload and clinical hours.

  • Average GPA: 3.6
  • Average unemployment rate for this major: 5.9%
  • Average salaries for professionals with these majors: $42,000

 


 

The Hardest

1. Biology

It’s a rare student who doesn’t find at least one or two concepts that trip them up in a biology class. Among the life sciences category that also includes anatomy, neuroscience, and genetics, biology tops the list of “hardest” majors with one of the lowest average GPAs. Graduates of a biology program may go on to pursue careers in medicine, dentistry, or veterinary sciences. Veterinary sciences in particular requires seven to eight years or more of internship and residency requirements in addition to an advanced degree, so even if you learned how to get a bachelor’s degree, you would still need to complete more schooling to work in the field.

  • Average GPA: 3.2
  • Average unemployment rate for this major: 4.7%
  • Average salaries for professionals with these majors: $96,000

2. Computer Science

For many readers, especially those who feel challenged by technology, the fact that an online computer science degree is one of the hardest college majors to master comes as no surprise. At the same time, it can seem impossible to see so many qualified workers in this ever-expanding field and not assume that anyone could be trained to be a computer scientist. In actuality, students in this major have one of the lowest average GPAs and are required to master a broad skill set that combines advanced technical abilities in mathematics, engineering, programming, and more.

  • Average GPA: 3.2
  • Average unemployment rate for this major: 5.6%
  • Average salaries for professionals with these majors: $83,000

3. Civil Engineering

Among the two subsects of engineering degrees you can get online that made our list, civil engineering was deemed the most difficult for its advanced prerequisites in chemistry, physics, calculus, statistics, geology, and biology. Engineering also tends to have a notoriously high dropout rate, as well as the lowest rate of As awarded and the highest rate of Cs for any major.

  • Average GPA: 3.3
  • Average unemployment rate for this major: 4.5%
  • Average salaries for professionals with these majors: $83,000

4. Mechanical Engineering

The inclusion of mechanical engineering among the hardest college majors on our list should come as no surprise to most. A unique offshoot of traditional engineering programs, mechanical engineering majors are expected to master a combination of complex physics, engineering, design, and manufacturing skills to manage machine production through all phases of the process. In short, many rocket scientists actually have mechanical engineering degrees and there’s a reason that old adage still stands. Many mechanical engineers also go on to earn graduate degrees, so even if you learn how to get a bachelor’s degree fast, you’d have to remain in school to earn your master’s or doctoral degree to work in the field.

  • Average GPA: 3.3
  • Average unemployment rate for this major: 3.8%
  • Average salaries for professionals with these majors: $87,000

5. Social Science

As a popular choice for students seeking an easy A through degrees you can get online, social science is often miscategorized as a mysterious, and thus “easy,” major. In reality, along with behavioral science, social science encapsulates what are sometimes known as the “soft sciences”: psychology, economics, sociology, anthropology, and political science. Similar to the multifaceted training and low GPAs of engineering majors, few successfully graduate with social science degrees.

  • Average GPA: 3.3
  • Average unemployment rate for this major: 6.8%
  • Average salaries for professionals with these majors: $47,000

Determining the Best Major for You

Our comparison of the easiest online college majors and hardest degree majors is intended simply as an informative tool to help you weigh the level of difficulty among available programs. Generally, such comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt and not used as the sole determining factor for, or against, the academic program of your choice. When asking the question, “Is online college hard?”, focusing your individual strengths and committing to your professional goals will help guide you toward the right major for you. It is important to remember to take advantage of valuable human resources for college prep that may be available to you through high school counselors, personal tutors and/or mentors, college admissions counselors, and department deans.

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