Determining which college major is the most difficult requires analyzing a number of factors, including average grades, the rates at which students quit or fail classes and the distribution of grades across majors during a span of time. One study looked at these factors to determine the hardest and easiest majors in which to earn a college degree.
The study, performed by Kevin Rask of Wake Forest University's Department of Economics, tracked about 5,000 students who graduated with one of 20 college majors during the years 1997 to 2007. Rask deemed majors in which students earned higher average grades as "easier" than majors with lower average grades.
According to the website "The Best Colleges" and based on the Rask study data, the easiest 10 majors in which to earn a college degree are, in no particular order, English, music, education, religion, art, history, language, computer science, philosophy/religious studies and sociology/anthropology. Lynn O'Shaughnessy of CBS MoneyWatch.com agrees, listing religion, English, language, music and education as having the highest GPAs and thus being the easiest majors.
Data from the same study point toward these as the 10 most difficult college majors in which to earn a degree: math, political science, philosophy, chemistry, psychology, geology, biology, geography, economics and physics. The Degree Directory website agrees with Rask's findings, listing these five as the most difficult college majors for bachelor's degrees: biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics and engineering. The three most difficult two-year college majors and technical school fields are engineering technologies, medical technologies and nursing, according to Degree Directory, and the hardest graduate-level majors are specialty engineering, mathematics, law, medicine (including veterinary and dentistry) and theoretical physics.
The harder degrees have lower rates of success, but those career fields generally offer higher pay and are in higher demand. Many students pursuing a degree in a science, technology, engineering or math major never complete it. Aside from the level of difficulty of the subject matter, several other factors may be at work, including professors who grade more harshly and students who are used to earning high grades becoming discouraged by lower grades and dropping out or changing to easier majors.