Can You Guess Which is the Hardest Degree Ever?

Some college degrees open doors to some of the most prominent and high-paying jobs. However, they tend to be the most difficult to complete, too.

And if you make the mistake of enrolling in one of them just for the prestige and money but without intending to put in lots of hard work and dedication, you might end up getting terrible grades and even dropping out of college.

The general consensus is that the hardest college degree ever is aerospace engineering, which involves the design, manufacturing and testing of aircraft.

There’s also the fact that it’s a STEM field — a survey by the Pew Research Center says that 52% of American adults believe young people refuse to pursue STEM because it’s too hard.

About to enroll in a degree and want to find out if it’s the hardest out there either because you could use the challenge or because you want to avoid it at all costs to have the smoothest sailing college experience possible?

Read on.

You will learn that the vast majority of them are in the STEM discipline, such as engineering and hard sciences. There’s also a handful of them from the healthcare fields and even in the liberal arts spectrum.

But first, let’s get things straight by answering this burning question…

What’s the Difference Between a Degree and a Major?

Many college-bound teens believe that a degree and a major are the same things.

After all, the name of a major usually leads to a degree having the same name — i.e., majoring in computer science leads to a bachelor’s degree in science and majoring in accounting leads to a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Although it’s true that a degree and a major are closely linked to each other, they are not one and the same.

In a nutshell, you can think of a degree as a utility belt and a major as the set of tools you will need to stash in your utility belt to tackle a particular DIY project. A degree requires you to take certain courses, including courses in an area of focus, which is your major.

To understand things better, let’s take a look at the different kinds of courses there are:

  • General education courses
  • Elective courses
  • Major courses

Most courses, no matter the type, usually consist of 3 credits. And an entire bachelor’s degree is typically made up of 120 credits. By doing the math, you will have to complete a total of 40 courses or classes to get your hands on a bachelor’s degree.

Among the said 40 courses, only around 12 classes, which is equivalent to 36 credits, have something to do with your major. It goes without saying that you will have to take them if you want to graduate and earn a degree.

Usually, you will have to spend the first 2 years of your college taking general education courses and the rest taking electives and major courses.

No matter the preferred degree, degree-seeking students will have to take the same general education courses — it’s when those electives and major courses have to be taken that the difficulty of a degree becomes apparent.

Needless to say, some of the hardest degrees, which we will talk about shortly, usually have some of the hardest majors.

20 Degrees Ranked From Most to Least Hard

And now we have come to the main part of this post, some of the hardest degrees around.

I based my choices, of course, on the difficulty level of the courses you must take as a part of your major and, ultimately, as a requirement for you to earn your bachelor’s degree.

aerospace engineering degree

Aerospace engineering

  • Median pay: $122,270 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

Leading the list of the hardest degrees known to man is aerospace engineering.

The coursework is extremely difficult as it requires a firm understanding of anything from mathematics, physics to chemistry and from computer languages and computer programming.

If you are not interested in and passionate about these things, getting bad grades is very likely.

It’s also a must to have sufficient amounts of organization and time-management skills when enrolled in an aerospace engineering program as you will have to juggle classes, lab work and study time in your dorm room.

lab technician


  • Median pay: $79,760 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

If mathematics and hard sciences had a baby, it would be chemistry.

Because it’s the amalgamation of some of the most challenging disciplines, it isn’t surprising that chemistry is one of the most difficult college degrees you can opt for.

But do keep in mind that the payoff will be worth all the sleepless nights as a bachelor’s degree in chemistry allows you to hold jobs in an array of career sectors and industries.


  • Median pay: $147,450 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 8%

Scared of STEM?

Then stay as far away as you can from a physics program — it’s jam-packed with courses in the STEM field, including biological physics, astronomy, mechanics, cosmology, thermodynamics and electricity and magnetism.

To succeed as a physics student, you will have to be willing to study for 50 to 60 hours per week.

architecture draft


  • Median pay: $80,180 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 3%

Did you know that architecture majors are some of the most sleep-deprived undergraduate students?

On average, they get a measly 5.28 hours of sleep per night.

Unlike most other bachelor’s degrees, architecture can take anywhere from 5 to 7 years to complete.

And the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) says that it takes an average of 11 years for one to become a licensed architect with independent or contracted practices within the industry.


  • Median pay: $127,990 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 10%

According to the University at Buffalo School of Law, classes in the program are taught differently than undergraduate classes, which means that you will need some time to adjust to a completely different academic environment.

Being a law student requires lots of critical thinking skills and long-term memory recall and application of acquired knowledge.

And if you cannot thrive under the Socratic teaching method where it’s mainly about self-teaching through discussion and question and answer, then you may fail to survive law school.


  • Median pay: $147,450 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 8%

Especially if you are captivated by the physical nature of celestial bodies, from stars to black holes, then you may find enrolling in an astrophysics degree a phenomenal academic goal.

But be warned: while it’s an interesting degree, astrophysics can be very challenging, too. Leading the long list of the reasons why are various math involved.

For instance, it’s not uncommon for the degree program to entail 2 to 3 semesters of calculus, advanced calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations.

dental student


  • Median pay: $163,220 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

Before admission to a dentistry program, which is typically four years long, you will have to have completed a 4-year undergraduate degree program.

But there are dentistry programs that combine a bachelor’s degree with dentistry training, which you can complete in about 6 years, depending on the institution offering it.

The academics can be hard on the brain, and the cost of a dentistry program can also be hard on the pocket.


  • Median pay: $208,000 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 3%

Enrolling in a medicine program is a serious time and financial investment. It involves some of the most difficult courses known to the degree-seeking sector of the population such as biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, pathology, immunology and human structure and function.

And then there are also clinical and elective rotations.

And while you will have to attend medical school for 4 years only, you will need to have a 4-year bachelor’s degree beforehand and complete a residency program afterward, which can be anywhere from 3 to 7 years long!

flight nurse


  • Median pay: $77,600 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

What makes nursing a particularly hard college degree is that other than learning about complicated nursing concepts and practical skills in classrooms and labs, students also have to apply everything they have acquired to a variety of real-world patient care scenarios.

So, in other words, you will have to display competence on and off campus.

Besides the rigorous and fast-paced curriculum, another thing that makes nursing difficult is that graduates will have to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and meet other state requirements.


  • Median pay: $81,040 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

There’s no denying that psychology is one of the most popular majors available.

But not a lot of people know that it’s also one of the most difficult.

That’s because a psychology degree program covers a dizzying assortment of grounds, so students have no choice but to be flexible and embrace whatever subject is thrown their way.

Adult development, psychological measurement and introduction to perception — these are some of the most difficult courses they had to take, say some students working on their psychology degrees.

biomed engineer

Biomedical engineering

  • Median pay: $97,410 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 10%

Here’s why biomedical engineering is a degree that’s not for the faint of heart: it’s a combination of engineering and medicine, both of which can give students some of the most difficult academic experiences.

To be a successful biomedical engineering student, needless to say, you will have to have superb math, analytical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Creativity is also an important skill because, after all, the program’s core is coming up with great solutions to all kinds of healthcare problems and concerns through innovative devices and pieces of equipment.


  • Median pay: $128,570 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 2%

Did you know that the friendly pharmacist at your favorite local drugstore is actually a doctor?

Because of this, like someone who wishes to become a doctor as we all know it, you will have to earn a 4-year undergraduate degree, work on a pharmacy program for 4 years and then complete a 1- to 2-year residency to become a pharmacist.



  • Median pay: $61,910 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 6%

Biology, cultural evolution, human behavior, medical anthropology, urban anthropology, world politics, ethnicity and identity — these are some of the required courses required to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.

And if you are not interested in learning about all aspects of humanity through the ages, then you may find anthropology a hard degree.

Chemical engineering

  • Median pay: $105,550 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 14%

It may have the word “chemical” in it but chemical engineering is more than just the application of the principles of chemistry.

The program is actually a broad field that requires students to have a strong foundation in mathematics, physics and, of course, chemistry and engineering.

And disciplines can overlap, too, which can leave you perplexed if you are not on your toes.

Electrical engineering

  • Median pay: $101,780 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 3%

As a student who is working on an electrical engineering program, you will spend much of the last couple of years of your college studying the mathematics and physics of electricity, electronics and electromagnetism.

And more importantly, you will have to apply everything to design and develop everything from a small phone or household appliance to massive and complex communication systems and power networks.

foreign languages

Foreign languages

  • Median pay: $49,110 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 20%

As if the need for your brain to establish new frameworks to learn a new language is not enough, the fact that you will also have to devote plenty of time to master speaking another language is what makes a degree in foreign languages difficult to earn.

Besides, the US Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute says that it takes 4,400 hours to learn a new language!


  • Median pay: $96,280 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 31%

If you find numbers and math equations disgusting, then you will find a mathematics degree difficult.

End of story.

mechanical engineers

Mechanical engineering

  • Median pay: $95,300 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 2%

What makes mechanical engineering a particularly hard engineering degree is that it relies heavily on some of the most difficult mathematics to solve everyday problems.

And they are none other than calculus and trigonometry. The problem with them is that being good in math isn’t enough — you will also have to use a lot of abstract thinking.

Both calculus and trigonometry become more and more non-linear as mechanical engineering majors get closer to graduation, which means that they will have to use a lot of brain power to come up with exact and unpredictable answers.


  • Median pay: $124,300 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 10%

It’s the enormously heavy course load per semester that makes optometry a challenging degree.

The optometry program at the University of Waterloo, for instance, consists of 5 to 7 science courses every semester.

In addition, it can take anywhere from 8 to 9 years for you to become a full-fledged optometrist — to complete the program, you will have to spend 4 years at an optometry school and 1 year of residency after earning a 4-year undergraduate degree.

Quantum mechanics

  • Median pay: $147,450 per year
  • Projected job growth rate: 8%

Physics is one of the hardest hard sciences around.

And quantum mechanics is considered the most difficult subfield of physics, which is why it doesn’t come as a surprise that quantum mechanics is one of the most arduous degrees to choose from.

Since many of the concepts of quantum physics can only be visualized through math, it goes without saying that you will have to be extremely good with numbers if you want to make it out of a quantum mechanics degree in one piece.

Read Next: Most Unhappiest College Majors

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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