The most difficult university degrees

Written by deanne lachner
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The most difficult university degrees
Pursuing a degree in chemistry may be one of the hardest things you do. (Getty Thinkstock)

Determining which university or college degree is the most difficult requires analysing a number of factors, including average grades, the rates at which students drop-out or fail classes and the distribution of grades across degrees during a span of time. One study looked at these factors to determine the hardest and easiest subjects in which to earn a university degree.

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Determination of "hard" and "easy" degrees

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 university degrees during the years 1997 to 2007. Rask deemed degrees in which students earned higher average grades as "easier" than majors with lower average grades.

Top 10 easiest degrees

According to the website "The Best Colleges" and based on the Rask study data, the easiest 10 degrees 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 agrees, listing religion, English, language, music and education as having the highest GPAs and thus being the easiest majors.

Top 10 hardest degrees

Data from the same study point toward these as the 10 most difficult university subjects in which to earn a degree: maths, 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 degrees for bachelor's degrees: biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics and engineering. The three most difficult two-year degrees and technical school fields are engineering technologies, medical technologies and nursing, according to Degree Directory, and the hardest graduate-level majors are speciality engineering, mathematics, law, medicine (including veterinary and dentistry) and theoretical physics.

Why some degrees are harder

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 maths degree 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 degrees.

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