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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

The 5 Easiest and 5 Hardest College Classes

When you’re choosing your college classes, you’re probably looking for a bit of a challenge — but maybe not a bunch of classes that keep you up late studying until dawn. How do you strike a balance between difficult and approachable when you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into?


While every college is unique, there are some courses that have similar reputations across institutions. So, what are the hardest college classes, and which are the easiest? 


Want to understand how your classes impact your college admissions chances? Calculate your chances for free and see suggestions on how to improve them to meet your goals. 


Factors to Consider When Choosing a College Class


Your Major


Of course, you don’t have complete control over your schedule. You’ll need to complete certain requirements for your major. Be sure you’re aware of these courses, and draw up a plan to spread them out over your four years. See our post of the easiest and hardest majors to learn more about what sort of course load to expect.


General Education Requirements


Similarly, many schools have general education requirements that all students must complete. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some choice within these requirements, but that’s not always the case. Be sure to map these out too, as you don’t want to end up needing to take a bunch of these at once just to graduate on time.


Anticipated Career or Graduate School Requirements


Some courses might be necessary for getting into graduate school or pursuing a career in a certain field. This is especially true for aspiring healthcare professionals, from doctors to physical therapists to pharmacists. Make sure you read up on what you’ll need to do when you’re planning your course schedule.


Your Schedule


Think about your on- and off-campus commitments, not just in terms of when the courses take place (although that should certainly be a factor), but also in terms of your workload, and whether your schedule will accommodate it. Also be totally honest with yourself about whether you can get up for that 9AM class!


Instructor Reputation


You may not always have the intel when it comes to who’s teaching what — especially in the case of introductory classes — but if you can learn anything about the instructor’s reputation, that may help inform you about which classes to take. Be sure to ask fellow students who have taken the course or had the instructor before. You can also look up professor reviews on ratemyprofessors.com.


How We Made This List of the Hardest/Easiest College Courses


To create this list, we took into account:


  • The course’s general reputation
  • How frequently and in which contexts the course is required
  • The time necessary for coursework and studying


It’s important to remember that courses may be more or less challenging depending on the school and instructor — no two are identical. Bear in mind, too, that some subjects come more easily to certain people than others. Just as quantum physics might be a breeze for a math- and science-minded student, that same student might find the writing in film studies challenging.

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5 Hardest College Classes


1. Organic Chemistry


The notorious requirement for pre-meds is known for separating the future doctors from those who might not make the cut. Not only are the stakes extremely high, but the coursework itself is grueling, and students often study incorrectly for it. Many students think that Orgo is about memorization, when it’s actually a pattern recognition logic class. Students need to understand how molecules react and how to combine simple molecular building blocks into more complicated drugs and compounds. Instead of cramming their heads with information that they don’t truly understand, students should try to treat Orgo as a math class and do lots of practice problems. 


2. Philosophy


Interpreting the theories of some of the greatest thinkers of all time is a challenging task. From Kant to Nietzsche, Plato to Confucius, there’s a lot to unpack and think about. Many of the works are quite dense and difficult to read, not to mention write about (be prepared to read and write a LOT). Arguably one of the hardest parts of the course are the questions and hypothetical scenarios with no clear “good” answer (trolley problem, anyone?). 


3. Linguistics


Studying the structure and origins of language is no walk in the park, even for the language-lovers among us. Linguistics can be surprisingly analytical and scientific. There are many subcategories within this larger field, including the study of speech sounds, word structure, language sound systems, language meaning, and the arrangement of words. Students will ponder questions such as “What defines different accents?,” “How do we know what certain words mean?”and “How can we program a computer to analyze sentence structure?”. You should also be prepared to learn and apply the International Phonetic Alphabet. 


4. Quantum Physics/Quantum Mechanics


If the very mention of this course strikes fear in your heart, you’re not alone. This course is extremely difficult for many students because of how abstract it is, and the level of math required. Students often struggle because they don’t have the underlying math background (it’s recommended that you’ve taken at least multivariable calculus, and linear algebra and differential equations are also very helpful). And even if you do understand the math involved in this course, it’s often challenging to apply or interpret the math in abstract quantum systems. 


5. Anatomy and Physiology


This course is a requirement for some health professions, like physical therapy and nursing (surprisingly, it’s not often required by medical schools, but is for physician assistant programs). Anatomy and Physiology is tough because it involves a lot of memorization. You’ll need to know tons of anatomical jargon, and understand the complex functions of different parts of the human body. It can be easy to start mixing all the terms up. That being said, it can also be really fascinating to understand how each part of our body works individually, and how they work together as a whole. 


5 Easiest College Classes


1. Physical Education


In high school, you might have dreaded PE, but don’t worry: college PE doesn’t resemble that stuff of your nightmares in the least. If you have this requirement at your college, you’ll probably be able to choose from fun activities like yoga, archery, rowing, and many more.


2. Music Appreciation


If you appreciate music, well, this is the class for you! You’ll learn about the inner workings of compositions, delve into the history and makeups of different genres, and more. If you’re lucky, the course may even involve field trips to see performers.


3. Personal Finance


Not only is this course one of the easier ones you’ll likely face during your college career, but it’s also highly practical — managing your money is an important skill everyone should have. From paying off student loans to saving for retirement, you’ll start developing good financial habits early on.


4. Introductory Psychology


Since psychology is the study of human behavior, it’s often interesting and relevant. The course is highly concept-based, and once you understand the theories behind certain behaviors, you can apply and recognize it easily; this makes exams fairly straightforward. Since the content is also so applicable to our daily lives, it’s easier to understand than abstract subjects like math or physics. Most fundamental psychology courses fall under this umbrella, such as social psych, developmental psych, and abnormal psych.


5. Film Studies


Who doesn’t love movies? This course will teach you to grapple with the content in a new way. You’ll explore film theory, analyze movies, and learn the technical side of filmmaking. Along with watching films and producing your own, these courses tend to involve much discussion, research, and writing. It’s a great fit for those who love the analytical side of the humanities, but also want to exercise their creativity. While this course might not be one of the hardest, expect to put in ample hours watching films, shooting footage, and editing your work. 


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.