The 10 Hardest and Easiest College Majors


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For incoming undergraduate students, choosing a major can be overwhelming. That’s because your field of study will have meaningful consequences for your future life. Choosing the right major can open the door to engaging work that pays a living wage. On the other hand, selecting the wrong major could result in years of unhappiness if the related work is not interesting, takes up too much time, or doesn’t pay well. 


It might relieve some of your stress to know the important factors to consider when choosing your major, to be familiar with the most challenging and least challenging undergraduate majors, and to remember that your major choice isn’t binding yet. In this helpful guide to choosing your major, we will walk through all of that to help you find a major that suits your needs, interests, and goals.

 

Factors to Consider When Choosing A Major

 

Does the work interest me? You will have a much harder time securing good grades and retaining concepts if you are pursuing a major that does not interest you. We are not saying you have to choose something that fascinates you—not everyone can be a professional musician or writer—but make sure you choose a major that holds your attention.

 

Do I have natural talent in this field? Everyone’s brain is wired a little differently. It follows that certain subjects will be easier for certain students. Natural talent is not a prerequisite for pursuing a given major. In fact, many leaders in their field report initial setbacks that they had to work hard to overcome. However, choosing to major in an area where you already have an intellectual advantage based on your brain chemistry is a good way to make your college years easier.

 

How much time do I want to spend studying? Realistically, academic coursework is not every student’s top priority. One of the best parts of college is making lifelong friendships. Another is exploring your interests through clubs and internships. Only commit to a time-intensive major if it really is your top priority in college.

 

What career options will be available to me after graduating? Too many times, we see students treat their undergraduate years as being completely unrelated to what they will do after school. Then, when they find certain career paths are closed to them, they become disappointed. Avoid this outcome upfront by choosing a major with your future career in mind. If you are interested in exploring many different fields, choose a major like Communications or Economics that opens the door to many different industries. If you already know you want to pursue a very specific path, such as film or medicine, choose a major and take the courses that prepare you for your industry.

 

What are my financial prospects with this major? Even if your goal is not to become a millionaire, keeping an eye on finances will save you a lot of heartache in the long run. If you are split between two majors, consider using return on investment (ROI) as your tie-breaker. If you want to go into a less lucrative field, that is okay! Just be sure you are not taking out large loans to finance a major that will take decades to repay.

 

When Do You Have To Declare Your Major? And Can You Change It?

 

When you apply to different universities, you will probably be asked for your intended major. This major is either the program you will enter into as an incoming freshman or, if your institution doesn’t allow you to declare your major until later in your undergraduate studies, it’s the major you think you will declare when the time comes. Sometimes (typically if your intended program is competitive or requires specific technical or artistic skills) you will need to submit a supplemental application or a portfolio for your intended major.

 

In general, your intended major is exactly what it sounds like: an intention to study a discipline, not set in stone. And many students change their major (hassle-free) throughout their undergraduate years.

 

Because universities require a certain number of total university credits for graduation, a students’ coursework is generally divided into three components: general education or distribution requirements, major requirements, and minor or elective courses. Students who are unsure about their major might take their elective courses in diverse fields when trying to come to a conclusion about their desired field of study. On the other hand, if you change your major too late, you may delay your graduation, so it is important to plan as you explore. It is also important to remember that, at many universities and colleges, it is easier to change your major within a school than between schools.

 

Generally, universities will ask you to declare your major by the end of your sophomore year.

 

CollegeVine’s Top 10 Hardest Majors

 

To help you start thinking about which major is best for you, we put together a ranked list of the ten hardest majors. We used a combination of lowest average GPA, highest number of hours spent studying, and lowest return on investment (ROI) to determine which majors are the hardest to pursue. In these listings, you’ll notice the statistic, 20-year ROI. A 20-year ROI is the difference between the 20-year median pay for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in the listed major and the 24-year median pay for an individual with only a high school diploma, minus the total 4-year cost of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. It effectively tells how much better off graduates are financially due to obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a specific area.

 

This list is by no means exhaustive, and your list of hardest majors likely would be different than ours. As you read, think about what makes some of these majors easier or harder for you.

 

10. Fine Arts

 

Average GPA: 3.2

Average Weekly Study Hours: 16.5

Predicted 20-Year ROI: -$163,600

Find schools with a Fine Arts major that match your profile.

 

This goes on our list of hardest majors because it has such a low return on investment. For students to make this major a successful choice, they will have to spend hours distinguishing themselves from their peers. The same principle applies to other artistic fields, including creative writing, musical theater, dance, and music. If you pursue a creative major, make sure you cultivate a marketable skill alongside it. Consider teaching, art restoration, or technical writing for a skill that complements your love of art.

 

Potential Careers Paths and Median Salaries for Fine Arts Graduates:

  • Professional Artist: $49k
  • Art Director: $97k
  • Graphic Designer: $53k
  • Interior Designer: $60k
  • Art Professor (requires further education): $85k

 

9. Philosophy

 

Average GPA: 3.1

Average Weekly Study Hours: 16

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $202,000

Find schools with a Philosophy major that match your profile.

 

Philosophy demands attention to detail and command of logic. On average, philosophy majors spend more time than most college students studying, and those hours require high levels of concentration. Many philosophy majors pursue careers in law or academia because those fields reward hard work, careful reasoning, and attention to detail. Both of these fields require an advanced degree, so be prepared to stay in school for a while.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Philosophy Graduates:

  • Non-Profit Professional: $70k
  • Lawyer (requires further education): $127k
  • Philosophy Professor (requires further education): $88k
  • Public Policy Professional (requires further education): $125k

 

8. Cellular and Molecular Biology

 

Average GPA: 3.2

Average Weekly Study Hours: 18.5

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $382,000

Find schools with a Cellular and Molecular Biology major that match your profile.

 

Cellular and molecular biology is the biology major with the heaviest workload and lowest average GPA. Students who tend to do well in this field are able to visualize concepts even when they cannot see them with the naked eye. Understanding how different parts of a system work together is a useful skill that this major cultivates. With a cellular and molecular biology undergraduate degree, can pursue an advanced degree or dive straight into the workforce upon graduating, depending on your area of interest.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduates:

  • Research Assistant: $46k
  • Physician (requires further education): $185-271k
  • Biology Professor (requires further education): $101k
  • Pharmacist (requires further education): $129k

 

7. Accounting

 

Average GPA: 3.2

Average Weekly Study Hours: 16.5

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $563,000

Find schools with an Accounting major that match your profile.

 

Accounting majors have a great return on investment (ROI) since nearly every person and company requires the services of an accountant at some point in their life cycle. If you like mathematics, specifically applied math, this may be a great fit major for you. Becoming an accountant requires long apprenticeships and lots of studying after graduating from college. However, you can get a well-paid job right out of college, as businesses love to hire folks with this quantitative background.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Accounting Graduates:

  • Accountant: $74k
  • Financial Analyst: $84k
  • Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerk: $42k

 

6. Nursing

 

Average GPA: 3.2

Average Hours Spent Preparing for Class: 17

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $525,000

Find schools with a Nursing major that match your profile.

 

This major has a high workload but amazing job prospects. Upon receiving licensure, graduates are practically guaranteed a job for life in a growing industry. College graduates typically earn a BSN but may continue their studies to become an MSN. Advanced schooling allows MSNs to specialize, depending on their desired career path. Nurses spend less time in school than doctors and have more in-person contact with patients.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Nursing Graduates:

  • Registered Nurse: $75k
  • Midwife: $111k
  • Nurse Anesthetists: $184k

 

5. Architecture

 

Average GPA: 3.3

Average Weekly Study Hours: 22

Average Salary: $67,000

See the best schools for architecture.

 

This major goes on our list of hardest majors because of the weekly grind. The average architecture major spends 22 hours preparing for class. Students who want to pursue this field need to be ready to spend hours drafting and studying. Upon graduating, your job prospects are fairly narrow because your skills are specialized. That means that when a lot of construction is taking place, you are likely to be in demand. Conversely, if new building projects are not being commissioned, it may be harder to find a job.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Architecture Graduates:

  • Building Architect: $82k
  • Landscape Architect: $71k
  • Architectural Drafter: $58k

 

4. Physics

 

Average GPA: 3.1

Average Weekly Study Hours: 18.5

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $382,000

Find schools with a Physics major that match your profile.

 

Physics makes this list because of the long hours students have to spend getting ready for class each week. A highly conceptual field, physics may be right for you if you like to think abstractly about how forces and objects interact. Keep in mind that pursuing a career in physics often requires you to get an advanced degree after graduating from college.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Physics Graduates:

  • Physicist: $129k
  • Biophysicist: $94k
  • Physics Professor (requires further education): $104k

 

3. Electrical Engineering

 

Average GPA: 3.3

Average Weekly Study Hours: 19.5

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $850,000

See the best schools with Engineering majors.

 

Electrical Engineering majors put in some of the longest hours of all college students, but the return on investment (ROI) is very high. If you love circuitry, fixing equipment, and designing better ways to get a job done, this could be a great fit career for you. A degree in engineering sets you up to perform well as an engineer or, later in your career, as the manager of a team of engineers. Advanced study is encouraged but not required to succeed in this field.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Electrical Engineering Graduates:

  • Electronics Engineer: $103k
  • Aerospace Engineer: $117k
  • Communications Engineer: $110k
  • Computer Hardware Engineer: $120k

 

2. Chemical Engineering

 

Average GPA: 3.2

Average Weekly Study Hours: 22

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $850,000

See the best schools with Engineering majors.

 

If you love to leverage your knowledge of science to transform materials, chemical engineering could be a great fit for you. This is another high input, high output field, so expect to work long hours but also to earn a large salary after graduation. If you love chemical engineering but do not want to become an engineer, consider a career in academia or patent law. These career paths require graduate school, in the form of a Ph.D., J.D., or both.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Chemical Engineering Graduates:

  • Chemical Engineer: $109k
  • Environmental Engineer: $99k
  • Lawyer (requires further education): $127k

 

1. Chemistry

 

Average GPA: 2.9

Average Weekly Study Hours: 18.5

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $382,000

See the best schools for Chemistry majors

 

We have chosen chemistry as our #1 hardest major because of its low average GPA combined with the long hours of studying required. If you are fascinated by how minuscule, invisible changes can completely alter a substance, chemistry is a great major to consider. It is hard work to earn a degree in chemistry, but once you do, a wide range of career options open to you. Typically, earning an advanced degree after college is necessary to pursue a career incChemistry.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Chemistry Graduates:

  • Chemical Manufacturing: $91k
  • Physician (requires further education): $185-271k
  • Pharmacist (requires further education): $129k
  • Chemistry Professor (requires further education): $92k

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CollegeVine’s Top Easiest Majors

 

We have put together our list of top easiest majors based on three factors: GPA, weekly study hours, and return on investment. Keep in mind that your factors may be different! Read our brief summary of each major to see if it may be a good fit for you.

 

9. English

 

Average GPA: 3.2

Average Weekly Study Hours: 16

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $240,000

See the best schools for English majors.

 

If you love language and literature, majoring in English is a great way to gain exposure to strong writing. We are including it on the list of easiest majors because it has a relatively high GPA and because most homework preparation is reading literature, an act that English majors find pleasurable in itself. As far as salary is concerned after graduation, English majors have to work a bit harder to ensure they have a steady source of income. Consider choosing a second major or a minor that cultivates a marketable skill. Or, if you wish to pursue a literary career, use summers and your time outside of class to distinguish yourself with internships and publications. You are entering a competitive field, so it helps to have relevant experience outside of class.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for English Graduates:

  • Writer: $67k
  • Editor: $63k
  • High School Teacher: $63k
 

 

8. Economics

 

Average GPA: 3.0

Average Weekly Study Hours: 15

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $626,000

See the best schools for Economics majors.

 

Economics majors spend a pretty typical amount of time studying relative to other college majors. However, when they graduate, their earning potential is very high. If you are looking for a field that lets you work hard but not too hard while still bringing home a healthy paycheck, Economics is a great field to consider. It strengthens students’ quantitative reasoning by introducing them to a range of real-world, practical financial problems that can be observed in society. 

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Economics Graduates:

  • Economist: $108k
  • Financial Analyst: $84k
  • Actuary: $111k

 

 

7. Journalism

 

Average GPA: 3.2

Average Weekly Study Hours: 13

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $240,000

Find schools with Journalism majors that match your profile.

 

Journalism majors have relatively high average GPAs relative to peers, and they do not have to spend exorbitant amounts of time studying. That said, it is difficult to secure a full-time position as a journalist, especially if there is a particular subject you long to cover. The strongest applicants to journalism positions have spent years working for local, regional, and national publications prior to applying for their first full-time job. So, consider journalism if you do not want to have a busy course load, but expect that you will devote that extra time to related clubs, writing projects, and internships.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Journalism Graduates:

  • Reporter/Correspondent: $49k
  • Radio/Television Broadcaster: $73k
  • Writer: $67k
  • Editor: $63k

 

 

6. Criminal Justice

 

Average GPA: 3.1

Average Weekly Study Hours: 12

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $139,000

See the best schools for Criminal Justice majors.

 

If you find courts, policing, and corrections fascinating, a career in criminal justice may be for you. Students learn how to apprehend, reprimand, and rehabilitate those who commit crimes. This field does not require much time in class but does demand a certain emotional resilience, as course content will at times be disturbing. Job prospects upon graduating exist but are limited, so college graduates with this major should consider careers as police officers and lawyers, both of which require additional training.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Criminal Justice Graduates:

  • Police Detective: $87k
  • Private Detective: $53k
  • Lawyer (requires further education): $127k

 

 

5. Public Relations & Advertising

 

Average GPA: 3.0

Average Weekly Study Hours: 12

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $563,000

Find schools with Public Relations majors that match your profile.

 

Do people fascinate you? Do you watch the Super Bowl for the ads? Have you been known to tell a captivating story? If so, public relations & advertising may be the field for you. These students integrate their understanding of the human mind with the business objectives of companies and other large enterprises. They help to shape attitudes around a product, initiative, or idea. Students who graduate with a degree in this field often secure employment quickly because companies are always looking for people with a talent for connecting with consumers. No graduate school is required to build a fulfilling career in this industry.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Public Relations & Advertising Graduates: 

  • Marketing Manager: $161k
  • Public Relations Specialist: $63k
  • Advertising and Sales Agent: $55k

 

 

4. Social Work

 

Average GPA: 3.4

Average Weekly Study Hours: 12

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $139,000

Find schools with Social Work majors that match your profile.

 

It is somewhat deceptive to say social work is an easy major, even though it meets the criteria we are using for this list. Often, the greatest difficulty associated with this field is the emotional strain it takes to build a career in social work. Students who do best in social work are highly resilient and practice self-care. If you want to make a practical difference in the lives of others and possess a high EQ (Emotional Quotient, also known as emotional intelligence), consider this major. Earning a graduate degree is customary for those who wish to pursue a career in social work.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Social Work Graduates:

  • Mediator: $66k
  • Healthcare Social Worker (requires further education): $58k
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker (requires further education): $48k
  • Child, Family, and School Social Worker (requires further education): $48k

 

 

3. Education

 

Average GPA: 3.6

Average Weekly Study Hours: 14

Predicted 20-Year ROI: -$9,000

Find schools with Education majors that match your profile.

 

We are including education on the list of easiest majors because of the high average GPA. But be warned! It has an extremely low return on investment. If you are thinking of pursuing a teaching career, consider getting your undergraduate degree in your subject of interest rather than in teaching. With a teaching minor or summer program, you can easily fulfill your requirements to become a teacher. However, your major will give you more flexibility and earning potential in other careers if teaching does not turn out to be the field for you.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Education Graduates:

  • High School Teacher: $63k
  • Instructional Coordinator (requires further education): $67k
  • Education Administration (requires further education): $98k
  • School Counselor (requires further education): $58k

 

 

2. Psychology

 

Average GPA: 3.3

Average Weekly Study Hours: 13.5

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $198,000

See the best schools for Psychology majors.

 

Only within the past hundred years have we begun to objectively measure, analyze, and evaluate human behavior. Psychology majors study the progress we have made so far and participate in social science research to make further discoveries in their field. Psychology students typically have high GPAs relative to their peers, and the weekly homework load is not unreasonable. Job prospects coming out of psychology are not ample, but students willing to pursue a Ph.D. can become professors and lab researchers within their field of interest.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Psychology Graduates:

  • Research Assistant: $49k
  • Substance Abuse Counselor: $48k
  • Clinical Psychologist (requires further education): $82k
  • School Counselor (requires further education): $58k
  • Psychology Professor (requires further education): $90k

 

 

1. Business Administration

 

Average GPA: 3.2

Average Weekly Study Hours: 13.5

Predicted 20-Year ROI: $563,000

See the best schools for Business majors.

 

Business administration ranks as our #1 easiest college major because it has that perfect trio of low weekly homework load, high average GPA, and great ROI. If you have solid business acumen, a head for figures, and a desire to work with people, could be a great-fit major for you. Just because it is easy to succeed in this major does not mean it is full of only easy classes. You can challenge yourself by taking rigorous quantitative courses and participating in internships that give you a taste of real-world business administration. No graduate school is required to excel in this field.

 

Potential Career Paths and Median Salaries for Business Administration Graduates:

  • Financial Analyst: $84k
  • Management Analyst: $88k
  • Personal Financial Advisor: $89k

 

 

You might also like our posts:

Easiest and Hardest Engineering Majors

Easiest and Hardest Science Majors

 

Does Your Intended Major Impact Your College Chances?

 

Because universities know that an intended major isn’t concrete, a student’s intended major generally will not affect whether or not they are accepted to a university. 

 

However, there are certain instances where an intended major may affect college chances. Some prestigious programs that directly admit students (like the USC Cinema Program or Penn’s Wharton School) have lower acceptance rates than that of the general university. Additionally, some large public universities (like those in the UC system) have specific numbers of students that they will accept for each major program. At these schools, if you are “on the bubble” for admissions, your intended major may become a factor.

 

Simply put, if your intended major has an impact on admissions, the impact will be very small. In general, your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and essays will determine your chances of admission at different colleges. To predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 schools across the country (using those important admissions factors!), utilize our free chancing engine. This engine will let you know how your application compares to those of other applicants and will also help you to improve your profile.

 

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Short Bio
Veronica is an alumna of Harvard College, where she earned her A.B. in History and Classics. After graduating, she joined CollegeVine serving as the Curriculum Development Manager. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA and is writing her debut novel.

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