10 Hardest and 5 Easiest College Majors

Written by Amy Isler
Published on January 15, 2023 · Updated on March 29, 2023

10 Hardest and 5 Easiest College Majors

Written by Amy Isler
Published on January 15, 2023 · Updated on March 29, 2023

Choosing a school and a college major can be one of the hardest decisions to make. Some people have a clear understanding of what they want to study and what career they plan to pursue after they graduate.

For others who are unsure of what they want to study, choosing a major can be a challenge. 

Understanding the workload of a specific major and the chances of getting a job after graduation can help guide people who are uncertain of what path to take during college.

In this article, we have compiled a list of what is considered the hardest and easiest college majors based on average GPA. Other factors to consider when deciding on a major include:

  • Course load
  • Number of hours spent studying
  • Job outlook and career paths
  • Earning potential 

Personal interest, passion, and organic talent should be the driving forces behind choosing a college major, but understanding what these majors entail can help you pick the college degree that is right for you.

Hardest Fields by GPA

According to research data from the University of California, San Diego, the hardest fields of study based on average GPA include:

  • Social Science- 3.11
  • Science/Math- 3.13
  • Biology- 3.17
  • Engineering- 3.24
  • Humanities- 3.25
  • Arts- 3.29

This data highlights that the highest average GPA is associated with humanities and arts majors. 

10 Hardest College Majors by GPA

  1. Environment Economics and Policy – 2.96 GPA
  2. Engineering Physics – 3.1 GPA
  3. Chemistry – 3.13 GPA
  4. Data Science – 3.24 GPA
  5. Legal Studies – 3.28 GPA
  6. Architecture – 3.33 GPA
  7. Urban Studies – 3.35 GPA
  8. Chemical Engineering – 3.37 GPA
  9. Materials Science and Engineering – 3.4 GPA
  10. Social Welfare – 3.43 GPA

Based on research data from the University of California, Berkeley, majors rooted in math and science, such as engineering majors, tend to be the hardest degrees based on average GPA. 

However, what is considered a hard or easy major depends on the individual and their unique talents and interests.

The top 10 hardest college majors, according to GPA data from the 2019/2020 school year, include:

1. Environment Economics and Policy- 2.96 GPA

The Environment Economics and Policy (EEP) major focuses on how economics and policy affect the management of natural environmental resources. Students majoring in this learn the micro-economic theory and the economics of environmental resources.

Students are required to take a foreign language and quantitative reasoning. 

Coursework typically includes: 

  • Microeconomics
  • Calculus
  • Statistics
  • Renewable resources
  • Social science of resource problems
  • Natural and physical sciences

2. Engineering Physics- 3.1 GPA

The Engineering Physics major enables students to apply classic and modern physics, chemistry, and mathematics to allow students to tackle complex social problems.  

Curriculum typically includes courses on: 

  • Computer programming
  • Calculus
  • Statistics
  • Physics for scientists and engineers
  • Quantum mechanics 
  • Complex analysis

3. Chemistry- 3.13 GPA

degree in chemistry prepares students to become professional chemists in a variety of different fields including biology and medicine.

Chemistry majors gain knowledge in organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry.

Curriculum typically includes courses on: 

  • Calculus
  • Linear algebra
  • Physics for scientists and engineers
  • Research
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Foreign language
  • A variety of chemistry classes

4. Data Science- 3.24 GPA

A data science degree prepares students to analyze, collect, and manage data across multiple different fields and industries. Students majoring in data science also gain knowledge on how to use data to influence decisions, make innovations, and think critically.

Curriculum typically includes courses on: 

  • Calculus
  • Linear algebra
  • Statistics and probability
  • Computer science
  • Software engineering
  • Algorithms

legal studies degree prepares grads for a career in law by offering a foundation in the law and legality as it pertains to political, economic, and cultural influences. 

Coursework typically includes: 

  • Statistics
  • Philosophy
  • History 
  • Social behavior
  • Foundations of legal studies
  • Theories of Law and Society
  • Justice
  • Law, politics, and society

6. Architecture- 3.33 GPA

An architecture degree prepares students with courses on both environmental design and architecture. Architecture majors first learn the broad foundations of architecture and then be able to choose a specialization.

Curriculum typically includes courses on: 

  • Intro to design
  • Visual representation and drawing
  • Fundamentals of architecture design
  • Housing
  • Urban design
  • Computer technology
  • Energy and environment
  • Acoustics
  • Construction materials

7. Urban Studies- 3.35 GPA

An urban studies major teaches the fundamentals of urban spaces including economic development, civic citizenship, culture, and design. It prepares grads for jobs in urban planning, law, non-profit management, and public policy.

Curriculum typically includes courses on:

  • City Planning
  • Economic analysis
  • Urbanization in developing countries
  • Sustainability
  • History of planning
  • Transportation
  • Housing, planning, and policy
  • Data science

8. Chemical Engineering- 3.37 GPA

degree in chemical engineering prepares students to develop, design, and operate chemical products and processes for jobs in a variety of industries including; biochemical, semiconductor, nuclear, aerospace, plastics, etc. 

Curriculum typically includes courses on:

  • Calculus
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Materials science and engineering
  • Computer programming 
  • Process analysis

9. Materials Science and Engineering- 3.40 GPA

Materials science and engineers have an impact on all aspects of technology from the design of materials and packaging, to energy generation and construction materials.

Curriculum typically includes courses on:

  • Properties of materials
  • Transformations and kinetics
  • Bonding, crystallography, crystal defects
  • Corrosion
  • Materials production
  • Nanomaterials
  • Micromechanics
  • Computational materials science
  • Social Welfare- 3.43

10. Social Welfare- 3.43 GPA

A social welfare degree provides students with fundamental knowledge of America’s social welfare problems, social policies, and organized networks of public and private social services.

Curriculum typically includes courses on:

  • Introduction to American social welfare 
  • America’s social problems
  • Introduction to child welfare
  • Social welfare policy
  • Substance abuse
  • Race and ethnic relations
  • Domestic violence

5 Easiest College Majors by GPA

If you are looking for a major that is considered on the easier side in terms of average GPA and workload, you may want to consider one of the following.

Again, this is using research data from the University of California, Berkeley, which ranked its majors based on average GPA.

1. Art Practice- 3.73 GPA

A degree in art practice focuses on studio art, basics techniques and practices, and guided experimentation.

Curriculum typically includes courses on:

  • Visual thinking
  • Painting
  • Sculpting 
  • Ceramics
  • Printmaking
  • Graphic design
  • Moving image 
  • Digital photography

2. Operations Research- 3.69 GPA

The industrial engineering and operations research major prepares undergrads for technical careers in the production or service industry and engineer management.

Curriculum typically includes courses on:

  • Industrial and commercial data systems
  • Logistics network design and supply chain management
  • Linear programming and network flows
  • Decision analytics
  • Enterprise sales systems
  • Industrial design and human factors

3. Comparative Literature- 3.64 GPA

Comparative literature students study literature on a universal level and in its original native language, which builds a foundation of understanding of the written word from a historical and cultural aspect. 

Curriculum typically includes courses on:

  • Literary cultures
  • Literature of American cultures
  • Comparative literature
  • Modern Greek literature
  • Myth and literature
  • Reading and comprehension

4. Sustainable Environmental Design- 3.69 GPA

A degree in sustainable environmental design prepares students with technical, design, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills to help bring sustainable building and design to urban areas throughout the world.

Coursework typically includes:

  • Designing sustainability
  • Environmental science
  • Analytic geometry and calculus
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Geographic information systems
  • Planning for sustainability
  • Climate change economics

5. Public Health- 3.56 GPA

Students of public health learn about preventing disease and injury, and improving the health of those living in both urban and rural communities through quality healthcare practices.

Coursework often includes:

  • Epidemiology
  • Healthy people
  • Global health equity
  • Violence, social justice, and public health
  • Nutrition in developing countries
  • Biostatistics
  • SAS programming
  • Sociology of health and medicine
  • Biology
  • Plagues and pandemics

If you’re looking for schools based on majors offered, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!

Should I Choose a Difficult College Major?

What is considered difficult to some people may not be difficult to others, so you should choose your major based on your strengths, personal interests, and career goals. 

Curriculum and expectations can also vary from school to school, so it is important you find out what your school’s specific requirements are when it comes to:

  • Courses and materials required
  • Prerequisite classes
  • Internships
  • On-campus lab classes
  • Units required for graduation
  • Assigned reading and study hours
  • Presentations and projects

Do Difficult Majors Pay Better?

When choosing a degree that is considered hard work and time-consuming, many assume the pay-off would lead to more job opportunities and higher salaries. 

Depending on the field of study, demand for the profession, and potential earning power, there isn’t a guarantee that obtaining a degree in a hard major will result in a high paying salary, or job security.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports average median pay for careers stemming from the hardest majors outlined above include:

  • Median Salary: $73,230 
  • Median Salary: $129,850 
  • Median Salary: $108,540 
  • Median Salary: $98,230 
  • Median Salary: $82,320 
  • Median Salary: $126,930 

Source: BLS

Do Easy College Majors Pay Well?

Not all bachelor’s degrees lead to the job you desire as some majors require you to earn a master’s or even a doctorate degree to advance to a high-paying position. 

However, depending on the state of the economy, your networking abilities, and experience,  many majors that are considered easier than others can yield a higher than average salary. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports average median pay for careers stemming from the easiest majors:

  • Median Salary: $97,270 
  • Median Salary: $62,870 
  • Median Salary: $74,560 
  • Median Salary: $75,950 
  • Median Salary: $86,200 

Source: BLS

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