7 Hardest College Majors: 2023 Guide With Salaries

During their studies, students are responsible for choosing majors at least once; some students change their majors numerous times. Either way, the college major decision-making is one of the most crucial moments of the college study.

The choice of the major usually affects the outcomes of one’s college study in the first place and may affect their employment later in life. The choice of the major field, the timing of the decision, as well as potential changes in the decision all impact a student’s graduation, degree completion, and, of course, the cost of college attendance.

Moreover, the major a student chooses can also play an essential role in the rest of one’s academic path.

That is why we’re going to take a look at some of the hardest college majors.

The classification of these majors is based solely on the time they take to prepare for and complete, as well as how they affect student’s college study as a whole. These majors surely affect the degree completion time as well as the cost of college.

But, before we take a look at the list, let’s briefly go over the factors which make a certain college major hard;

  • First of all, it is important to state that a certain major might be hard for one student, and easy for the other; there is no particular criterion to determine which majors are hard for all the students, but some factors do apply to the vast majority.
  • The number of hours students spend on preparation for the class in a certain major (per week) can be one of the determinants; the longer a class requires students to study (do homework as well as additional reading, writing and research), the harder the major.
  • If the course load is heavy, chances are that the major is difficult. Some students spend even up to 30 hours a week in class, doing homework, reading, writing and practicing.
  • If the subjects or the material tackled in courses are difficult for students to tackle, understand and learn, then that particular major is difficult.
  • And, of course, if a student isn’t passionate about the field of study, surely enough a particular major will be difficult for them.

More you should know as well:

1. Architecture Major

Architecture Major
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Architecture major is currently the hardest college major in the US. A study conducted by Indiana University (National Study of Student Engagement) has shown some of the reasons why major in architecture is so difficult. For example, students of architecture spend on average 22 hours a week handling the workload from each of the classes.

They constantly work on new projects and have to balance the workload. During their projects, they constantly have to go back and forth with different project aspects (design, planning, sections, axonometrics, physical and computer models) in order to know whether the project will work in the end. And then, after architecture students graduate, they have to deal with (un)employment.

Even though the demand for architects grows every year, still more than half of the architects are self-employed and earn on average $100,000 (median salary being around $70,000). It is, however, believed that the demand for architects will increase significantly in the next decade, with the demand for modern architecture becoming more and more widespread.

2. Chemical Engineering Major

Chemical Engineering Major
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One of the hardest college majors, alongside architecture, is definitely chemical engineering. According to the aforementioned study (by Indiana University), chemical engineering students spend approximately 19 hours per week balancing out the workload, preparing for class (which includes homework, extra reading, writing, and research) and lab practicing.

Moreover, the chemical engineering major comprises some of the hardest classes, including physics, chemistry, heavy math, OChem, PChem, Thermo, heat and mass transfer, reaction engineering, etc.

The list of the classes and subjects goes on and on, so no wonder it takes so many hours for the students to just prepare for the classes (not taking into consideration the time it takes to, for example, study for an exam).

When it comes to employment, it is a good thing that the demand for chemical engineers is slowly but steadily growing. Moreover, the median annual salary is around $100,000, and it is expected to increase over the course of the next decade.

3. Aero and Astronautical Engineering Major

Aero and Astronautical Engineering Major
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If there is another college major deserving of the nickname ‘the hardest college major’, then it is the aerospace and astronautical engineering major. Just like the chemical engineering students, the aero- and astronautical engineering students have to spend approximately 19 hours a week studying, preparing for classes and balancing out the workload.

One of the reasons this major is so difficult lies in the fact that it is especially broad, deep and covers numerous areas of math, physics, and even chemistry. There are also numerous fluid courses that can rely on detailed calculations, heavy reliance on advanced math physics.

Of course, since these students are future rocket and plane builders, the academic requirements are extremely high and detailed. When it comes to employment, aerospace engineers are in a semi-increasing demand. Only 2% of demand increase is predicted in the next decade. Moreover, the salary for such a career is around $115,000 annually.

4. Biomedical Engineering Major

Biomedical Engineering Major
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Even though we’re in the fourth place, we’re still dealing with one of the most difficult college majors; this one is biomedical engineering. This interdisciplinary study field requires students to be knowledgeable in both engineering and medicine.

Hence the required hours of studying, preparing and balancing out of the workload, which usually revolve around 18 to 19 hours per week. Biomedical engineering is a vast field of study, utilizing concepts like chemical engineering, physics, computer science, electrical engineering, material science, and biology.

Students need to be able to tackle successfully each of the mentioned concepts and fields in order to become biomedical engineers. The major is definitely not easy and moreover, it is rather challenging and demanding.

When it comes to employment, it is believed that the demand for biomedical engineers will increase by 4% in the next decade.

When it comes to the salary, the median, annual salary is $88,550; however, if a biomedical engineer works in the pharmaceutical industry or research and development, they can expect a median annual salary of $94,800.

5. Physics Major

Physics Major
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The majors on this list are not getting easier; physics is also one of the hardest college majors students can choose. An average physics student needs to spend around 18 hours a week studying, doing homework, tackling other workload and general understanding of everything physics.

Physics is not just about memorizing formulas, it is the way someone observes, perceives and understands things and their relation in time and space. So, physics is a perfect mixture of problem-solving skills, math, logic, intuition, and much more.

That is why students need to balance out their learning of formulas with other areas of their knowledge and abilities. Physics is also very practical, so students spend a lot of time on the practical part of the classes.

When it comes to employment, it is safe to say that the demand for physicists will increase by around 9% in the next decade.

Currently, physicists earn an average annual salary of $115,000, but some physicists in research and development can earn more on average (around $131,000).

6. Medicine Major

Medicine Major
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Of course, this list would not be complete without medicine; getting a degree in medicine is one of the hardest, time-consuming, costly things a student can choose to do.

For starters, a medical student will spend around 18 hours per week studying, sometimes, even more, depending on the field. Hard work and constant dedication to studying and development are indispensable in medicine.

Students are always under pressure and in a never-ending cycle of learning and practicing. Medicine is basically one of the hardest courses to get into, and also the hardest course to succeed in.

Many students give up and change majors, but those who stay have to dedicate at least 10 to 15 years of their life to become doctors. Those who choose medicine are extremely passionate about it, so if you have the slightest doubt, choose another major and save yourself the money and time.

When it comes to employment, it is important to mention that the demand for physicians and surgeons is on the rise of 7%.

Moreover, the salary varies depending on the medical specialty; an internist, for example, earns an average of $264,000 annually, while surgeons can earn $536,000 annually.

Read More14 Easiest Medical Schools to Get Into

7. Petroleum Engineering Major

Petroleum Engineering Major
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The fact that more than half of students fail the first-year courses shows how hard the petroleum engineering major is. Just like any engineering major, petroleum engineering requires students to study approximately 17 to 18 hours per week.

This many hours take to prepare for all the classes and stay in line with the courses and material. In petroleum engineering, students need to learn all about the extraction and production of natural gas and oil.

This field of study is quite extensive and wide, requiring knowledge in chemistry, physics, petrophysics, geomechanics, calculus, environment, and much more. This field of study is rather demanding and time-consuming, but many believe also not really worthy of all the hard work.

This, of course, is referred to the employment rate. With the constant rise of the environment-friendly alternatives to oil and gas, the employment rate for petroleum engineers is lower than average, around 3%.

Nevertheless, the salary rate is still doing good; the annual average salary for a petroleum engineer is $153,000, while the median salary in petroleum and coal production is between $123,000 and $134,000 (all depending on the manufacturer and employment position).

Also Read: Is Oil &  Gas Production a Good Career Path (The Pros and Cons of a Lucrative Career Path)


Let’s be honest, any college major is hard if a student is not disciplined and passionate about a particular field of study.

Of course, the above-mentioned college majors are particularly hard due to the required class preparation time, hard work and dedication. And, of course, not everyone can be a doctor, a petroleum engineer or an architect.

The world would be so dull if we all were super smart and majoring in these fields of study.

For those who want to pursue careers in such majors, we hope the information presented was useful. And, even though there are the hardest college majors, remember that the hard work always pays off.

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