5 Hardest Engineering Major and Why (2021 Updated)

Engineering is a complex and fascinating field. Engineers use math and physics to solve problems in our everyday lives. There are tens of different specializations in engineering. Some of them simpler than others.

You can pick between many engineering majors. It all depends on what you want to do in your life.

Perhaps you are more interested in building infrastructure. In that case, you’d do well by picking a major in civil engineering. Or maybe you want to design software, in that case, you should pick a major in software engineering.

There is no right or wrong choice.  

In this article, you are going to learn which engineering majors are the hardest, and why they are so hard.

Before getting into the article though, a word of warning. Don’t just pick a major because you think it’s easy or not. Difficulty is relative to your passions and aspirations. You could pick the easiest major in the world and fail because you don’t care about the subject.

Ponder your strengths, interests, and vision for the future. You can complete a hard program even as a mediocre student if you put in the required effort. It’s all about you.

What Makes a Major Harder than Others?

Difficulty is subjective for the most part. But there are objective factors we can analyze to decide which majors are harder than others.

There are also factors that aren’t 100% objective, but give us great insight on how hard the major is. For example, how many people actually graduate from each major.

Level of Abstraction

With abstraction we are referring to things that aren’t grasped naturally by our brains. Advanced math and physics are usually the courses that prove to be the most challenging for aspiring engineers. There’s a lot to learn, and it’s something most people don’t understand at all.

When picking the hardest majors, we analyzed how many courses deal with abstract concepts. Generally, the more advanced math and physics courses are required, the more difficult the major will be.

Another thing with abstraction is that you can’t easily visualize what will happen when you work. Take something a bit easier like civil engineering: you know how your project will turn out through your inputs.

Now consider an electrical engineer. You can’t really see electricity, and you can’t always expect to have direct access to something’s circuitry. You’ll have to rely on your theoretical knowledge and a lot of creative thinking to solve problems as an electrical engineer.

What you Work with

This is partially related to the above point about levels of abstraction. The materials and environments you are going to work with impact how hard your job will be.

I’ll take the civil engineering example again to explain what I mean. A civil engineer works for the most part with common materials. The results of combining them are predictable.

Now consider a chemical engineer. Your mind might conjure up the image of a mad scientist creating a hellish mixture amidst fuming alembics. Or maybe you might think about an extremely popular TV series about a certain chemistry professor using his chemical knowledge to cook meth.

Mixing chemical elements like that requires a lot of knowledge about advanced math and chemistry. It’s way more complex than figuring out how to build a house.

Where the Work will be Used

This is another important point to consider. Let’s mix things up, civil engineering is overused.

Take an environmental engineer. Their job is necessary and they are in huge demand. It’s not easy to be a good environmental engineer, but they are dealing with known quantities. They know what happens with pollution or waste disposal, and they have a general idea about what to do to improve the situation.

Now compare them with an aerospace engineer. Flying rockets in space is cool, but you can imagine it’s something infinitely more complex than what an environmental engineer is dealing with. Space is completely different from the earth, and physics get even harder when the atmosphere starts thinning (or is completely absent).

Your Interest in it

This isn’t a follow-your-passion type of advice. It’s an objective fact. If you don’t care about the engineering major you picked, you are going to struggle completing it. Unless you are some sort of genius. If that’s the case, congratulations. You are an exquisite mind.

But for most people out there, making this kind of choice isn’t as easy. Pick a major that interests you. I can’t tell you more than that. If you are passionate about the course material, you’ll do fine.

Pick a field you hate, and you’re going to hate every day of your life while you study. It’s a recipe for disaster. Don’t do it.

The 5 Hardest Engineering Major

Making this list was hard. It’s not that there are no hard engineering majors, it’s that they are all pretty damn hard. Even those perceived as easiest by the general public will still challenge anyone who enrolls in them.

Editor’s note: the items on this list are in no particular order. All of these majors are extremely hard. They require hard work and dedication.

1. Electrical Engineering

Most people agree that electrical engineering is easily among the hardest majors. Electrical engineers deal with a lot of abstract concepts, and electricity in itself is not something we understand in a natural way.

This major prepares you with extremely advanced math and physics courses. You’ll also require creative thinking to succeed in the field.

What makes EE so hard is its level of abstraction. You don’t really see electricity, and you can’t easily visualize what’s going to happen through your inputs. You don’t see magnetic fields and how they react, you can’t see radio signals, and you can’t see how electricity travels through cables.

You have to learn these things on a theoretical level, and then apply that knowledge to your work.

If you want, you can go even deeper, and specialize in a subcategory of electrical engineering, like radio-frequency engineering.

One thing is certain: electrical engineering is a complex topic, and it’ll take a lot of hard work and study to get a degree. But it’s worth it if you have an interest in the field. Electrical engineers are sought after, and with electricity becoming the world’s biggest energy source, you can expect the demand to go up in the future.

2. Computer Engineering

Computer engineering is related to electrical engineering, but it focuses on developing computer hardware and software and make sure they communicate correctly.

Personal computers are only a part of what a computer engineer works on. You might work on exciting projects such as creating computer circuitry, motherboards, or processors. Or maybe you might even work on supercomputers.

Ever heard of quantum computing? That’s the kind of projects you can work on with a computer engineering degree.

But hardware is only part of what you can do as a computer engineer. You also create firmware and software for computers and other electronics. You make sure what you create works in the intended way.

This major is hard because it requires excellent math knowledge, and also a knack for working with computers and electrical components.

3. Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace engineers specialize in creating stuff that flies. Or that attempts to fly anyway. The more advanced ones concern themselves with making things that go into space (and that hopefully come back intact).

Oh, and you know, weapons. Missiles, assault helicopters, that kind of stuff. The potential is there, but of course you can choose not to work with a military organization if you don’t like war.

What makes aerospace engineering so hard? The vast amount of information you must know to perform your job. You’ll see this point applying to every major on this list. There is a lot of stuff to know, and most of it is obscure and complex for our brain to grasp.

As an aerospace engineer, you’ll learn a lot about how fluids interact with certain materials. And yes, air is a fluid. That’s what aerodynamics is all about. By improving our understanding of dynamics, you can make our transportation more efficient.

Or you could build the rocket that gets us to a galaxy far, far away. You might be a crucial element of our space colonization. How cool is that?

4. Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering might be the hardest major on this list, purely because it combines engineering’s most complex knowledge with chemistry.

Chemistry is a vast field. We suggest specializing in a category that interests you. Perhaps you want to work on developing new medicine, then you should focus on pharmaceuticals.

Or you want to improve packaging and make our world more sustainable. If that’s the case, you could specialize in plastic and other materials.

Maybe you love food. Chemical engineers will become more important in the food industry, especially with things like vegan burgers entering the mainstream. They also research and create pesticides that keep plants healthy.

Chemical engineers make a huge impact on our everyday lives, and they’ll become progressively more essential with time.

What makes chemical engineering hard is the combination of abstraction and theoretical knowledge required to perform your job. You are dealing with the essence of life. You need a strong grasp on the typical engineering fundamentals such as math and physics, and compound them with chemistry.

5. Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineers are a weird mix of engineer and medic. They specialize in biology and how to create stuff that cures patients.

When you see those weird machines in hospitals that save so many lives, they are the work of a biomedical engineer. You can imagine how complicated making that stuff is.

But biomedical engineers also design things like artificial limbs and organs. They are extremely important because they save lives and improve them greatly.

Biomedical engineering is hard because you are mixing complex math with biology. You’re also creating something that seems to defy the laws of nature. You need to know how the human body works, and what happens when it doesn’t. You must then design systems that get it back to working normally.

It’s even harder, because you are working directly with humans. Getting things wrong as a chemical engineer is no biggie (unless you blow up your laboratory, but that’s another story). But you can’t make mistakes as a biomedical engineer designing an artificial organ.

Much like chemical engineers, biomedical engineering is hard precisely because you are studying so many different things together. It’s not as focused as, say, an electrical engineering degree. You’ll be more of a jack-of-all-trades, since you must take classes on many different engineering topics.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects biomedical engineers and bioengineers’ employment to grow by 5% in the next 10 years, the highest value on this list. The other majors on this list have a three or four percent growth projected for the next 10 years.

Conclusions

The majors on this list are by far the hardest ones you can enroll to. They combine advanced engineering topic like complex math and physics with unrelated subjects. If learning the advanced math and physics by themselves was already hard, imagine applying them to another complex field.

Finishing a major in any of the majors listed will open up many doors for your future career. You’ll learn so much you’ll most likely be able to find work even in fields that are only tangentially related to your field.

You’ll have such a high level of understandings of complex topics that you’ll succeed in most other fields purely because of your advanced education.

What do you need to succeed as a major in these fields? Hard work is the baseline, but hard work can only come if you are passionate about the topics you are studying. If you pick a major in a field you don’t care about, you’ll end up becoming miserable and hating your life.

Now that you know what engineering majors are the hardest and why, you can plan your future career more easily. You know that by signing up for these majors you’ll acquire a rare skillset.

Naturally, the major’s difficulty also depends on what school you decide to attend. Graduating from a college like MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or Stanford is harder than, say, graduating from Virginia Tech. It’s also way harder to get into the former.

Some employers don’t care where you graduated from, but many do. However, since the professions linked to these degrees are in such huge demand, you’ll be fine regardless of where you study. As long as your degree comes from an accredited school, you’ll be fine.

What are you waiting for? Pick your major today, and set yourself up for a lifetime of success.

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