Most Difficult Major in College – Ranked by Millions of Students – In this article, I discuss how we can tell that some majors are more difficult than others.
Then I ranked college majors for difficulty based on millions of student opinions.

Most Difficult Major in College – Ranked by Millions of Students

Are Some Majors More Difficult than Others?

National surveys target students’ likelihood of learning sex by major and consistently find huge differences. In 2016, the average physics student studied 19 hours per week while sociology students studied 13 hours per week. This is a gap of 6 hours per week, in other words, physics students study about 50% more than sociology students.

The difference is not trivial – over 4 years, this translates to over 800 hours of study time. The surprising differences in this study are consistent across all years for which we have data.
One study showed that biology students performed better in subjects they took outside their own major, except in other STEM fields.

If grading standards were the same across majors, this would not happen (why would someone score worse in their preferred subject?), because they are, it tells us that biology is more difficult than non-STEM subjects .
Finally, non-STEM majors tend to have a higher average GPA than STEM majors. This is despite non-STEM majors spending less time studying than STEM majors.

Study Hours Are Not the Best Way to Measure Difficulty

To estimate the difficulty level of a course, we could just use weekly study hours, but there are some problems with this.

First, the time spent studying in groups likely counts. But if you’ve ever walked across campus, you know that study groups do involve groups, but little study. In other words, easier majors are able to spend their time inefficiently because they have a lot of free time. It’s Parkinson’s law at work and it makes study time a noisy measure of difficulty.

Second, just because a task takes a lot of time doesn’t mean it’s difficult. Architecture takes the number one slot in weekly study time every year. But this may be because of all the time it takes to draft. Presumably, once you know how to use the software and the architectural design rules, drawing your own isn’t difficult, just time consuming. The hard stuff tends to take longer, but not the same. In short, study time is a good indication of difficulty but has downsides.

Measuring Difficulty Using Student Difficulty Levels
Instead, I use the students’ own course difficulty ratings, which are generated when they rate the courses they have completed. In this ranking, students rate their course on a difficulty scale of 1-5. From this ranking, I get the difficulty of each major on a scale of 1-5.

This data has wide-ranging advantages. My difficulty rating is based on data I collect from over 200 universities, over 150,000 professors, and nearly 3 million student ratings, covering 118 majors.

I validated that these difficulty ratings correspond to reality. For example, the list below shows that STEM majors do indeed have the highest level of difficulty, as we would expect. Also, difficult majors tend to study more. In short – the student difficulty rating seems pretty accurate.

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