As a higher level of education, degree programmes are generally considered harder than most previous forms of education. This is often due to the increased depth and complexity of the courses. While this can apply to all degree subjects, it can also mean that particular ones are much harder. In this article, we’ll take a look at which ones are considered the hardest. Knowing how challenging a degree is may help you decide which course you would like to take.
You may also find one of our other articles listed below helpful in aiding your decision.
Disclaimer: The ranking of the degree subjects in this list is not definitive. Every student will have individual strengths and weaknesses, and so will find some subjects more challenging than others. Additionally, judgements about the hardest degrees depend on the criteria that it is based on. Please keep in mind that the list here is formed of opinions which are based on polling. Although you may want to take them into account when choosing your degree subject, you should also think about what your specific skills are and what it is that interests you when choosing your degree.
Hardest university degrees: Student Perception
Below you can find the visualisation of university degree difficulty rankings (top – hardest, bottom – 13ᵗʰ hardest).
(*) Difficulty perception represents the proportion of students who voted that specific degree as the hardest university degree during our polling. You can learn more about how we collected this data as the end of the article.
Walkthrough of the university degree difficulty rankings
Continue reading to learn more about what students consider the 10 hardest degree subjects. This section will give you the ranking and a brief explanation as to why students may think this.
10. Veterinary Medicine
4.13% of the poll considered a degree in Veterinary Medicine as the hardest undergraduate degree. This puts it in 10th place, being only slightly above Biochemistry in 11th place with 3.19% of the poll.
A Veterinary Medicine Degree teaches students about animals, the diseases they may get and how to treat these. Similarly, to a Medicine degree, a Veterinary Medicine degree will typically last 5 years and trains students for the role of a vet. This also means that upon completing the qualification, students will already be qualified to practise veterinary surgery.
Students may find a Veterinary Medicine degree one of the most difficult for a variety of reasons. However, a common reason seems to be due to how intense the course is. This is because across the different universities, there is an average of 26 teaching hours, which is 12 hours more than the average across all degree subjects.
To learn more about this, check out this page by the Uni Guide. For more on a Medicine Degree, stay tuned until #1 on this ranking.
6.57% of the poll considered a degree in Economics as the hardest undergraduate degree, putting it in 9th place (or joint 8th place with Astrophysics as they both got the same results).
When studying economics, students learn about how money is controlled. This is particularly from the lens of the entire economy of a continent, country or city and the problems it may face, such as with unemployment or inflation as well as from the smaller scale of how individuals or businesses control their money.
At undergraduate level, a degree in Economics is an incredibly vast subject and you may take modules on econometrics, economic policy, legal studies, banking, global finance, international trade and much more. While this can make it more varied and engaging, it may also make students perceive it as more difficult due to being more overwhelming.
Certain Economics degree programmes will require you to have a strong mathematical background. Due to this, Economics may also be considered one of the hardest degrees due to how quite complex mathematical skills are integrated into the degree alongside more theory or fact-based content. To learn more about what may be taught on an Economics degree, check out this page by LSE.
6.57% of the poll considered a degree in Astrophysics as the hardest undergraduate degree, putting it in 8th place (joint with Economics as the same proportion of the poll considered these the hardest).
In an Astrophysics degree, students develop their knowledge of physics and learn about how this can be applied to astronomical objects and astrophysical systems. Students may also be able to take specific modules in cosmology, space time and gravity, stars and stellar evolution, and even galaxies.
Due to this, students may consider a degree in Astrophysics as one of the hardest degree subjects due to the complexity of the course. This is because the course applies both mathematical and physics skills to astronomy, with which much less is known, especially as astronomical discoveries are still being made.
7. Computer Science
6.94% of the poll considered a degree in Computer Science as the hardest undergraduate degree. This narrowly puts it into 7th place, with less than 1% more than both Astrophysics and Economics degrees.
In a Computer Science degree, students learn about computer systems, including how they work and how to design their own with programming languages. Students may take modules that allow them to learn about artificial intelligence, software engineering, algorithms, quantum computing and machine learning. To learn more about these potential modules, check out this page by the University of Birmingham.
A degree in Computer Science may be considered one of the hardest due to the complexity of this content. Students may also struggle with it as the course is highly technical and may require students to be very skilled in both computing and mathematics to access it properly. To learn more about the course, check out this page by The Uni Guide.
7.5% of the poll considered a degree in Maths as the hardest undergraduate degree, putting it in 6th place. This once again is only rather narrowly, being less than 1% more than the Computer Science’s poll results.
In a Maths degree, students develop their mathematical skills and learn how to apply the individual analytical and statistical skills to real world scenarios and other fields that have a mathematical basis. For example, students may have the option to study modules that would more typically be seen in a Computer Science degree, such as programming, or even more scientific topics, such as electromagnetism.
Due to this, students may consider a degree in Maths one of the hardest degree subjects due to the complexity and the vastness of the degree. Also, students are given the opportunity to specialise more in specific areas of maths that they are interested in, which may increase how difficult students find the course as it is more in-depth study.
5. Chemical Engineering
9.94% of the poll considered a degree in Chemical Engineering as the hardest undergraduate degree. This puts it in 5th place with quite a substantial proportion more of the vote considering it the hardest.
Chemical engineering is all about converting one substance into another, this includes processes that are important in industries, such as oil and gas, electronics, and plastic. Students may take modules in areas, such as thermodynamics and fluid dynamics, particle technology, reaction engineering, engineering law and process intensification.
By design, a degree in Chemical Engineering is challenging and so it may be considered one of the hardest degree subjects due to the complexity of the content. This is because students will need to have strong basis in a range of scientific and mathematical fields, including physics, which you may not quite expect from the name.
Also, as the Chemical Engineering degree is highly practical, students may consider it one of the hardest subjects due to being rather full on. To learn more about the difficulties of a Chemical Engineering degree, check out this guide by UCAS. For more on the course itself and what modules you may be able to take, check out this page by the University of Southampton.
4. Aerospace Engineering
10.88% of the poll considered a degree in Aerospace Engineering as the hardest undergraduate degree, putting it in 4th place.
In an Aerospace Engineering degree, students study the science and technology involved in designing, analysing, manufacturing and operating equipment, such as spacecraft or aircraft. Students may take modules in areas such as aerodynamics, aerospace systems designing, aero-propulsion, avionics, spaceflight and many more. To learn more about the modules that students can potentially study, check out this page by UWE Bristol.
Due to this, students may find the Aerospace Engineering degree one of the hardest as it has very academically advanced content. This is especially as the Aerospace Engineering degree combines different scientific fields, such as mathematics, physics and engineering, and then builds on these to become even more specialised. To learn more about Aerospace Engineering degrees and why they may be considered difficult, check out this guide by The Uni Guide.
11.07% of the poll considered a degree in Architecture as the hardest undergraduate degree. This narrowly puts it in 3rd place with less than 1% more of the vote considering it hardest than for Aerospace Engineering.
In an Architecture degree, students develop their design skills, while also learning about the contextual factors behind designs, such as due to certain aspects of culture, history or technology. Students may be able to take modules in areas of architectural design and technology, with many of these being practical. To learn more about what may be studied in an Architecture degree, check out this page by Newcastle University.
An Architecture degree may be considered one of the hardest due to it being very intense. This is due to the amount of practical work students have to do and how time consuming it can be.
Also, students may consider it difficult and intense as there are many different elements to an Architecture degree, such as art, design, construction, history, business and the theories behind it all. To learn more about the reasons students may find it hard, check out this article by Successful Archi Student.
12.01% of the poll considered a degree in Law as the hardest undergraduate degree, putting it in 2nd place.
In a qualifying Law degree, a Bachelor of Laws degree or LLB, students study the necessary legal practices and concepts that will enable them to practise the law for themselves. However, in a different type of Law degree, students will study legal concepts in an academic way rather than to qualify as a lawyer themselves. In this case, the LLB Law degree is likely what is considered as the 2nd hardest degree subject.
This is because a qualifying Law degree can be very intense. This is especially due to the extent of the workload, the gap between doing this degree and A-Levels or Highers and the amount of reading you have to do.
18.2% of the poll considered a degree in Medicine or Dentistry as the hardest undergraduate degree. This puts it into 1st place with a significant proportion more of the vote than any other degree subject on this list.
While separate degrees, in both a Medicine or Dentistry degree, students will typically undertake a 5-year course, training to become doctors or dentists. A Medicine degree will enable you to learn about good medical practice, how to deal with emergency situations and more how to recognise, investigate and diagnose different medical conditions. In a Dentistry degree, students learn about improving people’s oral health, including diagnosing and treating conditions, as well as about the cosmetic aspects of dentistry.
Both Medicine and Dentistry degrees are incredibly difficult to get into as they will require you to not only have very good grades but also to have done work experience, an entry test and attend an interview before properly considering your application. Due to needing students to be at a certain level before applying, students may feel that Medicine and Dentistry are the hardest degrees as the starting point is so high.
Also, students may consider these degrees as the hardest due to them both being very full-on and intensive. This is because the contact hours are higher than the average and students will also have to do clinical placements.
To learn more about Dentistry degrees, check out this guide by UCAS and this guide by The Uni Guide. For more on Medicine degrees, check out this guide by The Uni Guide and this page by Imperial College London.
How were these rankings decided?
Over the past few years, we’ve asked students what their opinion is on the hardest university degree. When we refer to student polling, we are referencing the results of these polls. If you wish to add your vote to the list, please navigate to the questionnaire below.
How was the polling data collected?
Between February 2021 and December 2022, we displayed a poll to our readers which prompted them to vote on which university degree they thought was the hardest. Within this timeframe, we collected 533 votes, excluding submissions that were disregarded from the data set due to formatting issues or other errors.
Listed below are some key limitations of our polling methods that could’ve swayed results:
- Static ordering of subjects on voting form: A previous iteration of our survey form listed university degrees in the same order each time. It could be argued that this would favour the subjects that were listed at the top. This issue has been fixed in our updated voting form below.
- Voting form displayed only a subset of university degree subjects: Previously, only a small selection of university degree subjects was displayed on the survey. We have since expanded the size of this selection on the voting form.
- Potential bad actors: Despite having anti-spam software in place, it is possible repeated entries were made by single individuals. With respect to privacy, we don’t ask for more information than we need and as a result, it is almost impossible to identify submission users to check if they are unique.
This article is a member of a series of university degree ranking articles listed on this site. If you find our data and analysis within this article helpful, you may also wish to take a look at this Think Student article which will tell you all about the university degrees that are considered the easiest.