The Hardest Degrees In The World [Updated July 2023]

Today we look at some of the hardest degrees in the world. While what’s hard may be a matter of perspective – because what’s difficult for one, may not be for another, there are some degrees that are generally accepted as being the hardest ones.

This list is not meant to deter or demotivate in any way, but to ensure you enter the field mentally prepared for what’s coming your way.

So, in this article, we will be looking at

Would you earn more if you study one of the toughest courses in the world?

In school, we all have argued over which subject or which exam was harder than the others. (I was a kid who found PT the hardest.) We all have strengths and weaknesses. Some might have an aptitude for logic while some might be oriented toward languages or humanities. Then, how does one come to a consensus on this?

We begin with a disclaimer. There is no authoritative answer to this question. One cannot scientifically or objectively prove that ‘X’ is the most difficult course. However, based on the efforts that each course demands and popular student opinion, we can get a sense of some of the most challenging courses in today’s academia.

Incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding? Yes. Does it translate proportionally in terms of compensation? The answer is both yes and no. There are a number of factors at play here. The one thing we can tell you for sure is, over the years, with more experience, your return on investment is going to be great. You will be at the top of your field, carving a niche for yourself. Will you start at a higher pay grade, compared to the graduates of the other courses? That also depends on the university you graduate from, your academic performance, and what other skills you have to offer.

What is the Hardest Degree in the Guinness World Record?

The hardest degree in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records is none! Nope, we aren’t pulling your leg. Here’s the story.

If you look up “most difficult degree” or any variant of it, Google will throw a bunch of websites at you that claim that the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the toughest course, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

However, when you dig into the official website of Guinness, there is no record of such an award ever being given out. The reason is simple. Guinness awards are based on objective measurements. The difficulty is not something that can be objectively measured. The BSN course being associated with this tag is a result of a poll conducted on social media.

So, there is no official course called the hardest degree in the world. That does not go on to say that nursing is easy. In fact it is one of the courses listed below.

What are the most difficult university degrees in the world?

There is a set of criteria we look at, to determine why certain courses are tagged tougher. We look at the sheer volume of knowledge a student has to assimilate + the effort put in to shine academically + the number of applicants worldwide + the interdisciplinary features + the skill sets required + popular student opinion. Based on that, the toughest degrees are:

  • 15. Foreign Languages
  • 14. Psychology
  • 13. Statistics
  • 12. Chemistry
  • 11. Physics
  • 10. Engineering
  • 09. Mathematics
  • 08. Chartered Accountancy
  • 07. Astrophysics
  • 06. Quantum Mechanics
  • 05. Law
  • 04. Aerospace/ Aeronautical Studies, Engineering
  • 03. Biomedical Studies, Neurosciences, Biochemistry
  • 02. Nursing
  • 01. Dentistry, Medicine

15. Foreign Languages

Learning a foreign language is challenging for many reasons. You are not simply learning a second language but also the culture, lifestyle and even the history of a land that is completely foreign to you. Research also shows that studying a foreign language enhances memory, lateral and critical thinking abilities, and builds an aptitude for problem-solving. In today’s globalized world, we are not limited by the borders of our nations. Knowledge of a foreign language and its literature helps you find better footing as a global citizen.

Here are the top 5 foreign language choices for 2023.

  • Chinese (Mandarin): About 1.2 billion people in the world speak the language and China is one of the centers of the world economy.
  • Spanish: Over 550 million people in the world speak Spanish. About 12% of the U.S. population uses Español at home. A knowledge of Spanish will allow you to travel or live comfortably in Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, and large parts of the South American Continent.
  • Korean: With Korea’s increasing presence in the global political, economic and cultural spheres, learning Korean will also increase your chances of finding employment opportunities abroad.
  • French: French is the second most widely learned foreign language after English. Due to the imperial history of the world, French continues to be one of the official languages of 29 different countries.
  • German: One of the powerhouses of the European economy, Germany is also a global education hub, especially when it comes to STEM disciplines. So, the knowledge of German will open up a world of possibilities for you.

Career Options:

If the foreign language is your primary subject of study, then you can make your career as a translator, interpreter or working in an embassy. However, if you manage to learn a foreign language, in addition to a professional course, you can even see yourself heading international departments of organizations or rising through the ranks in the hospitality industry.

Typical Duration:

There is nothing typical about the language learning process. Research shows that you need about 480 hours and 2200 hours of language study and practice. It ultimately depends on what level of mastery you are aiming to achieve.

14. Psychology

A scientific study of an abstract concept called the human mind, psychology particularly looks at human behavior and personality. This subject gives us an in-depth insight into the diversity of human experience. While it is a vast field with numerous specializations, you are expected to at least familiarize yourself with the scientific, biological and social aspects of it. Be it evolution, the structure of the human brain, cognitive functions or social anthropology, all of them have a direct impact on the functioning of the human mind. Therefore, the academic expectations are set quite high.

Not just with the learning process, but in terms of career, a degree in psychology requires you to have good communication and people skills, since it primarily involves dealing with people and their stories.

Career Options:

Psychologist, Therapist, Social Worker, Forensic Psychologist, the specializations and options are endless.

Typical Duration:

An undergraduate degree is usually 3 or 4 years long while a Master’s Degree in Psychology is 2 years.

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

Harvard University, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Stanford University and UCL, London. (Top 5 from QS Rankings 2023)

13. Statistics

Data collection and analysis can appear deceptively simple but statistics is one of the most difficult courses to pursue. In simple terms, statistics is the study of data wherein you determine and analyze the different aspects of it using mathematical principles. The concept in itself is hard to grasp, but at the post-secondary higher education level, the academic expectations are quite rigorous. Complex formulas and tables are at the core of statistics. Moreover, you must also develop a working knowledge of calculus, linear algebra, and probability, strong computer science skills, and analytical and problem-solving skills.

Career Options:

Today’s world relies heavily on data, which means, as a statistician, you can find a career in practically any industry. Read our article on how statistics now runs the world, to get a better idea of career prospects.

Typical Duration:

A bachelor’s degree is usually 3 or 4 years long while a master’s degree is 2 years.

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Harvard University, University of California, Berkeley and University of Cambridge. (Top 5 QS Rankings)

12. Chemistry

For many students, right from middle school, chemistry has built a reputation of being scarily hard. Hence, it comes as no surprise that it finds a spot on this list. While the subject per se needs no introduction, the amount of time you are expected to schedule is quite high, compared to other subjects. In a week, you can expect about 10-12 lab hours, and 10-12 class hours plus the time spent on your own research and studying. You will also need to build competencies in mathematics and physics since they cannot be categorically separated, especially when it comes to experiments.

Career Options:

Starting from academic research, all the way to toxicology, careers abound in this fundamental science discipline. Your specialization can even help you become an environmental and safety specialist. Here’s our take on studying chemistry.

Typical Duration:

An undergraduate degree is usually 3 or 4 years long while a master’s degree is 2 years.

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

Harvard, M.I.T, University of Cambridge, Stanford, University of Oxford (Top 5 QS Rankings)

11. Physics

As a concept, Physics is quite intriguing. Imagine, one discipline that can explain the functioning of the universe, all the way till the nanoscopic subatomic particles and electromagnetic waves. If physics were a story, it would certainly be a bestseller. However, when you are pursuing it as an academic discipline, you jump into a world of complex theories and mathematical formulas that you will wrack your brain to understand. Unless you are truly passionate about it, the sheer volume of the discipline can get daunting.

Career Options:

What can you do with a degree in physics? Read our answer, here.

Typical Duration:

An undergraduate degree is usually 3 or 4 years long while a master’s degree is 2 years.

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

M.I.T, Harvard, University of Oxford, Stanford, and University of Cambridge (Top 5 QS Rankings)

10. Engineering

If pure science courses of physics and chemistry have made it into this list, then it is natural that the application of sciences to design products and services is also difficult. By its very nature engineering is multidisciplinary. In addition to the specialization of your choice, you must be adept in mathematics, logic, and computer science to design the world that we live in. Of all the engineering degrees, here are the ones considered most difficult.

  • Petroleum Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering

Career Options:

With the plethora of opportunities engineering offers, career prospects are endless. You can delve into our articles on engineering here.

Typical Duration:

A typical engineering undergraduate course is 4 years long.

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

M.I.T, Stanford, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and UCB (Top 5 QS Ranking)

09. Mathematics

There is a joke that has been going around that says that math was really cute until the alphabet appeared. However, if you find yourself drawn to it, despite the English alphabet and then the greek alphabet, then maybe, this is the course for you.

At the higher education level, mathematics is a tough course because it involves a lot of abstract ideas and new developments that push the borders of the discipline almost every day. Moreover, being a math major does not mean learning pure math anymore. Interdisciplinary studies are the way ahead. That means you will also be studying a great deal of computer science, some statistics, and data analysis.

Career Options:

From simple data entry to complex research positions, mathematics is integral to every field in that you can find yourself working in any industry of your choosing.

Typical Duration:

A bachelor’s degree is usually 3 or 4 years long while a master’s degree is 2 years.

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

M.I.T, Cambridge, Stanford, University of Oxford and Harvard (Top 5 QS Rankings)

08. Chartered Accountancy

Chartered Accountancy or CA is an international accounting degree that is granted to a student typically after 3 years of accountancy degree plus 3-4 years of training. In the international platform, the accreditation from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is one of the hardest milestones to reach. You will develop a wide range of skills in accounting, auditing, finance, risk analysis, mathematics, computer science, and some facets of corporate law. So, hard work is the only way ahead. With the fate of entire businesses and organizations in your hand, there is little margin for error.

Note: The term CA is used in the U.K. and other commonwealth nations. In the U.S., the same is referred to as a CPA. It is not to be confused with the CA course in India, administered by the ICAI. The Indian CA course is tailor-made to suit Indian businesses and the legal systems. For an international qualification, you must look for a course accredited by ACCA. 

Career Options:

Auditor, Financial director, governmental positions in varied tax departments, consulting

Typical Duration:

3 years of degree plus 3-4 years of training

07. Astrophysics

This subfield of physics needs a separate mention as it brings together some of the most complex areas such as quantum mechanics, relativity, particle and atomic physics, cosmology, thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and calculus. Besides, the technology used to study the solar system is so advanced that technical knowledge is also absolutely essential. As a field, it is precision and detail-oriented. The scope of the study is so complex and vast which is why astrophysics has found its way into this list.

Career Options:

Research is one of the prime career options for a graduate of astrophysics.

Typical Duration:

A typical undergraduate degree is 3 years long.

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

M.I.T, Harvard, University of Oxford Stanford, and University of Cambridge (Top 5 QS Rankings)

06. Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics is a fundamental theory that integrates the principles of physics and mathematics to provide a description of the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. It can be applied in multiple fields since the scope of this discipline is to introspect the different forces in nature. The latest discovery of black holes or quantum computing is all a direct result of developments in this field. As a student of quantum mechanics, you should be well-versed in complex numbers, integral calculus, basic probability, functional integration and analysis, and much more.

Career Options:

Look into the fields of research, data sciences, and quantum computing for some pioneering career options.

Typical Duration:

A three-year undergraduate degree in physics plus a two-year master’s where you can specialize in QM.

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

M.I.T, Harvard, University of Oxford Stanford, and University of Cambridge (Top 5 QS Rankings)

05. Law

As a discipline, Law needs no introduction. The sheer volume of the subject matter is what makes law one of the toughest courses. Besides, it is not enough if you simply memorize the nitty gritty of a legislature. You must be capable of thinking on your feet, analyze quickly and drawing connections and precedents from different sections.

Typical Duration

Usually, a Law course is 3-5 years.

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

Harvard, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Yale University and Stanford (Top 5 from QS World University Rankings). The UK is a popular option for studying law when it comes to international education.

04. Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace studies or engineering is usually categorized into aeronautical (science and designs of building an aircraft) engineering, astronautical engineering (spacecraft and satellites), and avionics (electronics applied to aviation).

While it is filled with intrigue and cutting-edge technology, the requirements of the course are also highly demanding. You are expected to maintain a high GPA, before applying for any course. It is an extremely practical field and problem-solving skills are crucial. The pressure increases further when you realize that lives and millions of dollars for research are being invested in this field.

Career Options:

Since the field continues to be fairly niche, top performers are quickly absorbed into research and design-based roles.

Typical Duration:

4 years for an undergraduate course

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

M.I.T, Stanford, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and UCB. (Top 5 QS Ranking)

03. Biomedical studies, Biochemistry, Neurosciences

The intersections of healthcare and science or even healthcare and engineering through courses such as bioengineering or biomedical engineering bring together the complex worlds of the human body and its preservation along with the scientific rigor of engineering. In its ultimate goal to better healthcare, and, by extension, human life, these courses are always at the cutting edge of research, pushing borders to gain a better understanding of genetics, chemicals that help and harm, neural networks, cognition and so forth.

Career Options:

Read our articles on neurosciences and biomedical engineering to get a detailed idea of these courses.

Typical Duration:

3 or 4 years for an undergraduate college course

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

Harvard, Oxford, Johns Hopkins, M.I.T, Stanford (Top 5 QS rankings)

02. Nursing

A good nursing program will create an intensive and immersive atmosphere that will help you absorb the specifics of health and patient care. Nursing has challenging coursework in medical sciences, patient care, and lab management, and a career path that will require a long-term commitment and passion. In addition to harsh deadlines and the pressures of the job, you will also learn to unlearn unconscious biases and work towards the welfare of each patient.

Typical Duration:

Typically, it is 4 years with a 6-month internship

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

The University of Pennsylvania, King’s College, London, Johns Hopkins, University of Washington, and the University of Alberta (Top 5 QS rankings)

01. Medicine, Dentistry

There are multiple reasons why medicine and dentistry courses top this list.

  • The competition is fierce, both for enrollment in a medical school and in terms of career. The acceptance rate in universities is fairly low. (For instance, it is at around 12% at Oxford)
  • It is filled with challenging subjects and a vast curriculum.
  • The hours, be it as a student or as a practitioner, are long.
  • The amount of time you invest in training is extremely long, compared to any other course. There is typically two years of a foundation course, followed by two to three years of solid medical training. Then comes the specialist training that can take anywhere from 4 – 7 years.
  • The pressure of being directly responsible for human lives, especially in a post-pandemic medical burnout.

But, despite all the reasons why it is one of the toughest courses, it still remains one of the most popular courses. A career in medicine often becomes a vocation, rather than a profession.

Best Universities to pursue the degree:

Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, Johns Hopkins and Cambridge

How to get into the toughest courses in the world with TC Global?

Preparing to study abroad, especially if you are considering some of the hardest degrees in the world, can be overwhelming. There’s a lot to plan and consider. This is why it’s a great idea to get the best guidance and support you can.

At TC Global, we simplify international education, learning, and mobility through connecting students, universities, and a global community on a single platform where there are over 1000+ education providers and over 80,000+ courses.

Our platform enables students to study anywhere in the world in just a few steps. From search and discovery and finding the right course fit for you, to and applications, visas and departure – we see you through it all. It may well be worth it to take your shot at getting into one of the hardest degrees in the world!

To move forward with us, download our app or visit and sign in to create an account on our student platform and onboard with us in quick, easy steps.! ?

Then simply set up a visit to pick a Relationships Team closest to you and choose a slot to meet with a Relationship Member.

If you are a student who is looking for study abroad consultants, then here are some resources you can use. Depending on your area you can explore which overseas consultant is right for you. If you are in Kerala, for instance, you can check out the best the study abroad consultants Kochi has. Alternatively, you can also have a look at Delhi, Mumbai and the top education consultants in India.

Let’s shape your future together.

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