When I was a freshman in college, I found committing to a major to be the scariest, most life-changing decision. How could I determine a course of study when I have so many interests? What is the best course of study for my future? These were some of the questions that came to mind. One characteristic that I didn’t take into consideration, however, was the level of difficulty of each major—which I later learned has a huge impact on how you balance your life in college. And to this day, I still wonder how, exactly, one is supposed to know which majors are the most challenging before committing.
So, I decided to find out. In my research, I came across a study published by Best Colleges that broke down the hardest majors out there. But since this didn’t give me a lot of information on what it’s like to earn those degrees, I decided to ask students in the College Fashionista community who have taken on these difficult majors what it’s actually like and how they deal with the stress of the rigorous work their schools require. Keep reading to see what they had to say.
Jennifer Volden, University of Wisconsin-Madison class of 2018
“I majored in biology and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I chose these majors because I have always had a passion for helping people, and found the medical field super intriguing.
“It took me a little while to find my groove when it came to studying (especially for the really tough classes like organic chemistry). Personally, I would set aside a part of a day just for studying—I’d go to the library without my phone, have a set list of things I need to get done, and made sure I did them before I got to leave the library. Each course was a little different in terms of what approach I took to studying. Some I was able to make flashcards for, some I just re-wrote the notes I had taken in class. I found that quite often with the humanities-type classes the professors would speak extremely fast, so in those cases, I would type my notes on my laptop during lecture and hand write them to study. In the end, though, everyone is different in terms of what works best for them. It might take a few semesters to figure out what suits you.
“As far as balancing school, a social life, and work, I’d say my best advice is to stay extremely organized. Get a cute planner, write down assignments, work schedules, due dates, etc., and use this to kickstart how you budget your time. Don’t procrastinate! I found that the best motivator to get things done was to tell myself that I could absolutely go out with friends on the weekend (or whatever the social activity may have been), but I need to get ‘X’ done before. Get done what you need to, but don’t forget to reward yourself after!”
Major: Computer Science
Sumiya Choudhry, University of Illinois Chicago class of 2020
“I chose math and computer science because I feel it’s a field that’s always changing with time. There’s always something new to learn or do. One week I can be working on a new website, another day I am mapping out the next app I want to work on. I am never bored. Also, my childhood dream was to be a super cool nerd, so I’m probably just fulfilling that.
“For my major, I am always coding! Practice makes perfect. However, last semester I took a course mainly focused on Python, which is a programming language, so I paid more attention to that. I also create my own projects outside of school to get extra practice.
“Plan it out! I give myself tasks and deadlines and stick to them. However, it is very important to have realistic goals, which means things you can successfully check off your daily agenda. School, work, and studies can be challenging, but I remind myself that I am resilient and I’ve got this. Motivation Is the key to success, so surround yourself with people with similar goals as you who will motivate and support you throughout your journey.”
Major: Civil Engineering
Natalie Shulman, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign class of 2021
“I chose this major because I really enjoy sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy, and just the idea that people can manipulate basic systems to be environmentally friendly. It’s also so incredibly important in today’s day and age that we have the proper infrastructure in place to get people from A to B safely but also sustainably.
“I study for basically every class by making summary sheets of my notes, rewriting all of the notes that I take in class, or from assignments. Then, I do as many practice problems as I can, and hope that I don’t fail. Outlining everything and reviewing topic by topic is basically how I study.
“I don’t find it too difficult to balance my social life with school. Obviously I don’t go out as much as other people do, but I found a group of friends in my major, as well as friends from clubs that I am in. In my opinion, having close friends in your major is so important because you can do homework together, go to class together, and you’re still hanging out and enjoying each other’s company. You’re essentially killing two birds with one stone, and you don’t have to compromise studying or hanging with your friends because you do both at once.”
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Rachel Hohl, Lipscomb University class of 2019
“I honestly believe my major chose me. I was originally an elementary education major for three semesters, and I found it completely miserable. I’ve always had a love for math and science, and I thought teaching those subjects would be my way of pursuing my dream of helping others. I fell out of love with teaching, and my heart was not in it anymore. I decided to switch to mechanical engineering, and everything changed. My grades skyrocketed, and I felt myself really caring about what I was doing. I come from a family of engineers on both sides, so I feel like it’s in my blood, and truly what I was destined to do with my life.
“[How I study] depends on the course and the professor. If it is a mathematics-based course, which 85% of the classes you take as a ME student are, I take extra care to do all the homework. Reading the textbook and taking notes helps a lot too. Studying old exams the professor provides is also key to doing well because you get a feel of how they will word your exam and what type of problems they will ask.
“It is not easy to balance everything, especially with a major as challenging as mechanical engineering. I have been part-time for three semesters and full-time for one while at Lipscomb, and it’s difficult in both situations. I also had a job for one of those semesters. Regardless of how many hours you are taking at a time, it is very important to make time for the things you love to do. I’ve seen people not do as well as they could have because they put their social calendar before their grades. I also think surrounding yourself with people who make school a priority is very important. In my opinion, school just comes first.”
Major: Political Science
Catherine Sposato, Columbia University class of 2021
“I chose political science because of the multidisciplinary nature of the major. There are so many routes to explore with political science, and I really liked that freedom, especially when it comes to focusing on current issues I’m most passionate about.
“I usually study by taking notes at lectures and of the readings and then compiling lists and flashcards based on the subject all throughout the semester to make sure I don’t fall behind.
“I balance school with work and social life by making sure to combine the three areas. My friends from work and my extracurriculars are usually the friends that I hang out with, so I can be sure to plan events around our shared schedule.”
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Opening image by Haley Brandt.