College Majors That Are Most Demanding

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Ever wonder which majors require the most study time? A new survey sheds some insight...

By Terence Loose    

Are you ready to take on school but not sure you're ready to take on the hours of coursework and studying?

Good news. A new study by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) could help you decide which major might be the best fit for your lifestyle. The study surveyed 416,000 full-time, first-year students and seniors attending 673 colleges and universities during 2011.

Although the study included factors like the number of hours spent commuting to class or caring for dependents, let's focus on the areas associated with study time and working:

  • Average Weekly Hours of Study/Class Prep Time: This is the time students spent studying out of class each week.
  • Number of Hours Faculty Expects You to Study: This is the amount of time faculty members told researchers that students needed to study to be fully prepared.
  • Percentage of Seniors That Spent 20+ Hours Preparing for Class: Again, in this study, "preparing" equals studying.
  • Number of Hours Working for Pay: The number of hours that students spent working at a paid job outside of school.

It's important to note that not all majors are included in the study. "Some, such as architecture and nursing, for example, were not included," says Alexander C. McCormick, NSSE director and associate professor of education at Indiana University.

But McCormick is confident in the study's findings and hopes it helps students and faculty alike better understand what is, and should be, expected of them.

It's also important to note that the number of hours that students reported for relaxing or socializing was virtually the same for each major: 10 to 11 hours per week. Seems like whether you're a science whiz or studying big biz, you'll still find some time to minor in fun.

Check out some key findings from the NSSE study. Consider it time well spent in the "Preparing for Class" category.

#1 Most Demanding Area of Study - Engineering

Do you love to take things apart to see how they work? An engineering degree might be for you. Just make sure you're ready to hit the books, since engineering students reported studying more than any other major, according to the NSSE study.

Depending on the specific area of study, engineering majors might study everything from the link between architecture and construction, the scientific and mathematical basis of computer software, or the design of spacecraft and missiles, according to the College Board, an organization that administers academic aptitude tests like the SAT.

Click to Find the Right Engineering Program Now.

Typical Engineering Majors:* Aerospace Engineering, Architectural Engineering, Biomedical Engineering
Average Weekly Hours of Study/Class Prep Time: 19 hours
Number of Hours Faculty Expects You to Study: 20 hours
Percentage of Seniors That Spent 20+ Hours Preparing for Class: 42 percent
Number of Hours Working for Pay: 9 hours


#2 Most Demanding Area of Study - Physical Sciences

Physical sciences students reported spending about 18 hours studying and preparing for class per week - this was second only to engineering students for the most study/prep time.

If you're curious about how the universe works or how chemicals affect our environment, this might be your area to study. Physical sciences students usually study brainy subjects like chemistry, geology, and physics. They also tend to spend time learning a lot about mathematics and the scientific method, says the College Board.

Typical Physical Sciences Majors:* Physics, Chemistry, Geology
Average Weekly Hours of Study/Class Prep Time: 18 hours
Number of Hours Faculty Expects You to Study: 18 hours
Percentage of Seniors That Spent 20+ Hours Preparing for Class: 36 percent
Number of Hours Working for Pay: 11 hours


#3 Most Demanding Area of Study - Biological Sciences

Perhaps you're more interested in living organisms, such as bacteria, animals, and us. Well, get ready to work. Biological sciences students came in at a close third for study time. But they didn't party with the extra hour or two: they reportedly socialized an hour less per week than both physical sciences and engineering students.

When they do hit the books, biological sciences students generally study living organisms as well as the systems and processes that permit life, says the College Board. Typical courses could include biochemistry, genetics, marine biology, and zoology.

Typical Biological Sciences Majors:* Marine Biology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology
Average Weekly Hours of Study/Class Prep Time: 17 hours
Number of Hours Faculty Expects You to Study: 19 hours
Percentage of Seniors That Spent 20+ Hours Preparing for Class: 34 percent
Number of Hours Working for Pay: 11 hours


#4 Most Demanding Area of Study - Arts & Humanities

Crave a little more creativity in your major? Then you'll likely want to check out the halls of the arts and humanities departments. And while you might not burn as much midnight oil to prepare for classes as those in engineering or physical sciences, you'll still study more than the average student.

But it's what you'll study that is very different. Arts and humanities students usually learn everything from philosophy to languages to literature, according to the College Board. And courses could include more artful fare, such as music and drama.

Typical Arts & Humanities Majors:* Theater, Philosophy, The Classics
Average Weekly Hours of Study/Class Prep Time: 17 hours
Number of Hours Faculty Expects You to Study: 18 hours
Percentage of Seniors That Spent 20+ Hours Preparing for Class: 31 percent
Number of Hours Working for Pay: 12 hours


#5 Most Demanding Area of Study - Education

Don't be fooled by the fact that students in education reported an average of "only" 15 hours of study/prep time per week. Education students reported 13 hours of work for pay per week, and the most weekly hours caring for dependents: seven. That's a 45-hour week, before attending a minute of class.

Education students generally learn how to manage a classroom, how to design lesson plans, and how to effectively teach students, says the College Board. Education classes generally include topics such as educational psychology, teaching methods, and instructional technology.

Still Interested in Studying Education? Click to Find the Right Program Now.

Typical Education Majors:* Education, Middle School Teaching, Special Education
Average Weekly Hours of Study/Class Prep Time: 15 hours
Number of Hours Faculty Expects You to Study: 15 hours
Percentage of Seniors That Spent 20+ Hours Preparing for Class: 26 percent
Number of Hours Working for Pay: 13 hours


#6 Most Demanding Area of Study - Social Sciences

Tied with business as the area with the least amount of study/prep time reported, social sciences can still be a fascinating field if you are interested in learning more about psychology or sociology.

If you are intrigued as to how the human mind works, or why societies function, or how to lower crime rates, this could be the major for you. You generally study those subjects as well as other interesting questions about the human condition, according to the College Board.

Click to Find the Right Psychology Program Now.

Typical Social Sciences Majors:* Psychology, Sociology, Criminology
Average Hours of Study/Class Prep Time: 14 hours
Number of Hours Faculty Expects You to Study: 18 hours
Percentage of Seniors That Spent 20+ Hours Preparing for Class: 23 percent
Number of Hours Working for Pay: 13 hours


#7 Most Demanding Area of Study - Business

Though business majors were found to study the least when compared to the other surveyed degrees, that doesn't mean they didn't keep themselves busy. These students logged the most hours when combining the two areas of caring for dependents and working for pay - six and 16, respectively.

Business students usually study the process of buying, producing, and selling goods and services. They also could learn more about the areas of accounting, marketing, and management, says the College Board. So, perhaps they just learn to manage their time better.

Click to Find the Right Business Program Now.

Typical Business Majors:* Business, Finance, Management
Average Weekly Hours of Study/Class Prep Time: 14 hours
Number of Hours Faculty Expects You to Study: 15 hours
Percentage of Seniors That Spent 20+ Hours Preparing for Class: 19 percent
Number of Hours Working for Pay: 16 hours


*All major information taken from CollegeBoard.com, a century-old nonprofit organization serving 3,800 colleges and university.


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