The Most Laid-Back College Majors


Find out which college majors require the least amount of study time.


We know what you're thinking: "I'd like to go back to school to get my degree but doesn't that take, like, work and stuff?"

Well, yes. Yes it does. In fact, any major you choose will take dedication, late nights, and a lot of coffee. But some might take a lot less than others.

In fact, a new study by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) quantified various workload factors for ten major areas of study in their 2013 report: "A Fresh Look at Student Engagement."

The NSSE surveyed nearly 335,000 first-year and senior students attending 568 U.S. bachelor's degree-granting colleges and universities. For those wondering how tough various areas of study might be, the "Academic Challenge" stats might be of particular interest. Surveys from college seniors were used to quantify the amount of work demanded of students in ten areas of study, ranging from engineering to social science.

We paid particular attention to a few key areas in the report:

  • Hours Per Week Preparing for Class: This included the number of hours in a seven-day week that students said they did things like studying, reading, writing, homework or lab work, analyzing data, rehearsing, etc.
  • Hours of Assigned Reading Per Week: Pretty self-explanatory, except please note that this number is not in addition to the above number (class preparation), but included in it.
  • Percentage of Classes That Were Challenging: This asked students what percentage of their classes they found very challenging and pushed them to do their best work.

Predictably, engineering students spent the most hours per week preparing for class (19), followed by physical sciences, mathematics, and computer science (17). But it might surprise you to know that both education and social service professions majors reported a higher percentage of challenging classes.

To find out which major areas required the least amount of work and might allow you to keep as much of your current lifestyle as possible, read on.

Group of Majors #1: Communications, Media & Public Relations

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Specific Bachelor's Degrees:* Communications, Journalism, Public Relations, Advertising

Hours Per Week Preparing for Class: 12

Hours of Assigned Reading Per Week: 6

Percentage of Classes That Were Challenging: 53

Most of the time, communicating with other humans comes pretty naturally. Maybe that's why bachelor's degrees in this field came in as least demanding in terms of hours per week for preparation, according to the NSSE study.

Of course, you'll still have a lot of studying to do- after all, slightly more than half of the courses were labeled as "challenging."

Laid-Back Features: These majors don't have the rigorous and often brain-crunching lab work and mathematics that STEM majors have, so the intensity of study is often lower, says Lisa Adams, a career management coach and founder of the job search strategy company Fresh Air Careers. Instead, you'll do a lot of reading on things such as communication theory, journalism, and business - topics which have more of a familiar, and therefore relatable, flavor, she explains.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Communications Program.

However, you will have to prove yourself in the ways of creativity and writing, as these areas of study are usually heavy in those. "That's what these majors are training you to do, so you better be passionate about it," she says.

Group of Majors #2: Social Service Professions

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Specific Bachelor's Degrees:* Criminal Justice, Public Administration, Social Work

Hours Per Week Preparing for Class: 13

Hours of Assigned Reading Per Week: 7

Percentage of Classes That Were Challenging: 64

Ready to learn how you can help your fellow man or society in general? Well, according to the NSSE report, it might not be as tough as you thought. Degrees in this group - everything from social work to criminology - scored in the mellow half of the study with only 13 hours of prep time each week.

Laid-Back Features: NSSE associate director Jillian Kinzie says that these degrees don't require a high amount of math, statistics, or lab work. At least, nothing like what engineering or chemistry students are in for.

"And I think most students find that studying and reading for these majors is easier for that reason," she says. She adds that often there isn't the air of competition that can turn certain majors into academic pressure cookers.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Criminal Justice Program.

Of course, the writing demand for these is the highest of any category (92 pages a year on average compared to engineering's 61 and mathematics' 57), so if you're not a natural-born Dickens, don't expect too much of a cake-walk.

Group of Majors #3: Business

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Specific Bachelor's Degrees:* Business Administration, Marketing, Finance

Hours Per Week Preparing for Class: 14

Hours of Assigned Reading Per Week: 7

Percentage of Classes That Were Challenging: 60

Starting your own business or making it on Wall Street might involve 20-hour work days, but majoring in business? Not so much, according to the NSSE study. So if you thought bachelor's degrees like accounting and finance would take over your life, think again.

Laid-Back Features: Business has long been the most popular major for a few reasons, says Adams. For one, students see it as practical and wide-ranging, allowing them to pursue everything from human resources to finance to marketing. But it's also perceived as less rigorous than many majors, so many students who don't know what they want to do end up studying business, says Adams.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Business Program.

Another possible reason this major seems more laid-back is the fact that often these students are working on practical projects that they are passionate about, such as creating a business proposal for their own business, so it's more fun, she explains. "...And when something is fun, it's perceived as less demanding," says Adams.

Group of Majors #4: Social Sciences

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Specific Bachelor's Degrees:* Psychology, Political Science, Economics

Hours Per Week Preparing for Class: 14

Hours of Assigned Reading Per Week: 8

Percentage of Classes That Were Challenging: 58

You might not think of Indiana Jones as having a kick-back life, but in school, he may have. Looking at the numbers from the NSSE study, it seems majoring in the social sciences group - which encompasses subjects such as archaeology to psychology - probably won't leave you too burnt out.

Laid-Back Features: Kinzie says that although these majors do demand dedication and hard work, they are also intrinsically different than majors such as engineering and math in which often you cannot stop until you solve a problem. Also, students apparently see reading about psychology or political science as less intensive than subjects such as math and statistics, she says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Psychology Program.

But the writing factor comes in here as well. This area of study is tied with social service professions for the highest amount of pages per year: 92.

Major Group #5: Education

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Specific Bachelor's Degrees:* Special Education, Physical Education, Elementary and Middle School Education

Hours Per Week Preparing for Class: 15

Hours of Assigned Reading Per Week: 6

Percentage of Classes That Were Challenging: 65

Want to learn how to help others learn? Well, a bachelor's degree in education may not be an easy "A," but it might not be like academic boot camp either. In the NSSE study, education came in at number five out of 10 areas of study when comparing the hours per week of preparation.

Laid-Back Features: If you sign on for a degree in education, Kinzie says you'll likely be expected to do a lot more "service-oriented" work than in other majors. "[Education majors] will be dedicating time in the field, working in classrooms and such, so they might not have the same reading and work load that other majors have," she says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Education Program.

So in the long run, it might all be in your perception of what you consider a challenging, but manageable workload.

* All "Specific Bachelor's Degrees" come from the National Survey of Student Engagement's Major Field Categories list. Others may or may not also be included in the areas.

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