Home » Studies » The Easiest and Hardest Degrees


This article has received more attention and comments than I ever expected and in response to some of this I thought I would add a quick disclaimer.

I am not saying mathematics is the easiest subject. It is incredibly tough – that I know. The aim of the article was to touch on a subset of statistics so as to highlight the performance in different subject areas. I am not saying you should base your decision on these numbers in isolation, just that they are worth considering.

Easiest and Hardest Degrees

Choosing the right degree is a tough choice but there are a number of factors that can help you with this decision. Aside from considering your strengths, passion and recommendations from the older and wiser people such as your parents, here are some interesting statistics that could sway your decision if you are still undecided.

The Easiest Degree

Mathematics (30% of students get a first)

Mathematics is often thought to be among the hardest degrees but is it really? Especially when nearly a third of all maths graduates end up with a first. The subject can be challenging, no doubt about that, however the reason why so many students get a first could be because in maths, right and wrong answers are much more clear than in other subject areas. Simply put, in maths, 2+2 = 4. In subjects like Law, Business Studies and other Social Sciences, the answers are never that clear-cut. In maths, you can get 100% in exams. In other degrees, no matter how brilliant your answer is, you can never score higher than 90%.

The Hardest Degree

Law (6% of students get a first)

I know firsthand how hard Law is. Even though I did Accounting and Finance, we had two Law modules (one in year 1 and another in year 2) and I only know of one student who managed to get a first in the exams. Despite cramming what we thought were the perfect answers and using as many case examples as we could, the majority of the class came out with 50s. No surprise then that only 6% of Law students get a first. The subject requires you to memorize a lot of facts and then construct your own arguments which are in turn often marked quite harshly. If you do Law, that statistics are not on your side.

The ‘Right’ Degree

Your Choice (100% of students get a first)

Statistically speaking, mathematics is the easiest path to a first class degree. So if you are doing maths or plan to do so, the odds are in your favour. If you are doing Law, then good luck; the odds are against you. Then again, if you are passionate about Law and are ready to put in all the work it takes to get a first, your chances of succeeding will improve greatly because now you are on the ‘right’ degree—the best path to a first.

The ‘right’ degree is where you have a passion for the subject and are committed to putting in the effort to strive for the highest marks possible. These two components, passion and effort, are necessary to do well in any subject area and I am yet to come across any student who got a first without either. Choosing the right degree will also help you get the most out of university.

So, choose the ‘right’ degree, one that is uniquely right for YOU, and when you get a first you will represent 100% of the students who got a first in doing a subject they enjoyed and were committed to excel in.

The following list shows what percentage of students graduate with first class degrees in each subject area according to the HESA 2008/2009 Report.

For tips on getting a first whilst having a balanced student life, why not click below to check out my book:

How to Get A First

Featured image: Jackie Ick

Birmingham University Graduate. Author of 'How to Get A First' and 'Student Procrastination'.
View More Posts By Michael Tefula

23 thoughts on “The Easiest and Hardest Degrees

  1. There are hundreds of factors that you aren’t considering.

    January 8, 2011 at 12:52 am
  2. A Maths Student

    The reason why so many students get a first class degree in mathematics is because only the top students go for it. Lets face it, you don’t get many idiots studying maths. In fact looking at that list it’s clear that the subjects that are typically considered the hardest have the highest percentage of students that get a first and this makes sense because again only the top students study these subjects.

    January 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm
  3. @Prospective Economist

    I agree, there are factors I never considered. But I disagree on the number. There are probably an infinite number of factors and it would be impractical to consider even the few hundred. I simplified in favour of effectiveness.

    @A Maths Student

    That is true, it is usually the sharpest students that go for Maths. Though this raises an interesting question, does Law then take on more students with a lesser aptitude? Do many ‘idiots’ go for Law? I am not so sure about that…

    February 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm
  4. @A Maths Student

    Even Cambridge only have a few students getting first class…. Does that mean the others who don’t get first class in Cambridge are ‘idiots’?

    March 1, 2011 at 7:09 am
  5. I honestly have never read a more ignorant post. are you honestly suggesting that maths is the easiest degree? it may shock you to know that degree level mathematics goes a bit further than 2+2. you wanna try reading a 6 page proof and verify its validity? Don’t write about degrees you dont know about, and you clearly havent done any maths beyond gcse.

    April 7, 2011 at 8:51 pm
  6. “Simply put, in maths, 2+2 = 4.”

    I’m afraid you’re making an incredibly stupid statement there.

    Law, all social sciences (economics, business studies), all physical sciences (physics, etc) are all based on mathematics. Arguably the greatest lawyers (think of Fermat), have applied to the field of mathematics and failed many, many times.

    You clearly have not spent time researching quantum mechanics, understanding how Galois theory works, understanding the uncertainty principle in full, understanding how to even look at the Collatz conjecture, because you say “right and wrong answers are much more clear than in other subject areas.”, such a statement could not be more incorrect, it is painful to see such an experienced blog attribute such a quote to a subject.

    Not many students who study math, not many professors, even, can understand these things.

    It is ultimately the most complicated subject anyone can take – I speak with years of experience as a professor, it is no disrespect to anyone completing a Law degree, Physics degree or any Engineering degree; but in terms of pure difficulty, they cannot be compared to a Mathematics degree.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:49 am
  7. FKY

    @ Michael on Maths student:
    Yes they do, people who can’t get into engineering/medical often come to law, thinking its easy until they find it hard. My batch has 100 students, many came because they didn’t get admissions in eng/med/. My 3rd year seniors were around 70-80 in the beginning, now they’re 30-40…

    April 26, 2011 at 11:12 pm
  8. In Maths, 100% in exams is easily possible if u get the right answer.

    I’d like to see anyone get 100% in a law exam. Likewise with economics and other essay focused subjects.

    In no way is this proof that people who do Maths are the smartest. Maths can be intuitive, many other subjects are counter-intuitive and much harder to blag.

    I’m sticking with the prospective economist on this.

    As for the Maths student… Ur an idiot for believing that. It’s no coincidence that all the subjects at the top of the list are numerical. Not because only the smart kids can count!

    April 27, 2011 at 5:25 pm
  9. do completely agree,

    Maths and most sciences are very clear cut…
    Looking at the styles of exams.

    One is very open and the other is closed.

    I kind of disagree with @maths student .

    But then again I’m sure any one who wants to can learn maths as at it’s basis it’s simple .
    Do x to get y do something to both to get answer .

    May 13, 2011 at 12:20 pm
  10. Are you suggesting that Medicine is easier than Agriculture, or that Architecture is so much worse than Languages?

    I agree that there must be a sample bias here, and to say that 30% of graduates earn a First is not the same as saying 30% of those who entered the degree in the first place did.

    Addressing your reply about ‘idiots at law’, I’d say that a first holds different value in different degrees. For example, in Engineering a 1st or above is sought by many respectable companies, whereas in Medicine a lower grade is much more acceptable.

    This is not, of course, to dismiss the brutal difficulty of law, but rather to defend my own subject as not being 33% easier than arts and Design(!)

    May 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm
  11. […] sourced by http://www.firstclassgraduates.co.uk, originally printed http://studentlifeblog.co.uk/2010/08/the-easiest-and-hardest-degrees-to-get-a-first-in/ […]

    May 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm
  12. Physical Science

    Foremost I’m aware that the last post was back in February..

    There’s a big difference between a Law degree and say a physics degree. One requires the ability to recall information where the other requires you to problem solve.

    May 20, 2011 at 11:22 am
  13. I’m guessing you didn’t get a first in surveying?

    May 23, 2011 at 9:02 pm
  14. I have a massive problem with this article, since when did it become accepted to compare how easy or difficult degrees are from stats on how many students achieve firsts in the subject?!
    And who gives the writer of this article the right to advise students to this poor analysis of statistics to sway the reader if they are undecided about their subject?!
    As mentioned in the previous comments, i strongly believe it is the type of calibre of student who goes for a degree in maths. I also think what would be a better idea for the writer would be to also evaluate the dropout rates as well, cos i hate to point out the obvious but if 30% of maths students get firsts but only 5% of the original students enrolled remain whereas for law 6.6% of students achieve firsts but 100% of the students remain then clearly maths is the harder subject! The fatal flaw in your argument – Graduates, they have to actually pass in the first place!
    There is no doubt that in some areas of mathematics there is a clear cut right answer, but this all has to be taken in context! I raise you fundamental maths! Can i also point out that whilst i slog my guts out for each and every single day to do actually get that clear cut answer, i have friends of various degrees considered ‘harder’ than mine who do absolutely nothing and get 2:1’s, if i did the same amount of work they do on my degree i would fail big time…
    I am ashamed to say you graduated in accounts and finance if you analyse statistics in the way you have in this article! That is all!

    June 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm
  15. Thank you all for your comments.
    Some of my wording was taken all too literally (and this is my fault for being careless with the writing) but I have addressed this in an update.

    @A different maths student:
    You make a good point about the dropout rates and this would certainly be worth exploring. I would be very curious and interested to learn of the figures in this area. It could make for a follow-up article perhaps.

    Also, I do not encourage anyone to make decisions based on these numbers in isolation. Like you rightly pointed out, things like drop out rates, among other factors, can play a role in the true judging the difficulty of a subject.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:14 am
  16. Brad

    Really? That explains why all the football players have Social Studies and Geography degrees, because it’s soooo difficult when compared to engineering, duh. Yeah, this article qualifies as “rubbish”

    August 29, 2013 at 3:13 am
  17. Aang

    I was from science stream student in pre u and all I can say is thr math is already killing me. Now I changed and take accounting. It’s a lot easier seriously. I also study law as it comes as part of my course requirements and I found it doable compared to math. The only reason people are failing is because they are too stupid or too lazy to study. It’s just that simple

    February 23, 2014 at 8:32 am
  18. A Comms Student

    the reason why there are lesser comms and BA first class honours is because most comms and business students party their uni lives away, not because it is exceptionally hard.

    this article is SO misleading. gawd.

    February 24, 2014 at 4:17 am
  19. Jim Koay

    Is Law really that hard?

    February 25, 2014 at 7:31 am
  20. A Law Student

    @Aang I was also a science stream student in my pre-u and I did a law paper there. It wasn’t too bad and I found it very interesting so I decided to take it up as my major. Trust me when I say that I am not lazy or stupid and trust me when I tell you that the “Law” paper you’re sitting for is nothing compared to the actual Law major. I mean look at the stats , res ipsa loquitur. Of course, maths is not easy at all but it is ridiculous for people to say that law students are just plain stupid and that’s the reason why the stats are so low.

    February 26, 2014 at 12:33 am
  21. Adil Khan

    I have a degree in Maths and also in Economics and Politics. And, I converted to law through CPE.

    I can safely say that the grade or class you get is directly proportional to the number of hours put in working through the discipline.

    Having said that bear in mind that we start learning maths at a very early age, and law mostly at the graduate level and it takes a while to get a feel for it. Once you get a feel, law is as easy as 2+2 = 4 or 5 or 6 depending on the facts. And the best minds in law are very mathematical i.e. logical. I know a senior lawyer who solves complex mathematical problems to keep his mind sharp.

    Lord Denning had a first in mathematics from Oxford and also got a first in all his (second degree after he got bored of mathematics) law subjects except jurisprudence again from Oxford. However, his mind was so logical that he would sometimes go against the set precedents and ignite controversy.

    For me law and maths both require imagination, discipline and knowledge of the field and hence I have taken a permanent vacation as my favourite vocation.

    March 4, 2014 at 9:13 pm
  22. Malcolm

    something tells me the author of this article doesn’t understand what real math is. If you’re getting a degree in mathematics, it isn’t like high school, there isn’t a algorithm or a set method in doing every single question. Majority of tests are proof questions which require’s some deep thinking and are not “2+2” kind of questions. I’m in engineering, but I took a couple of honors math courses (I wanna get a minor in math) and I can definitely say that my math classes are harder than my engineering classes

    April 28, 2014 at 11:45 am
  23. Emad

    I got a first class in law, it ain’t that hard.

    January 12, 2021 at 10:26 am

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