Top 10 Most Difficult Online Degree Programs

Mar 19, 2012 | By Aimee Hosler

Online colleges often get a bad rap. Okay, so maybe students can attend class in their underwear, but that doesn't mean they aren't serious students. In fact, until modern science brings us holographic instructors and inexpensive, portable labs decked out with high-tech learning equipment, some majors will remain a challenge in an online environment. While innovations in web-based learning have made it possible to study virtually anything online -- auto repair anyone? -- some degrees are harder to earn this way as these top 10 most difficult online degree programs help show.

10 challenging (but possible) online degree programs

1. Chemistry

Some degrees are flat out hard no matter how you pursue them. According to a 2010 Wake Forest University study that ranked a number of majors in order of difficulty (based on students' GPAs), chemistry -- with its never ending formulas and diagrams -- tops the list. Chemistry is also a lab-intensive field, so if you are determined to study it online, consider a hybrid program combining online and classroom instruction.

2. Math

Like chemistry, math is an all-around difficult field of study, online or off. If you choose to study it online, try to arrange virtual study groups or find a local tutor to help you through your trickier classes.

3. Radiology

You can learn many of radiology's basic principles online, but unless you have a basement well stocked with insanely expensive radiology equipment and scores of human guinea pigs, you are going to need some real-world instruction.

4. Physics

Like chemistry and math, physics is a tough cookie to crack wherever you study it, and its scores of physical labs can make it extra complicated for online students.

5. Dance

You can watch videos of some of the most beautiful dance performances of our time online, but unless you can bourrée across a virtual room, it is best to actually practice your moves in a real studio with an instructor who can provide feedback and corrections.

6. Language

A number of successful home study foreign language programs prove that you can learn a foreign language from your couch, but studies show that for most people, immersion education is a much more effective means of mastering another tongue. That means being in an environment in which only that language is spoken and that includes a great deal of face-to-face dialogue.

7. Counseling

Like many of the social science disciplines, counseling is a very interpersonal field of study that requires you to actually interact with others and observe their body language, gestures and expressions. Much of counseling's core curriculum is book based, however, so consider a hybrid program to get the best of both worlds.

8. Fine Art

While learn-to-draw correspondence courses have been around for decades, producing art in other mediums (say huge canvas paintings) is much more difficult to master in an online environment. Color, texture and movement are important elements of fine art, and it can be difficult to transmit these ideas to your professor through photos. Graphic design, on the other hand, is perfect for online learning.

9. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is (not surprisingly) a very hands-on discipline, making it difficult to master online.

Related Find Online Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

10. Culinary Arts

The Internet is packed with recipes and videos that can teach you how to do everything from dicing an onion to meat fabrication, but until it can deliver a virtual culinary instructor who can actually taste your food and provide feedback, your online culinary education will be limited. Hospitality management programs, however, are a perfectly suitable alternative to hands-on cooking courses.

How online colleges can simplify your life

While not all online degree programs are easy (or practical), online colleges still offer students a number of conveniences with which traditional schools can't compete. Many online programs are non-synchronous, meaning you view lectures whenever you can rather than during a set class time. For many working professionals or stay-at-home parents, this flexibility can mean the difference between attending college or putting it off. Online colleges also eliminate your commute and allow you to price-shop programs on a national scale, not to mention choose programs based on quality or interest rather than geographical location. Want to learn more? Visit our accredited online colleges tool to get started.