Update Sunday 17th July 2011
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.
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. 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.
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.
Written by Michael Tefula, author of How to Get a First