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Alumni tell us: This is Ohio State’s hardest class

In a totally unscientific study, we analyzed answers from 360 graduates. What we found: one broken toe, one hero and a top 10 list.

A young puppy sits and looks toward the ground and front paw which is bandaged with a red medical wrapWhen it comes to Ohio State’s most challenging courses, Buckeyes of every era have toughed out their fair share and lived to tell the tale. That’s according to 360 alumni who raised their hands when we asked, “What was the hardest class you took at Ohio State?”

“Veterinary school is like a three-year marathon of the hardest class you’ve ever had,” answered Danielle K. Capelli ’19 DVM.

“Differential equations,” Steven Zanola ’89 said. “I got a 20 out of 100 on my midterm, the second-highest grade in the class.”

For Russell McBride III ’77, it was anatomy: “A monster class with cadavers. You almost had to live in the lab. The fluids burned the eyes. It smelled.”

“Oh my gosh, I was so naive,” Irene Rostas ’75, ’83 MHA recounted about her astronomy class. “I thought I was going to learn about the planets. It was ALLLLLLLLLLLL MATH!”

A seated woman in a lab coat studies a classroom anatomy skeleton and takes notes on a clipboardShe was one of six alumni who named an astronomy class as their toughest, but math was a refrain sung loudly and widely. We (not very scientifically) analyzed all 360 answers to figure that out, as well as to find the 10 most-cited classes. And let’s just make blatant what you could probably guess: STEM classes dominate the list, to the tune of 71% of answers.

(In case those music references made you curious, two alumni called a music course their hardest.)

Read on as we count down to the class that has apparently scarred the most Buckeyes through the years.

10. A four-way tie, with each of these capturing 3.3% of the vote:


“Intermediate accounting,” said Ronald Fritch ’81, explaining, “four different books, seven-hour midterms and an oral final.”

A photo illustration of the chemical compound C O 2 superimposed on a green leafBiochemistry

“Our professor failed over half the class,” commented Susan Kemme ’80. “We had to describe photosynthesis using only chemical symbols and reactions on an exam!”

Classes with “engineering” in the name

For James Wolfe ’81, it was engineering dynamics. “It seemed to be the make-or-break point for continuing on toward an engineering degree in your sophomore year,” he said. “We lost about 50% of the class before the end of the quarter.”


A man with his back to the viewer sits in a seated yoga position.“Philosophy 650,” recalled Estelle Masoni Scott ’69, who took the course in the fall of 1965. It was an approved substitute for ROTC, which women of that era were excluded from. “At 19, I had no idea what philosophy even was. My memory is that the teacher sat on his desk in yoga poses and discussed the ‘oak treeness in an acorn.’”

6. Physics, capturing 4.2% of the vote

Maria De Maggio Cioffi ’66 recalled struggling with the abstract concepts of her physics classes, a requirement for her biological sciences degree. “It took me four years to get through three classes,” she said. “I was lost from day one, and I’m still lost!”

5. Economics, 5%

Richard Bobb ’59 went beyond the introductory economics courses cited by many Buckeyes, signing up for economic geography. “It was a class that tested your ability to remember precise numbers, such as how many tons of coal were produced in a specific country in a specific year,” he recalled. “The course provided no insight into either past, current or future economic activity.”

4. Statistics, 7%

Complex math formulas handwritten on a whiteboard including math, science, and economics concepts“We called it ‘sadistics,’” said JoAnn L. Green ’80 MSW.

3. Calculus, 7.8%

“I had nightmares I really didn’t pass calculus and they took my degree back,” Laura Murphy Sandoval ’04 said.

2. Chemistry, 10%

General chemistry was the course cited by Judith Bartley ’84. “It was not for the mathematically challenged (me), and DEFINITELY not for 8 a.m. on Mondays,” she said. “I needed toothpicks to keep my eyes open. I was as lost as Dorothy in the Haunted Forest of Oz.”

Laboratory model of a glutamic molecule structure1. Organic chemistry, 11.7%

By far, this was the single class named most by Buckeyes who responded.

“I swear I went to the wrong room to take the final,” recalled Paul Sweeney ’78. “The professor was there. My class was there. But that final was totally unrecognizable.”

“I was perpetually confused, and I have a clicking toe to this day from kicking the textbook and breaking my toe,” said Margaret Harmon ’80.

Robert Jones ’73 called the class “neither intuitive nor easily deciphered with linear thinking. It was more akin to art history than the sciences.” But he credited a hard-working graduate assistant with helping him to pass.

“Without his help I would have likely spent 1970 in a rice paddy in Vietnam. To this day I think of organic chemistry with dread and of a hero who helped me stay in school.

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