Pre-Med Majors: Choosing Your Specialty

As a pre-med student, choosing a major may be one of the most important decisions you make. While there are certain majors that lend themselves to helping you complete your prerequisite classes for medical school and prepare for the MCAT, there isn’t a singular path for medical school admission, and that’s a good thing.

The freedom to choose your pre-med major means that some students will have already decided which field of study they want to pursue; others may take time to explore their undergraduate curricula before selecting a major.

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Is pre-med a major?

This is a common question from aspiring physicians carving out their undergraduate path. The answer is no, but also, a little bit yes. Although “pre-med” is not an official recognized degree path, meaning you will not be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in “Pre-Med”, the totality of your work, including your academic work, shadowing, volunteering, and MCAT prep becomes a de facto “major” in terms of commitment and dedication in addition to the official major which will appear on your college diploma.

Pre-Med Requirements: How do admissions officials look at your pre-med major?

Of course, every medical school is different, and each admissions committee has specific selection criteria. However, it is generally recognized that your major itself does not play an enormous role in influencing the admissions decision.

That doesn’t mean that the major you choose isn’t important. It simply means that admissions committees will not heavily value one field of study over another. While many of us might recognize that some majors may be more difficult or require more work than others—and admissions committees do know this—keep in mind that, when it comes to medical school admissions, you should not expect to be compensated for a lower GPA simply because you pursue a “tougher” pre-med major.

What Majors do Medical Schools Prefer? Is biology the best major for medical school?

It’s not surprising that most people who apply to medical school choose to major in biology; after all, biology is the basis for physiology and other medical principles. However, there are a significant number of people entering medical school who majored in engineering, other natural sciences such as physics or chemistry, and even the humanities.

Pre-med students often ask if majoring in biology will help them do better on the MCAT. Keep in mind that biology is only one of the integrated subjects tested on the MCAT, and that any given passage might test your knowledge of how multiple subject areas relate to one another. That means you’ll also need a solid foundation in organic chemistry, biochemistry, general chemistry, physics, psychology, sociology, and critical analysis and reasoning skills. In fact, according to the AAMC, applicants who majored in biology don’t seem to have any admissions advantage over people from other pre-med majors who have a solid GPA or MCAT scores.

The takeaway here is that your MCAT score and GPA have more to do with your medical school admissions prospects than your major, so don’t feel compelled to make biology your pre-med major if you have other desires. College is a good time to explore your interests. When else can you take a class on Latin American poetry? Plus, gaining more varied exposure to different disciplines could prove beneficial on Test Day and as a future physician.

Can a non-science major go to med school?

Choosing a non-science pre-med major may be the right path for you, and there are a few things for which you should prepare. Familiarize yourself with the basic prerequisite classes for medical school. It’s good practice to research each of the schools you’re interested in attending, as schools vary and many ask for additional prerequisite classes, such as sociology, biochemistry, and anatomy/physiology. You can research MD programs in the AAMC’s Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) and DO programs in the AACOM’s Osteopathic Medical College Information Book (CIB). Additionally, it’s important to consult with your pre-med advisor to create a class schedule, decide when to take the MCAT, and map your application timeline.

If you choose a major in a non-science field of study, you may need to make extra room in your schedule or take your medical school prerequisites during J term or summer terms. While it’s possible to test out of required classes via AP or IB exams, do your research to find out if medical schools will accept these credits as valid. Some students choose to take prerequisite classes at a community college, which may be cheaper and offer more flexible schedules. Again, you want to make sure that your prospective medical schools honor these credits.

That being said, don’t feel that you will be at a disadvantage to your science major counterparts in medical school if you choose to pursue a pre-med major outside the natural sciences. While there are areas in which you will definitely need a strong background (biochemistry, anatomy, physiology), most information in medical school will be new, putting everyone on a level playing field.

What is the best major for pre-med students?

Of the close to 53,000 applicants to medical school in the 2018-2019 cycle, by and far the biggest pre-med major category was “biological sciences”, with more than 29,000 applicants. Social sciences and physical sciences were the next biggest categories (other than “other), at fewer than 5,000 applicants, while the humanities and math and statistics made up much smaller numbers but interestingly, saw higher acceptance rates.

At the same time, when controlling for GPAs and MCAT scores, there was no discernable advantage to a biological sciences major over a humanities one. Remember, too, that simply majoring in something unusual isn’t enough to make you stand out to medical schools. You’ll need to do well in your major, of course, but you’ll also need to crush your science requirements and other pre-requisites, and do well on the MCAT.

So what does this mean for your pre-med major choice? It means there is no wrong answer, as long as you can do well in your major, speak to it in a medical school interview, and feel prepared to take on the MCAT.

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