As a prospective pre-med student, you might be asking yourself: What are the best majors for med school? While there are specific majors that can better help students prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and complete their prerequisite classes for medical school, there is no one singular path to gain admittance into medical school — and that is a good thing. The freedom to choose a pre-med major means that while some may have already decided the field they wish to pursue, others may take time to explore their undergraduate curriculum before choosing a major. Still, there are a few areas of study that can help boost your chance of admittance. Below, we will look at some of the best undergraduate majors to get if you want to go to medical school.
Is Pre-Med a Major?
Yes and no. This is a common question asked by aspiring physicians looking to nail down their undergraduate path and choose the best pre-med undergraduate schools for their academic careers. Although “pre-med” itself is not an official major or recognized degree path, meaning students cannot graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Med, the totality of work, including MCAT prep, volunteering, shadowing, and academic work becomes a de facto “major” in terms of dedication and commitment as well as the official major that appears on the college diploma.
What Kind of Undergraduate Degrees Are Best For Med School?
According to the most recent data released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), among more than 53,300 students who submitted scores on the MCAT as part of their medical school application, approximately 58 percent earned an undergraduate major that could be classified within the biological sciences.
In total, the AAMC tracked more than 21,800 matriculants. The breakdown of primary undergraduate majors within this group generally reported a heavy emphasis on mathematics and science, which tend to align with the prerequisite requirements of most medical schools. According to this data, the most common majors were:
- Biological Sciences: 12,484 total matriculants
- Other: 3,371
- Physical Sciences: 2,355
- Social Sciences: 1,995
- Humanities: 780
- Specialized Health Sciences: 721
- Math and Statistics: 163
It is worth noting that the second-largest group of matriculants tracked by the AAMC fell into the “other” major category. According to the AAMC, three of these groups — physical sciences, math and statistics, and humanities — enjoy higher medical school acceptance rates by major than the rest. In fact, only these three groups reported admission rates greater than 45 percent. However, the fewest number of applicants are reported in these three groups as well as a fourth: specialized health sciences. In addition, based on data provided by the AAMC, students with majors in these three groups also tend to achieve the highest total scores on the MCAT.
Is There a Correlation Between Certain Majors and MCAT Scores?
The purpose of the MCAT exam is to assess students’ critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and knowledge of the social, behavioral, and natural sciences principles and concepts that are necessary for the study of medicine. The concepts students will encounter are taught at most four-year universities and colleges in sociology, psychology, physics, introductory biology, and first-semester biochemistry as well as organic and general chemistry. However, no one major will best prepare students for this exam. Instead, all pre-med students will need to have a high level of comfort with and be familiar with the content tested.
The AAMC reports that the three groups with the highest admissions rates — the physical sciences, math and statistics, and humanities — also tend to achieve the highest total MCAT scores. This is true whether one looks at matriculant or applicant scores. According to the AAMC, the mean total MCAT scores for matriculants were:
- Math and Statistics: 514.8
- Physical Sciences: 513.1
- Humanities: 512.9
- Social Sciences: 511.7
- Biological Sciences: 511.3
- Other: 511.0
- Specialized Health Sciences: 510.1
At first glance, it appears that there may be several majors that best prepare undergraduates to take the MCAT. However, MCAT scores also strongly correlate with grade-point averages (GPAs). The data indicates that the top five major groups among applicants with science-related GPAs are: the physical sciences and math and statistics (each with a 3.56 GPA), the biological sciences (3.49), other (3.46), and the humanities (3.44). Similarly, the top five majors in terms of cumulative GPAs are: the physical sciences and math and statistics (each with a 3.61 GPA), the biological sciences (3.59), other and the humanities (each with a 3.58 GPA).
Based on the MCAT and GPA data, those who choose a major in math and statistics or the physical sciences may be higher academic achievers overall, which could explain their higher admissions rates. So, what does this mean? What majors do med schools prefer? Do students who major in the physical sciences, math and statistics, or humanities gain an advantage when it comes to med school admissions? Or should pre-med students consider majoring in another subject to better their chances of acceptance?
Do Any Majors Have an Admissions Advantage?
According to data, it does not appear to be the case. Of course, medical school requirements will vary, and each school’s admissions committee bases its decision on specific selection criteria. However, in most cases, the major itself does not play a significant role in whether a student is accepted to a medical school. In fact, the AAMC offers the following statement regarding pre-med majors in its website:
“There’s a misconception that students should major in biology or another science if they want to get into medical school. In fact, there are no required or even preferred majors that medical schools are looking for. Consider majoring in whatever interests you and will keep you engaged and motivated during undergrad. Medical schools want students who are authentic with genuine interests, so it’s best to major in what you want, not what you think they want.”
This does not mean that the major a student chooses is not important. It simply means that med schools will not heavily value one major over another. Instead, the best pre-med schools look to ensure that a student has completed the required prerequisites as well as for mastery in an area that he or she is passionate about. This could be in the study of science, history, or art, in making an impact in their communities, or in participating in dance, music, or college athletics. While most students recognize that some majors require more work or may be more difficult than others — and admissions committees are aware of this as well — keep in mind that you will not be compensated for a lower GPA simply because you opted for a “tougher” pre-med major.
Will Certain Majors Help You Succeed?
According to some students, pursuing a science-focused major provides them the foundation they need to do well on the MCAT. For instance, students who major in economics might not be as well-prepared for med school as those who major in biology. After all, biology is the basis for physiology and other medical principles. Although admissions committees encourage students to select a major in which they are interested and a science major is not required to be a competitive applicant, building a solid foundation in the sciences is required to succeed in the med school curriculum and the MCAT.
Keep in mind that biology is only one of the subjects tested on the MCAT. Students also need a solid foundation in sociology, psychology, physics, general chemistry, biochemistry, and organic chemistry as well as strong reasoning and critical analysis skills. The takeaway here is that a student’s GPA and MCAT school influence an admissions committee’s decision more than his or her major, so students should not feel forced to choose biology if they have another area of interest.
Will a Nursing Degree Increase Your Chance of Getting Into Medical School?
In most cases, it is best to avoid selecting a nursing major or another health profession if you do not intend to practice that profession. Although nursing programs are comprised of rigorous curriculum requirements, they differ from most pre-med prerequisites and do not necessarily help pre-med students prepare for medical school. While there is an overlap between pre-med and nursing, the skills and courses taught are extremely different. However, some students enter a nursing undergraduate program with a genuine interest in the field only to realize later that nursing is not right for them. In these instances, students may certainly explain this to a med school admissions committee and apply for acceptance into medical school.
What Are Other Majors to Consider Outside of the Sciences and Mathematics?
Generally speaking, students’ undergraduate majors are far less important than whether they are able to apply what they have learned through that major in an interesting way. For example, if a pre-med student selects a marketing major and then uses the skills and knowledge that he or she has developed throughout the program to promote a free medical clinic in an underserved community, that is significantly more impressive than a pre-med student who chooses an art major but fails to connect it to medicine.
Nevertheless, undergraduate courses in fields that are not frequently studied by pre-med students but that are still relevant to career success in medical practice — such as the humanities and business — are often considered assets on med school applications. In other words, bringing these skills to the table helps to diversify and balance the class. Other majors to consider that might bring a valuable perspective to a pre-med application include science majors in cutting-edge fields such as nanobioscience or neuroscience that investigate rapidly evolving areas of medicine, science majors in fields that relate to pharmacology such as organic and inorganic chemistry, and business majors, particularly finance. In addition, performing arts, writing, or music majors are often eloquent communicators with the skills to forge close bonds with patients should they become physicians down the road.
In addition, understanding people well plays a significant role in the success of a good doctor. When pre-med students take social science and humanities courses, they are learning how to interact with one another. Those who complete classes in information technology, including computer science and artificial intelligence, are often held in high regard, particularly because technology is becoming increasingly significant in medicine and healthcare. Classes in epidemiology and biostatistics are also useful as these types of classes investigate public health issues.
Ultimately, future physicians need to be well-rounded professionals who not only excel in medicine, science, and mathematics but who also know how to deal with people. Successful doctors must be passionate about their responsibility while exhibiting trust, honesty, and compassion. In other words, admissions committees prefer that students select majors for which they have a passionate and genuine interest. They acknowledge that, in the end, students must be happy with what they do, regardless of whether they pursue a science- or non-science-based major.
How Can a Non-Science Major Attend Med School?
If a major in the biological or physical sciences is not appealing, prospective students may consider selecting a non-science pre-med major instead. However, students need to familiarize themselves with the prerequisite courses for med school before choosing a major such as classes in anatomy/physiology, biochemistry, and sociology. The AAMC offers a helpful resource that outlines all of the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) for each institution.
If a student selects a non-science pre-med major, he or she may need to take medical school prerequisites during the summer months or make extra room in his or her schedule to complete these requirements. Although it is possible to test out of these mandatory courses via IB or AP exams, students should do thorough research to determine if the med school they are considering will accept these credits. Another option is to complete prerequisites at a local community college, which may offer more flexible schedules at a cheaper rate. Again, make sure that the prospective medical school will acknowledge and honor these credits.
That said, those who choose to follow the non-science route should not feel as though they are at a disadvantage compared to those who choose to major in a science-related field. While there are areas in which pre-med students will need a strong background such as physiology, anatomy, and biochemistry, most knowledge gained in medical school is new to everyone — putting all students on a level playing field.
Based on the data provided by the AAMC, one’s major choice does not appear to influence medical school acceptance rates over and above his or her MCAT scores and GPA. When MCAT scores and GPAs are similar, the major itself has little to no impact on admissions decisions. As you start to think about the best majors for med school, avoid making your decision based on what you feel medical school admissions committees want to see. Every year, undergraduates from different backgrounds and majors are accepted into medical school. Instead, think about the courses that interest you and choose subjects that are sure to keep you motivated throughout your undergraduate career.
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