How To Choose a Pre-Med Major

March 28, 2016

Choosing your field of study is important—but not as important as your MCAT score!

Choosing a pre-med major can be one of the most important decisions you make, even before you step foot on a college campus. Some students will have already long ago decided which field of study they want to pursue; others may need time to explore their undergraduate curricula before selecting a pre-med major.

If your main goal as a pre-med is to get into medical school, the way to approach this decision becomes easy, and it starts with the question, “What do admission committees want to see?”

How do medical schools look at pre-med majors? 

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

That doesn’t mean that your pre-med major isn’t important at all! It simply means that admissions committees will not heavily value one field of study over another—at least not overtly. 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 if you pursue a “tougher” pre-med major.

Is biology the best field of study? 

It’s not surprising that most people who apply to medical school are biology majors; after all, these fields of study go hand in hand. However, there are a significant number of people entering medical school who majored in engineering, other sciences, or even the humanities.

Pre-med students often ask if a life sciences major or course of study 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, biological science applicants don’t seem to have any advantage in GPA or MCAT scores. 

The takeaway here is that your MCAT score and preparation have more to do with your med school admission 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; after all, you won’t have much time to do so in medical school or residency. Plus, gaining more varied exposure to different disciplines could prove beneficial on Test Day

Some people also wind up grateful that they shopped around in undergrad because they find their calling outside of medicine. Others even spend time working in a different field before applying. No matter what, it’s good to have a backup plan in case you’re waitlisted, rejected, or discover medical school isn’t the right path for you. 

Can I choose a non-science major? 

Choosing a non-science major might be the way to go, but there are a few things you should be prepared for first. Familiarize yourself with the basic course requirements for medical school. It’s good to research each of the schools you’re interested in attending, as many programs 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).

Then, figure out which courses you need to take for your MCAT prerequisites, which changed starting with the 2015 exam. Course requirements for medical school and the MCAT will differ. Consult with your pre-med advisor to create a study schedule and map your application timeline.

If you choose a major in a completely unrelated field of study, you may need to make extra room in your schedule or take your prerequisites during winter or summer vacations. While it’s possible to test out of these classes via AP or IB exams, do your research to find out if medical schools will accept these as valid or judge them negatively. An alternative method is taking the classes at a community college nearby, which may be cheaper and offer more flexible schedules, but you will 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 an alternative track. While there are areas in which you will definitely need a strong background (biochemistry, anatomy, physiology), most information will be new, putting everyone on a level playing field.

Set yourself up for admissions success with our free countdown to medical school checklist.

This post presented in partnership with Kaplan Test Prep