By Dr. James M. Dahle, WCI Founder
We don't have a lot of pre-med readers, but we do have a few. I try to write posts aimed at pre-meds from time to time in hopes of introducing WCI to those who find it a few years before they actually need it. This is one of those posts. So, if you're an undergraduate that's close to graduation (or you're the parent of one), let's talk about the best majors that will get you into medical school.
Best Major for Medical School?
Almost every pre-med has this question at some point. Once pre-meds find out how competitive it is to get into medical school (slightly better than 1 out of 3 applicants but more like 60% of serious applicants), they start trying to optimize everything in their life to increase their own personal chances. Naturally, they apply that approach to their field of study. Thus, the need to answer this question.
However, the honest answer is, “It doesn't matter.” There, I said it. If you want the TL/DR version, that's it. While that is true, there are generally two reasonable approaches to this. The pre-med curriculum is weighty. It generally consists of a year of biology (with lab), two years of chemistry (with lab), a year of physics (with lab), and maybe a calculus course and a writing class. Add all that up and you'll come up with something like 48 hours of coursework. That's more than a lot of majors. So, pre-meds who don't want to spend forever in school usually choose one of two approaches.
- Pick a major with a lot of overlap with the pre-med courses or
- Choose a relatively easy major (i.e. few required hours) to allow room for the pre-med coursework.
Also, in case it needs to be said, there is no “pre-med major.” You may be pre-med, but you aren't majoring in it. But if you major in mechanical engineering as a pre-med, you'll probably spend six years in college—certainly at least five. That will cost you another year of your life, another year of tuition, and a year of lost earnings as a physician. Maybe you'll impress a medical school admissions committee with your work ethic, but they might also question your wisdom.
Considerations When Thinking About Applying to Medical School
Aside from the need to also complete the pre-med courses, there are a few other considerations to this decision including:
- Backup plans
Just like you should choose the specialty that most interests you because it will allow you to practice longer and be happier while you do, you should choose a major that actually interests you. Four years is a decent chunk of your life. Why would you want to spend it doing something you hate? However, it is possible to check that box with a minor and just choose a major that overlaps well with the pre-med requirements.
None of us are good at everything. There's no point in beating your head against the wall trying to excel in something at which you stink. I tried wrestling in high school. That was a mistake. Not because I didn't enjoy it but because I was terrible at it. (My final record was 0-5-1, and I was very proud of that tie.) I was a much better asset on the ice hockey team and, in fact, once scored the most important goal of the season (although admittedly hardly any others).
#3 Backup Plans
Even if you are serious about going to medical school and you do everything right, there's still a decent chance you won't get in, even if you apply two or three times. Your major also needs to provide a backup plan for an alternative career. This was a big problem for me and my Molecular Biology major. By the time I arrived at my senior year, it became really important that I get into medical school because I had discovered I hated pipetting stuff and doing Western Blots.
The general approach to getting into medical school is 1) show that you can be a competent medical student and doctor that isn't going to give anyone any problems and 2) be interesting so that people actually want to work with you. Having a unique major can be one of the ways to show that you are interesting. Which major is more interesting to a medical school admissions committee: biology or French history? Which is more unique? Which is more likely to be discussed in your interview? Exactly.
More information here:
Cheapest Medical Schools in the US
The Data on Which Undergraduate Majors Get Into Medical School
Still don't believe me that it really doesn't matter all that much? OK, check out the data.
Click on the image to make it larger, but let's talk about what we can learn from this table.
Which Undergraduate Majors Are Most Likely to Get Into Medical School?
- Forty-one percent of applicants to medical school got in. The odds are against you. Applying willy-nilly is unlikely to be successful. You probably actually do need to take a few practice MCAT tests, try to get an A in organic chemistry, and do a little research.
- People get in with all kinds of majors. If you want to do physical education or history or engineering or German or whatever, go ahead and do it.
- Smart people that work hard tend to do hard majors. The highest overall MCAT scores were from the math and statistics majors. They beat the biology students on the biology section and the physical science students at the physical science section. They also had the highest science and total GPAs.
- Most applicants and matriculants major in biology. That means it's OK to major in biology if you're interested in that. It also means you'll look unique if you do something else. You don't have to do biology, but you also don't have to try to avoid it.
- If you're choosing a major purely to maximize your chances of getting into medical school (which I don't recommend), you should choose humanities, not neuroscience. Seriously, the chance of getting in by major varies from 38% (“Specialized Health Sciences”) to 51% (“Humanities”). Here's what the numbers look like:
- Biological Sciences: 41%
- Humanities: 51%
- Math and Statistics: 45%
- Other: 39%
- Physical Sciences: 46%
- Social Sciences: 40%
- Specialized Health Sciences: 38%
What do you think? What did you major in? Would you do it again? What major would you recommend to a pre-med? Comment below!