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Pre-health Resource Page

Pre-Health Advisor Editorial: In Defense of a Liberal Education

Patrick R. Saxe

Each year at Open House I am asked: “In what subject should I major if I plan to apply to medical school?” or “Is it better to major in Biology, or can I major in English, since I like English and do very well in that subject?” or “Why don’t you have a pre-med Major? The College of XYZ does.”

"Does it matter what my major is if I want to go to medical school?" The answer, in large part, is no. Medical schools want applicants who are smart, hard working and well rounded. In addition, medical school requirements state that there are a set of courses which must be completed prior to applying to medical school; these include general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and typically at least 1-2 semesters in English. Aside from those courses which are required for medical school, you can major in anything you want. The majority (75%) of medical school matriculants major in the biological, physical and social sciences. This leaves 25% of students accepted to medical school that have majors in other disciplines. Please see figure 1 taken from the American Association of Medical College's website.

As medical students, we always try to compare ourselves to others. The comparison that is always brought up when discussing majors is, "Do students with a lot of science coursework have a leg up on students who majored in the humanities or social sciences?" The answer is probably no overall. Clearly, if you majored in biochemistry in college, you will likely find your biochemistry course in medical school to be far easier than some. However, overall, it probably doesn't make that much of a difference. If you are a hard worker and dedicated to your studies and happened to major in Politics, your chances of doing well in medical school are equal overall to the student who majored in Biology. Hard work will always help you overcome any obstacles you will encounter, in medical school and in life.

So what do I tell my advisees now? As always, the best course is a middle one. “Choose any Liberal Arts and Sciences major we have here, just make sure it is something you enjoy and one in which you will excel. Double major if you so choose. Whatever your choice, make sure your program is rigorous and demanding -- you must prove you can manage a heavy load and still have a life. As contradictory as it seems, you must learn broadly about the world, learn how to write and express yourself, and learn how to learn, in order to prepare yourself for the inevitable specialization that is medicine. And you must be sure to have fun along the way.”


Figure 1


Undergraduate Major

%Accepted

#Accepted

%Applicants

GPA
Literature 72.2% 26 0.1% 3.60
Religious Studies 64.2% 61 0.3% 3.63
Neuroscience 62.6% 347 1.6% 3.58
Double Major (Sci+non) 62.4% 908 4.2% 3.62
Double Major (non Sci) 61.2% 142 0.7% 3.63
English 58.4% 250 0.1% 3.54
Interdisciplinary 56.4% 119 0.6% 3.61
History 55.3% 194 1.0% 3.54
Chemistry 54.9% 998 5.2% 3.64
Natural Science 54.4% 93 0.5% 3.54
Psychobiology 53.6% 147 0.8% 3.60
Biochemistry 53.0% 2333 6.7% 3.64
Double Major (Sci+Sci) 52.9% 450 2.4% 3.67
Political Science 51.3% 96 0.5% 3.51
Biomedical Science 50.6% 183 1.0% 3.72
Humanities 50.0% 17 0.1% 3.56
Human Biology 48.9% 162 0.9% 3.56
Philosophy 48.0% 84 0.5% 3.61
Medicine 47.4% 9 0.1% 3.75
Biology 46.9% 6098 37.3% 3.60
Physiology 46.7% 229 1.4% 3.58
Zoology 46.7% 301 1.9% 3.64
No Major 45.9% 51 0.3% 3.63
Microbiology 45.9% 526 3.3% 3.66
Psychology 45.8% 760 4.8% 3.55
Scociology 44.4% 71 0.5% 3.49
Pre-med 43.3% 260 1.7% 3.65
Physics 39.0% 68 0.4% 3.52
Nursing 34.6% 89 0.7% 3.51
Education 31.4% 70 0.2% 3.52
Comp Sci 30.0% 53 0.3% 3.64
Medical Technology 24.7% 43 0.5% 3.59
General Studies 19.1% 9 0.1% 3.45
         
ALL Applicants (34862) 50.1% 17445 80.7% 3.60