Guide to choosing a pre-med major
Gain valuable insights and tips on selecting the right academic pathway that aligns with your medical career aspirations.
If you are unsure of which pre-med major to choose, reading this guide will help you pick the major that is right for you
What does it mean to be pre-med?
Being ‘pre-med’ means that you are taking a normal undergraduate degree with the intention of later applying to medical school. Colleges offer a formal ‘pre-med track’, which enables you to take the set of core classes that medical schools require. However, they also allow you to take classes in other interest areas, so the pre-med experience does not need to be entirely sciences – unless you want it to be.
There are some combined BS/MD degrees that you can take part in, and you can find out more about those below. If you want to go down the pre-med bachelor’s degree route then you do need to view your mandatory core classes as just the minimum amount of pre-med preparation. It is so competitive to apply to medical school that you do need to begin designing your academic narrative from the very beginning. While it’s not a requirement to have everything planned out by the time you start college, you are going to be competing against candidates who have been focused on medical school for a long time.
It’s not just about taking the most biology classes, but instead having a coherent reason for the classes you take – even if it’s to fulfil a personal interest or hobby outside of medicine.
What are some common pre-med majors?
Although biology is always going to be a popular and obvious choice for a pre-med major, it is certainly not the only one you will find useful. Successful MDs have majors from across the full scope of academia – with some even majoring in the arts.
You should think about the major you choose in two ways:
- Does it contain content that you will find helpful in your later studies?
- Does it make you think in a way that will benefit your medical training?
Point one is important of course, but a biology major isn’t requisite for a reason: the core classes you are advised to take only contain the most basic knowledge that you will need when you start medical school. But those core classes aren’t enough to train your brain to process and critically evaluate the vast amounts of content you will be expected to digest at medical school.
That’s where point two comes in.
Very few people find that they use the knowledge and information they have learned at college in their day to day work. However, they will use the critical thinking skills they developed all the time. This is why it’s possible to major in the arts, but still complete all you need to at the pre-med stage. The sheer amount of reading you do is also a help – did you know that humanities majors outperform scientists in every area of the MCATs?
That said, there are big differences between the sciences and the arts, and the way that both disciplines approach things like information schema and research. As a result, majoring in STEM subjects is the option that the majority of pre-med undergraduates take.
Common subjects include:
- Chemistry – this can be helpful in establishing the basics of the body’s biochemistry, as well as the development of medicines and their effect on the body.
- Biochemistry specifically – you will cover some of this content in core pre-med classes, but also far more thoroughly when you reach medical school.
- Neurobiology – this is the study of cells in the nervous system, their different groupings, how they function and process information.
- Social sciences – this will give you insight into how society functions and why individuals and groups behave as they do.
- Psychology – you might wish to become a psychiatrist later in your career, or you might simply find this develops skills and understanding that will support your bedside manner later.
No matter what major you take, you will still study the same core classes, so there is more flexibility than you think. Biology is not the only option!
What classes are required for medical school?
Although this will vary slightly from medical school to medical school, these are the most basic core requirements:
- Biology – 2 semesters with lab
- Physics – 2 semesters with lab
- General chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
- Organic chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
- Biochemistry – 1 semester
- English – 2 semesters
- Math – 2 semesters
You might wonder why the last two are there. These are to ensure that you have the most basic skills needed to function as an MD. You need to keep these skills sharp, otherwise you might end up with an unpleasant surprise in your MCAT scores.
Should you choose biology as your pre-med major?
This is worth mentioning again. There’s a common misconception that majoring in biology is required for medical school, even though this is not the case. While medical schools require students to take biology classes, a major is not essential.
However, it’s definitely got its benefits — you might find you have an edge over other students in the first few months of medical school because of your broader science background. While others will catch up, this head start can relieve the stress of the first few months. You’ll also get a chance to specify a bit earlier, and you can see which part of the subject you like the most. Just don’t major in it because you think you need to.
How to choose the best pre-med major for you?
The most important part of choosing a major is finding something you are passionate about. Medical schools want to attract well-rounded students who have a range of interests and good self-knowledge in their abilities.
If you know you want to be a doctor, but have a passion for English literature, then don’t be afraid to major in this if you want to. When else will you get the chance to study it that closely again in your life? Think about the critical skills you will develop. It might improve your ability to read through vast amounts of information and pick key points.
Likewise, if your passion is human geography, think about how you will be able to link your insights to the realities of working for a busy health system.
Most importantly, if you are passionate and have a genuine interest in what you major in, this will come across naturally in your application for medical school. Committed students with broad interest areas are precisely what medical schools want to see, so don’t get caught up in trying to create the perfect pre-med story.
What else can I do at the pre-med stage to help my application?
Aside from your academic studies, you will also need to take on extra-curricular work in preparation. Try to see these as being connected – you might think of a really creative way to link interests and use your time well. Some medical schools will require a specific number of volunteering hours in a medical context, so check the requirements of each program you apply to.
On a final note – make sure you know the requirements of the medical schools you apply to. Read the prospectus, website and other sources of information. The last thing you want is to discover that you have only a couple of weeks to make up x number of hours doing something you didn’t realise you needed to do.
If you would like any more information on the various courses required to get into medical school, why not contact us and discover everything MUA has to offer.