Before you apply to med school, you’ll need to take a slate of pre-med courses, which vary somewhat from med school to med school, and from college to college. You’ll also need to fulfill your college’s requirements for general education courses. But, even as a prospective medical student with so many requirements on your plate, your major and minor are up to you!
But how to choose, especially when you’re in such a rhythm of checking off necessary coursework boxes? Below, we’ll walk you through factors to consider when selecting your college major and minor.
Historically, many pre-med students chose to major in biology because it’s most aligned with the curriculum in medical school and the practice of medicine, so would theoretically give students a thorough knowledge base for their future careers. Not only that, but biology courses could count toward both pre-med and major requirements; as an added bonus, taking additional bio courses the major offers—including biochemistry, cell bio, and physiology—is recommended as prep for the MCAT. Students may also have perceived that choosing to major in bio would reflect a greater interest in the field of medicine.
But in recent years, med schools have become increasingly interested in diversifying their classes along a variety of dimensions, including academic background. According to a 2021 article posted on the American Medical Association’s website, the data indicate that majoring in biology now offers no advantage in gaining admittance to medical school: “For instance, 30,921 students with majors in the biological sciences applied to medical schools in 2020–2021. The matriculation rate for that group was roughly 40 percent, lower than several other primary majors.” For context, the national matriculation rate for med school applicants is 41%.
The AMA article also notes that, “Among the listed majors, students who studied biological sciences also had an average total MCAT score that fell in the middle of the group of tracked primary undergraduate majors.” The students who scored best on the MCAT in 2020-2021, according to data from the American Association of Medical Colleges, were math and statistics majors (see Table A-17).
So, rather than majoring in biology because you imagine it will appeal to med schools, major in what you are most passionate about! You have plenty of required coursework on your plate, a trend that will only continue in med school; your major is a chance to study outside the med school box, if that’s what most appeals to you. Choosing based on your own academic interests rather than “shoulds” will increase your motivation to engage in your learning.
At Collegiate Gateway, we’ve worked with students who majored in specialized areas within biology such as nutritional biochemistry and neuroscience, as well as science areas outside of biology such as the history of science. We have also worked with students who chose a variety of non-science majors, such as Spanish, religion, and entrepreneurship. All pursued areas that truly engaged their intellect, successfully conveyed this in their applications, and gained admittance at the same rates as science majors.
The same advice goes for choosing your minor. Some of our students have selected a minor that is highly relevant to the practice of medicine, such as Spanish, to converse with Spanish-speaking patients; public health, to obtain a broader awareness of public health issues that may be relevant to their patients; or business, to help prepare for running a medical practice. Others have chosen an area in which they have a strong interest that is totally unrelated to medicine, such as art or music. All were valid choices, and enhanced the strength of applicants’ candidacy. The key is being genuinely interested in what you’re studying and finding a way to articulate this passion in your medical school application materials.
Building a college curriculum as you prepare to apply to medical school is a complicated process. If you would like guidance on any aspect of your pre-med preparation or med school applications, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!