If you’re planning to attend medical school after your undergraduate studies, the question “Which major should I choose?” has probably been in your head more than once.
Other questions swimming around in your head probably sound like this:
“Is pre-med a major?”
“Is there a specific major required for medical school?”
“What pre-med major is the best”?”
That’s understandable — plenty of people have been where you are now. Pre-med is so widely talked about that it can give the false impression that it’s a degree by itself, but it’s not.
The fact that there’s no required major to apply to medical school can be a pro since you have an opportunity to explore and enjoy other fields while taking your medical school course requirements.
Still, it can also be a disadvantage since now you have the added difficulty of figuring out what pre-med degree is best for you. In this post, we’ll discuss pre-med majors, learn about the different options and how to choose the best for you.
First of all, it is helpful to know how to get into medical school and what a pre-med major is.
Unlike in other countries, in the United States, if you want to be a doctor, you’ll have to go to college and obtain a bachelor’s degree before attending medical school.
Being a pre-med means following a college track to meet all the prerequisites needed for medical school, regardless of the major you choose for your undergraduate studies. So, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t have to get a degree in biology or any natural or health science; you can major in humanities if that’s your genuine interest.
As long as you meet the prerequisites for medical school and make your application stand out, what you decide to major in isn’t that significant. However, according to data from the AAMC, some pre-med majors enjoy a higher acceptance rate than others, and other factors come into play.
There are no easy majors for pre-med, as you will have to complete rigorous classes.
In general, candidates for medical school need to complete the following coursework beforehand to apply and potentially be accepted:
While these are the most common prerequisites, your required coursework might vary slightly from school to school.
So, it’s essential to check the requirements for every medical school you’re applying to early on in college. That way, you’ll be on the right track to completing all the courses from the start.
Apart from this required coursework, students aiming to apply to medical school need a strong GPA and good MCAT scores. Data suggests that the higher both scores are, the more likely you will be to get accepted.
However, it is possible to make it to medical school with one stronger than the other.
The required coursework can look very science-loaded and a little bit overwhelming. But don’t fall into the trap of believing that the best major for you to choose is one that helps you satisfy all of the courses.
While this is an option, the alternatives are broad, not only in the sciences but also in the humanities, arts, math and statistics, physical sciences, and social sciences.
There are several good majors for pre-med students. So, let’s take a look at the different fields and what they have to offer:
Due to the strong similarities between this area of study and the medical field, it’s no surprise that most medical school applicants major in biological sciences. This major encompasses biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience, among the most popular disciplines.
Biological sciences majors also learn about animals, the human body, the environment, and studies conducted at a cellular level. Undergraduates majoring in these fields have the opportunity to learn about the evolving areas of medicine and gain a strong foundation in the sciences.
Biological science majors represent 58% of all applicants, but have a slightly below average acceptance rate — nearly 42%.
Math and statistics majors develop excellent analytical and quantitative skills critical for your future success as a medical student. Believe it or not, according to data from the AAMC, only 0.6% of applicants are math and statistics majors.
With an acceptance rate of around 46%, four percentage points above the average rate, math and stats majors make for an excellent option to consider if you’re interested in this field.
Majors in the humanities are also an excellent option to consider. Because only 3.3% of applicants have an academic background in this field, humanities majors enjoy an acceptance rate of 48%, which is six percentage points above average.
Students with music, writing, world languages, or philosophy majors are often excellent communicators and critical thinkers. They are likely to develop a strong bond with the human side of being a doctor, which will help them succeed in their careers.
Chemistry, genetics, and physics are the most common majors in the physical sciences area of study.
These pre-med majors don’t have a clear advantage over others, but because they are science-heavy, they will certainly help you excel in the sciences and will help you prepare for the medical school level of difficulty.
Applicants majoring in the physical sciences make up 8.83% of all candidates and enjoy a higher-than-average acceptance rate of 47.8%. So, if you’re interested in the physical sciences, this may be the easiest pre-med major for you.
Other areas of study include specialized health sciences and social sciences.
Social science majors — in subjects like psychology, history, and sociology — have a 41% acceptance rate, and those who major in the health sciences have a 39% rate of acceptance.
Despite its perception as one of the best best pre-med degrees, specialized health sciences has one of the lowest acceptance rates.
Dr. McGregor, a former member of the Harvard Medical School admissions committee, says that, “over the last 15 years or so, there has been more emphasis on balance, meaning that premedical students now need to focus on these foundational biological courses and the humanities.”
Now that the MCAT assesses the physical or biological sciences, critical thinking skills, and psychosocial foundations, having a broad and interdisciplinary academic background is more helpful than ever.
As discussed above, statistics suggest that there’s no clear advantage of any major over the others. But which is the most popular pre-med major? Take a look at the following grid:
Students with an undergraduate major in the biological sciences make up over half of all medical school applicants. But math and statistics majors were only 342 out of over 53,000 students, an astonishingly low 0.6%.
This explains why the acceptance rate of candidates with a degree in the biological sciences field is 41.5%, which we will explore now.
So, what is the best pre-med major?
One way to answer this question is to look at medical school acceptance rates by major to determine if certain pre-med majors have a higher chance of getting you admitted. Additionally, knowing medical school acceptance rates will help you gauge your competitiveness for medical school admission.
Medical school acceptance rates by major are as follows:
According to these figures, three key areas receive higher admissions rates than the other pre-med majors. In fact, these are the only three groups who are admitted to medical school at a rate greater than 45%.
Does this mean that these three are the good majors for pre-med students, or even the best pre-med degrees?
While the humanities and math and statistics majors may enjoy a higher acceptance rate than biological sciences majors, the number of applicants in these fields is much lower than all the others.
This might explain why more students are accepted out of the total number of applicants with a humanities or math major.
Of course, admissions committees use several factors in their admissions decision process, so we’ll explore several of them below.
Your MCAT scores can make or break your medical school application. They serve as an indicator of your readiness for the rigor of medical school.
Take a look at the table below, which outlines the average MCAT score of medical school applicants and matriculants by undergrad major:
Interestingly, students who pursue math and statistics, humanities, and physical sciences pre-med majors tend to achieve higher scores on the MCAT than those who take other majors.
While there are exceptions to the rule, these three majors are definitely good majors for pre-med students.
Your GPA is also an integral part of the medical school admissions process, as the chances of being admitted to the top medical schools in the US decrease if you have a lower GPA.
Your GPA is split into two categories: your non-science GPA and BCPM GPA.
Your BCPM GPA is your GPA for your biology, chemistry, physics, and math (BCPM) classes. Whether you’re a psychology, business, or biology major, your performance in your BCPM classes is important.
Christina Grabowski, the Associate Dean for Admissions and Enrollment at the Heersink School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says, “We are going to look at how you did in science coursework specifically.”
In your AMCAS application, all courses that you classify as “Biology,” “Chemistry,” “Physics,” and “Math” will count toward your BCPM GPA. Some examples of courses that fall under these headings include:
Brown University notes that “Application services will often include neuroscience courses under biology, but they do not include courses in psychology, cognitive science, geology, or computer science (engineering is usually a separate classification).”
Make sure you know which classes contribute to your BCPM GPA. If you are still struggling to find which classes fall under which category, the AAMC has provided an AMCAS course classification guide.
Let’s take a look at the average non-science and BCPM GPA of medical school matriculants:
Medical schools often set a BCPM GPA requirement, so make sure you do your research. For example, the Heersink School of Medicine requires out-of-state applicants to achieve a BCPM GPA of 3.3 and in-state applicants to achieve a 3.0 BCPM GPA.
Medical schools don’t exclude any major, which can be an advantage for you. But selecting what pre-med degree is best for you is difficult.
To choose the best pre-med major, you have to ask yourself some personal questions and not think exclusively about the coursework you’re required to complete.
A lot of prospective doctors have a strong interest in the sciences, but you might not be passionate about biology and chemistry. Instead, you might be drawn to philosophy, gender studies, or psychology, and that’s totally fine! They are all good majors for pre-med students.
Keep in mind that being a physician involves much more than merely knowing about the human body. Strong ethics, a sense of responsibility, humanity, empathy, and interpersonal communication skills are what makes a doctor a remarkable professional.
So, maybe studying the humanities might not be a bad idea after all. Also, remember that the vast majority of medical school applicants are science majors, which inevitably makes a major in humanities stand out from the crowd.
Another thing to consider apart from your passions is what your strengths are. This might involve a little bit more self-reflection, but being aware of your strengths can make a significant difference in your decisions, as well as in your confidence.
Taking a look back to high school can help you with that. Ask yourself the following questions:
If your best class was math, for example, you might want to consider a major in this field, since there’s a high chance your GPA will be in good standing throughout college.
On the other hand, let’s say the subject you did the best in was biology and you know you’re exceptionally good at it. However, you’re really interested in literature and you would like to expand your knowledge and study this humanity major in-depth.
This is a somewhat complicated situation, but keep in mind that medical school is your ultimate goal, and thinking about the best pre-med major that will get you there, you might want to consider choosing biology. That way, you’ll make sure no unexpected obstacles stand in your way. And you can always take a few literature courses to indulge your interests.
Recapping: The best pre-med majors are ones that you’re passionate about, or that at least you’re interested in, but that you’ll also be able to excel in and will help you maintain a strong GPA.
Deciding what the best majors for med school are is difficult, so we’ve put together several questions and answers to help you decide what pre-med degree is best.
1. Should I choose a major only because it helps me meet all the prerequisites for medical school?
The answer to this question isn’t black and white. While choosing a biology major might seem the easiest way to satisfy all the prerequisites, it’s only a short-term solution.
Having a broad academic background and a strong understanding and knowledge of several fields can give you an advantage in the long-term. If biology truly interests you and happens to help you meet most of the medical school requirements, then go for it.
However, if you’re only doing it because it’s convenient, think about all the options you have before making a rushed decision. Also, remember that every medical school is different, and a biology major will not always be the “easiest” way to satisfy all the prerequisites.
2. What is the most common major for medical school?
The single most common major for medical school is biology, followed closely by psychology.
However, these majors are a biological science and a social science and have a slightly below-average acceptance rate. They may be the most common majors for pre-med students, but that doesn’t affect their acceptance rate.
3. Do the best majors for med school have a clear advantage?
Despite the slight differences in acceptance rates between humanities and biological sciences (around 48% and 42%, respectively), the data indicates no clear advantage.
This is because there’s a significant difference in the number of applicants, too (3.28% for humanities and 58% for biological sciences out of all applicants).
4. Do medical schools have a preference when it comes to the best pre-med majors?
No. Medical schools don’t care what your undergraduate major is as long as you meet all the requirements; you must complete all the required coursework, and possess a strong GPA and MCAT score. Also, the holistic approach to admission has a benefit here.
Instead of worrying about what med schools will think of your major, show the admissions committees what you’re passionate about by choosing a major that aligns with your interests. Just don’t forget to take the required coursework!
5. If I decide to major in the humanities or the social sciences, will I be prepared enough for medical school?
Some students have reported that a science-focused major has helped them build a strong foundation for the MCAT and later succeed in medical school.
However, regardless of the major you decide to choose, you’ll have to satisfy all the required coursework, which will give you the science foundation you need. If you feel strongly that a science major will help you set the groundwork for medical school, go for it.
Some students also consider a double major in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and humanities, such as a world language. While a double major doesn’t give you an admissions advantage, it’ll help you acquire competitive interdisciplinary skills.
6. Why should I consider choosing a major in the humanities instead of the sciences?
The main reason you should consider choosing a major in the humanities instead of the sciences is if that's what you really want to do.
Are you interested in history? Do you have a talent like playing an instrument, painting, or writing? Are you interested in the physiological as well as environmental explanations for human behavior? Maybe you have a strong sense of justice and would like to dig deep into the roots of ethics and society?
These are only some of the questions to ask yourself when deciding which major is the best for you. Just because you’re aiming to be a doctor doesn’t mean that your interests begin and end in medicine and the biological sciences.
By showing expertise in your area of interest, whatever that is, you’ll make yourself a competitive candidate, and you’ll make your application stand out.
Choosing an undergraduate major as a pre-med student is an important decision. However, not everyone knows they have options besides the popular and traditional biology or biochemistry majors.
There’s the belief that these are the most accepted majors in medical school and are the ones that will best prepare you for it. However, that’s far from reality. As we’ve seen, acceptance rates among the different study areas vary only slightly, meaning there’s no field with a clear advantage.
Prerequisites also vary from medical school to medical school, and while most of the coursework you’ll be required to take is science-based, the MCAT also requires a foundation in humanities and written and communication skills.
So, the question, “What is the best pre major for medical school?” doesn’t have an answer. The key is to apply to medical school with all the prerequisites satisfied, a strong GPA, and a good MCAT score.
The truth is that all majors will provide you with specific skills that will help you grow and succeed as a person, student, and professional. After all, being a doctor involves so much more than just medicine and biology.