For high school students wishing to attend medical school, choosing a major feels like a big decision. There are several factors involved, and students may want to choose a major that they think will give them an advantage when applying to medical schools. Let’s take a look at the data: According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), 21,622 students matriculated to medical school last cycle. Of those students, nearly 55% were biological sciences majors, 10% physics, 10% social sciences, 3.5% humanities, 3% specialized health sciences, and <1% math/statistics. You may have added those percentages in your head and realized...it doesn’t add up to 100. That’s because the second largest group of matriculants fell into the “other” categories, coming in at 18% of matriculated students. Now it may seem at first glance that biological sciences is the clear winner here, with 55% of matriculating students having chosen a major within that field, but that isn’t the whole story. Of pre-med students, biological sciences is by far the most commonly chosen major, so it would only make sense that a bulk of matriculated students studied the biological sciences. Of the total 50,000+ applicants in that same cycle, 29,443 were biological sciences, giving that group a roughly 40% matriculation rate, which is lower than several other primary majors. Students who studied biological sciences also had an average MCAT score that fell in the middle of the group.
So does that mean “DON’T choose biological science majors”? No. I want to dispel the myth that certain majors are better than others when it comes to applying to medical schools. There is only one advantage to studying the biological or related sciences: the course-work tends to overlap heavily with medical school prerequisites. Regardless of what a student studies in undergrad, all applicants to medical schools must have completed the basic requirements for applications, on top of any school-specific requirements. One thing that is definite is that a solid foundation in the sciences is necessary to succeed in the MCAT and in medical school curricula. That being said, it is a commonly held opinion amongst medical school admission counselors that interesting, passionate applicants have the highest chance of gaining admission. So, what does that mean for the high school student picking their major? Choose a major that interests you, while keeping in mind that you still need to be an expert in the sciences.
In my case, I am passionate about the sciences, but I also have other interests, such as Economics and Finance. If you’re worried that choosing a non-biological science major and taking pre-med courses on top of that will be too difficult, I’m here to tell you that it can certainly be done. I double-majored in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology as well as Economics and was able to graduate in four years. Granted, there were pros and cons to that decision, but I knew that studying fields that were interesting to me would be more fulfilling and worthwhile than picking a major solely because I thought it would benefit my chances of getting into medical schools down the line. As a junior in high school, I remember meeting a medical school admissions counselor through a family friend. When I asked him which majors he looks for, he said that biological sciences is very common, and he looks for majors that catch his eye. If he sees an Art History major with good grades/scores, he wants to know more, so he often grants that student an interview (and all medical school applicants know that getting an interview is more than half the battle).
So the bottom line is this: pick a major that will make you excited to go to class for four years (even if it is biological sciences) and meet with a pre-med advisor early on to make sure that you can fulfill your pre-med requirements as well.