Best Majors for Pre-med Students

Do you have to be pre-med to get into med school?

A doctor training medical students.
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Are you aspiring to join the medical field? Your undergraduate major isn't nearly as important to medical school admissions as most students think. In fact, the very idea of a "pre-med major" is misleading because you can complete required pre-med coursework while pursuing any major. And while it may be tempting to think that biology is the best major for a medical school application, admissions data suggests otherwise. Math, humanities, and physical science majors slightly outperform biology majors on the MCAT, and they are also slightly more likely to receive acceptance to med school. These statistical differences are small, but they should be encouraging to med school hopefuls who also have interests in other areas.

However, regardless of major, medical school applicants do need to plan their undergraduate classes carefully. To be prepared for the MCAT and medical school admissions requirements, all pre-med students should take classes in biology, chemistry (especially organic chemistry), physics, and math (calculus will be required by some programs). Courses in psychology and sociology are also a good idea. If you have completed this coursework successfully, your major doesn't matter so much to medical schools; in fact, a unique major might make you stand out.

All of the majors in the following list will help you hone important skills needed for medical school. Read on to learn more about the best majors for pre-med students.

Biology

Biology is a logical choice for undergrad students intending to go to medical school. For one, students who want to go into medicine presumably enjoy the biological sciences, so they will be studying a field that genuinely interests them. But also, biology majors will—in the course of their normal coursework—fulfill most prerequisite coursework for medical school applications.

Biology is the most popular major for medical school applicants. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), 29,443 students who majored in the biological sciences applied to medical school, and they had a mean MCAT score of 505.5. Of those students, 11,843 entered medical school for an enrollment rate of 40.2%.

Math and Statistics

According to the AAMC, math and statistics majors have the highest mean score on the MCAT of any major: 509.4. They also have the highest enrollment rate: 48% of math-major applicants end up attending medical school.

The reality is that most math and statistics majors do not go into health fields, but when they do, they are clearly quite successful. Math majors are good at problem-solving and logical thinking. They are trained to work with data, map out patterns, and find solutions. While the MCAT doesn't have a math section, it does have many questions that involve reading tables and graphs to draw conclusions.

Engineering

Most engineering majors plan to be engineers, but the skills learned as an undergraduate engineering major can be extremely useful for medical school and the practice of medicine. The human body, after all, is an extremely complex machine that functions using mechanical, electrical, chemical, and fluid systems. Engineers are taught to think in ways that have clear applications to the human body. Their ability to analyze complex systems and find solutions to system failures has clear applications within the medical profession.

Nearly any engineering field can be a good choice for med school preparation. Mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and materials science all have applications in health fields, and they all teach skills that are good preparation for the MCAT. The AAMC does not have admissions data for engineering majors because it is an uncommon pre-med choice, but it's likely that engineers would perform similarly to math majors.

English

English may seem like a rather unusual choice for medical school preparation, but data suggests otherwise. English and other humanities majors do better on the MCAT than biology majors, with a mean score of 507.6 compared to biology's 505.5. Similarly, humanities majors are statistically more successful with their med school applications than biology majors, even though they tend to have lower overall GPAs and science GPAs.

What explains this situation? Think about the training English majors receive: English study is all about critical thinking, careful reading, textual analysis, analytical writing, and clear communication. Such skills are obviously helpful for the MCAT's "Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills" section, but they can come into play in other sections as well. Also, English majors are well-prepared to write their personal statements and often perform well in interviews.

If you love English but want to go to medical school, don't shy away from an English major, and remember that other humanities fields—history, philosophy, languages—have similar advantages.

Spanish

The argument for a Spanish major is similar to that of an English major. You'll learn critical thinking, analytical writing, close reading, and effective communication skills. And like English and other humanities majors, you'll be in a field that outperforms biology majors on the MCAT, which is an encouraging sign.

Spanish has some extra advantages though. By becoming proficient in a second language, you'll be able to communicate with more patients. In the United States, Spanish is more prevalent than any other foreign language. Communication barriers are serious problems in hospitals, and many employers will give preference to job candidates who have second language skills. You may also find that your Spanish language skills open up interesting medical school opportunities for studying and practicing medicine abroad.

Psychology

Students in the social sciences—psychology, sociology, anthropology—tend to score about the same as biology majors on the MCAT. According to the AAMC, they earned a mean score of 505.6 compared to biology's 505.5. They also enroll at a slightly higher rate (41% vs 40%).

The MCAT section "Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior" will be a breeze for psychology majors. Many psychology majors also study biochemistry, and classroom subjects have direct relevance to medical school topics: cognitive function, physiology, mental health disorders, and the workings of the brain. Plus, as we learn more about the close connection between mental and physical health, a psychology major will become increasingly relevant to the world of medicine.

Physics

Students who major in the physical sciences—physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology—are among the top performers on the MCAT with a mean score of 508. Their medical school enrollment rate is slightly below humanities and math majors, but still 6% higher than biology majors (46% vs 40%).

Physics majors tend to be excellent problem solvers and critical thinkers. They understand scientific processes and research methods. They learn valuable quantitative skills and can grasp how systems work. The body's electrical and mechanical systems will be easy for a physics student to interpret. They will also have an advantage on the MCAT's "Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems" section.

Nursing

Nursing majors do not necessarily have to become nurses, and the skills they learn in nursing school have obvious relevance to medical school. A nursing student will have a greater knowledge of anatomy, nutrition, physiology, and microbiology than applicants from most other majors. When it comes time for clinical practice in medical school, nursing students will already feel at home because of their undergraduate clinical experiences. Math and English majors may have higher mean scores on the MCAT, but nursing majors will have far more familiarity with hospitals, medical equipment, and patient interactions.

Nurses and students in the health sciences have mean MCAT scores that are lower than other majors (a 502.4 compared to a 505.6 across all majors). They also enroll at a lower rate (36% compared to 41% for all majors). That said, they have already demonstrated their dedication to a medical profession, and their nursing background can give them an invaluable understanding of a hospital environment that medical school admissions committees don't overlook.