Sadhvi Mathur 7 min read 11th Grade, 12th Grade, Pre-Med

Is Pre-Med A Major? Best Majors for Pre-Meds

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A lot of students who want to become doctors think they can enter college as a “pre-med,” but what does that even mean? Is “pre-med” a major? Will it give you a leg up when applying to medical school? To learn what exactly pre-med is, along with some important information about working towards medical school whilst in high school and college, keep reading. 

 

Is Pre-Med A Major? 

 

While it would be extremely convenient if each college offered a major called “Pre-Med” that only taught courses necessary for becoming a doctor, no such thing currently exists in a normal college curriculum. So what do students mean when they say “I’m pre-med”? 

 

Pre-med is a college track, a set of courses you agree to take as prerequisite courses for medical school. These pre-med courses don’t necessarily need to be a part of a student’s major. A student can study a completely unrelated major (e.g. Music or Spanish), but still take all the necessary pre-med courses as electives so that they are still on the pre-med track. 

 

Admittedly, this is not the most common path that aspiring doctors take. Most pre-med students choose a major in the hard sciences like Biology, Chemistry, or Physics such that their pre-med courses also fulfill the course requirements for their major. According to a recent Earnest article, some of the most common hard sciences majors that pre-med students choose are Biology, Biochemistry, and Neuroscience. 

 

Required Prerequisite Courses For Medical School 

 

So we know that “pre-med” is really just a set of required prerequisite courses for medical school, but which courses fall under this category? In other words, which college classes do you need to take in order to apply for medical school? 

 

As a general rule, pre-med students need to complete the following coursework in some capacity at their respective universities in order to apply to med school: 

 

  • 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
  • Some schools also might require Psychology and Statistics

 

While these are the general courses you’ll need to take to apply to medical school, the requirements do vary by medical school. 

 

For instance, these are Harvard Medical School’s requirements

 

  • Biology – 2 semesters with lab
  • Physics – 2 semesters (with lab preferred)
  • Chemistry – 4 semesters with lab, including inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry.
  • Writing – 2 semesters
  • Math – 2 semesters (1 calculus and 1 statistics course, preferably biostatistics)

 

And these are OSU Medical School’s requirements:

 

  • Biology – 2 semesters
  • General Chemistry –  2 semesters with lab
  • Biochemistry 1 semester/quarter course 
  • Organic Chemistry – 2 semesters with lab
  • Physics –  2 semesters with lab

 

They also have additional recommended coursework in topics like Anatomy, Writing, Social Sciences, Humanities, Diversity, and Ethics.

 

These required courses are not just necessary to show medical schools that you have the prerequisite knowledge needed to become a doctor–they will also be extremely helpful for the MCAT, or Medical College Admissions Test. This is a seven-hour computer-based exam that you’ll need to take for your med school application. Some of the subjects tested on the MCAT are psychology, sociology, physics, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and biology. Does this list sound familiar? That’s because it’s almost exactly the same as the required pre-med course list. So while you’re on the pre-med track, you’re preparing for both the MCAT and med school in general. 

 

Best Majors For Pre-Med Students (Includes the Humanities!)

 

In theory, if a student is on the pre-med track, they should just select the major that requires them to take all of the pre-med courses, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that cut and dry. First of all, most college majors don’t require you to take the full breadth of courses required for the pre-med track. 

 

Furthermore, the major you choose should not just be about checking off a required list of courses. It should be a subject that you’re genuinely interested in and passionate about while also preparing you for your future life as a doctor. 

 

To be the absolute most competitive for medical school admissions, you should first try to double major in a STEM field and a humanities field if you can. This may be more difficult at a school with many general education requirements and major requirements, but it is very doable at many liberal arts colleges. 

 

Only 3.1% of med school applicants are humanities majors, so having a humanities background will help you stand out. Humanities majors are also accepted to medical school at a slightly higher rate than non-humanities majors: 46.5% vs. 41.3% for the 2019-2020 cycle. While this 5.2% may not seem like a huge difference, it may come as a surprise to many people that humanities majors have just as good a chance (if not better) of medical school acceptance than traditional STEM majors.

 

Many doctors also encourage pre-med students to study the humanities, as they believe that the humanities teach students skills essential to being a doctor. Dr. Angira Patel writes in her article To be a Good Doctor, Study the Humanities:

 

As a philosophy major in college before medical school, I believe I learned what it means to be a good doctor equally from my humanities classes as from my science classes. Studying the humanities helps students develop critical-thinking skills, understand the viewpoints of others and different cultures, foster a just conscience, build a capacity for empathy, and become wise about emotions such as grief and loss. These are all characteristics that define a good doctor.

 

Studying the humanities will not only give you an edge in admissions, but also equip you with both the analytical and soft skills that serve doctors well in their patient interactions.

 

If you can’t double major in a humanities subject and a STEM subject, you should also feel free to simply major in the humanities while completing the medical school course requirements. As long as you take the prerequisites, you don’t actually have to major in the sciences.

 

If you want to complete a more traditional major, or if you’re not interested in majoring in the humanities, here are the best science-related pre-med majors. These top 3 choices are based on how many prerequisites they help you complete, and how well they’ll prepare you for the MCAT.

 

 1. Biochemistry

 

Biochemistry combines two of the most popular standalone pre-med majors, Biology and Chemistry. On the MCAT, you’ll be expected to know Biochemistry, Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry, which are all topics covered in the Biochem major. According to MCAT-Prep.com, these 4 topics make up 106/230 questions on the MCAT, accounting for 46.1% of the entire exam. Biochemistry will give you a strong background in all these foundational topics for both the MCAT and medical school coursework.

 

2. Chemistry

 

A true physical science, the Chemistry major in its various forms is also quite popular among pre-med students. There are three subjects on the MCAT that are related to chemistry, and a few more that are related to several required classes in most chemistry majors. In addition, medical students do need to have a Chemistry background to understand several med school concepts. So, the Chemistry major will equip you with knowledge that you can use throughout medical school. 

 

3. Biology

 

Perhaps the most intuitive pre-med major is Biology, whether it be a General study or a more specific major like Human Biology or Integrated Biology. This is the most common pre-med major as it does cover a lot of the material that you will need to know as a med student, specifically human anatomy, health, physiology, neurobiology, and more. Given that, it makes sense that this major also covers most of the material that you’ll need to know for your MCAT.

 

Applying To College As A Pre-Med: What You Need To Know 

 

When all is said and done, pre-med students have a lot of preparation to do when it comes to preparing for medical school starting from a surprisingly young age. Here are some pre-med words of wisdom that we’ve learned working with thousands of students over the last few years on their high school and college admissions profile: 

 

Attend a College That Will Support Your Pre-Med Journey: If you’re planning to apply to medical school, there are a few things you’re going to want to do during college to be a competitive medical school candidate. These include gaining clinical experience, research experience, and really honing in on the science subjects necessary for the MCAT and med school admissions. Be sure to choose a college that offers:

 

  • Strong science courses⁠—getting a good foundation in these classes will help you do better on the MCAT, and set you up to succeed in med school
  • Involved pre-med advising⁠—schools with pre-med advisors can help make sure you’re on track to complete requirements, set you up with relevant internships and opportunities, and work with you on your med school applications and interviews
  • Many research opportunities⁠—doing scientific research will also equip you with critical thinking skills, provide you with an opportunity to find mentorship and connections, and help you engage with original scientific literature 

 

Don’t Just Focus on The Pre-Med Courses: When evaluating applicants, med school admissions committees don’t just look at your MCAT score and your transcript to see whether you took all of the pre-med courses. They look at your application as a whole, and they want to see students who excelled not just in pre-med courses, but also in the rest of their academic and extracurricular endeavors. You should also be sure to pursue extracurriculars that you’re genuinely interested in, whether they’re directly related to the medical field or not. Medical school admissions committees can “sniff out” students who have padded their resumes to look desirable, and they prefer to see students who have pursued activities authentically.

 

The Path To Med School Starts Early: Many successful medical school applicants started pursuing clinical and research opportunities early in their academic career, sometimes as early as high school. After all, if you have previous research or clinical experience when you get to college, labs and hospitals are more likely to let you work with them while you’re in college. Experience is key in this field, so the earlier you start building that up, the better. 

 

For more information on picking a college as a pre-med, see our YouTube video Applying to College as a Pre-Med: What You Need to Know.

 


 
With these tips in mind, you may have some colleges in mind that align with your med school goals. At CollegeVine, we are committed to making college guidance accessible to all who want it. That’s why, on our college applications guidance platform, you can use our chancing engine, build a best-fit school list, and learn how to improve your profile–all for free. Sign up for a CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your journey to a college as a pre-med.

 

Finally, if you’d like some more free guidance related to medical school, check out these previous blog posts from Collegevine: 

 

Path To Becoming a Doctor: Steps To Take From High School

Should I Attend a Liberal Arts College As A Premed?

Summer Activities For The Prospective Premed Student

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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!