What is Pre-Med?
Getting accepted into college can be a very exciting time. You are eager to start a new phase of your life and are hungry for the opportunities that await. For someone who plans to do Pre-Med, however, choosing a major can be a daunting task. So what exactly is Pre-Med? There seems to be a lot of confusion as to whether “Pre-Med” is an actual major offered in the college course catalog. When I was a young freshman picking out classes for the first time, my counselor explained it to me best: “Pre-Med is not really a major. It’s more like a curriculum or track”. In other words, the Pre-Med track is a set of core classes which must be taken to satisfy medical school admissions requirements. The following courses are part of the traditional Pre-Med track: one year of Biology, one year of General Chemistry, one year of Organic Chemistry, one year of General Physics, one year of English, and many schools require one quarter/semester of Biochemistry. These subjects are also tested on the MCAT – you’re expected to have a solid foundation in all of them.
Captain America was Pre-Med too.
Ok, but which Major Should I Choose?
Since Pre-Med is a track rather than a major, there is flexibility when it comes to selecting a major. The overwhelming majority of students choose to do the Pre-Med track with a life science major. Five to ten years ago, the Biology major pre-med track paired with a strong GPA and solid MCAT score would have sufficed for admission into a medical school. Nowadays, this is not always the case. Medical school admission has continued to grow more and more competitive – applicants can use non-traditional majors as one tool to set themselves apart from other applicants. While not required or necessarily recommended for all applicants, if you’re interested in majors beyond the classic Pre-Med life science majors, I urge you to pursue a major that speaks to you.
For instance, choosing to do the Pre-Med track but with a Fine Arts major immediately makes someone stand out from the crowd. Imagine you’re on the admissions committee: you are stuck in your office going through thousands of applicants’ files. The vast majority of the files you’ve sorted through belongs to students who are Biology or Chemistry majors. You take a lifeless sip of coffee and become more and trudge along. Suddenly, you see it. You pick up the file and see that it belongs to a Film Studies major who minored in Philosophy and Religion. You see that the applicant has phenomenal grades in the Pre-Med classes and a solid MCAT score to match – her personal statement and secondary essays are impressive as well. You joyously place the file in the interview pile. You pick up the next file and its another Biology major. You take another lifeless sip of coffee and the monotony resumes.
While obviously an exaggerated example, I hope you understand the point I’m getting at. Admissions officers are usually welcoming to applicants with non-traditional majors. They want to select students who are unique, well-rounded, and who will contribute to their class diversity. In no way am I suggesting that majoring in Biology or Chemistry will prevent you from matriculating to medical school. In fact, if you are passionate about a specific life science major, then pursue it to the fullest. However, don’t shy away from pursuing other academic interests as well. Catering to my interests, I personally majored in Biology, Psychology, and minored in Religion. If I had more time, and quite frankly, more money, I would have probably taken a third major in Finance, which is another area that I find fascinating. And that is the key here: Find a major which you are passionate about. If you have other interests or passions, consider supplementing with a second major or a minor. That being said, do not overload your class schedule to the point that your grades suffer – this will hurt you more than double majoring or minoring will help you.
To help you select the right major as a Pre-Med, I have compiled the following steps to aid you on your journey:
1| Find something you are truly passionate about
This cannot be overstated. Pick a major that aligns with your personality and interests. Medical school advisors love to see unique and interesting applicants. It makes their student body more well rounded and diverse. If you’re passionate about the life sciences, which wouldn’t be surprising considering you want to be a doctor, pursue that to the fullest! Whether biology, neuroscience, or physiology, there are several life science majors you may gravitate toward.
2| To apply to medical school, you must take the Pre-Med Requirements
Most medical schools require some form of the following:
- One year of General Chemistry
- One year of Organic Chemistry
- One year of Biology
- One year of Physics
- One year of English
- One quarter/semester of Biochemistry
I recommend taking these courses early in your college career as it helps prepare you for the MCAT. If you chose a life science major, then many of the science requirements will also fulfill your major requirements. If you are unsure about which exact classes to take, check with your school counselor for classes to fulfill medical school requirements. If you’re interested in a particular school, make sure you check their pre-requisite courses for medical school applicants.
3| Consider picking up a second major or a minor
A second major allows you to explore further interests and boost your academic application. It also lets the admissions committee know you can handle an extensive workload. If picking a second major is not feasible without your grades suffering, consider a minor. It also will boost your application and make you a better candidate. Follow your other academic interests – medical school admissions committees love unique applicants.
4| If you are unsure, Do Not Panic! Undeclared is OK
It is completely fine to be undeclared for the first one or two years of college. Use your first several semesters to get your medical school prerequisites (above) out of the way. Don’t be afraid to explore various courses to determine what you like and dislike.
When I started, I was undeclared. I explored various subjects ranging from Macroeconomics to Western History before commiting to Biology, Psychology, and Religion.
You should have a major determined by the end of your sophomore year.
5| Trust the process, and Have Fun!
It can be daunting to choose a major at the onset of college. However, realize that this is a journey about self-discovery. Take your time – you want to choose a major you genuinely enjoy and are passionate about. Don’t fret about “what will medical school admissions committees think?” Rather, follow your academic interests, allow your passion to shine through, perform well, and the rest will fall into place. Enjoying what you’re studying will translate to better performance in your classes too!
Take a deep breath and dive in. It is a hectic and often overwhelming process, but it can be enjoyable and incredibly rewarding as well. I wish you all continued success on your path to become amazing doctors. Onward!