What Should I Major In?

The Major

Much of the confusion in being a premedical student comes from the fact that there is no premedical major, per se. Most premedical students major in biology or chemistry simply because these majors afford the most economical way to get a degree and still complete the medical school admissions requirements. The undergraduate prerequisite courses that all med school require are usually part of the degree programs in these sciences. Non-science majors must take these prereqs in addition to all of the courses required for their degree, so it can take longer to to meet the requirements set by med schools for acceptance.

Second, med schools look at your overall GPA as well as your science GPA, the GPA in biology, chemistry, physics, and math (called the BCPM GPA). A non-science major's BCPM GPA will be calculated based on fewer science classes, and can be seriously eroded by even one poor grade.

Finally, science courses such as physiology and biochemistry can not only help prepare you for the MCAT, and also (along with anatomy) help prepare you for that first tough year in med school should you get in.

However, a case can be made for majoring in a non-science area if your interests lie there, albeit with some caveats. On the plus side, med schools do not use your major as a criteria for admissions. In fact, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, non-science majors typically have higher acceptance rates to medical school, but most likely this is a consequence of the fact that there are many more science majors applying to medical school than non-science majors, and therefore the percentage of students that are accepted is a bit lower. The bottom line: select a major that interests you and that you can excel doing. If you enjoy what you are studying, you will be more motivated to study harder and earn better grades.

But if you do choose a non-chemistry or non-biology major, you need to be aware of some issues. The most important thing to do right at the beginning is to plan out when you will take the med school prereq courses. Try to enroll in these classes as early as you can. For the first year courses in chemistry and biology, we have arranged with these respective departments to allow you a better priority for enrolling in these courses, but you need to see me first for a letter confirming your premed status. You will take the letter to the department office or to whoever is responsible for issuing permission numbers for these courses. Since med schools look not only at your overall GPA, but your science prereq GPA, work very hard to maximize your grades in the science courses that you do take.

The second issue concerns financial aid and the Satisfactory Academic Progress policy: (SAP POLICY): all student aid funding will be suspended once a student exceeds 180 total units (including transfer units and CR/NC courses). Furthermore, these med school science prereq courses that are not part of your academic major requirements can be considered ONLY for loan funding and ONLY for a period of 12 months. They cannot be considered for any type of grant aid. So if you do decide on a non-traditional. non-Chemistry or Biology major, you need to carefully plan out the courses that you will take early on, and if you are applying for financial aid, keep track of your total units and funding sources.

And that brings us to another important consideration: you do not want to start your career under a burden of "crushing" debt. The debt will be crushing if you borrow more than you can reasonably pay off given your future salary. If you do complete medical school, your salary prospects should cover a reasonable student debt. But if you take on a large student debt before you have even been accepted into medical school, you may well be putting your future financial stability at risk. Consider the grades you get in these science prereq courses carefully: in general, a minimum GPA of 3.6 for US medical schools, and a minimum GPA of 3.3 for osteopathic schools or Caribbean medical schools.

The best advice I can give you is to tell you to major in whatever interests you most and is reasonable for you financially. No major will get you into medical school. Whatever major is chosen, be sure to do well in your courses, and especially in the required premedical courses, and to consult with a premedical advisor the first semester you start thinking about going to medical school.