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Liberal Arts vs. Premed Degrees for Med School Applicants

Posted by Scott Harrah
September 02, 2014

Many students wonder if they have to pursue a premed degree in order to get into medical school. The short answer is "no." Students can choose any major they like, as long as they complete their premed prerequisite courses. The liberal arts major is certainly a viable path, and one that in some cases might produce a more well-rounded doctor. We'll include some of the most recent findings on liberal arts vs. premed degrees for med school applicants, as well as anecdotes from UMHS Director of Admissions, Sean Powers. (Check out our page dedicated to talking about medical schools in the Caribbean).

Majors Don’t Always Matter

Most quality undergraduate institutions don’t offer an actual premed major. There are brilliant doctors who studied everything from Latin to history as undergraduates. Although science-oriented majors like chemistry and biology were once considered traditional premed academic tracks, the scale is changing. Case in point: The 2015 MCAT includes areas on social sciences and the humanities.

An article on, “Does Your Major Matter?” said liberal arts degrees can indeed be useful for students wanting to apply to medical school.

“According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), medical schools accepted 43 percent of the biological sciences majors, 47 percent of physical sciences majors, 51 percent of humanities majors, and 45 percent of social sciences majors who applied in 2010,” Forbes said. “Admissions committee members know that medical students can develop the essential skills of acquiring, synthesizing, applying and communicating information through a wide variety of academic disciplines,’ the AAMC states.”

In “Choose the Right Undergraduate Major for Medical School,” Edward Chang wrote in U.S News and World Report about discovering there weren’t “premed” majors when he first applied to colleges.

“I was surprised when most of the schools I planned to apply to did not offer premed as a major,” Mr. Chang wrote.” It was at that point I realized one of the essential rules of being premed: You do not need to be any particular major in order to go to medical school.”

Mr. Chang makes the following points:

  • According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AMA), “only 51 percent of students who enrolled in medical school in 2012 majored in biological sciences. That means the remaining medical school matriculants majored in humanities, math or statistics, physical sciences, social sciences or specialized health sciences.”
  • “When they broke down the MCAT and GPAs of these matriculants by major, all the categories have essentially the same GPA, science GPA and MCAT score. Matriculants who majored in biological sciences had a mean MCAT of 31 and GPA of 3.69. Humanities majors had a mean MCAT of 31.8 and GPA of 3.66. The numbers for math and statistics, physical sciences, social sciences and specialized health sciences majors were similar.”
  • “Medical schools do not really care what major you choose, as long as you finish your prerequisites and do well in school overall.”

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Major in Something You Like & Take Premed Prerequisites

Not all doctors were chemistry or biology majors as undergrads. In fact, many people now major in such nontraditional premed undergraduate disciplines as journalism (there is a growing market for medical writers who are also M.D.s). We know this firsthand at the UMHS Endeavour, because some of our past blog contributors have been both excellent med students and writers. Students that major in liberal arts or social sciences areas also take premed prerequisites (we will include which courses later). Whatever major you choose, make sure it is something challenging and you should be getting A’s.

A good rule of thumb: If you’re only getting B’s in a certain major, particularly if you’re studying hard, you might need to study something else. However, don’t judge your entire future on doing poorly on one organic chemistry exam. At the same time, if you’re majoring in, say, chemical engineering (considered one of the most difficult disciplines) and are barely able to maintain a 3.0 GPA, you may need to switch majors.

As Edward Chang pointed out in his U.S. News and World Report article, “You still need a GPA high enough to get into medical school and admissions committees will not cut you slack just because you majored in something difficult.”

UMHS Director of Admissions, Sean Powers, offers his perspective: "What is important to medical school faculty members is that students possess the ability to rapidly read, process, and apply large volumes of information. Any undergraduate program which helps develop these skills can be considered appropriate for someone preparing to attend medical school."

Premed Prerequisites

The following courses are standard prerequisites for most medical schools in the Caribbean and US. However, check the requirements for each school to which you plan to apply as some may differ.

  • Inorganic or General Chemistry (with labs), 1 year
  • Organic Chemistry (with labs), 1 Year
  • General Biology or Zoology (with labs), 1 Year
  • Physics (with labs), 1 Year
  • College-Level Mathematics (preferably Calculus or Statistics), 1 Semester
  • English, 1 Year

(Top photo) PREMED OR LIBERAL ARTS?: Science-oriented undergrad majors used to be common for ‘premed’ but that’s changing. Photo: Deposit Photos

About UMHS:

Built in the tradition of the best US universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciencesfocuses on individual student attention, maintaining small class sizes and recruiting high-quality faculty. We call this unique approach, “personalized medical education,” and it’s what has led to our unprecedented 96% student retention rate, and outstanding residency placements across the US and Canada. UMHS is challenging everything you thought you knew about Caribbean medical schools.

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Posted by Scott Harrah

Scott is Director of Digital Content & Alumni Communications Liaison at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City,

Topics: Admissions

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