“Is a premed degree better than a liberal arts degree?” This is a common question heard at admissions departments for American and Caribbean medical schools.
The answer might surprise you. The UMHS Endeavour explores the pros and cons of both “premed’ and liberal arts degrees. We’ll include information from such sources as U.S. News and World Report, Forbes.com, and advice from Sean Powers, UMHS Director of Admissions.
Majors Don’t Always Matter
Most quality undergraduate institutions don’t offer an actual “premed” major, just like “prelaw” majors don’t really exist. (People interested in applying to law schools major in everything from English to Political Science.) 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 Forbes.com, “Does Your Major Matter?” said liberal arts degrees can indeed be useful for students wanting to apply to medical school (http://www.forbes.com/sites/collegeprose/2012/10/29/does-your-major-matter/).
“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. “ ‘Admission 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. (http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/medical-school-admissions-doctor/2013/09/11/choose-the-right-undergraduate-major-for-medical-school).
“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.”
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.”
Note: The following courses are standard prerequisites for most American and Caribbean medical schools. However, check the requirements for each med 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
Built in the tradition of the best U.S. universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciences focuses on individualized student attention, small class sizes and recruiting high-quality faculty. For these reasons, UMHS is quickly becoming the school of choice among Caribbean medical schools.