5 Pre-Med Majors That Aren't Chemistry
March 15, 2021
Choosing a major outside of the typical pre-med area of study can help make you a more well-rounded candidate, which many schools see as an opportunity to add diversity to an incoming class. But which will you choose? These are just a few options.
When you're planning to go to medical school, you'll likely pursue the pre-med program or track as an undergraduate student. Some majors are more popular for pre-med students—such as biology, psychology, and chemistry—particularly for how easy these course loads make it for students to complete pre-med requirements without having to give much thought to their schedule from one semester to the next.
But it doesn't mean you have to follow a similar path.
In fact, there are actually a few disadvantages to majoring in a science field, and getting into medical school may be one of them. According to a one study, medical school applicants who majored in specialized health sciences reported a 33% acceptance rate, while a surprising 46% of students with a bachelors in the humanities were accepted.
Another concern with majoring in a science field is burnout. Focusing on the same general field for too long could take away your passion for medicine before you find your specialty as a medical student.
The good news is that as long you meeting med school requirements, you may not have to stick to such a traditional route. Since the majority of schools require you to take general education and elective courses, you can meet the common medical school requirements through many different areas of study.
What are the requirements to get into medical school?
While every medical school is different, some requirements are most common. These general guidelines are minimums, so check with the schools you’re interested in before deciding on a major and planning your college courses.
- At least one year plus a lab in each of the following fields: biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
- A year of biochemistry
- A year of humanities
- A year of math (calculus or statistics is usually recommended)
- Minimum undergraduate GPA and MCAT scores
- Field or clinical experience
- Research experience
- Letters of recommendation
Why to choose a non-science major if you want to go to med school
Choosing a major outside of the typical area of pre-med study can help make you a more well-rounded candidate, which many schools see as an opportunity to add diversity to an incoming class.
If you do want to major in a science-related field, be sure to pair your study with elective courses that are outside of your field. This way, you'll be able to portray yourself as a multi-faceted student when applying to medical school and in the meantime, explore your passions and find new interests.
Non-science pre-med majors
Depending on what you decide to major in and what your college course requirements are, you may need to get creative with the courses you choose or complete a few more credits than your major calls for.
Be prepared to get comfy in your academic adviser’s office—and don’t wait until your senior year to make an appointment. They'll help you plan out your courses and may even be able to make some exceptions or find loopholes to make it easier for you to meet the requirements for your major and medical school. As for which major you'll choose, consider these.
According to a 2013 Census Bureau report, 60 million Americans claim a primary language other than English, with Spanish speakers accounting for more than 60 percent of this group. Given the numbers, many hospitals have increased employment in bilingual doctors and staff as a means of diagnosing and treating culturally diverse populations and in this case, making Spanish-speaking patients feel as safe and comfortable as possible.
Aside from an increase in job opportunities, your language training could also open doors to higher earnings. A 2008 George Washington University survey reported that out of 899 hospitals, 15 percent offered financial incentives to doctors who completed foreign language training, largely through base salary increases ranging from less than a dollar to $20 extra per hour.
Majoring in English is a surprisingly popular option for students pursuing medical school. While there isn't much research to support exactly why this is, one thing is certain: English majors have solid exam-taking skills.
According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, English majors who applied to U.S. medical schools for 2018-2019 enrollment reported the third-highest MCAT scores, after math and statistics, and physical sciences degree holders.
Additionally, English majors typically gain expert research and critical thinking skills through their undergraduate education, which can later be used in medical school and professional practice. Degree holders in this area of study are also great communicators, which is especially useful when tasked to explain complex diagnoses to patients in a way that they can easily understand.
Majoring in education can be especially useful if you have goals to become a pediatrician. Your undergraduate courses will teach you how to relate to and empathize with children, and cover topics like children’s and human development. Like English studies, an education major will also give you a solid understanding of how to make even the most complex topics understandable to patients, especially those of a younger demographic.
A medical degree coupled with your bachelors could also position you to pursue work as a school physician or medical consultant. While state and district regulations surrounding the work of medical professionals in school settings is lacking, a growing number of states are making the push to advocate for the contributions that physicians can make to schools to improve children’s health and safety.
Massachusetts, for example, is working to develop the this role's responsibilities as a means of defining a position that best serves the student population.
#4: Nutrition or Food Science
In recent years, it’s grown increasingly apparent that diet has a heavy hand in preventing and treating chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer—not to mention, more common health problems like high blood pressure and even mood instability. Given this, it may be slightly surprising to know that on average, U.S. medical schools offer only 19.6 hours of nutrition education across four years of medical school, according toa 2010 report in Academic Medicine.
As a nutrition or food science major, you'll develop a deep understanding of food's impact on the body in a way that other medical professionals may not. Throughout your career, you'll be able to speak knowledgeably with patients about the relationship between their diet and possible health issues and even offer guidance for how they can alter their eating habits and improve their health.
Either of these majors may also provide you with the opportunity to intern at a nutrition clinic or in a hospital setting, which would give you valuable insight into your future career and potentially meet your medical school prerequisite for field experience.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that among the most important qualities in a doctor, leadership and organizational skills rank high. Undergraduate business programs place a huge focus on teaching students to manage their time wisely, a skill you’ll put to use in the medical field as you keep a methodical list of patients to follow up, paperwork to complete, and procedures to track.
Core business classes will also require you to collaborate with peers and take the lead on group projects, which in part, will help you learn how to communicate effectively, delegate tasks, and manage team responsibilities later on in your career.
Although you may need to spend an extra semester or two getting your undergrad to meet both your major and pre-med requirements, you'll have many options to explore within your field later on, like opening a private practice. As a college student, you can consider combining these two fields through an internship with a hospital administrator, medical sales group, or healthcare marketing agency.
What's the most important thing you need to know?
As a pre-med student with a non-science major, it's crucial that you meet medical school requirements and also those of your degree. Smaller or more specialized schools may not offer all of the courses you'll need to complete as a pre-med student, so be sure to keep an eye on course offerings if you happen to be in the process of choosing a college.
Outside of the science realm, it's possible that your major won't focus as heavily on the MCAT subject areas, which may call for you to do some extra studying for the exam, whether on your own, through tutoring, or prep courses.
If you happen to choose a non-science major, be sure to participate in opportunities or internships that will help you get a feel for what a career in medicine will be like. By branching out, you'll be able to meet those medical school requirements while putting the time in to be sure that medical school is right for you. Even if you change your mind in the process, you can feel confident knowing that you're one step closer to figuring the future out.
Alicia Betz is a writer and high school English teacher. She earned her bachelor’s in education from Pennsylvania State University and her master’s in education—as well as a certificate in online teaching and learning—from Michigan State University.
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