What to Major In?

Students often ask what they should major in. I recently was responding to some threads in other forum and thought OPM members would find it useful:

AAMC publishes reports on almost every possible variable for applicants

Table 18: MCAT and GPAs for Applicants and Matriculants to U.S. Medical Schools by Primary Undergraduate Major, 2011

a quick break down by percentage of matriculants (ie acceptances of students with same major):

42.84% — Biology

49.47% — Humanities

49.10% — Math and Statistics

42.74% — Other

49.36% — Physical Sciences

44.59% — Social Sciences

32.81% — Specialized Health Science

However, a more accurate and useful comparison is GPA and MCAT scores across majors are they are remarkably similar; science GPAs range from 3.56 to 3.64 and non-science from 3.69 to 3.77. However, MCAT scores seems markedly higher for non science majors with social sciences at 30.7, humanities at 31.1 and math at 32.6, while biological sciences are at 30.9. Most of this increase however seems to be in VR.

In sum, with the stability across GPA and MCAT, with the exception of improved VR for non science majors, the undergraduate major of the applicant seems to have little impact on acceptance. Being a successful applicant to medical school is all in the numbers.

Here are a few thoughts and things to consider, some obvious, some not.

  1. Whatever the major, make sure you take the correct prerequisites at the correct level and do well in them. I would speculate that the low acceptance rate of specialized health science students, at 32% within major, has in large part to do with incorrect courses (eg general chemistry course at a lower level than the major’s course, specialized/limited biology which is then considered a professional course at application time, etc). As the data pointed out, doing well in the correct courses is key.

  2. Some of the specialized health science students applying were likely weaker candidates to begin with and were looking for some path to bolster their chances. Clearly the data indicates specialized health science students had the worst acceptance rate.

  3. The data says nothing about the number of sciences courses taken across majors. One could rationalize the strategy that a non-science major with what is perceived as a less difficult/rigorous course load and less competitive cohort within the major, may find focusing their time, energy, and effort, on only the required prerequisite science classes and not spread among additional difficult courses for a science major, may be a path to success. Furthermore, it may give these student more time and resources to prep for the MCAT in the typical spring of junior year instead of facing finals in a slew of upper level science courses.

  4. Despite all the data, percentages, rational, etc, the choice should be made on personal preference. For students planning on medicine, undergraduate will be the last time for some years where they will have a wide choice in what they will study. Additionally, the data shows that less than 1/2 of all students across all majors will be accepted to medical school. So having plans for a different career path are indeed called for. Students shouldn’t slog thru four years of something they will dislike, find unmotivating, etc based on statistics from a report.

    My advice is take the major you like the most.

The short answer: Major in whatever you want to. And, medical schools appreciate broadly educated applicants.



What?! Specialized Health Sciences came in dead last…

I think complacency is to blame for that one. Quite possibly many in the health sciences believe that they know enough (since they work in that field already).

Now I feel like getting a double major in Physical sciences and Math, lol!