By Prerana Sangani MD , MPH
Many students ask “what’s the best major to get into medical school?” My answer has always been the same, find the subject that intrigues you and inspires you to learn more. This can be biology, chemistry or math, but my advice is don’t be afraid to explore political science, art history or psychology.
Students worry that a non-science subject will hurt their application. In fact data from AAMC shows that humanities majors had the highest rates of acceptance followed by math for several of the past years.
There are other articles that dive deeper into theories of why the humanities acceptance rates are higher but I want to address the importance of your major not only for medical school but for your journey beyond those 4 years.
Your undergraduate years are a time of exploration and should be fun. Learning about French Literature can sweep you away into a unique historical experience. If you are someone that loves learning how the human mind works then psychology may be right for you. I was fascinated by the development of the brain and how social dynamics develop into psychological paradigms. I majored in psychology at a small liberal arts college. At the time I was a bit worried about this choice as I balanced my medical school prerequisite courses. I had a conversation with my advisor about how much I wanted to go to medical school but did not want to lose the opportunity to explore other classes.
My deans helped me select the classes I enjoyed in psychology while still fulfilling my requirements for medical school. As a result, I loved my college experience and didn’t sacrifice my intellectual curiosity.
Medical school admissions officers like to meet students who truly enjoy what they study. Don’t be afraid to major in English Literature. Be certain to highlight why you chose your major in your application.
Remember that medical schools know you want to be a doctor. What they don’t know is what other interests shape your life and ambition.
Don’t be afraid to major in English Literature. Be certain to highlight why you chose your major in your application.
If biochemistry is your favorite subject and you choose to major in it, explain why you love it. Do your best to articulate your interests in science and outside of science. Don’t forget you will also have a chance to tell them about your interests including your major in your interview. Most admissions committees will tell you that the interview is much more interesting if the student talks about what they like. If you didn’t love physics but majored in it because you thought it would give you a better chance of getting in, the admissions team will know that and it won’t help.
Finally, picking a major is the first of many decisions you will make in your life long journey of learning. You will see that there are dimensions to any subject matter that are important to the job of doctoring. We have a tendency to divide learning into subjects because it is easier to teach, in fact there are so many connections between art, writing, psychology that will serve you well as you become a doctor.
In my personal experience being a psychology major undoubtedly helped me become a better doctor. During medical school I felt a stronger understanding of my own experience and anxiety as a medical student. In addition, during my third and fourth years, I was more at ease taking a history and talking to family members.
During residency, I could put myself in the shoes of a patient and how their thoughts shape their interactions with me.
Lastly, in my years of practice after residency, I call on the knowledge from my undergraduate years on a daily basis with patients and in my life. I’m so happy I followed my interests, it gave me the courage to make decisions later in life that I felt good about. Picking a residency, choosing a place to live or buying my first car, these are all decisions where doing what you like vs. doing what you think others want can influence your ultimate happiness and satisfaction.
Good luck with your decision!