As the competition for coveted spots in medical schools has intensified, Pre-Health majors are increasingly common at universities across the country. Colleges often offer several different majors designed for students interested in pursuing admission into a variety of medical programs.
One drawback to all these different degree plans is that they can place pressure on incoming freshmen to make a very specific decision regarding what they intend to do when they graduate. Many of the degrees require certain courses to be taken in the first semester to avoid “falling behind,” meaning that many opening semesters for pre-health students are already moving them down a specific road and beyond the typical “basics” that first-semester freshmen typically take.
A great deal can change about your aspirations and plans in one semester, let alone over the course of four years. So what are some things to keep in mind if you’re interested in medical schools, but perhaps not completely certain of which type or how you want to end up there?
Pre-health majors are options, not requirements.
It can’t be reiterated enough that a “pre-health” major is not a requirement for admission into medical or health profession schools. Medical schools are not interested in what you majored in. They’re interested primarily in your overall performance as a student including your GPA, extra-curricular activities, community involvement, and letters of recommendation. As an example, UMHB’s psychology department will soon be rolling out a “Pre-Occupational Therapy” degree plan. In the eyes of the OT schools, a student who chose this degree plan and one who chose a generic psychology degree plan are not much different, as long as both students have taken the required pre-requisites for admission. If a student came to me and said, “I think I might want to do OT school, but I’d prefer to just stay on the basic psychology degree plan for now,” I would say, “Great, no problem.” I’d say the same thing if they wanted to major in English, Christian Studies, or Business — just with the reminder to check all the pre-requisite boxes for OT.
Combo meals vs. a la carte.
It’s a strange way to think about it, but pre-health majors are like combo meals. They’ve collected together all (or most) of the pieces you’ll need to satisfy all the pre-requisites for a certain type of medical school, and they’ve organized them into a single degree plan. This is very convenient, and it can often help with financial aid to have all of these courses listed as required for your major. However, a student could complete the same courses a la carte (say, just by taking a generic psychology major) if they so chose, and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference when they were applying to medical schools. An a la carte approach allows you flexibility and makes it easier to complete your major should you decide you’re not interested in medical school after all.
What’s your backup plan?
Though it’s never good to dwell on the negative what-ifs, it is simply good planning to consider what your options will be if you’re not accepted into medical school, or if you find you’re no longer interested in applying when you graduate. Rather than choosing a major because it seems to be the “right” one for a certain kind of med school, consider choosing a major that interests you and might give you some other alternatives if medical school doesn’t work out. I’ve talked to several students over the years who have told me they’re majoring in X because it’s what you have to do to get into X medical school, but they have also told me they hate the major and are worried about what career options they’ll have if medical school doesn’t work out. There is absolutely no reason to put yourself into this situation — virtually ANY major can lead to medical school.
So what’s most important for getting in?
A high GPA is the most essential thing for remaining competitive for any graduate school.
Without a doubt, maintaining a high GPA is the most essential thing for remaining competitive for any graduate school, not just medical schools. Toiling away in classes that aren’t your strength just to satisfy major requirements is a recipe for disaster in terms of maintaining the highest GPA possible. Major in what interests you and what you’re good at.
Admissions boards are interested in seeing a complete student who is both passionate about what they’ve been doing and what they’re planning on doing. Put yourself in a position to tell them (via admissions letters and interviews) how much you’ve loved your undergraduate experience and how much it’s prepared you for what’s next.
I read an article recently that said there are basically two ways to try to get into med school, or in the case of this article PT school: Do it by the book, or do it like a unique individual. Choosing a common pre-health major (biology, chemistry, exercise physiology, psychology, etc) is a great approach, but so is doing something that will cause you to stand out from thousands of other applicants. That is why very few universities have specific majors for pre-X or pre-Y. The best advice is to be aware of what “by the book” entails while putting your own unique spin on it that will allow you to flourish.
Summing up: Know the required pre-requisites, keep your GPA high, do what you love and create an interesting narrative about yourself.
P.S.: That’s decent advice for ALL students interested in graduate study!Do you want a career in the healthcare industry? The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor offers many degrees that can help you meet your professional goals. We invite you to visit our website to learn more about our programs!