When a student enters Orientation Week before starting their first semester at the University, they are often bombarded with a lot of information. If they are interested in becoming Pre-Meds, most advisers will stress the importance of completing their undergraduate studies in a field that focuses on a scientific discipline in order to make themselves competitive when it comes time to submitting their application. But does an education in a non-traditional scientific field cement your fate within the first year of your studies about whether you are capable of getting into a Medical School? With nearly 53,000 applicants in the 2016-2017 Medical School cycle, is there an overwhelming percentage of those that have a degree in a Science-related field? I will answer these questions and will present you some of the reasons for and against pursuing a degree in the Sciences to help you decide what path can be the right choice for you.
Reasons to Take a Traditional Scientific Path During Your Undergraduate Studies
If you choose to follow a traditional path, you will be well-represented in the application pool and you are logically following steps that will give you a good chance to succeed in Medicine studies. This was the path that I elected to take myself as a pursued a degree in Biology because I thought that taking a degree that was similar to what I needed to master in Medical School would be a good way to prepare myself for all the sciences that I would encounter at the next level. It stands to reason that you are also meeting many more professors with a scientific background so you have a better chance to get into valuable research studies that can catapult you to a higher probability of success if you get into Medical School.
When you pursue a degree in a scientific discipline, not only do you have to complete the same core sciences that all Pre-Meds have to take in order to quality for a Medical School, but you will also have to take additional credits to broaden your understanding of your field. At my University, a degree in Biology also required courses in Biochemistry, Microbiology, and options in other humanities with a scientific perspective, like the "Physiological Approach to Psychology." Along this avenue, an applicant will have a broad understanding of many disciplines in Science and that will be able to help them digest the material in Medicine much quicker compared to someone without a basic understanding of these topics.
I chose to also pursue a degree in Biology because I reasoned that should I not be accepted into a Medical School, I would still have a number of possibilities to fall back to in the Scientific Realm. I would be able to get a Master's Degree and potentially start my own research, teach, or get a job much easier than someone who chose a path in Literature or Sociology. With the number of unemployed college graduates creeping higher and higher every year, it was a logical choice to ensure I have some type of income after my studies.
What If I Want to Pursue a Degree in a Non-Scientific Field?
Reasons to Major In Something Other Than Science During Your Undergraduate Studies
An interesting trend that has become more and more obvious in the past 5 years of Medical School candidates is that roughly 50% of the candidates accepted major in something outside of Science. The most successful non-traditional majors are Psychology, Engineering, and Business. These students must meet the same basic requirements and complete their core Medical School classes in Biology, Organic and Non-organic Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus but do not require any additional classes in Science as long as they successfully complete their degree.
Admissions Boards are looking for well-rounded students that have an impressive resume. In most cases, having an understanding in basic Sciences as well as another discipline can help you stand out from the 53,000 other candidates that are attempting to get into Medical School. Another advantage is you are not obligated to take additional scientific classes which can help improve your GPA is a lot of cases. When Medical Schools look at your GPA, they often separate them out into two categories, a Scientific GPA and your non-Scientific GPA. The Scientific GPA carries the most weight and if a student was able to complete his core classes with strong grades, he will not risk harming his GPA as he progresses from a Freshman to a Senior. If you are required to take a degree in Biology, courses like Microbiology and Biochemistry may be more difficult than the Introductory courses in Biology that all students had to take so you must study much harder in order to make sure that the result in this course does not inflict more damage than good or your GPA.
My roommate decided to pursue a career in Medicine while majoring in Finance and he was able to be admitted in a strong Medical School because of his strong GPA and resume. At times, I was jealous about his course-load compared to mine and while I was stuck studying for a Microbiology quiz every weekend the following Monday, he was less stressed completing his on-line quizzes for Macroeconomics.
There are some definite advantages to pursuing a degree in a Non-Traditional manner compared to the Traditional Path. You are able to potentially have an easier schedule and will not have the same pressure of keeping your Scientific GPA high for 4 years that you would have with a Science-related discipline. You will also have additional flexibility in scheduling your classes so when you are taking a core-science course, you will be able to spend more time specifically on that subject so you can score as high as you can on it rather than worrying about 2 or 3 hard Science courses at once and potentially hurting your GPA. The additional free-time that you may have also can be used to volunteer in hospitals and to research so you will have a very strong application and a base for a strong personal statement.
This advice is not for everyone, however, because if you choose to take a non-Traditional path, the first year of Medical School can be especially overwhelming for you. I studied with a colleague who had majored in French Literature and he would find himself always scoring in the bottom of the class on exams and struggling to even understand the elementary topics of the basic Sciences. The curriculum of Medical School is amazingly fast and you will find yourself drowning in material as soon as you enter the program. Regardless of what you may have a Bachelor's degree or even Master's degree in, you will find that you will only have about a 1-2 week advantage over your peers before you are struggling to learn new material as well so do not have a false sense of security. If you do have a background in Science, you may be able to learn this new material more quickly but that all depends on the amount of effort you put in the library every day.