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FOCUS ON MAJORS

Pre-Med

Most young people who want to become a physician have wanted to be a doctor since they were very small. This career path takes a long time to travel – it requires a lot of dedication and hard work and a significant investment of your personal resources. You’ll need to make sure you achieve solid grades throughout secondary school and take on the advanced academic rigor of Calculus, Biology, Chemistry and Physics while in high school. In addition to that, you’ll need to ensure that you are well-rounded, with classes in English, Arts, a foreign language, and some History and Geography. You’ll also need to prepare well for the standardized testing some of your colleges will require. 

 

With all that in place, understand that there are some general factors to think through as you start looking at colleges. First, premed is not a major – it is a specific path of academic advisement, a program that many colleges provide to students seeking entrance into a top medical school. The majority of premed students do enroll in a science field, typically Biology, but often the most successful students complete a humanities major. Medical schools are looking for well-rounded applicants, for students who will develop the all-important interpersonal and social skills required in modern day medicine; they find that liberal arts graduates reveal that strong potential. Interestingly, students who apply from a humanities major have a higher rate of medical school acceptance than those with a physical science major. Mount Sinai’s School of Medicine in New York City is actively recruiting students from the humanities and the dean shares a wonderful quote: “Science is the foundation of an excellent medical education, but a well-rounded humanist is best suited to make the most of that education.” So, think carefully about your choice of major because it really does matter for a premed student.

 

As you start building your list of colleges, your first task is to carefully analyze exactly which direction you want to take for your undergraduate major – sciences or humanities. The goal is to always go with your passion and choose a major in which you can and will shine and achieve top marks. Go online and review undergraduate coursework required for a successful application to medical school – Harvard produces a very helpful document. Another excellent resource is the Association of American Medical Colleges.  Does your prospective college offer these courses and is it possible to do cross-college coursework? Even humanities majors will have a lot of math and science requirements to become competitive medical school applicants. 

 

Once you have chosen your major, then you must ensure that your college also has a strong premedical advisement program for students in all majors. Visit your prospective colleges and try to arrange a meeting with a premedical advisor (or a Zoom meeting if in-person proves impossible.) The advisor should be able to answer your many questions. One of your first should be about their success rate in placing students in medical school. A high percentage speaks well of a program; stay away from those with a low number. 

 

Secondly, carefully target and analyze undergraduate programs in colleges with a teaching hospital nearby. This can become essential to your medical school application as hands-on experiences are highly sought-after and the ability to gain a variety of experiences in a medical setting is much easier if the hospital is next door. It is also important to ask about opportunities for one-on-one mentorship with a practicing physician. Be consistent with your extracurricular activities – it is always better to focus on one or two significant projects activities than flitting around trying a bit of this and a bit of that. Ask the premed advisor if they can offer you support in locating volunteer options within the medical field such as a women’s shelter or a local health center, in addition to research opportunities with medical school faculty. Being published as an undergraduate will look wonderful on your medical school application.

 

A very important part of the application to medical school is the required recommendations. Understanding just what is required will guide you in all the above activities and asking the premed advisor about this should be central to your conversations. Attending an undergraduate college that also houses a medical school and a teaching hospital will support you in all those endeavors, so focus on those very carefully. Success on the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is an essential component, so ask the premed advisor how the college helps students prepare for the MCAT and finally, ask about the medical school interview. You’ll certainly need to have practice for this and understand what each medical school is looking for in an applicant. Find out from your premedical advisor just how much they know about medical school interview practices. You’ll need that expertise down the road. 

 

In summary, first decide on your major, then familiarize yourself with medical school application requirements and seek a college that will successfully help you connect the two. You’ll need lots of support and guidance along the way and you need a college with a proven track record for placing students in top medical schools. 

 

“The best pre-med schools offer guidance counseling resources, premed organizations and clubs, research opportunities and shadowing programs. All these resources help students from the top pre-med schools get into medical school at a significantly higher rate than the 39.3 percent national average.” – College Magazine

 

”The truth is that there’s not one right kind of college for a pre-med, in the same way that there’s not one right kind of doctor. Large universities, small liberal arts colleges, Ivy League schools, and everything in between: they all have their advantages and downsides. Ultimately, you can get a quality pre-med experience at any college, as long as you have the right mindset and approach to learning.” – The Savvy Pre-med