While studying biology is one of the most popular undergraduate paths to medical school, it’s not the only one.
New analysis from Earnest shows that 68% of those who complete a doctor of medicine have a previous degree in the biological sciences, a health-related field, bioengineering, or psychology. These majors are often an obvious choice for aspiring physicians since most schools require prerequisites in the sciences.
But these majors aren’t the only option nor are they necessarily the best, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
We crunched the numbers on the educational paths of more than 80,000 Earnest loan applicants to create a typical (and hypothetical) MD class of 500 students. Of the 500, nearly half—or 245—previously majored in biology or another biological science. The largest contingents with biological science majors include 36 biochemistry, 35 neurobiology, 21 molecular biology, and 18 physiology. Besides biology, the rest of this typical MD class is divided among non-biological science majors, the arts (including arts and design, humanities, and social sciences), health-related fields, engineering, and other disciplines.
In contrast with law, for example, medical schools are much more likely to attract students who’ve been studying in a closely related field. Those who have studied in areas other than science often have a major related to medicine as well, such as bioengineering or psychology.
However, if you’re in the minority of medical school applicants whose major is not in biology or the health sciences, take heart: Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges suggests that you may be more likely than your peers to matriculate, or receive and accept an offer of admission.
In fact, those most likely to matriculate have a background in non-biological science, with 45% ending up accepting an offer to attend medical school. Humanities and social sciences majors are second, at 43%. Those majoring in health, biology, or other fields all have lower rates, ranging from 31-39%.
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The AAMC has also found that among these matriculated students, those from biological sciences, the humanities, and other fields have very similar overall GPAs, science GPAs, and MCAT scores. In the class of 2016, successful applicants from the biological sciences had a mean MCAT of 31 and GPA of 3.69, whereas those from the humanities had a mean MCAT of 31.8 and GPA of 3.66.
According to U.S. News & World Report, who reported this data, the scores for successful applicants from the non-biological sciences, social sciences, and health specializations were also similar.
Beyond test scores, applicants from the non-biological fields can bring a unique point of view that helps them shine in their admissions essays, medical school classrooms, and careers as clinicians. To attract well-rounded applicants who would excel at communicating with patients, the highly-ranked program at Mount Sinai has even launched a program to attract more students from the humanities specifically.
To get into medical school, prospective students need to maintain a high GPA, especially in prerequisite courses and study for the MCAT exam. Beyond that, the path is open.
Regarding selecting a major, students are more likely to thrive when they’ve chosen subjects that they’re naturally drawn to and in which they have an aptitude, rather than those that they expect to be “easy” or “difficult.” This may be a major related to biology, or something else. That way, a student is more likely to have compelling alternatives if they decide to change paths, while also earning the grades that will put medical school within reach.