Stephen F. Austin State University

What Major?

Selecting an undergraduate academic major and being a pre-health student.

One of the oldest and most die-hard myths on an undergraduate campus is that of the "PreMed" major. Most students are so eager to begin their progress toward professional school (and single-minded in their focus), that completing the prerequisites are the only thing on their minds. However, obtaining prerequisites is only a portion of the academic work expected at a university.

While most professional programs do not require a B.S., the competitive nature of the applicant pool almost demands one. This does present a dilemma to the single-minded PreMed who almost is insulted to consider anything beyond "PreMed". But, you will be hard pressed to locate a diploma that reads, B.S. in PreMed". Thus, the PreMed student falls back to the natural and comfortable position of science and/or Biology. (Since surely this major is "The Best" major for PreMed and will help get me into medical school.) One of the most common questions asked by incoming students is "What do you think I should major in?" This question goes toward another myth in that all medical applicants are formed from the same mold. This is entirely not the case! The choice of an academic major is as unique and independent as the student.

This question is best addressed by answering another of those common questions. "What are professional schools looking for in an application"? This really does get to the meat of the "Major" question. Professional programs seek intelligent highly motivated, well- rounded and articulate students who can demonstrate academic success in the prerequisite science courses. The academic major is rather trivial to admission committees. What is expected, however, is academic excellence with any major (i.e., good GPA). Typically students (or people) will have greater success doing something they truly enjoy. Trying to force yourself into "the Best" academic majors, although one you hate, will likely result in a low GPA, one that essentially prevents you from being a competitive applicant. Likewise the choice of a major you enjoy (although non-science and/or non-traditional) will likely result in a higher overall GPA. But the choice of a major should also be made with a sense of opportunity. Rarely does an individual have (or take) the opportunity to learn more about the world and the people around them than when you are an undergraduate. Once medical school begins, it's all about clinical medicine and clinical sciences. Take advantage of this opportunity to broaden your horizons and your intellect. This may also help expand your uniqueness and diversity to admissions committees.

Given all these things to think about, regarding the selection of a major, the most practical thought process involves, "What would you do if you didn't get into medical school?". This is not an uncommon question in a professional school interview. Typically, the interviewer is seeking insight into your level of maturity to see if you have alternate plans for your life or have you put all your eggs in one basket? When I challenge incoming students with this question, they are often insulted, as if I'm suggesting they abandon all hopes of medical matriculation. However, even applicants with perfect GPA's and high MCAT scores aren't guaranteed to be admitted, it just makes sense for all students to prepare a "plan B". A college degree is far to difficult to earn and too expense to go unused. So, make it work for you. Pick one you enjoy, one that broadens your perspective and one that may help you have a great career should medicine not be possible.