Undergraduate Curriculum

Would schools like it more if I majored in X or Y? Is it true that medical schools favor people who major in X? What classes should I take as a pre-med to make me best fit for medical school? I see these questions all the time.

I wish I could answer these for you, but unfortunately for those asking, these questions have no answer. Just as each applicant is different, so is each medical school. Each admissions committee may be searching for different candidates based on their personal vision for medical students.

Even more, much more than just the classes you take will help you get in. Committees tend to look at students holistically, and acknowledge circumstances that, say, might make a lower GPA seem more competitive (like if the classes you take are harder).

So then how do you go about picking an undergraduate major/courses to take in undergrad? The best thing you can do is pick something that you’re legitimately interested in because it will make you most excited about what you’re learning and hopefully will help you get the best grades in the classes you take. For those going into medicine, these are usually science majors, but if you have a passion for something else as well and can make the argument for how it relates to a career as a doctor, it shouldn’t detriment your chances of getting in. In fact, it may set you apart from all of the biology majors who are applying. Plus, you will have to take plenty of science courses as pre-requisites so you’ll still get the science exposure. If you’re truly interested in biology enough to major in it, go for it, but don’t just do it because you want to go to medical school.

If you do have a lot of interests that may not fit into a certain major, you can also pick just one major and add on a minor or two, or you can just take courses that don’t necessarily apply to your degree just to further your education. Don’t worry, the admissions committee should notice. I started college as a chemistry major intending on adding a biochemistry major, but due to scheduling difficulties, I never added the second major. Instead, I minored in biochemistry and took as many other classes as I could that fit my interests of drug design and health. For example, I took nutrition to fit a liberal education requirement because it had a health application and a committee member pointed out that they liked that I took the course because nutrition does have a large effect on health. Looking at my major of chemistry alone wouldn’t have told the committee all that I learned in my undergraduate education, but at least one member noticed an extra class that I took.

My advice for you? Don’t pick your major right away. Decide on a general area of study (like biological sciences, physical sciences, or music therapy), but you may find in a semester or two that your interest lies more in genetics than biology or that you’re much more of a chemistry person. Everything can be related back to medicine in some way and taking different classes from other pre-meds may help set you apart. When you do pick a major, don’t let that define the classes you take in undergrad. Find some other courses that interest you and may compliment your major classes. It will make you a much more well rounded applicant and it will continue to pique your interest (I know you’re probably getting sick of learning the cell cycle over and over, a chemistry course might actually be a nice change from that.)

If you’re curious as to what classes I took in undergrad, you can find that below. Notice that in addition to emphasis on the physical sciences (as I was a chemistry major), I also took plenty biological sciences courses and pharmacology/health sciences classes because my primary interest lies with drug design. I didn’t let a major define my college education and neither should you!

PHYSICAL SCIENCES – CIS Physics I (algebra-based), AP Chemistry, Organic Chemistry I & II, Organic Chemistry Lab, Physics for Science and Engineering I & II, Introduction to Thermodynamics, Kinetics, and Statistical Mechanics (Physical Chemistry I), Introduction to Quantum Mechanics and Spectroscopy, Introduction to Analytical Chemistry, Introduction to Analytical Chemistry Lab, Directed Research in Chemistry, Advanced Organic Chemistry Lab, Advanced Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Advanced Inorganic Chemistry Lab 

BIOLOGICAL SCIENCESGeneral Biology, Biology Freshman Seminar (Genetics), Biochemistry – Structure/Catalysis/Metabolism, Physiology, Laboratory in Biochemistry, Genetics, Biochemistry – Signal Transduction/Gene Expression, Cell Biology

MATH – AP Calculus BC, IT Linear Algebra and Differential Equations, CSE Multivariable Calculus

PSYCHOLOGYAP Psychology, Health Psychology

PHARMACY/PHARMACOLOGY/HEALTH SCIENCES– Orientation to Pharmacy, Health Sciences Applied Terminology, Non-prescription Medicines and Self Care, Pre-med/Life Science Pharmacology, Drugs and the US Healthcare System, Mechanisms of Drug Action, Principles of Nutrition, Public Health – Sleep, Eat, and Exercise

ENGLISH/WRITINGAP Literature and Composition, Science Writing for Popular Audiences

HISTORY/POLITICAL SCIENCE – American Government and Politics, US History Since 1865

OTHER – Anthropology – Understanding Cultures, Principles of Microeconomics, Greek and Roman Mythology, Dynamics of Leadership

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Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.

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Posted in Pre-med
3 comments on “Undergraduate Curriculum
  1. Love this post…and am glad someone else took differential equations too!

    • mdphdtobe says:

      Heck yeah! Diff eq. was actually required for my major. Well, I’m pretty sure I could have taken statistics instead but I didn’t find that out until a few years after I took it. I opted to do take it fall semester freshman year because it included linear algebra in the name, which I hoped would make it easier than multivariable calculus, which luckily it was.

      • UGH multi was THE WORST. Linear was fun! I actually did multi in high school but it didn’t count for anything. I like aced it with flying colors, but it was a lot harder in college LOL

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