“I’m an English major and I’m also pre-med.”
Blank stare. Glazed eyes. Crickets. So begins another awkward introduction in the dining hall.
Similar situations are erupting on campuses across the country as a small, but growing number of aspiring doctors choose to major in the humanities or social sciences instead of the usual bio or chem. Last year, nearly a quarter of medical school applicants majored outside the sciences, and for good reason: Nowadays, medical schools don’t care about what you majored in during your undergrad.
Admissions rates are virtually equal for science and non-science majors, and most med schools encourage undergrads to take substantial courses in the humanities to prove that they’re concerned with the human condition, not just the human body.
For pre-med English majors like me, the idea is simple. I want to spend my college days reading Shakespeare; I want to spend my post-college life delivering health care to under-served communities. Why should I have to choose between them?
The possibility of becoming a non-science pre-med is far from obvious to most college students, however.
“The normal pre-med thing is to major in biology; I feel like biology is the default for most pre-meds, ” said Fareedat Oluyadi, a senior at Johns Hopkins University, who entered college as a biology major but later switched to psychology. Majoring in the sciences is a straightforward way to fulfill pre-med course requirements, which is why many wide-eyed freshmen believe a science major is the only route to med school.
In reality, a science major isn’t the right fit for every prospective physician. Traditional pre-med academic programs like biology are often large and rigorous, while humanities and social science departments tend to be smaller and more flexible. At Harvard, any English class offered at the university counts toward my English major; in contrast, my options for courses that satisfy pre-med requirements are mostly limited to a handful of large lecture classes. For students whose passion lies outside the lab, a non-science major is a practical means to pursue your true interests without sacrificing your career plans.