How Medical School Applicants Can Stand Out Without a Premed Major

While most students headed to medical school major in science, it is increasingly more common for this population to earn an undergraduate degree in other fields.

After screening many medical school applications recently, I thought about how the most interesting majors I recalled were German, engineering, history and psychology. The traditional science majors seemed less interesting to retain. That’s not to say that many of those students weren’t qualified; their premed majors just didn’t impress me like some of the others.

[Read: How to Choose a College Major If You Plan to Attend Medical School.]

I was fascinated to read how these students with nontraditional majors found ways to blend their majors and interest in medicine. One student traveled to Germany to conduct extensive biomedical research. Another applied for a patent on a device that could help future patients. A professor who wrote a letter of recommendation described another student’s honors paper about the history of medical education. The psychology major spent her volunteering hours serving on a suicide-prevention crisis line.

These students not only completed all the required courses for med school, but also earned excellent grades and MCAT scores. They seemed to enjoy their education and were perhaps more reflective about which passions they would bring to medicine.

That said, I recall a music major’s personal statement as an example of where the effort of intersecting a nontraditional major with medicine fell flat. I tend to love music majors, but by the end of her essay, I was distressed by how she tried to work music and medicine into nearly every sentence. My guess is that she misunderstood some of the online advice about bringing the assets of a particular major into the medical school application.

[READ: 5 Ways Nonscience Courses Prepare Students for Medical School.]

The lesson here: Please don’t overkill what you are trying to do. The overlap between your nontraditional major — in this case, music — and medicine can’t be the only reason that you wish to attend medical school.

Pick a major that you love. Pick an area of study that excites you and that you want to devote your energy to, even if there were nothing called medicine. Interest and passion in your studies will keep you engaged and drive you to work harder and get better grades. Your passion can bring you closer to humanity and open opportunities to express your emotions and compassion. Think about what you love in the world, what you care about and want to experience in life beyond medicine.

[READ: 3 Considerations for Humanities Majors Applying to Medical School.]

If the major you choose is nontraditional, then so be it. As long as you complete all the required science courses and do well in them, you will be well-positioned for medical school. In the multiple decades that I worked in admissions for three medical centers, I cannot think of a single example when a student was selected for an interview or acceptance simply based on his or her major.

Majors will not limit you. Low GPAs and MCAT scores can. Your experiences with volunteering, shadowing, researching and writing are more important than your major. Put your eggs in the baskets that count. Majors are way down the list.

More from U.S. News

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How to Get the Best Medical School Recommendation Letters

What a College Major Is and How It Can Shape Your Future

How Medical School Applicants Can Stand Out Without a Premed Major originally appeared on

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