by Scott Simpson

Deciding on your undergraduate major can be a challenging and anxiety-filled process. This is especially true if you are considering a career that requires getting into a competitive health professional program like medical school, dental school, veterinary medicine, or a college of pharmacy.  When trying to choose an undergraduate major with this on your mind, here are three common questions that often arise.


Do I have to major in biology or chemistry?

You have to do well in the sciences, but you don’t have to major in a science. This being said, it is still important to have an interest in biology or chemistry. After all, the day-to-day work of a health care professional requires one to think critically and be naturally curious about the human body’s biological and chemical foundation.


When I work with students who are interested in health care but undecided about their undergraduate major, I encourage them to explore majors whose subject matter intrigues and fascinates them. If you’ve always been a history buff, perhaps history would be a major well suited for you. Finding a major that excites you is going to make you a better student, and ultimately, a more competitive applicant for a health professional school program because your grades will likely be stronger.


Consider these thoughts from a University of Minnesota Medical School student who describes how her undergraduate degree in English is an asset to her medical school studies:


"My ability to think critically, which becomes second nature to English majors due to all the exhaustive textual analysis, is by far the greatest asset of my training. Critical reading applies to scientific papers, it applies to medical concepts and therapies, and frankly, it applies to human beings as well.”


What major is most desired for programs such as medical school or dental school?

There is no “desired” major that health professional schools prefer.  In fact, the 2010 class of students attending the University of Minnesota Medical School on the Twin Cities campus shows that 44 different majors were represented of 169 students admitted. Overall, admissions committees from health professional school programs are more interested in candidates who have done well in college and are passionate about their academic area of study.


What are prerequisites?

Prerequisite courses provide students with baseline knowledge for the program they hope to enter.   These core courses also give the admissions committees a way to compare candidates who may have chosen to do their undergraduate major in a non-science discipline.  Remember, prerequisite courses will vary from program to program and school to school so it is important to check on the requirements for the programs you are considering.


Prerequisite courses for health professional school programs typically might include lab-intensive courses such as general biology and chemistry as well as courses in physics, psychology, composition, and math or statistics.  Fitting these prerequisite courses into your academic plan can certainly be accomplished, even if you’re a history major.


While your undergraduate major tends to be irrelevant to health professional program admissions committees, doing well academically by achieving strong grades in both your prerequisite courses and the coursework within your major are a vital piece to developing a competitive application to a health professional school program.


Scott Simpson, is a career consultant in the Health Careers Center at the University of Minnesota. He has a Master of Science in Counseling and Student Personnel from Minnesota State University-Mankato, and a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. Previously, he was the director of career services at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa working with college students and alumni engaged in various levels of career exploration or job search. The Health Career Center offers pre-health preparation services for University of Minnesota undergraduate students as well as high school students and career changers exploring health careers.