Learn about medical school acceptance rates by major and how you should approach your decision
Attending a university whose students enjoy high medical school acceptance rates
Developing relationships with various adcoms in hopes of having an insider connection when they apply
Choosing the right prep course to maximize their MCAT scores
Writing their personal statement about a unique topic
A question students looking for an advantage routinely ask me is, “What are the best majors to prepare for medical school?”
When I probe further, it becomes clear that what these students really want to know is medical school acceptance rates by major and what majors medical schools prefer.
If this knowledge were available, students would presumably reconsider majors with lower acceptance rates and opt for majors that would help them get in more easily.
There’s long been a rumor that English and other Humanities majors do best on the MCAT and enjoy the highest admissions odds. Other rumors also surely exist. Our goal for this article is to explore known rumors and other important questions so that you can make informed educational decisions.
Medical School Acceptance Rates by Major
AAMC publishes data each year on acceptance rates to US medical schools by primary major. Here’s what the most recent data look like:
According to this data, there are three major groups—Humanities, Math and Statistics, and Physical Sciences—that enjoy higher admissions rates than others. In fact, these are the only three groups that get into medical school at a rate greater than 45%.
However, we can also clearly see that the fewest applicants come from these three groups along with a fourth group: Specialized Health Sciences.
I performed statistical analyses to determine whether there are statistically significant differences between majors with regard to med school acceptance rates.
Without going into the details, it turns out there are.
Now, before you switch from a Biology major to a Math major or from Psychology to Physics, we’ll want to dig deeper and explore associations between undergraduate major and GPA and MCAT scores. After all, the reason that students with certain majors get into med school at high rates may be due to higher stats rather than chosen major.
MCAT Scores by Major
Here’s the data AAMC publishes on average MCAT scores by undergraduate major:
It turns out that students with Humanities, Math and Statistics, and Physical Sciences—the groups with the highest admissions rates—tend to achieve the highest Total MCAT scores. This trend is true whether we focus on applicant or matriculant scores.
At first glance, it appears that there may indeed be majors that best prepare you for the MCAT. However, we know that MCAT scores are strongly correlated with GPA. Therefore, our next step will be to review associations between GPA and major.
GPA by Major
This section focuses on the AAMC data presented here:
The top 5 major groups among applicants with regard to science GPA are:
Math and Statistics (3.57)
Physical Sciences (3.54)
Biological Sciences (3.48)
The top 5 major groups among applicants with regard to cumulative GPA are essentially the same:
Math and Statistics (3.62)
Physical Sciences (3.60)
Biological Sciences (3.58)
Other & Humanities (3.57 - Tied)
Based on the GPA and MCAT data, students who major in Physical Sciences or Math and Statistics may be higher academic achievers in general. These achievement differences may explain to some extent their higher admissions rates.
However, if you’re reading this while majoring in the Biological Sciences, you may be upset that students with Humanities majors are getting into med school at higher rates despite applying with lower GPAs—especially lower science GPAs.
These data may even reinforce a previously held belief that Humanities majors have it easier or that med school admissions unfairly favors students with certain academic backgrounds than others.
If that’s the case, keep in mind that Humanities majors are, on average, applying to medical schools with two additional MCAT Total points relative to Biological Sciences majors—507.6 vs. 505.5. Moreover, Humanities majors who matriculate into medical school are achieving higher average Total MCAT scores (512.1) vs. their Biological Sciences peers (512). In addition, Biological Sciences and Humanities students who get into medical school have nearly identical cumulative GPAs—3.73 and 3.71, respectively.
What do medical school admissions committees weight more heavily: GPA or MCAT?
The data we’ve explored above necessitates asking this question.
My best answer is, “It depends.” Some schools may weight GPA more heavily than MCAT (given that a GPA usually reflects four years of academic work), whereas others may prioritize MCAT over GPA. (given that the MCAT is a standardized test)
Regardless, a lower GPA necessitates a higher MCAT score and a lower MCAT score necessitates a higher GPA. Your goal should be to do your best on both.
(Further reading: What MCAT score do you need to get into medical school?)
What is the best premed major?
Based on the AAMC data we’ve explored, major choice does not appear to influence medical school admissions rates over and above GPA and MCAT scores.
In other words, whereas GPA and MCAT scores predict admissions success, differential acceptance rates among students with various majors are confounded with students in certain majors achieving higher stats. When stats are similar, major choice seems to have little to no impact on admissions decisions.
Therefore, you should select a primary major that highly interests you and one that will allow you to achieve at a high level academically. Don’t select a certain tough major simply because it will “look good” on your applications.
Many students bet on admissions committees (adcoms) giving them additional credit for taking on extra challenges. If you choose a tough major and excel, you may get some “bonus points” from adcoms. However, if your scores end up on the lower end, you won’t be able to count on adcom sympathy. You’re competing against far too many students with stellar stats.