Questions about majors and certificates

Med School Preferences in Majors Science vs Non-Science Major
Majors, GPAs, and Admissions Woody Woo & Prehealth
Majoring in MOL Certificates

What majors do med schools prefer?

Question: Hi HPA – I have to declare a concentration soon, and I still don’t feel like I know what direction to choose. I love my psychology courses, I’m taking sociology now and enjoying that, but I’ve always been a “science person” and I can’t seem to leave my interest in MOL or EEB behind. Can you tell me more about what medical schools might prefer? Am I at an advantage if I’m a social science major instead of a science major, since there are fewer non-science majors going into medicine? Am I at a disadvantage if I don’t do a lot of science while I’m at Princeton? What if I don’t get into medical school -- I don’t know what to do with a major outside of the sciences when it comes to careers.

Answer: These are all great questions to be considering as you commit to a concentration at Princeton, and beyond what we can answer in a simple email, or probably even in a single meeting, but here are some places to start: Medical schools want you to study what you love, delve deeply into your discipline of choice, and think about how studying it is helping you develop skills and perspectives that will inform your future practice of medicine. Every discipline provides certain habits of mind, ways of looking at the world and interacting with it, and connections to others within an intellectual community. It will be up to you to think about and learn to articulate the connections between the things that you do and who you want to be as a physician, and HPA will work with you on how to do that.

Medical schools expect you to come in with certain prerequisite courses, or scientific competencies, which will provide a foundation for success. Our non-science major alums who come back to campus have all found medical school rigorous but manageable. Taking one or two extra MOL or EEB courses along the way, though, especially if you have AP credit, will give more evidence of your ability in the sciences. Similarly, if you major in a science, we recommend some of the health-related gen ed courses, like Race and Medicine, Medical Anthropology, and many others (we create a list of suggestions every semester) to round out your preparation for medicine.

Come by and talk to us about your interests and we’ll be able to provide more food for thought. There are also many other resources that can shed light on major choices, many of which are listed on Princeton’s Choosing a Major webpage and HPA's Major Choices webpage. HPA Peer Advisers can also talk with you about their majors.


Majors, GPAs, and Admissions

Question: I’m considering medical or dental school and I’m trying to figure out my major. Is it best to be a science major and have a lower GPA or major in something non-science and have a higher GPA?

Answer: No matter your major, health professions schools will carefully assess your science GPA (made up of your biology, chemistry, and physics course grades for dental school and those three disciplines plus math for medical school) in addition to your cumulative GPA. Finding a major that interests and challenges you is important for your own preparation, and potential GPA is not the most important factor. We would love to sit down with you and discuss what your options are and which factors may help you in making the decision. We have additional advice regarding major choices on our HPA website.


MOL and Medical School

Question:  Hi HPA, I had a quick question about molecular biology and med school. I noticed that most MOL majors are also premed. Is there any correlation between these two things? Do you have to be passionate about molecular biology in order to become a good doctor? Or is it because med school studies focus on molecular biology? I've just discovered recently that I'm not particularly passionate about molecular biology, but I am still interested in being a premed. I'm just worried that if becoming a doctor/being premed means that I will need to be passionate about MOL, I may not be cut out for med school after all.

Answer: You certainly do not have to major in MOL as a prehealth student. If you are turned off by science completely, then of course a science-based profession like medicine will make you an unhappy professional. However, you do not have to be passionate about molecular biology in the way that the concentration is designed at Princeton. Perhaps other fields of biology (evolution, ecology, neuroscience) are more appealing? Perhaps chemistry, computer science or math or biotechnology? A scientific mind can find any number of rich fields during the undergraduate years and any number of areas of expression in the medical profession. As for your choice of a concentration, study what you love. Many premeds major in the humanities and social sciences, everything from French to Philosophy to Anthropology to Classics to WWS, as well as the sciences. And medical schools are interested in applicants with broad academic backgrounds: a diversity of opinions and backgrounds will create a richer learning environment in the medical school classroom. The point is to have a fulfilling academic experience, particularly in your independent work and upper-level courses in your concentration, to go into medicine with a clear sense of what your background brings to the patient’s bedside.  


Science or Non-Science Major?

Question:  My parents are telling me that I need to major in Mol Bio or another science if I want to go to med school, but I've heard from other places that it doesn't matter.  Some of my friends even say the opposite of my parents - they think I should not choose a science.  I'm a sophomore and have to decide very soon.  Which do you recommend?

Answer:  Med school admissions is holistic -- schools will want to know why you made your choices and how they will make you a better health care provider. Princeton premeds majoring in the humanities or social sciences enjoy very similar rates of medical school acceptance.  

When it comes to your life as a premed student, please remember:  admission to medical school is not affected, positively or negatively, by your choice of major in a vacuum. How you have made sense of your concentration and convey this to medical schools is important, though. Study what you love and reflect on how it has changed your perspective, the way that you think and view the world, and the way that you will interact with patients.

Many students major in the sciences, but that is because they enjoy these subjects, not because these subjects are somehow more attractive to med schools.  Non-science majors need to demonstrate a proficiency in science, yes, but that can be done through their premed coursework and any additional science coursework, regardless of major.  Reflect on your favorite classes and professors, think about your independent work, and choose a major based on that.  Talk with your Director of Studies about what draws students they advise to specific concentrations. Talk with the 'Department Reps' in departments you're considering, and try to get a feel for what it's like to major in their departments. And don't forget to consider the smaller majors, such as the languages, Classics, Philosophy, etc.  If and when you apply to medical school, those who evaluate you will look for intellectual depth and rigor, strong letters from faculty, and genuine intellectual curiosity, not for any particular subject of study.  They will also consider the unique perspective that you bring to your medical school cohort; having a less traditional major may mean you'll have a way of seeing the world developed through your major that will enhance your med school peers' educational experiences. Your question certainly comes at an opportune time for the students considering their concentration.  Thanks for asking it.  


Woody Woo & Pre-Health

Question: I am interested in a Woody Woo concentration and I missed the student panel the other day. Can you tell me what was discussed?

Answer: Our HPA Peer Advisers did a great job framing the great opportunities Woody Woo has to offer future healthcare professionals. Woody Woo premeds benefit from a flexible curriculum that encourages multidisciplinary learning and provides opportunities to pursue specific interests, such as health policy, global health, and ethics. Some students are scared off by the long lists of requirements. Here are a few strategies for navigating both Woody Woo and prehealth: 

  • Choose Woody Woo prerequisites – in (a) statistics, (b) economics, (c) history, (d) politics, sociology, or psychology – that overlap with Woody Woo core course requirements, a strategy referred to as “double-dipping."
  • Investigate which science courses also count toward your elective requirements as you plan your science coursework.
  • Consider your learning goals early (i.e., studying abroad, field research) and begin planning coursework and experiential learning with help from the appropriate advisers.
  • Find a junior or senior Woody Woo premed who can offer you advice on courses and prerequisite timelines (we have four HPA Peer Advisers this year!)
  • Check out our HPA Majors & Medicine Guide for an example of how to pair WWS with prehealth.

Although Woody Woo is a large program, many students form close-knit communities around their shared interests. Seeking funding for study and research abroad (as well as field experience) is not only accessible but also encouraged. Current Woody Woos often tell us they have honed strong collaborative and conversational skills through precepts and will graduate with real-world knowledge that is of immediate use and applicability during their glide year(s). Finally, even if you don’t choose to become a Woody Woo, you should seriously consider taking a few Woody Woo courses that can help you better understand the healthcare systems and policies that will affect how you practice medicine in the future.


Certificates

I. Certificate in Global Health & Health Policy

Question: Hey HPA, I’ve heard about this new certificate program in Global Health & Health Policy (“GHP”) and am wondering whether I should do it. Will it strengthen my med school application? Also, is this program really just for pre-meds who want to do health work overseas?

Answer: We get asked about the GHP a good bit. The GHP program is for all students (premeds and non-premeds) who are interested in the multi-disciplinary factors and dynamics that affect health, including economics, politics, anthropology, ethics, history, molecular biology, policy, ecology and evolutionary biology, philosophy, engineering, religion, etc. It addresses local, national and international issues (i.e., it’s not just for those hoping to work abroad). You should consider this certificate if you’re naturally inclined to take the GHP courses, conduct health-related summer research and integrate health into your senior thesis—and not solely because you hope it will strengthen your medical school application. If you do plan to pursue the certificate, you can prepare by looking over the prerequisites that must be completed by the end of your sophomore year. Read more about the program’s philosophy and curriculum at globalhealth.princeton.edu/undergraduate. We consistently hear great things from the prehealth students who have chosen to do this certificate. 

II. Should I finish my certificate?

Question:  Hello HPA, I just had a quick question about certificates.  I’m currently a junior and I’ve been taking Chinese every semester since I came to Princeton (including one summer).  At this point, I have enough language-related coursework to obtain a Language and Culture certificate in Chinese; however, if I decide to do it, I will need to produce a substantial piece of independent work (exclusively for the certificate) next summer, which might interfere with my other plans as well as MCAT preparation.  My question is, how are certificates viewed by medical schools?  In your opinion, would there be any value in getting the certificate in addition to my seven semesters thus far of language study?  This impacts next summer and also my course selections for next year.

Answer:  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell you how all medical schools might view certificates.  We’d advise you to weigh the importance of doing your MCAT (and gaining clinical experience, if you haven’t done much) against the independent work.  Also, consider:  when are you thinking of applying to medical school?  Is this coming summer the last possible time to take the MCAT or could you do it during senior year if you’re applying after you’ve graduated?  Do you have significant health and service experience already?  We’re sure most medical schools would value seeing a certificate on your application in addition to your concentration, but they would not value it highly enough for you to risk putting yourself at a disadvantage in other ways just to complete the certificate’s requirements.  Remember, too, that the committee letter we write for you in the spring before you apply discusses academic anomalies and trends on your transcript—things such as focus of coursework in a particular subject that may not get immediately noticed without our highlighting it.  If you were to skip getting the Chinese certificate, we could certainly address in your letter how much Chinese you’ve studied, and why, and what you’ve gotten out of it.  

III. Premed recommended certificates?

Q: Hi HPA – I’m trying to decide which certificate to do. Are there certain ones that are better for premed than others?

A: There are some certificates that may provide insight into areas that relate to medicine – Global Health and Health Policy (GHP) and Neuroscience are among the more straightforward; of the others, you can find connections to healthcare in many places – Ethnographic Studies could be of interest if you’re passionate about learning the stories of patients or others; Urban Studies may provide insight on future practice in an urban environment; any of the culture-based certificates could help you understand a segment of your future patient population; Entrepreneurship could introduce you to means of medical innovation. But, the idea behind certificates is to pursue something meaningful to you that will enrich your experience. You shouldn’t feel like you ‘have to’ get one (or more). In fact, if you’re not a MOL major, then taking all the premed courses becomes like an informal certificate, so it may be hard to find room in your schedule. Of our 103 students accepted to medical and dental school last year, 44 students completed 17 different certificates, including the usual Neuroscience and GHP, and more unique ones like Jazz Studies, Planets and Life, American Studies, and Creative Writing. A certificate can be a nice capstone that formalizes an interest in a particular area, but you can also signal that interest to admissions committees through your activities, course selections, and admissions essay – we also highlight areas you’re passionate about in our committee letter. So, even if you don’t get a Latino Studies certificate, for example, if you study Spanish, volunteer with El Centro or as a translator, are a member of Princeton Latinos y Amigos, or find other ways to let your interest in Latinx cultures come through in your experiences, schools are sure to see and value that. Read more about certificates on the ODOC website: odoc.princeton.edu/advising/choosing-certificate