By Ann C. Trail, M.Ed.
One of the questions most frequently asked by pre-health freshmen is, “What should I major in?” The answer, to the surprise of many, is “Whatever you want to major in.” Health professions schools have no preference as to a student’s major. No major gives applicants an edge. No majors raise admissions committees’ eyebrows. There are courses students must complete in order to do well on the admissions exams, and to be prepared for the professional coursework, but these taken together are roughly the equivalent of a minor in terms of credit load. Professional schools view undergraduate education as an opportunity for students to pursue intellectual interests and develop analytical reasoning skills. If a student is truly interested in biochemistry, she should major in biochemistry. But if he is drawn to history, now is the time to delve into it. It is not offered in medical or dental school. And according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, there is no discernable difference in MCAT scores, or admission rates, between students who majored in sciences and students who majored in other disciplines. The analytical reasoning skills needed in a complex field like medicine can be learned in any field. For these reasons, among others, we recommend students choose as majors subjects they enjoy and excel in.
[NOTE: The professional majors (business and engineering) are not designed to accommodate the extra load needed to prepare for health professions schools. Students choosing these programs may need to take summer courses and/or finish their pre-health preparation after graduation.]
Of course, choosing a major comes more easily for some students than others. Some apply directly to their majors as part of their application. Others arrive on campus with majors in mind, and declare after taking an introductory course or two. Still others are less certain. At Villanova, students must declare a major by the end of sophomore year. But students are not without guidance in this endeavor. They have ample advising resources in the form of faculty and staff available to help them navigate these decisions. And herein lies another benefit of the liberal arts education: while students are fulfilling the Core requirement, they are simultaneously being exposed to subjects they may never otherwise have considered exploring. In the process many find new areas of interest; some, occasionally, find majors. Some may follow a second interest into completion of a minor.
This leads to a second fact about majors (and minors) that surprises some students. The accumulation of extra majors and minors is not something that impresses admissions committees. All learning, whether intellectual, spiritual, social, or service-oriented, should provide growth and be meaningful to the student. The only reason to major in two subjects is because the student is absolutely passionate about the two, and is driven to pursue them to the extent of completing both majors. The double major itself will garner no points in the professional school admissions process.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers a rich array of majors to suit the intellectual appetites of a student body with diverse intellectual passions. Students should choose majors they enjoy, find courses that challenge them, explore new areas of interest, complete the particular prerequisites for their intended professions, engage in their communities, and do their best. That is the way to become strong candidates for graduate school, and to have a fulfilling undergraduate experience.
Ann C. Trail, M.Ed., is a Health Professions Advisor at Villanova University in the Office of Undergraduate Students.