Getting into and surviving medical school is a competitive process, and starting with the right undergraduate degree can help. Many people who plan on going to medical school pursue bachelor's degrees in biology or biochemistry, and neither is definitively better than the other. A biochemistry major prepares you for some topics in medical school and will statistically improve your chances of getting in, but this preparation is of limited utility, and your best chances of getting in will come from following your interests.
Meeting Medical School Requirements
Biochemistry is a required course in medical school, and many medical schools' admissions requirements include undergraduate experience with biochemistry. Majoring in biochemistry, then, has the advantages of filling biochemistry requirements without additional coursework and preparing you for biochemistry coursework in medical school. That preparation, however, is only general, because undergraduate and medical school biochemistry are not the same. Undergraduate biochemistry considers the chemical processes of all organisms while medical school focuses on specific processes related to disease in humans.
While biology majors might enter medical school with less preparation in biochemistry than biochemistry majors, biology majors can also enter with more preparation in other topics. Because undergraduate biochemistry takes a broad approach, many of the required classes cover topics not relevant to med school. Biology majors can not only avoid these classes, they can replace them with more classes -- like genetics, physiology and developmental biology -- that are specifically relevant to medical study.
Being prepared for medical school is only valuable if you get in, and in this regard biochemistry majors have statistical advantages over biology majors. Biochemistry majors are accepted at higher rates than biology majors. 43 percent of biochemistry majors who apply are accepted into med school, but only 35 percent of biology majors are. This is an incomplete picture, however, because medical schools accept around 46 percent of English majors and half of philosophy majors who apply, which means there's more to getting accepted than choosing a major.
Follow Your Interests
Medical schools accept English and philosophy majors not because these are the best paths to med school, but because there are no absolute paths to med school. Medical schools are more interested in applicants with well-rounded educations and solid records of overall academic performance than they are in applicants with specific scientific backgrounds. If you are more interested in biology than biochemistry, studying biology, and doing really well, is the better choice for you. Likewise, if you are more interested in biochemistry, biochemistry is the better choice.
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- Yale University: Preparing for Medical School
- University of California at Berkeley: Medical School - Preparation
- Columbia University: Biology Major - Requirements
- Columbia University: Biochemistry Major - Requirements
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