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alt="pre-med student holding a red stethoscope in one hand"
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In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com admissions expert Rashmi shared tips for high school students thinking about pursuing a pre-med track in college. For more guidance on the college application process in general, sign up to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Every year, thousands of students come into undergrad intending to join a pre-med track. A study found, however, that only 16.5% of students who intended to major in pre-med actually graduate with the necessary coursework to attend medical school. In other words, the vast majority leave the pre-med track at some point.

While there is nothing wrong with changing your major or career path, this article will help you decide whether a pre-med track is the right fit for you. Below, I have outlined seven questions that all high school students interested in pre-med should consider before applying to college.

Determining your Why for Choosing a Pre-Med Track

1. Have you explored or considered other professions before settling on medicine?

Medicine is not the only career opportunity that can allow you to live comfortably while making an impact in your community. Throughout high school, join a variety of career interest clubs and activities so you can learn about different professions. You can also reach out to professionals in your community to see if they would be willing to talk to you about their career.

While the pre-med track can be great for some, the path to medical school is long and challenging. Purposeful exploration of other careers can help you to make an informed decision before applying pre-med.

2. Have you taken the time to look into the broad range of ways you can be a part of the medical field?

As a high school student, you may not know about many career paths within medicine. While may have a chance to explore other medical professions in college, you should become familiar with them sooner rather than later.

For instance, you may choose to pursue a career in nursing, occupational therapy, or dentistry. Before applying to the pre-med track, take some time to learn more about these options.

3. Besides wanting to help people, do you have specific reasons for becoming a doctor?

All doctors want to help people. However, most doctors have other reasons for being in the profession. For example, one of the reasons I chose to go into medicine is to help shape policies that achieve health justice.

As you consider your college goals, reflect on your experiences and aspirations. Why does medicine appeal to you? If you do not know where to start, read books on the medical practice (I recommend Being Mortal or When Breath Becomes Air) or follow social media accounts run by medical professionals you admire.

Reflecting on Pre-Med Coursework During a Long Training Journey

4. Are you intrigued by the subjects you will study in the pre-med track and medical school?

The bread and butter of medicine is physical and natural science. On a pre-med track, you will gain a solid foundation in biology, chemistry, and physics before diving deep into the anatomy and physiology of the human body during medical school.

Think about your high school coursework. What subjects interest you? If science is not your cup of tea, you may find pre-med track courses challenging. You may also gain less satisfaction from an eventual career in medicine.

5. Medical training is not simply about clinical care—how do you feel about conducting research, learning about health care systems, etc.?

When we think about the mainstream representations of medicine, we primarily think of doctors and surgeons. However, during medical training and beyond, physicians are involved in research, public health, health policy, consulting, and more.

While you can specialize in clinical care, you will still engage with other fields including research and policy. An interest in furthering the landscape of medicine can help keep your medical journey engaging.

Thinking about the Day in the Life of a Physician

6. How do you envision your work schedule at the beginning of your career?

On the journey to become a doctor, you will sacrifice much of your 20s in medical school and residency. Once you become an attending physician, you will have more of an opportunity to structure your work schedule. However, depending on your specialty, your time is at the mercy of your patients.

Before entering into a medical career, consider what work-life balance means to you. What are some non-negotiable parts of your life outside of work (i.e. travel, sports, etc)? For you, do these non-negotiables come before medicine? If so, medicine and the pre-med track may not be for you.

7. Do you enjoy interacting with people and working in group settings?

Medicine is a collaborative career—you will constantly be interacting with patients and working alongside nurses, physician associates, pharmacists, and more. While these relationships vary by specialty, human interaction is a key part of the medical profession. If you don’t enjoy working with others, I would rethink applying to a pre-med track in college.

This article highlights many unglamorous parts of the medical field. However, it should not dissuade you from the profession!

If, after reading and reflecting on these questions, you still decide medicine is for you, you can incorporate your ideas into your pre-med applications. However, if you have significant doubts, perhaps you should reconsider applying to college as a pre-med applicant (or pursue further exploration of the medical profession). After all, you can still join the pre-med track later on in undergrad if you change your mind.

The strongest pre-med applicants will take the time to explore and reflect on the medical profession. Hopefully, this article helps you get started on that exploration and reflection.

This article was written by Rashmi Bharadwaj, Vanderbilt ‘21. If you want to get help with your college applications from CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expertsregister with CollegeAdvisor.com today.