What's the Best Prepharmacy Major?

SEPTEMBER 14, 2016
Erik Hefti did an excellent job comparing biology and chemistry majors in preparation for pharmacy school. I’m going to move the discussion to include not only biological and physical sciences, but also humanities.
First, let’s consider the reasons you’d pursue a certain major. One might be to prepare for the entrance exam, which in this case is the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). But, even that’s changing, since at least one pharmacy school accepts the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). The MCAT creators keep data on the correlation (or perhaps causation) between certain majors and high MCAT scores. However, it would be tough to gather the same data for the PCAT, as only a minority of pharmacy schools require a bachelor’s degree.

I’ll take my data for this table from the American Institute of Physics (AIP), which got its data from the Association of American Medical Colleges’ data warehouse:

I like the old MCAT scoring because it looks a lot like swimming/diving scores in the Olympics. I think we can loosely infer that what holds for the MCAT might also hold for the PCAT.

Let’s first distinguish between the most common major and the best major. In the physics dataset, there are more than 12,000 applicants from the biology pool, 2000 from chemistry, and 400 from English. We can have a high biology major rejection rate, but the major maintains the most acceptances. We can’t have as high of a numerical acceptance rate in chemistry or English because there are fewer applicants.

Biology is the most common major, but it may not be the best major. The best major should be irrespective of the number of students holding it; rather, you want a major with a low admissions rejection rate.

The best major provides 3 advantages:

1. High Grade Point Average (GPA)
According to a Wake Forest study, English majors’ average GPA is around 3.3, biology is around 3.0, and chemistry is close to 2.75. Some pharmacy colleges won’t look at an application below a 3.0, which is disappointing because pharmacists have traditionally been chemists, and their pharmacogenomics work depends on understanding biochemistry and genetics. This makes it less likely that a physical science major, like chemistry, gains acceptance based on GPA.

The GPA difference between English and chemistry seems large. I’m an English major graduate, and I can tell you it isn’t easy, but there’s a big difference between what English and chemistry majors can do to get good grades.
In English, we revise a lot. If I handed in first drafts, I’d have a low GPA. But English majors talk to the professor, get feedback from the writing center, workshop, and create a better version. By the time the final submission is due, the paper is well-polished. Meanwhile, chemistry and biology are often exam-based majors with little chance for revision.

Tony Guerra, PharmD
Tony Guerra, PharmD
Tony Guerra, PharmD, is chair, instructor, and pre-pharmacy advisor at Des Moines Area Community College's Pharmacy Technician program and Pharmacy Podcast Network Co-Host. He's Tony_PharmD on Twitter and TonyPharmD on YouTube providing Top 200 drugs and pronunciation help to over 4,500 followers with over 1 million views. His two audiobooks Memorizing Pharmacology: A Relaxed Approach and How to Pronounce Drug Names: A Visual Approach to Preventing Medication Errors are Amazon bestsellers. He graduated from Iowa State University with a BA in English and the University of Maryland with his PharmD.