Going on to Medical School, Law School, and other Graduate Schools

The value of philosophy as a preparation for multiple careers

Medical School and Philosophy: A Valuable Pre-Med Major

According to a recent edition of the Medical School Admission Requirements, published by the Association of American Medical Colleges [AAMC], students "should select a major area of study that is of interest and will provide a foundation of knowledge necessary for the pursuit of several career choices."  

To put it bluntly, Med schools really don't care what your major is and there is no recommended pre-med major, despite what students often think.  However, a major that genuinely interests you means you are more likely to make good grades, to which medical school do pay a lot of attention.

Philosophy is an unusual choice for a pre-med major, to be sure. The Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) book for 2000-2001 shows that only 0.5% of medical school applicants were Philosophy Majors in 1998.  

However, 50.2% of Philosophy majors were accepted to medical school--much higher than, say Biology majors at a mere 39.9%).  In the previous year, the acceptance rate for Philosophy majors was 53%!

Philosophy majors make much more interesting applicants. Consider how many Biology Majors with a 4.0 apply to Med School? In contrast, a successful Philosophy major is thoroughly trained in a variety of useful skills, including critical thinking, ethical reasoning, intellectual history and both oral and written communication. In short, they tend to be well-rounded, well-educated students. This is certainly part of the reason that Philosophy majors do so well in medical school.

 ​Should pre-med students major in science?

Medical and dental schools require a year each of English, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Inorganic Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry. However, this does not mean you must pick a scientific major. In fact, as the AAMC goes on to state: 

"It should be strongly emphasized that a science major is not a prerequisite for medical school, and students should not major in science simply because they believe this will increase their chances for acceptance...." 

What the AAMC recommends is a broad academic background that includes courses in the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. If you can show that you can handle the hard sciences, but also know how to think and reflect about other things, this makes you a more interesting candidate. Finally, to quote the Association of American Medical Colleges again, 

"For most physicians...the undergraduate years are the last available opportunity to pursue in depth a non-science subject of interest, and all who hope to practice medicine should bear this in mind when selecting an undergraduate major." 

Philosophy is recommended as just such a non-science subject.

A pre-med Philosophy major does require some careful planning. The scientific knowledge that is required in the practice of medicine is the focal point of the medical school curriculum, and much scientific coursework should be completed beforehand in both high school and college. Students interested in pursuing this possibility are strongly advised to discuss their planned coursework with both the Philosophy and Biology Pre-med advisors as early in their academic careers as possible. 

[Material adapted from http://www.clemson.edu/caah/philosophy/academics/philosophy/pre-med.html]

NOTE: We urge you to also look at "Major Anxiety: If You Think Biochemistry is your Ticket Into Medical School, Think Again" by by Paul Jung, M.D. (The New Physician September 2000, Volume 49, Issue 6) and posted here: http://www.amsa.org/AMSA/Homepage/Publications/TheNewPhysician/2000/tnp275.aspx

Going to Graduate School or Law School?

Comprehensive studies* of college students' scores on the LSAT, GRE, and GMAT (used for admission to graduate and professional schools) shows that students majoring in philosophy received substantially higher than average scores on each test.

  • LSAT  Philosophy majors received higher scores on the LSAT than students in all other subjects in the humanities, higher scores than all social and natural science majors except engineering and physics/mathematics, and higher scores than all applied majors. Philosophy majors also scored better than political science and prelaw majors on the LSAT.
  • GMAT  Philosophy majors outperformed business majors on the GMAT and ranked among the highest with mathematics, physics, and engineering majors.
  • GRE  Philosophy majors scored substantially higher on the GRE than all other humanities majors and were the only humanities majors to score above the overall average. Additionally, philosophy majors' scores on the verbal portion of the GRE were higher than in any other major, even English.

Benefits of Philosophy for Law School:

Many philosophers and students of philosophy go to law school, and there are now many successful philosopher-lawyers. On the basis of information from law school faculty, from philosophers who have kept track of students who have gone into law, and from independent studies, it is clear that philosophical training tends to be of great value both in law school and in legal practice. A philosopher at a distinguished university noted that even the average philosophy graduate student who transferred to law school usually did outstanding work as a law student. There have been comparable results at many institutions around the country.

The law is not only a career that interests many philosophers and philosophy students, it is also a field for which philosophical training is generally excellent preparation. Furthermore, while the standard path into a legal career is through law school, philosophers have entered the profession of law in other ways without needing to obtain a law degree; for example, in legal research. Philosophers are also employed in prison administration, in police service, and in paralegal work as rights advocates. Moreover, some insurance and trust companies have expressed interest in philosophical research capacities in relation to their legal work. Given the large number of recent law school graduates, it may be especially appropriate for philosophers interested in legal work in general to consider some of these other areas of the legal domain.

The many skills that students learn to develop while studying philosophy are crucial skills in the study of law. These skills include, but are not limited to, the ability to develop and analyze arguments, to uncover assumptions and presuppositions, to identify fallacies in reasoning, to organize one's reasoning, and to structure complex ideas. Both formal and informal logic are of important use in the study and practice of law.