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University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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

The value of philosophy as preparation for multiple careers


Going to Graduate School

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​

Graduate School in Philosophy

Attending Graduate School is a popular, but not necessary, choice for many Philosophy majors.  Graduate School is a great choice for those who wish to teach philosophy or other subjects at a university level; or for those who wish to pursue non-teaching careers that require higher degrees of learning, such as law, medicine, counseling and mediation, or business leadership.  Going on to Graduate School is not an easy decision; only after much research, preparation, and self-reflection should students choose to take on this endeavor.  To help you with your interest in Graduate School, we provided some useful information in the links below.  Use these links as stepping stones to conduct your own research in order to better refine your questions, interests, and goals.


Funding for Undergraduate Research and Conference Work

  • Undergraduate students researching in philosophy! We encourage you to apply for Grant money for research via UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program)​ grants. Details  about: Eligibility, Steps to Get UROP Funding, International Research Funding, Application Forms, steps If You’re Selected, Publishing Your Work and Additional Opportunities are here: http://enrichment.colorado.edu/urop/for-students-2/

Researching Programs & Application Process

Literature

  • "Graduate School Philosophy Placement Records In the US and CA: Will I Get a Job?" (PhilosophyNews, blog) Data about placement after graduate work in Philosophy. NOTE: The author is selecting from schools listed only in The Leiter Report; thus, it is a large but not nearly complete or unbiased list. From the piece: "This article is a thorough analysis of the placement records of most leading PhD philosophy programs. I analyze trends, create rankings, and discuss the issues surrounding and importance of placement records over the past 13 years. I also compare placement rankings with faculty rankings from The Leiter Report, discussing their relationship and how both are necessary for making an informed decision about where (and if) to study philosophy in graduate school….I gathered approximately 2,600 placement records since the year 2000.  That is approximately 200 graduates a year (pretty constant from year to year), coming from these top ranked programs." http://www.philosophynews.com/post/2013/10/02/Will-I-get-a-Job-Graduate-School-Philosophy-Placement-Records.aspx
  • Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way into the Graduate School of Your Choice, by Donald Asher.
    -- "
    Veteran higher-education consultant Donald Asher demystifies the graduate school application process and offers a detailed action plan that has proved successful for some of the most competitive programs in the country."
  • Lifting a Ton of Feathers: A Woman's Guide to Surviving in the Academic World, by Paula J. Caplan.
    -- "
    Lifting a Ton of Feathers is not only a survival guide, it is also a destroyer of academic myths about women's career chances in the university, and a revelation of the catch-22 positions in which women find themselves. Caplan demonstrates that while many women believe that when they fail it is their fault, their fate is more likely to be sealed by their encounter with the male environment, and by the manner in which th​ey are tossed about by it. She aims to help women avoid self-blame and understand the real sources of their problems. Readers will find the information about the mine-field of academia for women infuriating, but the means of telling it highly entertaining.​"
  • Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D., by Robert L. Peters.
    -- "Based on interviews with career counselors, graduate students, and professors, Getting What You Came For is packed with real-life experiences. It has all the advice a student will need not only to survive but to thrive in graduate school, including: instructions on applying to school and for financial aid; how to excel on qualifying exams; how to manage academic politics—including hostile professors; and how to write and defend a top-notch thesis. Most important, it shows you how to land a job when you graduate."
  • The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career: A Portable Mentor for Scholars from Graduate School through Tenure, by John A. GoldsmithJohn KomlosPenny Schi​ne Gold.
    -- "Written as an informal conversation among colleagues, the book is packed with inside information—about finding a mentor, avoiding pitfalls when writing a dissertation, negotiating the job listings, and much more ... This helpful guide is for anyone who has ever wondered what the fascinating and challenging world of academia might hold in store."
  • Graduate School Companion, by Princeton ReviewPeter Diffley
    -- "Pursuing a masters degree or a Ph.D. is a major life decision and a process that is intellectually demanding, financially challenging, and sometimes emotionally taxing. If you’re currently in grad school or you’re thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, then the Graduate School Companion provides the practical advice and support you need."