• Taher Naeem

Managing CS Before Med School: Majors | Pre-Health

Whenever I tell people I majored in computer science in undergrad despite knowing that I would apply to medical school, they always wonder why. Why make things harder for myself and take such difficult and demanding classes when I could just take biology or biochemistry and make things a lot easier. Why spend so much time and energy building up a resume that I wouldn’t use and why add to the stress of maintaining a high GPA, something that is a cornerstone of a successful medical school application. I usually answer them with a rather pedestrian “I just liked it”, but I want to take the opportunity in this post to delve into my motivation behind this choice and my experience through the process.

Like most other premed students, I started college as a biology major. Since I had a good amount of AP credits, my first semester I enrolled in largely second year courses (I was one of those “sophomore by credit hours” people). In my biology class, I often found myself wondering why I had to learn about the life cycle of plants and how their cells differed from animal ones given that I had no interest in botany. I wondered how projects that involved collecting insects and studying their mating rituals was going to benefit beyond the scope of that classroom. As I sought these answers, I came to realize that I was wholly uninterested in the vast majority of what constitutes the field of biology and cared only about a very small subset thereof. I knew I would hate the next 4 years if I continued down this path.

Partially as a mistake and partially because there were no other classes that fit my schedule (typical freshman problems L), I took linear algebra my first semester. I won’t go into detail here but suffice it to say that I enjoyed that class far more than biology and after discussing my goals with that professor and with Moula TUS Raza Mubarak, I decided to switch my major to computer science. I’ll focus the rest of this post on what came of that decision and why I ultimately decided to stick with it and how it affected my medical school application and beyond.

I’m not going to lie – computer science was hard. Everyone told me it would be but because I’d had some experience with it in high school, I was overconfident. Although I had switched my major, I still had aspirations of applying to medical school and I think this was the most difficult aspect. While all my classmates and friends talked about applying to summer internships at the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook, I spent that time shadowing, looking for research, and volunteering. I sometimes considered switching back realizing that things would be a lot easier for me, but I stuck with it for 3 primary reasons:

1. It is a solid backup. This is a difficult thought for many students, but it is truly difficult to overstate how challenging getting into medical school is for anyone. Even the best and brightest students with the highest scores sometimes find themselves at the end of a cycle without a single admission offer. The average acceptance rates across US schools is just 7% and just over 40% of all applicants in a given year receive an acceptance. And so, recognizing that I may end up somewhere other than medical school, I pursued computer science knowing that it is one of the fastest growing and in-demand fields. This is not to say that I was ready to give up on medicine, but rather was just insurance that should head in a different direction, I would be somewhat prepared for the next step.

2. Medical schools are looking for that X-factor. With just over 50,000 applicants each year, it is very difficult for admissions committees to decide who to invite for an interview and who to pass on. Everyone has shadowed, everyone has volunteered, everyone has good grades and test scores. So how do you find students who stand out? Although this is not the whole picture, the latest data from the AAMC shows that applicants with an undergraduate major categorized as “math and statistics” had the highest nominal acceptance rate of 48%, while “biological sciences” had 40%. More striking however is that while there were a whopping 29,443 applicants in the latter, there were only 353 in the former. Now, importantly, this isn’t to say that choosing a less common major will surely make you stand out in and of itself and it’s important to remember that medical schools review your application holistically, but every little bit helps.

3. I loved it. Perhaps this is the most underrated reason of all, but looking back if it weren’t the case, I would have hated college and dreaded every moment of it. I know I said that the classes were hard – and they were, but it never felt that way because I honestly enjoyed what I was doing. Additionally, medical schools pick up on this. Among the flood of essays and countless clichés, they notice true passion when they see it. They want students who are passionate about not only medicine but also the other aspects of their life. I know this was true for me because I was asked about it at almost every interview. My computer science professor wrote in her letter of recommendation “if he brings just half of the passion that I have seen here to medicine, I know he will be an incredible physician to whom I can easily entrust my life.”

The points I presented above I did so through my own experience in computer science, but I believe it generalizes well to whatever you choose. There is no detriment to choosing biology (or any other major), if that’s what you love then by all means! Just remember – make sure you plan ahead and have a backup plan, do what you can to stand out apart from grades and test scores, and do what you love because you will regret it if you don’t.

I’ll end by saying this: we are fortunate enough to have the guidance and dua of Aqa Moula TUS and that is truly our most powerful asset. Every decision I made after first obtaining Raza and Dua Mubarak and I know it has worked out beautifully for me. Even though I am not directly using everything I learned in my CS classes, there are so many aspects of medicine that rely on computers and my deeper understanding allows me to more easily appreciate its strengths and limitations. I am able to be involved in cutting edge medical research and I have a perspective that few others in my class do (even though some of them think I am basically fancy tech support). In short, with Moula behind us, we are essentially guaranteed success! May Khuda grant a long life to Moula TUS until the day of Qayamat. Ameen!

Authored by: Taher Naeem

Writing on a Notebook

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