Choosing between a biology or biochemistry major when considering a medical school degree is almost like splitting hairs. Both are fairly similar in their origin and can offer a quality foundation for a pre-med student.
When considering biology or biochemistry as a major for pre-med, a student should take a long look at what his or her interests. Consider which types of chemistry, math and science classes you excelled in throughout your schooling and what grabbed your interest and ignited your passion.
Each school will have a different set of requirements for pre-med courses that students should have completed before applying to a graduate school. Biochemistry pre-med courses can include biology of organisms, organic chemistry, biology of cells, general physics and human physiology.
A student studying either biology or biochemistry should complete a variety of math classes during their undergraduate degree. In the biochemistry vs. chemistry debate, both sides win because they require a lot of math. Classes in algebra, calculus, trigonometry and statistics can further prepare a student for the rigorous course work of a medical degree program.
Purpose of Biology
Deriving from the Greek words for life (bios) and study (logos), biology is the study of the science of life. A biologist is interested in studying the origin, structure, function, evolution and distribution of all living organisms in a variety of environments. Biology can be broken down into the study of plant-based life to the study of genetics in animal and human life forms.
If you plan to study biology, you will have a diverse range of areas to focus on. Biology is a vast field with a multitude of subfields.
Biology study areas include:
- Cellular Biology
- Evolutionary Biology
- Molecular Biology
Any field within the greater context of biology will overlap with other fields. For instance, a geneticist will also have a background in evolution or physiology. A botanist will have had some experience in cellular biology.
Purpose of Biochemistry
While biology focuses on the natural elements of study in all of its subfields, biochemistry focuses on the vital developments that occur in living organisms and the study of the chemical substances in biological processes.
The function and structure of biomolecules fall under the umbrella of what a biochemist will focus on. A biochemist will study the chemical processes of all living organisms. This includes researching DNA, heredity and cell development as well as delving into how medicines interact and react with living tissue. Biochemists rely on laboratory work and research to explore their area of interests.
Biochemistry vs. Chemistry
Biochemistry can be considered a more in-depth study within the main subject of chemistry. However, what you study in biochemistry easily intersects with what you study in chemistry. A foundation of chemistry classes from high school through the first years of college will prepare a student for further study in the area of biochemistry.
The three branches of chemistry are physical, organic and inorganic. Biochemistry delves deeper into the chemical side of living organisms, reactions and developments. Within biochemistry, a student can study even further into the subject through animal, medical, plant, clinical and environmental biochemistry concentrations.
Biochemistry Medical School Options
A quality biochemistry medical school can steer a student with strong abilities in both biology and chemistry to their best career options. A student who completes a bachelor’s or master’s degree can work in entry-level positions immediately upon graduation.
To become an independent biochemist in the research and development field, you need a PhD. Biochemists can work in research roles in the lucrative biotechnology industry or pharmaceutical field. They can expand into other industries, including food technology, fiber production and toxicology.
There are a few universities in the United States that consistently rate in the top five for biology and biochemistry degrees for pre-med students:
University of California –
San Francisco Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of California – Berkeley
- Association of American Medical Colleges: I Am Interested in Both Biology and Biochemistry
- Medical School Headquarters: Best Premed Major to Get into Medical School
- American Association of Medical Colleges: Table 18: MCAT and GPAs for Applicants and Matriculants to U.S. Medical Schools by Primary Undergraduate Major, 2011
- American Medical Student Association: Major Anxiety
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Biochemists and Biophysicists
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Microbiologists
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Biological Technicians
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Environmental Scientists and Specialists
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- John Hopkins University: Medical School Statistics and Trends
Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business trends and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.