Before you can start earning a master’s in pathology, one of the highest paying master’s degrees, you will need to complete some prerequisites. The curriculum of this program is heavily based in science and medical studies, so it should come as no surprise that you need to complete several laboratory science courses as an undergraduate to go to grad school for pathology. In fact, the prerequisite courses required to go to school for pathology are very similar to those required for medical school.
Prerequisite Courses in the Sciences
Most of the prerequisites you need to complete before you can begin studying pathology at the master’s degree level are based in laboratory sciences, according to the American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants. Without question, you need to take a course in biology, the scientific study of living organisms. You also need to study microbiology, the study of living organisms so small that they can only be seen using a device like a microscope. An undergraduate course in anatomy and physiology, two related disciplines that examine the structure and function, respectively, of the body, prepares you for graduate-level coursework in both subject areas.
Another prerequisite course requirement is chemistry, the study of the chemical substances that make up matter and their composition, properties and interactions. Typically, applicants to a master’s degree program in pathology are expected to have taken a class in organic chemistry, the study of chemical compounds that contain carbon, or biochemistry, the study of the chemical processes that relate to living organisms.
Although pathologists’ assistant master’s degree programs may not specify an undergraduate major requirement, most pathologists’ assistants earn their bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry or another of the life sciences, according to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Otherwise, you may need to go back to school to meet your prerequisite course requirements prior to applying for a graduate school program in pathology.
Aside from the science prerequisites, applicants to a master’s in pathology program should have taken at least one college-level mathematics course and a class in English composition. These courses are typically part of your undergraduate general education requirements.
Differentiating Between a Master’s in Pathology and a Medical Degree
Prospective students of a master’s in pathology program need to know that degree is not equivalent to a medical degree, such as a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. In other words, earning your master’s degree in pathology will not prepare you to be any sort of doctor or physician, including a pathologist. For that reason, master’s degree programs in pathology are sometimes referred to as pathologists’ assistant programs to make clear to prospective students that the role they are preparing for is that of pathologists’ assistant rather than pathologist.
That said, there’s a great deal of overlap in the knowledge needed to train for a career as a pathologists’ assistant and the prerequisites required for medical school. In fact, many master’s in pathology degree programs are offered out of medical schools, rather than colleges of science within universities. Pathologists’ assistant graduate programs, like medical school programs, may also give preference to students who have already completed a considerable amount of job shadowing hours observing the work of a certified pathologists’ assistant in a clinical setting.
A master’s degree in pathology is far from an easy degree to earn. Compared to medical school, though, this program is shorter and somewhat less demanding, without requiring the lengthy post-graduate residency in which new doctors routinely work up to 80 hours per week. Beyond the course prerequisite requirements, other admissions requirements may be somewhat more lenient for pathologists’ assistant programs than for medical degree programs.
For example, medical schools require prospective students to submit scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a notoriously challenging standardized exam that, for most successful test-takers, requires hundreds of hours of preparation. Pathologists’ assistant programs usually don’t require students to take the MCAT at all. Some pathologists’ assistant master’s degree programs require students to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test, an exam that is generally viewed as easier than the MCAT and that is widely used for graduate school admissions in a variety of disciplines. Other schools don’t require students to take the GRE or any other graduate admissions test to get into a master’s degree program in pathology.
If you do take the MCAT – if, for example, you previously considered going to medical school– then you may wish to submit these scores to your school even though they aren’t required, particularly if you performed well on the test.