The brain is studied in many different fields and areas in medicine and biology. It’s such a complex organ, and with only a small amount of it explored, there is still much to discover. This mystery that has dumbfounded us for decades is being undertaken by neurologists, neuroscientists, and neurosurgeons alike. But before they could operate and study the brain through experiments, it was still mandatory to build a solid foundation in college. With the number of classes available in both high school and college, it can be hard to choose the right courses to prepare you for studying Neuroscience. Here are the best classes to take in both high school and college, as well as an overview of the major and future career paths it can lead to.
What do you study as a Neuroscience major?
A faction within biological sciences, Neuroscience combines elements of biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology to study the brain and nervous system and their processes. It helps if you’re intrigued by the unknown and enjoy figuring out solutions to challenging problems. The majority of the courses you’ll have to take in college will be science based. In addition to taking many science classes, you’ll also do lab research for class, applying academic principles to real-world situations and experiences. You might even have the chance to work with a professor in an independent lab and write a senior thesis. Understanding the nervous system—both central and peripheral systems—is the initial step to diagnose and treat nervous disorders like Alzheimer’s.
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Potential career paths in Neuroscience
There are many careers that dedicate themselves to the study of Neuroscience, such as neuroscientist, neurologist, or neurosurgeon. If you enjoy lab work and research, neuroscientists perform experiments to try and analyze neural pathways and processes. Neurologists have more one-on-one with patients who have nervous disorders; these doctors usually help treat conditions like dementia and multiple sclerosis. Neurosurgeons work with patients suffering from conditions like epilepsy and perform two to seven surgeries a day with patients. All of these occupations, especially neurosurgeons and neurologists, have long yet rewarding days.
Neuroscience does not limit itself to these three career choices, however. Many technology companies are mimicking technology after the brain and its connections of neurons or even fusing technology with the brain itself. Therefore, you could study Neuroscience in college with the intent of going into the technological field or becoming a biological/medical scientist. Other areas of focus that correspond with the brain include psychiatry, pharmacology, and computer science. There’s no limit to job opportunities when you major in Neuroscience!
Related: Why Picking a Major Isn't the Same as Choosing a Career
High school classes to help you prepare
If you’re planning to major in Neuroscience, the main high school science classes you’ll want to take are biology, chemistry, and physics. Of course, the advanced versions of these classes would be even better, as you have the chance to get college credit. AP Psychology is another social science that focuses heavily on the brain and is essential to its understanding. Taking a foreign language class while in high school is also a great idea, as many of these jobs require working with people who don’t speak the same language, so it’s a great way to connect with future patients.
Since Neuroscience is part of the STEM fields, mathematic classes should also be integrated into your schedule. Math classes like AP Calculus and Statistics could be especially helpful. If you’re interested in studying Neuroscience while combining technology, it’s not a horrible idea to take AP Computer Science either. Of course, if your school doesn’t offer them, AP classes aren’t required; they’re merely a helpful preparation tool so you can get a taste of college-level work. But if your school offers them, try to take as many as you can handle!
Alternatives to shadowing experiences
If you’re still in high school, you’ll want to keep taking the necessary courses that will help you in college, but you may be wondering about opportunities to learn outside the classroom. There may not be many available to you, especially in light of the pandemic. Luckily, you can take online Neuroscience courses and watch videos of neurologists and neurosurgeons to get a sense of their day-to-day work lives without risking anyone’s safety. There are many online resources to help feed your interest in Neuroscience from the comfort of your own home.
Classes you’ll take as an undergrad
As a Neuroscience major in college, especially during your first year, you’ll be taking the basics of biology, chemistry, and physics again; organic chemistry is also a key class. As you move on in college, you’ll go on to take related Neuroscience courses like behavioral neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, developmental neuroscience, and systems neuroscience. These classes build upon the foundational classes you initially took and finally explore how the brain works, senses, and processes information. Finally, you’ll have the opportunity to take relevant courses in neuroscience, such as neurobiology, neuropharmacology, and psychology. All these courses and more will help build an arsenal of neurological knowledge, which you can take with you either to the career of your choice or forward to your graduate or medical studies.
Next steps after college
Neuroscience is an interesting subject filled with many fascinating aspects to work and manipulate. That’s the beauty of choosing this major; you can study it for four years or 10, depending on what you wish to do. When you finish your undergraduate studies, you can take your Neuroscience degree with you in search of a job, or you can continue the journey to becoming a neurologist or neurosurgeon with stops at medical school and many residency/fellowship programs along the way.
Related: 4 Differences Between Graduate and Undergrad STEM Programs
Neuroscience builds upon the foundation of biology, chemistry, and physics while interweaving topics like pharmacology, computer science, and psychology throughout. Neuroscience doesn’t offer just one professional pathway but many, all of which can lead to interesting careers. The brain is such an important part of our body, so it’s essential that we find out all we can about it. Without this important knowledge, people suffering from neurological diseases are left in the dust, with no known solutions to problems like Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Studying Neuroscience in college is challenging, but it will allow you to make a true difference in the world.
Learn more about different science majors in our Science & Engineering section!