Your plan B for getting into medical school
What are your options if you don’t get in first time round?
With an average of three applicants for every place in medical school, it is inevitable that more people will miss out on a place than gain one. Things can go wrong in several areas, but don’t be disheartened if you are still determined to pursue your dream of becoming a doctor because several options are open to you.
Option 1—Take your fifth choice
You might have the entry requirements to start an alternative degree. Think carefully about your fallback option when you plan your application. Popular fifth choice UCAS subjects for applicants to medicine include biomedical sciences, medical sciences, anatomy, and physiology. These share similar aspects to medicine, and a degree in one of these subjects will look strong in any future application to medical school.
Taking this option has several advantages. You will learn a great deal from completing another degree, not just about the subject matter but about yourself and your abilities in the university environment and as an independent learner. These courses may have lower entry requirements than medicine—ABB or AAB.
These subjects are not easy though, and they take three years to complete. You are not guaranteed a place on a medical undergraduate or graduate entry programme and must go through the same application process as other candidates. The requirements for graduate entry medicine usually include a 2:1 in the degree. Also, if you decide to study an undergraduate degree and then apply to graduate entry courses, you will need to find a way to fund your tuition fees and living expenses. The Student Loans Company will not fully fund your second degree.
Undertake extensive research into your fifth choice to make sure you will enjoy it. Some medical schools offer a foundation year as part of their medicine course. The entry requirements for these courses are lower and are designed to ensure your basic A level science is up to a good standard before entry to medical school.
Most medical schools do not offer interviews to applicants who are in the middle of another degree. It is considered inappropriate because not enough commitment is implied. Our advice is to complete the degree before applying to medicine again.
Option 2—Try to get on a course through clearing
You can try to secure a place on an alternative degree through clearing. This is a risky option because you will have limited time to make a decision. You need to be sure you would enjoy any subject you are offered through clearing. It is unusual to be offered a place to study medicine through clearing. Although a viable route, the additional time and cost to undertake a first degree should be considered.
Option 3—Take a gap year
If you don’t get the grades or you stumble at the interview stage, it might be worth taking a gap year and reapplying for undergraduate medicine the next year. Many students are apprehensive about taking a year out. It can be particularly isolating as your peers are away at university while your future seems uncertain. However, a well planned gap year can reap many benefits, not the least of which is a stronger second application to medical school. The main activities that most students focus on in their gap year are given below.
If insufficient voluntary work was a shortcoming in your first application, this would be the perfect time to tackle it. Long term voluntary work with people needing care shows your commitment to their care as well as your ability to build a rapport with them. It is a further opportunity to develop the communication, teamwork, and decision making skills that are required by doctors on a daily basis. To make sure you make the most of any work experience it is important that you take the initiative and actively seek out ways to be helpful in the workplace. Visit the Student BMJ work experience page for more information: http://student.bmj.com/student/section/apply/workexperience.html.
An excellent way of enjoying the benefits of a job while gaining medically relevant work experience is by working in a healthcare setting such as at a general practitioner surgery. Although earning some money can be great, don’t forget the primary purpose of your gap year is to strengthen your application. This requires work on your personal statement, practising for entrance exams, and preparing for interview. Good time management is needed to balance this with the responsibilities of a full time job.
Not all activities in your gap year need to be academic, and a popular option is to spend some time travelling. Taking a gap year can be emotionally challenging, so rewarding yourself with a relaxing holiday is a good remedy. In fact, opportunities for long holidays are scarce as a doctor and your gap year may be the longest break you enjoy until retirement.
Your application second time around
Although what you decide to do with your time is important, it is irrelevant if you don’t put a good, strong application together. Identify the weakest areas of your previous application. If you didn’t achieve the required grades, then it makes sense to make sure you know where in the exam you fell short. Ask for the papers back from the examination board and for any feedback. Also, ask your teachers for honest advice on what you need to improve on. It may be knowledge of a subject area or it could be improving your exam technique.
Although getting the right grades is important, don’t neglect other parts of your application. Get feedback from admissions tutors on your personal statement and performance at interview so you can put right any faults. Also, think carefully about the medical schools you are applying to so that you give yourself the best chance of being offered an interview. Alison Walker has given advice on how to be strategic in choosing your medical school.
Option 4—Re-sit your A levels
If you did not achieve the required AAA grades it is unlikely you will be able to start the course. More offers than places available are made every year because a certain proportion of students either don’t make the grade or accept another offer.
As part of pursuing the gap year option you can re-sit your A levels. You will have to wait until the next summer when the year 13 pupils sit their A levels for the first time. This means you will be left all year not knowing whether you will definitely get the grades you need to get into medical school. Before re-sitting it is important to consider how far below the requirements you were and how likely you are to improve your grades. It is also worth double checking whether you can reapply to medical schools that have previously rejected your application or where you have already been interviewed.
Perseverance is the key
If you are unsuccessful in your application to medicine first time around, remember that many applicants are in the same boat. Being unsuccessful may have been down to too many applicants, not enough places, or that someone else did slightly better than you.
Options are available to get you back on track. The most important initial step is to appraise your application and identify your shortcomings. This will determine what you should do next.
Failing to achieve is never easy, especially if you are used to getting the top grades and being one of the best in your class at school. An unsuccessful application can be demoralising, but you must try not to be disheartened; there have been lots of people who didn’t get into medical school first time round, for all sorts of reasons. As a medical student and doctor you will need to be resilient and emotionally strong, so your plan B year can be a great way to develop these qualities and show that you can succeed in medicine.Roanna Craven, third year medical student 1, Fatima Nadeem, third year medical student1, Matt Green, director of professional development 2, Gopal Mahadev, consultant surgeon 3
1University of Manchester, 2BPP University School of Health, Abingdon, 3Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cheshire
Correspondence to: MattGreen@bpp.com
Competing interests: MG and GM are the editors of The What, Why and How of Medical School Interviews and deliver courses on medical school entry preparation.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
- BMA. Medical student finance guide. http://bma.org.uk/developing-your-career/medical-student/guide-to-medical-student-finance.
- Hull York Medical School. Entry requirements. 2015. www.hyms.ac.uk/undergraduate/before-you-apply/entry-requirements.
- Davies R. How I successfully reapplied to study medicine. Student BMJ 2015; http://student.bmj.com/student/view-article.html?id=sbmj.h3053.
- Walker A. The strategic approach to choosing a medical school. Student BMJ 2015; http://student.bmj.com/student/view-article.html?id=sbmj.h5237.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2015;23:h6556