What you need to think about when choosing which medical school to apply to
Maximise your chances of getting an offer by applying to the right medical school for you
The United Kingdom has 33 medical schools, and narrowing them down to four choices on your Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) form can be daunting. In this article I provide a guide to help you choose the medical schools you have the best chance of getting into and those which match your personal preferences.
Step one: do you meet the entrance requirements?
The first question you need to answer is whether you meet the minimum entrance requirements. It can take hours to sift through the entrance requirements of every medical school because each one places a slightly different emphasis on what grades and subjects they are looking for.
Generally speaking, most medical schools require an A level in biology or chemistry or both, plus one other subject, with grades ranging from AAA to A*A*A. At some medical schools the third subject you offer must be science based (biology, chemistry, physics, or mathematics), whereas other medical schools allow applicants to offer a humanities subject. Some medical schools have specific GCSE requirements: University College London specifies that all applicants must have a minimum of a B grade in English language and mathematics. Other medical schools look for a certain level of GCSE attainment: Lancaster specifies that applicants should have a score of 15 points, where each GCSE grade is allocated a set score according to their system—for example, a grade A at GCSE is worth two points.
Grade requirements can change each year, so make sure you have the most up to date information when comparing medical schools. In England and Wales AS levels are being phased out, which has meant that some medical schools have changed their entrance requirements. The Student BMJ Medical School Selector (medschoolselector.student.bmj.com) has up to date information on entrance requirements which can help you to narrow down the medical schools that you are eligible to apply to.
Step two: what are the strengths of your application?
Not only do entrance requirements differ between medical schools, but the way in which they “weight” your application varies too. For example, Aberdeen University bases its decision on whether to give you an offer on the following categories: academic attainment, UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) performance, personal statement, and interview performance. Bearing these criteria in mind can help you focus on where you give yourself the best chance of being offered a place. Check the admissions policy of each medical school to find out how your application will be weighted. Below are some key areas to consider.
Some medical schools have a cut-off mark for entrance exams (UKCAT and BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT)) to narrow down the applicants that they invite to interview. After this, they usually make their decision of whether to offer you a place on the basis of remaining elements of your application: your performance at interview and your personal statement. Other medical schools do not use your entrance exam result as the main reason to invite you to interview but use your score in tandem with other parts of your application when deciding whether to offer you a place. If you are not confident you will score highly in an entrance exam but think that you have a strong personal statement or will excel at the interview stage, then it might be worth focusing on applying to medical schools that consider several components at once.
You have to sit the UKCAT before you send your UCAS form in mid October, but the BMAT is taken in November once your application has been submitted. If you get a lower than expected mark in the UKCAT, it can be worth applying to medical schools that place less emphasis on your UKCAT score or require the BMAT. Remember that UKCAT and BMAT cut-off scores are liable to change each year.
The only UK medical school that does not require applicants to take part in an admission interview is the University of Edinburgh, so you need to be prepared. Two types of interview are used: multiple mini interviews (MMI) and panel interviews. MMIs, which are increasingly being used across the UK, consist of several short interview stations where you are asked questions about why you think you would make a good doctor or what work experience you’ve done, as well as stations where you may have to take part in a role play scenario or solve a problem. Each MMI station is manned by a different interviewer, so this has the advantage of giving you the opportunity to impress different interviewers at each station as well as recover and move on from any mistakes. Panel interviews are usually more straightforward and consist of a panel of two to three medical school staff who will ask you questions in succession.
Medical schools do not usually offer you a place on the basis of your personal statement alone, but these statements can be an important bridge to getting an interview. A well written and engaging personal statement will gain the attention of admissions tutors, and they will want to verify what you have written and get you to elaborate at interview stage. To give yourself the best chance of getting an interview, tailor your statement to match the criteria asked for by the medical school that you apply to by looking at its values and the person specification for applicants.
Step three: what are your preferences?
Once you have a sense of where you can apply to and have the best chance of receiving an offer, prioritise the medical schools that you think will suit you.
How would you like to be taught?
Medical schools in the UK typically follow three teaching styles: problem based learning; traditional learning; or a mixture of the two—integrated systems based.
If you enjoy self directed learning and the freedom to explore topics at your own pace, then problem based learning may be best for you. On the other hand, if you prefer structured teaching and a strong emphasis on the basic sciences then a lecture based or more traditional course may be the style for you. You should know the way you like to learn, so pick a course that reflects this. Think about what style of teaching will keep you engaged and help to reinforce your learning.
Where do you want to live?
Make sure you will be happy living where your medical school is based. Think about whether you want to be near or far away from home. Do you want to live in a big city, like London or Manchester, or would you prefer somewhere quieter or on a campus, like Keele University or St Andrews? Living costs also vary throughout the UK, especially the cost of accommodation.
Also, consider where your clinical placements will be. Some medical schools give students placements close to the campus or in the city where you are studying, but others give you placements that can be far away and might be difficult to get to without a car. The best way to find out this type of information is to talk to current students on open days and through social media.
Do you want to intercalate?
Most medical schools offer the option to take an intercalated degree for an additional year during your course, although this often means an extra year of tuition fees. You can study anything from anatomy to global health medical education or philosophy. The degree can add up to five points to your foundation programme application, which can give you a better chance of securing your foundation training location of choice after medical school. Intercalation is not compulsory at most medical schools; however, it is a compulsory year at Imperial College London, the University of Nottingham, the University of Oxford, and University College London. The University of Aberdeen and the University of Cambridge do not offer the opportunity for students to intercalate.
Many applicants worry about league tables, but they are not worth factoring into your decision. League tables change each year and each one has different criteria for ranking universities. Where your medical school ranks nationally will not affect where you end up working as a junior doctor because it is based on your academic performance.
Step four: visit your shortlist of medical schools
When you have made your shortlist, visit the medical schools. Most courses have open days, so try to attend them if you can and go prepared with questions. Make a note of your first impressions when you visit because these can soon fade. Also, consider the opinions of your parents and friends when discussing the pros and cons of each medical school.
Go with your gut feeling
Each medical school has pros and cons, but wherever you go you will be a doctor by the time you graduate. Consider which course will best support you in your studies and where you think you will be happiest for the next five or six years.Laura Glenny, editorial assistant
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
- Medical Schools Council. UK medical schools. 2016. www.medschools.ac.uk/STUDENTS/UKMEDICALSCHOOLS/Pages/default.aspx.
- University College London. MBBS academic entry requirements for 2017 entry. 2016. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/medicalschool/undergraduate/mbbs-admissions/entry-requirements/entry_reqs_2017.pdf.
- Lancaster University Medical School. Admissions requirements. 2016. www.lancaster.ac.uk/media/lancaster-university/content-assets/documents/medical-school/mbchb/entry-reqs/A100_Alevels2017entry.pdf.
- University of Aberdeen. Non-academic requirements. 2016. www.abdn.ac.uk/smmsn/undergraduate/medicine/non-academic-requirements.php.
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