Top Ten Things to Think About When Choosing A Medical School
The process of applying to medicine is long and arduous. There are so many hoops to jump through, from the right GCSE grades, to entry exams and work experience. One of the most important choices you will have to make during your application is choosing a medical school from the UK’s 33 fantastic medical universities.
If you are struggling with the application process, remember to check out my Applying to Medical school timeline. Below are my top ten things to consider when choosing a medical school!
In your UCAS application you will be allowed to apply to up to four medical/dental schools, plus a fifth option that cannot be medicine, dentistry or veterinary studies.
Some people may choose their four medical schools at the start of their application process. Others, like myself, may be leaving this choice to the end. Below are the top things you should be considering when you are choosing your medical schools.
Number 1 – GCSE Grades
While the majority of medical schools require students to have a minimum of 5’s in English, Maths and double-award Science, there is actually quite a large range of GCSE requirements at different universities. You can look up the requirements of each medical school on their websites.
This is a great first step to narrowing down universities, a way to remove universities you don’t meet the requirements for from your consideration.
Number 2 – Which Admissions Test?
Undergraduate medical schools in the UK require one of two entry exams: the UCAT or the BMAT. These two exams are very different form each other. You can learn more about each in my UCAT post and BMAT post, to help decide if one will suit you more than the other.
As the UCAT sitting takes place over the summer, before the October 15th deadline, while the BMAT takes place in November after the deadline, I would recommend students sit the UCAT regardless of whether they are planning on applying to UCAT or BMAT universities. This way, if you achieve an outstanding UCAT score you may change your mind and apply for UCAT universities, or a poor UCAT performance may mean you try your luck with the BMAT
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Number 3 – The Location of The University.
For some, going off to university is a chance to get away from their childhood home, a chance to physically distance themselves from their parents and thrive independently. For others, moving away from home does not carry the same allure, and staying at home or close to home allows them to enjoy university while still spending time with their family or maintaining their other commitments.
Number 4 – Length of Course.
Undergraduate medicine programmes are a minimum of 5 years long. There are, however, courses that last 6 years due to an intercalated year.
Intercalation is the chance to take a year off of medicine, to pursue a BSc or BA in another subject, undertake research or even a Masters.
Intercalation is optional at almost all medical schools.However, it is now compulsory at some medical schools, so if you are, for some reason, not interested in undertaking an intercalated year, then this may contribute to your decision.
There are also 6 year undergraduate medical programmes which offer a foundation or preparation year. These courses are offered to students from widening participation backgrounds who may not have achieved the unbelievably high grades for 5 year courses, or to students who did not undertake the needed A Levels.
Number 5 – Course Type
Medical courses will, broadly, fall in to one of three types: Traditional, Problem Based Learning and Integrated.
You can read more about the different medical courses on the BMA website and try to decide which would be best for you.
Number 6 – Interview Style
All medical schools will interview students prior to offering places. Broadly speaking, medical schools use one of two interview methods: the traditional panel interview, with a single medical student interviewed by a panel of interviewers; and multiple mini interviews (MMI), which is the speed-dating of the interview world.
These interview styles suit different candidates more or less. If you are particularly charismatic and enjoy long conversations with a small group (1-3) of interviewers, then the more traditional panel interview may be for you. MMIs on the other hand consist of many short (5-10min) stations, each with a specific task or goal. In this interview style, each of the stations can be treated as a chance to reset and make up for any previous mistakes. I personally performed much better in my MMI interviews than the panel.
Number 7 – The Type of University
In the UK, most medical schools are either City Universities, with their various campuses and schools spread across all or an area of the city, or Campus Universities, with all of the university’s facilities in a single location.
Each of these university types has it’s advantages and disadvantages.
Campus Universities: You will find all of the university buildings in a self sustaining little bubble, practically a little town in its own right. Most students will likely live on campus and you will end up having very little reason to leave. This can be quite calming for some people, and can help them to remain focussed on their studies. It also makes making friends slightly easier, as everyone in the university is in the same location.
City Universities: Attending a city university has its pros and cons. The University buildings will be scattered around a larger location, sometimes the whole way across a city (as is the case with King’s). This can make commuting times longer, can mean that you are interacting with a much larger number of people (think London rush hour). But it also means that you are able to enjoy all that your city has to offer. Great restaurants, night life, culture, fantastic public transport – just to name a few.
Number 8 – University Competition Ratios
Different Universities use the various components of the application differently. While some place a very large emphasis on the entry exams (such as Newcastle’s love for the UCAT), others only use it as a hoop to jump through (some King’s students I’ve met had sub-600 UCAT scores). You can find out what the competition ratio of each university is fairly easily with some quick online searching. I would recommend just keeping it in mind, and maybe including a slightly less competitive university in your four options. The ratio of applications : places tends to range from 6 : 1 to 20 : 1.
Number 9 – The Students
This may be a tricky thing to do this year, with open days and offer holders’ days online, but try to gauge the atmosphere of the universities you are applying to. Some universities are notoriously bookish and competitive, such as Imperial and to an extent the other London medical schools. Others, such as Plymouth and Bristol, have a reputation for being more laid back. I’d recommend getting in touch with a student from each of the universities you are applying to and asking them how they find it. Try to have some specific questions, rather than jus “what is the atmosphere like?”.
Number 10 – Research Opportunities
While all medical schools in the UK should be actively encouraging their students to participate in research while studying, some are doing a better job than others. Some universities make it very easy for students to take part in academic research and even publish. King’s, UCL, Imperial and Cambridge are famously good at helping their students get published. This would be another great question to ask at interview, and to ask current medical students at each institution.
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