Choosing a medical school is the very first step of the long journey of applying for Medicine. Whether you have already given this some thought or you’ve not yet started, choosing the right one for you requires careful consideration.
Not only do you want to make sure you pick a university where you’ll enjoy the course, but you also want to strategically apply to maximise your chances of getting in.
1. Current grades and subjects
The first thing you’ll probably use to start eliminating universities will be based on what subjects you’ve taken at A-level. The majority require Chemistry whereas a few ask for Biology.
Some also request two science subjects, whilst others ask for three. You can also use your GCSE grades to filter through the options further.
2. Admissions tests
Next, you’ll want to start ruling out universities based on whether you want to take the BMAT and UCAT, or just one of them. The majority of medical schools require the UCAT, however a few of them use the BMAT.
These universities are: Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Lancaster, Keele, Imperial, Leeds and, Brighton & Sussex.
3. Test results
Once you get the results from the admissions test back you’ll want to fine tune your choices by using your BMAT or UCAT score to guide you. Choose the places where you have the greatest chance of getting an interview. Here’s a quick summary of which UCAT score would be best for which medical school:
For example, if you get a very high UCAT score you’d be better placed choosing universities that rank you based on your score.
Whereas with a lower score you might want to apply to places that either use a threshold (that you know you’ve surpassed), or look at the UCAT score in conjunction with something else e.g. GCSE grades.
4. Course type
There are three different types of course: PBL, Traditional and Integrated. You will need to read up and research each different type of course to find out which one might suit you the best.
Talk to students, go to university experience days and consider the pros and cons of each type. The more you ask questions, the better your understanding will be of what each different type of course would involve.
Making sure you’ve selected the course type that suits you best is what will make or break your university experience, so it’s really important to do your research and get it right, so you don’t have regrets further down the line.
At my medical school we use a PBL/Integrated approach which was definitely the right choice for me! If you’re curious about whether PBL is for you, you might want to check out the 3 signs that PBL will suit you blog post!
5. Course length
Medicine is a five year course across most medical schools. Some make an intercalation year compulsory, so in those universities it is six years. This may sway you depending on whether intercalation is something you think might be for you.
It’s normal for you to be unsure about intercalation at this stage so don’t worry if you’re struggling with this. Here’re some of my personal views on intercalation which might help give you an overview of the pros and cons. If you’re unsure at this stage you might want to pick universities that offer intercalation opportunities without it being compulsory.
Some medical schools also offer a foundation year if you don’t have the required grades before applying, so that will also add on that extra sixth year to your course. Additionally, some graduate entry courses offer a four year course that you can complete.
6. Type of university
There are generally two types of universities: campus and city. Campus based universities have all the university buildings and usually accommodation in a little “university town”. They tend to be calmer, offering a greater sense of student community.
City based universities have their buildings dotted around the city centre. The area won’t be bordered off just for university students, so there’ll be other people around the area making it a little busier.
Most people find that one type of university appeals to them over the other. By asking the right questions and researching in advance, you’ll be able to work out whether a campus or city university experience is for you.
7. Types of interview
Medical school interviews are either panel-based or MMI (Multiple Mini Interview). A panel-based interview is more of a traditional question and answer session, with a couple of interviewers that will usually last for a reasonable length of time.
MMIs, however, require you to rotate through different stations where you’ll be asked to perform different tasks, such as talk to a patient, interpret some data or talk through an ethical scenario.
For MMIs you’ll usually only have one interviewer at each station and each station will typically last for about five to eight minutes. These interview methods are quite different and you may find that there’s one type that you’d excel at over the other.
8. Competition ratios
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. You may have a really good personal statement, but not feel so confident about the interview.
Looking and comparing competition ratios will show you what weighting different universities give to different parts of the application.You’ll then be able to pick those that match with your strengths.
It’s not all about strategy, you can include your own personal preferences to help you to decide. Some people want to stay close to home, whereas others want to go to the other side of the country.
You might want to look at just Northern or only Southern universities. Having good transport links to home might be important to you, so find out about that too.
As much as you may read up on different universities, you won’t get a true flavour of what it’s like until you actually go there. This is why it’s important to visit as many open days as you possibly can to get a feel for where you could end up studying.
There will be some universities that you can picture yourself studying at for years and others where you just feel like you wouldn’t fit in. You can trust your gut with this, at the end of the day you do want to enjoy your time there as well.