You’ve just finished your GCSEs and you're now starting your A-levels. You’re considering a career in medicine. With 33 medical schools in the UK, deciding on your 4 UCAS preferences can initially seem like an overwhelming process. In this blog post, we will help guide you through the steps towards making informed and tactical choices. I will also outline some strategic methods I used to help me decide my university choices and which increased my chances of receiving offers.
The minimum entry requirements vary between different medical schools, so make sure to check the individual websites of the medical schools you are interested in applying for. Entry requirements can include A-levels, GCSEs, IBs and other equivalent exams. It is important to eliminate any universities for which you do not meet the minimum entry requirement grades.
With only 4 choices, it is important to apply for universities in which you have the highest chance of being accepted. Therefore, it is usually a good idea to apply for:
(a) 2 medical schools that have entry requirements meeting your predicted grades
(b) 1 medical school slightly above your predicted grades (in case you overachieve in your exams)
(c) 1 medical school that has entry requirements that are less than your predicted grades (an insurance choice to give you confidence if you just miss your predicted grades)
Looking back, I am incredibly thankful that I adopted this tier technique when choosing my 4 universities. With recent changes to the nature of exams resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, deciding on a university with slightly lower grade requirements can be more reassuring, given the uncertainty of these unprecedented times.
Universities use either one of the two aptitude tests in addition to predicted grades when offering medical places: UCAT & BMAT.
Most medical schools require the UCAT exam however a select few require the BMAT. This can be a huge deciding factor when choosing a university as many people eliminate BMAT universities entirely due to the requirement of this exam in addition to the UCAT. Remember, these exams are usually taken from the summer of Year 12 to November of Year 13. During this time, you will also be submitting your UCAS application which includes your personal statement as well as keeping on top of Year 13 workload. Therefore, if you are deciding to apply to a mix of BMAT and UCAT universities, it is a useful idea to prepare and plan ahead.
Once you decide which admissions test(s) you will be sitting, you can eliminate any universities that you are not preparing for.
As a student who took both the UCAT and BMAT, I planned ahead by drafting and finalising my personal statement in the summer of Year 12 to get this done so I could focus my time on revising for the upcoming entrance exams. Even if you are not taking both entrance exams, I would highly recommend drafting your personal statement before Year 13 starts as it will help you to avoid additional stress as you begin to get busy!
In addition to the entrance exams, different universities will also have more specific selection criteria which are available on their website course pages. This can include GCSEs and extracurricular activities such as volunteering. Make sure you read through their minimum entry requirements for these and how they use these factors to shortlist applicants. For example, with higher GCSE grades, I tactically applied to Cardiff & Birmingham as I knew that these universities would favour this, making my application more competitive, thus increasing my chances of an offer. Similarly, you can read through the selection process for the universities you are interested in and identify ways in which you can maximise your strengths to elevate your chances of an offer.
Furthermore, it is equally important to identify any weaknesses in your application when looking at specific selection criteria. For example, if a university requires a modern foreign language at GCSE, yet you studied Latin, be aware of this when making your 4 decisions.
This step is fundamental when making your medical school choices as you will be there for 5 or 6 years! Specifics such as the location, teaching style and course structure are incredibly personal to you and should be factors that are taken into consideration when deciding where to apply. For a more well-informed insight, read through the course pages on the university website, take virtual tours and get in touch with students from those universities. Keeping up to date with university course social media pages can further enhance your understanding of university life at a particular medical school. Also, the opportunity to study an intercalated degree as part of the course can also influence your preference to select a university.
Personally, I decided on UCL due to the optimal location, dissection style of anatomy teaching, intercalation opportunities and student life. Visiting open days, taking virtual tours and speaking to students will offer a deeper insight into the life of a medical student at the university.
At this point, hopefully your choices will have narrowed down! Upon deciding on your 4 preferences, check back at the entry requirements on the website as they may have changed slightly for your application cycle. Now you can begin to think about your personal statement and how you can strategically tailor it to these 4 universities!
We hope these steps have been useful and we wish you the very best of luck with your medical school application!
Author: Sakina Lakda
Editor: Allegra Wisking