Congratulations! You’ve made the fantastic choice of wanting to study medicine. It really is a rewarding career which gives you unique opportunities to change peoples’ lives. Now, how do you pick which ones to apply to? Having to choose four from thirty-two (at the last count) medical schools may seem incredibly daunting. There are a whole host of factors which will influence your decision, and I will attempt to help you consider the most important things to think about when selecting medical schools.
Firstly, it goes without saying that getting the appropriate grades at GCSE (or equivalent) level and thus the right predicted grades is critical towards a medical application. All standard entry (A100) programmes now expect to give at least AAA for an offer, with certain schools insisting on A*AA. With little exception, almost all also expect these grades to be achieved in one sitting (i.e. within a standard 2-year A-Level programme). If you haven’t quite achieved this, some medical schools (such as King’s College London and Southampton) do offer excellent foundation courses leading to a full medical degree, if you fit their requirements. You are usually also required to have at least a B in GCSE English.
Practical and Personal Factors
Assuming grades are covered, the next most important consideration is practical and personal reasons. How close do I want to be from home, and is it easily commutable? What are the living costs? Do I want to be in a big city? Is the university campus-based or dotted around various places? What is the atmosphere like at the university? Does it provide a substantial numbers of scholarships and bursaries? The best way to find out the answer to these is really to visit the university in person and gauge your appetite for it. Dates for open days are easily available from the university website, and when attending, be sure to speak to as many students as possible. Alternatively, prospectuses are great for providing general information, but try and find ‘alternative’ prospectuses from students themselves and visit the Students Union websites to see if there are any clubs and societies interesting you. These factors may seem less important at the minute, but you will be spending 4-6 years of your life in this setting, so it is essential that it suits your needs as much as possible as it will allow you to flourish at medical school.
Medical Education Factors
Thirdly, are the ‘medical education factors’. It must be established that all medical schools are regulated by the GMC and therefore none are technically ‘better’ than another. Thus league tables should especially be taken with a pinch of salt in this case; quite frankly, it is what you do in medical school that determines how successful you will be in your medical career. Understanding which teaching style and course structure suits you is essential. Problem-based learning suits those who want to get away from the didactic nature of most pre-university teaching, but demands a lot more self-motivation and discipline. Early patient contact is great, but ultimately limited if you do not develop the clinical understanding in parallel to this. Think also about intercalated degrees. These are only compulsory in a handful of medical schools, but it is increasingly becoming highly valued in postgraduate job applications, so I would recommend doing it if possible. See if the intercalated degree options at the university interest you, but be aware that it is possible to intercalate at another university.
Lastly, I think it is important to make choices based on your preferences for the admissions tests which may or may not be required. Both the UKCAT and BMAT are notorious tests, but know that medical schools not requiring either test (such as Bristol and Liverpool) have higher competition ratios. As the UKCAT result is given before your UCAS form is submitted, you can alter your choices accordingly. If your UKCAT score is particularly good (700+ average), I would prioritise applying to schools operating an interview threshold for UKCAT scores. Conversely, I would avoid these medical schools if you fail to meet the threshold. Be aware that some schools score individual sections of the UKCAT differently, so alter your choices accordingly. With the BMAT, you are given less room for manoeuvre as it is taken after you submit your UCAS application. Hence, I would definitely not hedge my bets too much on BMAT schools (2 out of 4 choices is reasonable). Again, high scores are always good, but be aware that some schools also operate a minimum threshold for interview.