Choosing which medical school to apply to in the UK

The guide to choosing a medical school to apply to

In choosing which 4 medical schools to apply to on the UCAS application, many students factor in location, curriculum, reputation and medical school culture. For most students, however, the main factor will be where they have the greatest chances of being accepted. There are 33 medical schools covering the UK for applicants to choose from so it is important to take many factors into consideration to narrow it down.

Sample medical school applicant

Applicant Y has an upper second-class honours degree, strong work experience and a score of 2020 on the UKCAT. If applicant Y applies to the University of St. Andrews, his UKCAT score would likely be lower than the minimum cut-off score set each year. The average UKCAT in 2016 at the University of St Andrews was 2750, thus this applicant would almost certainly not get an interview invitation. However, if applicant Y applies to Keele University, for example, the UKCAT would only be used as a tiebreaker, after the interview, giving the applicant a chance to succeed at the interview and gain admission. This example illustrates how a good strategy in choosing where to apply significantly increases your chances of admission to a medical school in the UK.

Do Not Follow Your Intuition 

My experience with prospective applicants has taught me that, medical students and their families often have their own ideas as to where they have the best chances of getting in but this is rarely based of evidence. Most graduate students will tell me that they think it’s easier to get into a 5-year programme than a 4-year programme. This is simply not true. The selection process for each medical programme is so different in the UK, that although some 4-year programmes may be harder to get into than most 5-year programmes, equally, there are 4-year programmes that may be easier to get into for certain individuals depending on the strengths and weaknesses of their application.

Step 1: Minimum Entry Criteria 

Bearing in mind your GCSE results, A-level results, degree results, go through each medical school’s minimum requirements. At the end of this, you need to eliminate ALL the medical schools for which you do not meet minimum entry criteria. If you are a re-applicant, make sure to look at the school's re-applicant policies as well at this stage. All this information is available in the university pages of this book.

Step 2: Admissions tests: GAMSAT, UKCAT and BMAT

Buy the official GAMSAT booklets, do some practice UKCAT and do some practice BMAT questions (if you have not ruled out the medical schools using the BMAT in step 1). Give yourself a week or two to seriously practice each of these in order to have a realistic understanding of what the content is and how you are improving. Many applicants rule out an exam without looking at what it entails and by doing so, they may be ruling out medical schools where they could have got into. 

Of course, it takes more effort to prepare for 2 exams, rather than just one... but more effort is often well rewarded. At the end of this step, you should have a good idea if there is one of these exams that you can see yourself excelling at, or if there is one of these exams that you cannot imagine ever doing well in. In the last few years, I have noticed many applicants reluctant to put effort into preparing for the GAMSAT and BMAT, thinking that they can apply to enough medical schools with the UKCAT. Note that a few medical schools give applicants automatic interviews if the applicant meets their GAMSAT cut off, regardless of the other parts of their application. Also, the competition ratio of many UKCAT schools has been higher than the competition ratio of the BMAT universities in recent years.

Step 3: Choose Your Standardised Examinations

Now that you know which exams you will be preparing for, you can eliminate all the medical schools that use exams you decided not to prepare for and start preparing hard for your preferred exam and your personal statement.

Step 4: Explore the detailed selection formula of each school and match it to your strengths and weakness in your application

Applicants with a very strong academic record will still have a large number of potential universities they can apply to at this stage. Some universities almost guarantee interviews for applicants that have very strong GCSEs and A-levels and I would recommend that you prioritize those universities. If you chose to write the UKCAT, once you know your score, you can narrow down the list further. Note that the University of Cambridge interviews over 80% of applicants and try to interview almost all applicants that meet their criteria, thus if your academic background is strong, this should be a serious option to consider. It is not unusual to see applicants accepted at Cambridge and rejected everywhere else so do not let the name put you off.

For applicants with a weaker academic record, the medical schools that use the BMAT are often ruled out. Where to apply at this stage will mainly depend on your UKCAT score, if writing it, and your confidence in the GAMSAT. If you have a low UKCAT score and did not do the GAMSAT, or are not confident about it, then you need to focus on the medical schools that give more weight to non-academic criteria.

Applicants that have very good extracurricular activities including volunteer commitments, experience in healthcare settings, evidence of leadership skills and teamwork skills, as well as good writing skills, can focus on medical schools that put a lot of emphasis on your personal statement. Note that many applicants tell me they have good extracurricular activities and when I ask more details, I realize that most of their shadowing and commitments were short-lived or no more impressive than other applicants. Every applicant is doing extracurricular that medical schools look for and having a very strong personal statement will require you to do a bit more than the average applicant.

Step 5: Consider your preferences – location, course structure, intercalated degree, etc.

You should now have a very short list left of medical schools that you are considering. A few more things to consider now may be the competition ratio (See competition ratio chapter in this guidebook) and the style of interviews. If you are left with many options, then you are lucky and this is the time to look at course structure, location, whether you would like dissection or an intercalated degree as well as all other criteria that you value. Visiting open days can also help you determine if it will be the right place for you to obtain your medical degrees as well, so be sure to look into these. 

Step 6: Double check entry requirements on their website

Once you have narrowed it down to 4 medical schools, go back to their website to double check all the requirements. Although I try my best to make this book accurate at the time of publication, requirements may change. Thus, it is imperative you double-check the information yourself. You can now prepare your personal statement targeting those 4 medical schools.

Following these guidelines can help you determine which medical school you should apply to. All of the medical schools offer a different learning experience so it is important to choose what will be best for you. You are one step closer to your career in medicine! We wish you the best of luck in choosing which medical school in the UK to apply to!

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