How To Apply Tactically To UK Medical School
How to maximize your chances of applying to medical school
One of the most paramount and fundamental pieces of advice that you will receive when applying to medicine is that you should “apply strategically”. In fact, it would be surprising if you haven’t already been told this.
So, what does applying strategically mean?
Each medical school will place a different value and weighting on each element of the application; academic grades; work experience; UCAT & BMAT scores etc…
An application can be considered “strategic” when you choose universities based on your strengths. Playing to your strengths will maximise your chances of getting into university. Strengths can be based on the universities admission criteria, selection process and course type.
For example, if your predicted grades are on the lower end, you should avoid applying to universities that put a lot of weight on them, such as Cambridge or Oxford.
How can I apply strategically?
You need to look out for the following factors:
- Minimum entry criteria
- Admission tests
- Admission Statistics
- Your preferences
- Applying to schools of various difficulties
Minimum entry criteria
Entry criteria are crucial. They are the first step of the selection process at every university, so if you don’t meet the entry criteria you will be rejected. However, by ensuring that you do meet all the entry criteria of the universities you apply to, you are maximising your chances of proceeding to the next stage of the application process.
At this stage, you need to take the following under consideration: GCSE grades, predicted grades (IB/ALevel/equivalent), degree results, re-applicant policies (if this applies to you), etc…
Immediately exclude any university whose entry requirements you don’t meet.
Minimum entry requirements are important because some universities, such as Cambridge, invite a high percentage of their applicants to interviews, as long as they meet the criteria.
Other important academic factors to keep in mind are:
- Whether the university accepts people who have done exam re-sits
- The subjects (and their level, e.g. High-level biology) that are required – some universities don’t request candidates to do biology, but others do
- The emphasis that the university places on different academics (e.g. if GCSE or A level achievements are more important)
- The university’s policies on individuals that are applying again (re-applicants)
Admissions tests such as the UCAT, BMAT and GAMSAT are usually the second step in the selection process. Some universities release statistics of previous cohorts: the admission test results that they attained and how many of those secured offers, so it’s important to take a look at these. Statistics can give you a general idea of what scores the university is looking for. Other universities are notorious for requiring high admission test scores, such as the University of Edinburgh.
The UCAT has a situational judgement section, and some universities have separate requirements for it, so it’s good to pay attention to this too. Most universities don’t accept a Band 4, and some universities give a lot of extra credit for a Band 1. If you do find yourself with a Band 4 in the UCAT, here’s where you can apply.
If there is a clear trend of admission test result requirements for the university based on the available data, and your achievements don’t meet these, it’d be best to exclude that university.
Additionally, before applying to a university, make sure that you took the admissions test that they require. Keep in mind that most universities require ©either the BMAT or the UCAT (and GAMSAT for some Graduate Entry applicants)
Although interviews may seem far away in the future at this stage, it’s beneficial to take them under consideration.
Universities use different interview styles to select candidates, such as Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs) and Panel interviews. If you have a clear preference or you think you will do particularly well in one of the two, think about excluding universities that use your weaker style.
Generally, most BMAT universities hold Panel interviews and UCAT universities hold MMI interviews.
Another factor to consider is the additional tasks that applicants have to do before interviews in some universities. For example, the University of Keele demands that applicants complete and submit a “roles and responsibilities” form before interviews, which also helps the university select candidates for said interviews.
Shortlisting is the process that universities use to select candidates for the next stages of the application.
It is important to research this process, so you know how you will be scored. This will help you determine whether to apply to a given university or not.
Shortlisting in most universities is based on scoring and then ranking various parts of your application, against other applications. Universities are known to rank the following:
- UCAT/BMAT/GAMSAT scores
- Academics (A-Level/ IB /Degree scores)
- Personal statement
- Work experience
What and how universities rank various parts of the application is specific to the university. Some universities put more weight on GCSEs as opposed to A-Levels, and vice versa. However, one thing that they do have in common is that usually the top scorers are invited to interview.
Hence, choose your universities strategically, and play to your strengths. If you have a low UCAT/BMAT/GAMSAT score, apply to universities that don’t put that much emphasis on admission tests.
The shortlisting/selection process information is generally available on university websites and will help you determine which universities to apply to.
Admission statistics can include the following:
- Number of applicants with an EU/UK fee rate
- Number of applicants with an Overseas fee rate
- Number of female/male applicants
- Minimum/Average/Maximum admission test score
- Average interview score that received an offer
And many more.
Previous statistics are not as readily available as one would think. Unfortunately, not all universities publish statistics from previous years.
Nonetheless, statistics can sometimes be found on the university website, the freedom of information act website, the student room forum and other unofficial websites.
Statistics are important because they give you an idea of the requirements that your application needs to meet to receive an interview or an offer.
The University of Edinburgh publishes its admission statistics every year, you can view the document here.
Admission statistics give you a better overall picture of the candidate that the university is looking for. You can also compare this to the strengths and weaknesses in your application, and see if you would be likely to receive an offer.
Although choosing a university that is looking for someone like you is important, it’s more critical that you like the university.
There are a lot of factors to take under consideration when moving to university, especially when applying to medicine since you will be spending 5-6 years at university! That’s why it’s imperative to look for a place that will help you succeed.
Choosing a location that you find appealing and which supports your mental and physical wellbeing is essential! Visiting universities that you are thinking of applying to is a great idea, and will give you an idea of the general ambience of both the city and campus.
While you’re there, pay attention to the different amenities that the university has that you might need, e.g. gyms, libraries etc.
There are three main types of medical courses: traditional, integrated, and problem-based learning (PBL). (keep in mind, there are more types of courses, these are just the main ones.)
Traditional courses focus on teaching the first 2-3 pre-clinical years without patient contact or hospital/GP placements. Then, during clinical years students are placed in clinical settings under the supervision of a superior.
Integrated courses are present in the majority of medical schools. This course type focuses on teaching medicine by systems instead of by discipline – it tries to combine anatomy, physiology etc. into one. Integrated courses advocate early patient contact, and include some PBL. Currently, integrated courses are recommended by the GMC.
PBL is a relatively novel way of teaching medicine that puts patients in the centre of care. Students are exposed to patient contact early on in the course. Learning is based on lectures, seminars, and patient-based cases that students are expected to discuss and learn from.
It is of utmost importance that you choose the course type that you think you will learn from best because this will help you do well on your course.
Intercalation is a period of time that can be taken out of the university course to either gain an MSc or BSc. It’s not offered by all universities, and it may not be integrated into the course. It also may or may not be compulsory.
Teaching excellence framework
Although it’s not mentioned as often as it should be, the teaching excellence framework is an important component to take into consideration.
As stated by UCAS itself, “The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) has been introduced by the Government in England to recognise and encourage excellent teaching in universities and colleges. It is intended to help students choose where to study, by providing clear information about teaching provision and student outcomes.”
The TEF rating that the university was given should be available on the university website.
Current students opinions
Taking a look at what current students think of the university and the course that you’re applying for can illustrate how you might think/feel when studying there, so it’s always helpful to find this out.
Applying to schools of various difficulties
Everyone has a dream university that they want to get into, which is great! However, most of the time, the given university is hard to get into because it’s popular amongst candidates, as many share the same dream. If that is the case, there is no harm in applying to that university, but it’s important to keep in mind that you need “safety” choices too, in case things don’t go as planned.
In other words, try to include universities of various difficulties when choosing where to apply to. Include hard, medium, and easy (safety) universities in your choices.
For example, don’t only apply to Cambridge, Imperial, UCL, and Edinburgh. If Cambridge is your dream university, by all means, apply there, but include at least one “safety” and one “medium-difficulty” university, to maximise your chances of receiving an offer.
This is something that we go through with our Elite Programme FutureDoc students in depth when we help them with their medical school applications. If you would like to find out more about the Elite Programme, you can apply here.
Written by Weronika Nocun