How Do I Choose the Right Medical School?
At the time of writing there are 34 Medical Schools in the UK. The number of Medical Schools available has created real diversity in terms of teaching method, location, and entry requirements. In order to find the best fit for you this guide explains some factors to consider.
When applying it’s important to remember that all medical degrees are equal and therefore when choosing where to complete your own degree you should consider factors such as teaching methods, location and extracurricular opportunities available at the university.
Whilst this guide should go a long way to assisting you with your choice, to truly get a feel for a university, visit them on an open day. There’ll be lectures from the course leaders, current students to answer any questions you have about the university and you can explore the universities location.
This article will give you an idea of what to consider when choosing a university, covering:
- Teaching styles
- Entrance exams
- Foundation years
- Intercalated degrees
1. Teaching styles
There are a distinct variety of teaching styles offered at the Medical Schools within the UK, the main teaching methods used are:
- Traditional Teaching
- Problem-Based Learning (PBL)
- Integrated Teaching
This teaching method focuses on giving you a strong grounding in the medical sciences. You’ll spend your first 2-3 years of study using lectures and tutorials to gain this knowledge, followed by a further 3 years of learning in a clinical setting.
You may want to consider this style if you want a strong grounding in the medical sciences before beginning clinical training. However, if you’d prefer a more “hands-on approach” with earlier patient contact then a PBL or integrated curriculum may be for you.
Problem-based Learning (PBL):
More self-directed than a traditional course. PBL involves weekly group meetings where you’re presented with a case study. As a group you will decide what needs to be learnt to understand the case study, this will form your “learning agenda” for the week. Gathering the information is done so through self-directed study using resources such as textbooks, supplementary lectures delivered by the university and clinical placements.
The level of PBL used varies between universities with some such as Manchester opting to use 100% PBL teaching. PBL may work for you if you are self-motivated, enjoy being able to direct your own learning and want a more “hands-on approach” to the medical sciences. If you prefer all the necessary information given to you or would prefer a more thorough grounding in the medical sciences, then a traditional course may be preferable.
You’ll learn about the medical sciences through lectures and seminars alongside clinical teaching. This will help you to contextualise the information you’re given in a practical context. This is currently the GMC recommended teaching method.
You may enjoy an integrated curriculum if you want structured scientific teaching offered by a traditional programme coupled with the earlier clinical experience offered by a PBL programme.
2. Entrance exams. UCAT, BMAT or both?
All UK Medical Schools use either the UCAT or BMAT entrance exams as a means of selecting suitable applicants for interview. Both exams can be sat before applying, allowing you to select universities based on your score.
The BMAT exam is science-based, testing you on physics, chemistry, biology and maths. Information on the exact contents of the exam can be found here. The BMAT exam can be sat in August or October. Oxford University only accept results from the October sitting.
Unlike the BMAT, the UCAT does not focus on science. Instead, testing skills such as logical reasoning and decision making. The UCAT is used more widely than the BMAT, a full list of UCAT universities can be found here. The UCAT can be sat from the 1st of July to the 18th of September at a time and centre of your choice.
- Unless you have your heart set on a BMAT university, sit the UCAT as well. Many more universities select applicants using the UCAT than the BMAT.
- You may have been told you cannot revise for the UCAT due to its lack of a specification. This is not true! You can prepare for it using timed tests available online, these will help you structure your approach to the exam and remain calm on the day.
- Look specifically at how universities use the UCAT and BMAT when selecting applicants to interview. Some universities will just use the UCAT when ranking applicants for an interview (meaning a higher score is necessary to secure one) others will consider factors such as GCSEs when selecting applicants to interview (meaning a lower score can be offset by good GCSEs).
- Unless you’re aiming for Oxford consider sitting the BMAT in August as this is before the October UCAS deadline, so you’ll know if your score’s competitive or not.
Each Medical School has their own requirements for both GCSEs and A-levels. In order to secure a place, you will need to meet these requirements, without the grades it is unlikely you will be offered a place.
The minimum A-level requirements for UK medical schools is AAA, going up to A*A*A at Oxbridge. These grades are required in specific subjects. Usually, biology or chemistry plus one science or maths subject plus a third subject.
Note: you may have been told that Medical Schools only want Biology, Chemistry Physics or Mathematics. This is not true! When choosing your third subject, choose something your passionate about and can stay motivated for during the whole two years of A-Levels.
It is important to check the entry requirements for everywhere you apply to in order to avoid wasting an application!
4. Foundation Years
A foundation year is a fantastic way to pursue your medical aspirations as a “non-traditional applicant” should you have unsuitable A-Level subjects or grades. Foundation years are designed to get “non-traditional” applicants up to speed and are often compared to A-Level sciences in difficulty.
5. An Intercalated Degree
Intercalated degrees offer Medical Students the opportunity to take a break from Medical School for a year and gain another degree – usually a BSc or an MSc. Some universities, such as Southampton, offer this as a standard part of their course, with every student completing one. They’re a great opportunity to explore an area outside of medicine that interests you, and to take a break from medicine for one year, returning with new found motivation!
Most universities offer an intercalated degree as an optional extra, often requiring you to meet specific requirements i.e. passing all exams the first time to enrol. Whilst intercalated degrees are something you should consider before applying, you can intercalate at a different university – so don’t worry if you don’t get into the university with the intercalation option you’re after. You can likely still do it.
Spending between 5 and 6 years at Medical School, location is something to consider.
Ask yourself questions such as:
– How far away from home do I want to live?
– Can I continue my current hobbies at this university?
– Would I prefer a campus or a city university?
Medical Degrees are notoriously competitive. However, competition does vary widely between universities: with 7.8 applicants per place, Hull York is less competitive than Brighton & Sussex with 18.2 applicants per place. Don’t let high competition put you off, if you have a strong enough application, you will get the place
How to stack the odds in your favour: the tactical application…
Not all applicants for Medical School have the perfect straight 9 GCSE grades, nor do they all have a top decile UCAT or BMAT. Whilst this does limit the number of universities which will consider you, it does not mean you can’t win a place! Through checking each Medical School’s admission criteria and application process thoroughly, you can still give yourself a high chance of securing a place.
Final Note: My personal advice is unless you’re an all-around strong applicant with top-tier statistics in every aspect of the admissions criteria you should apply to your strengths. Choose universities that select applicants with statistics like your own. If your GCSE’s are lower, then choose a university such as Manchester who do not consider GCSE’s beyond meeting a minimum standard of five 9s. If your UCAT is high, then choose a university such as Newcastle who value this above anything else when inviting applicants to interview. This does not mean you cannot go somewhere you like, there’ll still be multiple universities where you can meet the entry criteria. However, if you’re predicted AAA and not A*A*A then don’t waste an application on somewhere like Oxbridge.
Apply rationally… choose places where you are likely to get an interview and your chance of securing a place greatly increases!
Author: Cameron Elsworth
Manchester Medical School