Applying for medicine at university

If you have a child in year 11 or 12 (or even younger) thinking of applying for medicine (a medical degree) at university, there is a lot to consider. My own son has recently been offered a place and will be starting his course in September. We learned a lot along the way with the application process and I thought it would be useful to share that.

Applying for medicine isn’t like applying for other degrees. There are more hurdles to cross. For example, with other degrees, students will offer get an unconditional offer without an interview. Before being offered a place to do medicine, students will always have an interview.

A Levels

The first thing to consider is taking the right A Levels. All medical degrees require chemistry. Some also require biology, while others will require chemistry plus one of biology, physics or maths.

Sadly, there is no point applying for medicine if you are predicted Bs or below. A typical offer for medicine will be around A* A A.

Some universities will offer contextual offers, which means they will give slightly lower offers to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, in recognition of the fact that they may have faced barriers which affected their ability to achieve their full potential in school.

Other universities may give slightly reduced offers based on something like sport. My own son’s A* A A at his chosen university was reduced to A A A because of his athletics.

Choosing a university

It sounds obvious, but every medical degree is training students to be doctors, so the courses don’t differ that much from one university to the next. Some may have dissection on the course, but many don’t. On some courses students will spend time in hospitals or GP surgeries earlier in the course, but they are all working towards the same outcome. Every university with a medicine course is approved by the General Medical Council to award medical degrees.

While A Level predictions/ results are the key to getting an interview, universities do make offers based on slightly different criteria, so it’s important to look at the detail. Some may offer more contextual places and some may place more importance on the UCAT/ BMAT aptitude tests than others, so it’s important that students focus on their own strengths when choosing a university. My own son is predicted four A*s, but only got interviews for three out of four universities, as he had inadvertently chosen one which requires an extremely high UCAT score.

Ultimately, the choice may just come down to a city they like and whether they want to be closer to home or further away. They will be spending five years there, after all.

Aptitude tests

Everyone who applies for medicine has to take an aptitude test – either UCAT, BMAT or both. Some universities use UCAT and some use BMAT. UCAT tests take place over the summer and before the application deadline. The BMAT test is usually held in early November – after an application has gone in. Students will need to take some time to prepare for the tests, as they are an essential and very important part of the application process.

UCAT is used for the majority of medical schools, so many students may prefer not to bother with BMAT. UCAT publishes results, so a student can see where their own mark falls (eg top 10%, top 40%), which will give them some idea of their chances of getting an interview at one of their preferred universities.

Tests are currently taken online at home and there is a cost to take them. In some cases, disadvantaged students may get help with the cost of the tests.

The application

Medicine, along with dentistry, veterinary medicine and any course at Oxford or Cambridge, is an early application – deadline 15th October. Unlike other courses, you can only apply to study medicine at four universities, although you can use your fifth application to apply for a back-up subject – a lot of people choose biomedical science, which can be used as a longer route into medicine.

Everyone who applies for medicine is very clever, but they are chasing a limited number of places, so it is important to get the application right. (My son knows someone who is predicted four A*s and did well in his UCAT, but didn’t get offered a single interview.) The personal statement is what sets a student apart.

Prior to Covid, it was essential that all medical students had done some work experience (paid or unpaid) in a health or care setting. My son was in year 11 in February 2020 and just starting to explore his options for work experience, when Covid hit and all that changed. At some point, it may go back to requiring in-person work experience, but my son’s generation have had to rely on webinars, online courses and reading to get some experience and demonstrate their commitment to medicine. It isn’t necessary to pay for webinars and online courses, there are sufficient free ones available.

The personal statement should also include hobbies of course, particularly those which include commitment, discipline and/ or performing at a high level. But when writing a personal statement, a student should never lose sight of the fact they are applying for medicine, it shouldn’t just be an essay about things I enjoy/ am good at.

Interviews

Offers for interview usually take a long time to come through. Then after the interviews the actual offers or rejections take a long time to come through too, so a student shouldn’t feel disheartened. Although it can feel hard when friends are getting unconditional offers to study other subjects without an interview and within days of submitting an application.

Students should aim to get interview practise beforehand. Schools can often match them up with a doctor or they may know a doctor who is willing to spend some time with them. Even talking it through with a friend who is also applying for medicine will help. There are resources online with practise questions too.

Every university conducts their interviews in different ways. Some place for more emphasis on the UCAT, so will do a short interview. Others will do a two-hour session, with the student talking about various medical scenarios with multiple people. For one interview, was asked to prepare a 20-minute presentation to teach the interviewers about something.

My son came away from all of his interviews (online at home, of course) feeling a little deflated, as none of them were quite what he was expecting – despite the work he’d put in to prepare. Some of the questions were about neither medicine or himself as a person, so while a student can’t prepare for this sort of question, it’s good to be aware that they may ask slightly strange questions!

Stethoscope, Doctor, Medicine, Applying for medicine at university

That is just a very brief introduction to applying for medicine at university, from a mum who has recently supported her son through the process. As you can see, it is far more than just filling in a UCAS form and it is a big commitment over the course of several months.

If your son or daughter is applying for medicine in the future, good luck to them!

 

Author: Sarah Mummy

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2 Comments

  1. Sarah,

    I certainly hope your son manages to clear all these hurdles, and win a place at the university of his choice. Was it always so complicated to become a medical student? — I’m not sure it was.
    It looks as though the next generation of doctors will be absolutely tip-top in terms of academic performance, interview skills, and composing personal statements. But I do wonder whether the universities are screening out people who want to be doctors, and would be excellent in a real-life hospital ward or GP surgery, but can’t achieve the number of A*s, or the marks in UCAT / BMAT, that are required, or don’t word their personal statement in the ideal way.

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    • Thank you! I’m pleased to say my son has an offer at his favourite university and it won’t be difficult to get the grades for him.
      I totally agree with you. I think the NHS could be missing out on some very good doctors because the process is so complicated and the grade requirements are so high. When the country is crying out for doctors, they should create more university places and make it slightly easier to get into medicine.

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