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23rd March 2021
As a Senior Tutor at The Medic Portal, I run advice consultations with students and families, helping them to make informed, strategic decisions when choosing a Medical School. In this blog, I’ll outline the key factors that students can use to help their decision-making process – and how you can support them with this.

Striking a balance between personal preference and strategy can be tricky, and we are aware that you have many difficult conversations with students every year when it comes to selecting University choices.

Ultimately, it’s important that students take the time to weigh up their options, especially because Medical schools will question applicants on why they have selected that institution. Surprisingly then, many students can end up selecting a Medical School purely because of its league table rankings or their open day experience!

What Factors Should Students Think About?

  • Location – do they prefer a big city or somewhere more rural and quiet? How close or far away from family do they want to be? What are the living costs and student life like?
  • Size of Medical School. Generally, the smaller the Medical School cohort, the higher the student satisfaction. This is likely down to more personalised feedback and greater continuity. However, larger Medical Schools can offer more opportunities for extracurricular development, for example, intercalated degree options or student societies.
  • Teaching style – what kind of learner are they? Those who are more active and prefer learning in groups may be better suited to case-based learning, whilst those who benefit from didactic style teaching may prefer a lecture-heavy teaching style.
  • Patient contact – does the thought of stepping into a hospital in the first few weeks of the course terrify or excite them? Most Medical Schools have shifted increasingly towards early patient contact over the past decade, so it’s perhaps better to look at how frequently early patient contact occurs.
  • ‘League tables’ – these can be quite dangerous, encouraging students to ignore all of the factors mentioned above and concentrate purely on prestige or rankings. No Medical School is a bad Medical School and a Doctor’s future career is largely independent of the university listed on their degree. I would emphasise to students the need to explore what factors a league table has used in its ranking process. For example, research reputation is of little importance to a student who has no interest in medical research, but student satisfaction may play a much larger part.
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How Can You Help Your Students With This Decision?

  • Start the conversation early, around term 2 of year 12. This gives students more time to do their research and highlights to them early on the importance of good academics and UCAT or BMAT scores. You can thereby give yourself more time for follow up discussions, avoiding last-minute drop-ins from students the day before the UCAS deadline.
  • Help students better understand themselves – encourage them to think about what learning style best suits them and what they want their university experience to involve.
  • Manage expectations. Do not discourage students from being ambitious but ensure they balance this with a backup plan. I normally allow students to make at least one ‘aspirational’ choice unless this choice has a high likelihood of being unsuccessful. However, I use this as a good opportunity to ask students what they will do if they do not get a place at Medical School. Students want to feel like their choices are ultimately their own but do need to appreciate the risk attached to their choices. Many students will have some Medical Schools at which they are almost guaranteed an interview. Highlighting these to students can help reach a compromise, where having at least one safety option (preferably more) can balance the risks of their aspirational choices.
  • Help connect them to current students. Maintaining contact between your school and its graduates is a fantastic way to help students learn from those who have been through this process before. You may be able to connect them with a student studying at a Medical School they are interested in, or it may be useful to have some former students return and share their insights with your aspiring medics. Any students you know who made unwise choices the first time round can provide fantastic insights to make sure others don’t repeat their mistakes.
  • Be prepared to ask why. It’s important that a Doctor has self-insight and can reflect on their choices in life, and this is a very good place to begin. Reminding students that universities will want to know their thought process just as much as you can help them to really think through how they’ve arrived at their options. This can require some tact, for example, many students can be pressured to apply to more ‘prestigious’ universities by their family. Therefore, it’s important to explore what the student themselves really wants. I find asking students what a good Medical School experience would look like to them, without mentioning any universities at all, can be a useful way to go about this.

For your students currently in Year 12, now is a perfect time to start a conversation with them on medical school options. We hope this article provides a good starting point to get the ball rolling!

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