How to Pick a Medical School to Suit Your Strengths
Different medical schools place a different emphasis on certain parts of the application process, so it’s important that you pick a school to suit your own application strengths.
Whilst each school may require an entrance test such as the UKCAT or the BMAT, they may weigh it differently. Some weigh you heavily on your GCSE scores before they even decide to look at your personal statement.
The best way to find this out is to look at the individual school’s prospectus and ask around- whilst it might not be stated on their website, it might be hidden away in a random paragraph in their application pages.
Universities like Nottingham first rank all of their applicants on their top 8 GCSE scores. This means if you did particularly well and have 8A*s, you’re already high on their shortlist for interview.
However, it also means if you did poorly on your GCSEs but have stellar A-Level scores, they’re unlikely to view the rest of your application, no matter how much you make up for it in other areas. You could have the most perfect statement and 900 on all UKCAT sections, but if you haven’t got good GCSEs, your chances have already been reduced.
This means you’ll have to consider whether you think your GCSE scores are worth you applying to universities that use this system- if you can’t play their game, it may be a waste of an application slot you could use on a university that gives you a preference.
Core GCSE subjects
Other universities may rank you based on certain subjects – for example, those who achieved top grades in core subjects like English, Maths and Science. Some universities only check to see if you have A grades in English and Maths- so the standard varies, and it is important to pick a university that suits the grades you have achieved to give you the best possible chance of scoring an interview and offer.
Contrasting or complementary subjects
UCL likes students to have a contrasting subject, like Drama or French. It’s useful if you have it, because they view it favourably, but it’s not the be-all and end-all if you’ve taken 3 traditional A-Levels. They only like it – it’s not part of their criteria, and it’s unknown what factor it plays in their ranking of pre-interview candidates.
Others like Cambridge view candidates with three or more science/mathematics A-Levels more favourably, so play to your strengths. Some will not accept A-Levels in Further Maths, Critical Thinking or General Studies at all.
Exams sat in the same year
Some universities may not allow you to have A-Levels that you’ve achieved over two years- for example if you did all of A-Level Maths in your first year and all of A-Level Further Maths in your second year, they would only count A-Level Further Maths towards your offer. This may be something to consider if you achieved A-Levels in your first year, because finding out you need AAA in three other subjects may be impossible if you haven’t taken 3 subjects in your second year!
Work experience is viewed very differently by admissions departments. Some will only accept formal work experience organised through hospital departments, and will not accept experience gained before starting A-Levels or without patient contact.
Some are more relaxed and will count any experience working with people as understanding of what it means to be a doctor. Others will prefer formal work experience but accept any stated experience – it all depends on the university.
Some will ask you to provide references for your work experience before offering you an interview, so it is worth finding out if you have someone who would be willing to tell the university about your experience. Universities may require you to have done a certain amount of formal experience as well, ranging from 5 days to two weeks – so there’s no point applying for a university that requires ten days of experience if you only have four that meet their criteria – so make your application based on your strengths – whether this is your GCSE grades, A-Levels or work experience.
For more information on comparing medical school requirements, you could visit the following pages:
Words: Katie Hodgkinson