5 things to consider when applying to medical school

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Applying to medical school is a difficult process and one which requires a lot of time and effort put into it. Medical school entry is competitive and most schools report high competition ratios each year. As such, deciding on which four medical schools to apply for with your UCAS choices can seem like a difficult job – even before you have written your personal statement! In this article, we shall discuss some important topics which you should think about when preparing an application to medical school

1) Decide on your medical school teaching style

Broadly speaking, there are three types of teaching styles in medical schools in the UK. These are Problem-Based Learning (PBL), Traditional and Integrated courses. PBL courses revolve around you being a part of a PBL ‘group’ who formulate learning objectives together before going off and learning about the topic with your own resources. Traditional courses are the ones most similar to A-level teaching as you are taught in lectures. Integrated courses are, generally speaking, a combination of PBL and traditional, as if to ‘integrate’ the positives from both teaching styles. Therefore, you will generally receive some lectures and seminars before undertaking a problem-based or case-based discussion.

In reality it’s not as clear-cut as this, as schools usually try and incorporate aspects of other styles into their courses. The reason why deciding on a medical school teaching style is important is because they each require a different type of learner. On a PBL course, you will (generally) be in charge of your own learning and it is up to you to keep on top of your workload. No-one is going to be giving you information and making sure you remember it, so you have to be self-motivated and have good time management. Equally, on a traditional course, you need to have a good attention span, good at picking up information taught to you and be prepared for each lecture you have as each will require prior reading. Integrated courses generally are somewhere in the middle, so check with the individual schools to see whether they lean more towards a traditional or PBL style.

2) Apply to places that want you 

It’s important to recognise that we do all have the luxury of choosing the exact medical school we want to attend, so be strategic in your application. If a medical school states that they have a preference to a certain type of candidate, for example those who have a large number of A*s at GCSE, only apply there is you meet the desired criteria – as you don’t want to be in a situation where you have potentially wasted a UCAS choice.

Equally, if a medical school has a preference towards a certain teaching style and you meet the personality of someone who can thrive on it, then apply to them! By applying strategically you give yourself the best opportunity to get an invitation to interview.

3) Prestige in medicine does not matter

Even though some people may think that there are “better” medical schools than others, the reality of medical schools is that, generally, everyone comes out with the same degree. Therefore, a degree from Imperial College London is worth exactly the same as a degree from Birmingham. Every medical school has to adhere to a high standard! It is important not to dwell on the apparent prestige of medical schools when you are deciding where to apply – you should apply where you want to go and where will give you the best opportunity to be offered an interview.

4) What should you put as your fifth choice?

This is often a difficult decision for applicants. You must remember that by putting down a choice does not mean that you have to accept it. In reality, putting down a fifth choice can work in your favour as you may find a course you love or you could gain extra interview practice in preparation for future interviews. Have a look around and see what is available.

5) Beware your teachers advice

Most colleges and sixth forms up and down the country usually have a ‘Medicine’ advisor for potential medical applicants. Whilst these people may know more than other teachers in your school, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they know everything about applying to medical school for your year of application. Some advisors may have only helped a few students in the past, or may carry the prejudice that you shouldn’t be applying to medical schools that aren’t Oxbridge. Whilst you should always seek advice, remember to take it with a pinch of salt.


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