“Are you from state school or private school?”
That question didn’t enter my conversations until I was well into my first year of medical school – it wasn’t something I necessarily considered before others began to bring it up. Coming from a non-selective state school myself, I had a pre-formed idea of what a privately-educated student may be like – you can probably imagine. So maybe the reason why I didn’t bother to think about who came from state school and who didn’t was because the vast majority of people I encountered were just like me: somewhat nervous about starting medicine, new to living away from home, eager to make friends.
While I didn’t discover some alien, easily-identifiable species in my midst, something else surprised me. It felt as if the percentage of privately-educated students on my course was somewhat higher than the percentage of privately-educated students generally within our society. I spoke to friends from home who ended up studying medicine at different universities and they echoed my observations.
I began to look back and ask myself why this was the way things were. What exactly was it that meant less of us were making it into medicine? I listened to others’ experiences of application and compared them to my own. I reflected on any possible hurdles implied by coming from state school – and looked out for advantages possibly posed by private school.
If you’re from state school and dreaming of medical school – this is the piece for you. I’d like to offer you some knowledge on the subject as well as tips, so that you hopefully feel more confident executing your plan of action. In any case, this site will offer advice on absolutely everything you need – so consider this a side note of sorts.
The numbers reveal all
It turns out my impressions weren’t unfounded. Back in 2011, the Independent Schools Council (ISC) analysed figures from Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, revealing that while only 7% of students attend private school, 28.5% of those studying medicine and dentistry are from private school. A similar report comes from the north of the country: a quarter of students at medical schools in Scotland come from private schools, even though private schools educate as little as 4% of Scottish pupils, numbers from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) show. It becomes clear that state school pupils are not completely represented in medical schools, suggesting that either some people are getting left behind or some are getting further ahead – or both.
More recently, a study analysing applications to 22 medical schools showed that applicants from the wealthiest backgrounds – from Scotland and Wales in particular – were more likely to be given places at medical school than applicants from poorer homes, implying the issue is far deeper than the simple state/private labels.
A medical school application isn’t the easiest of tasks, that doesn’t need reiterating. Without the right support, it can be even harder.
Some schools may offer specialised support to prospective medics, while others may not – we’re talking UCAT/BMAT preparation, mock interviews, personal statement assistance. Without those things, a pupil may be intimidated by the formidable nature of the task at hand and be put off before they complete the application process. It’s important for resources like this website to raise awareness that applying to medical school truly can be done by just about anybody with the right attitude and work ethic.
So, a few tips…
Having shed some light on the issue, you may be asking: what can I do? I will say that the intricacies of social inequalities are far too complex to analyse here – and it’s definitely not the case that medical schools discriminate against state school pupils. The fact that you have decided in your mind that medicine is what you want – and that you’re reading this article – those are the biggest steps. All you need now is to keep this motivation alive and keep getting ahead – here are some useful things I think you should keep in mind:
- Keep informed. Knowledge is power and sites such as this are some of your biggest assets. If you know how medical school application works back to front, you should have little trouble navigating through it.
- Voice your plans to your teachers. They will not be able to offer help if they don’t know what you want. They can assist you in completing your personal statement, conduct a mock interview, etc.
- Seek help from your school if needed. If you’d like support on accessing courses, summer school, open days, etc, don’t be afraid to write to your school authorities, kindly asking for it. Sometimes you have to give these systems a little push before they can work in your favour.
- Don’t get caught up on extras and stick to the essentials. There will be all sorts of additional resources and courses promising to ensure you a place at medical school – of course, at a price. If you can manage it – great – but don’t sweat it, if your situation doesn’t allow it. They are by no means necessary.
- Reach out to other applicants. I found places like Twitter great for speaking to other aspiring medics in a similar position. It was highly motivating and great for exchanging tips and resources.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. You’ll meet all kinds of people at open day, summer school, interviews, etc, and if you’re anything like what I was, some of them may seem much more on it than you and give you the impression that you’re not supposed to be there. But you are. There isn’t one mould which a medical school applicant must fit into – remember this.
- Persevere. If support at your school isn’t best, it’s up to you – and you only – to remind yourself that all the hard work will pay off in the end.
Things are changing
There are now various outreach projects, mentoring schemes and free summer schools. A number of medical schools now give out contextual offers and/or run six-year courses with an initial foundation year to enable lower entry requirements. Research those opportunities – they could help more than you realise.
Over time, things have changed immensely in terms of state school students making it to medical school – the statistics are definitely improving and it is something people are talking about – you’ve got that in your favour.
So, if you’re a student from non-selective state school applying to medicine, know that you are paving the way to equalise those statistics I mentioned earlier – your hard work constitutes a greater change – and I hope that can be a source of motivation for you.