“Are you from a 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. So maybe the reason why I didn’t bother to think about who came from a 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.
I felt as if the percentage of privately-educated students on my course was somewhat higher than the percentage of state school students. 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 that fewer of us were making it into Medicine? I listened to others’ experiences of applying and compared them to my own. I reflected on any possible hurdles implied by coming from a state school, and looked out for advantages possibly posed by attending a private school.
If you’re from a 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.
Private School Admissions Statistics
It turns out my impressions weren’t unfounded. The Independent Schools Council (ISC) analysed figures from the 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 a 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. 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.
Also, 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.
Why is this the Case?
Completing a medical school application isn’t the easiest of tasks. This doesn’t need reiterating. Without the right support, it can be even harder.
Some high 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. This is quite sad as it means that a lot of students with huge potential do not get the chance to use it in medicine.
It’s important for resources, like this website, to raise awareness that applying to medical school truly can be done if you have good school grades, the right attitude and a strong work ethic. Of course, it is not as simple as this, but those who receive offers will have these qualities.
Tips for State School Medicine Applicants
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:
Knowledge is power and sites such as these are some of your biggest assets. If you know how a 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. Make sure you ask for help and utilise those around you.
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.
Seek help from your school
If you’d like support on accessing courses, summer schools, 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 compare yourself to others
You’ll meet all kinds of people at open days, summer schools, 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 that a medical school applicant must fit into – remember this.
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 will likely have bursaries.
What Support Is There For Medicine Applicants?
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 a 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.
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