Application Process, Application Process, Applying to University, Top Tips, UCAS Application

How to choose medical schools and what about your 5th UCAS choice?

So you’ve decided you want to apply for medicine? FANTASTIC! So first step: start thinking about which medical schools you want to apply to! Note: this may change as I will explain later in the blog! I will also share more reasons why I chose Cardiff as one of my choices as well, developing on from my previous blog, “Journey to Medicine!”. This blog will be extensive as there is a lot to cover, so please take the time to read it and can come back to it as many times as you like!

Once I was firm in my decision to study Medicine, I actually started looking for medical schools to apply to very early on because I was simply so excited and it gave me motivation to keep on working hard in my A levels! With that being said, the research took me a long while! Currently, there are over 30 medical schools, yet on UCAS you can only choose 4! So, how are you meant to cut the choices down?

Well actually, there are so many ways to approach looking for medical schools and everyone has different preferences, so for me, the best way to start was using comparison tools online (I’ve added a link to a great website that I used, which I will refer back to in later blogs as it was useful for advice on other stages). I also made my own personal table on a Word document where I could write down key points that I found. This was great because it meant I could save links to websites to save me having endless tabs open! I put the 6 main points highlighted below as my headings in the table and then medical schools as rows. However, please find a way that suits you to make notes (I dedicate this style to my mum who introduced me to the world of tables and my medic friends can account for me that I LOVE to use them in my notes even now!). Either way, having all your notes in one place is great so that you can go back to refer to them when you hopefully become an offer holder and need to decide what to firm or put as insurance, which I will discuss in my next blog!

Course features

Course structures
The first thing I realised when doing my research is that no medical school is the same. Don’t worry you will hopefully end up as a doctor wherever you go to! Learning at university is very different to A levels and you are making the commitment to study a long course, so it is truly important to look into the learning style which will suit you. I’ve added a link to a BMA page explaining the differences in course structures. For example, some are more traditional in the sense that the majority of teaching is lecture based in the first 3 years with very limited exposure to patients. This is different to Cardiff where there is early patient contact from Year 1!

Cardiff have been running their modern C21 curriculum since 2013. Their teaching style involves a course type known as “case-based learning” which is used in the first two years of the course. I’ve enjoyed this type of learning style as it begins to prepare you for later clinical stages by using a series of patient cases to build on the basic science knowledge you learn in your first term to common clinical conditions. It is also known as “cake-based learning” as most case groups have a cake rota going!

Course opportunities

There are some factors you should consider when researching how the courses are taught
  • Anatomy – One of the reasons I chose Cardiff was because of their fantastic facilities to offer whole body dissection (as well as prosection), which I have to say has inspired me to consider surgery for a career
  • Placement – As I mentioned, Cardiff have early patient contact in Year 1 where you go on placement once a week. Some courses have small blocks of patient contact in earlier years it is variable so I would recommend looking into it
  • Intercalation – Most medical schools offer intercalation, where you can study for a year to receive an additional degree – the options vary at each medical school. Another important thing to note is that at some medical schools it is compulsory so the course length is 6 years, whereas some places like Cardiff, intercalation is optional to do it either between 3rd and 4th or 4th and 5th year

Entry requirements

Looking at entry requirements is where the online comparison tools come in handy! Each medical school look at qualifications and admission tests differently and have different weightings. The most common qualifications that are looked at are:
  • GCSEs: Some medical schools assign points to GCSEs and apply cut off scores to help cut down the volumes of applicants they get. Cut off scores will vary year on year, and will not necessarily be published on websites but often these are discussed at open day talks.
  • A Levels: Some medical schools consider your predicted grades when applying so you should consider if your predicted grades are at least what the medical school is requiring and perhaps speak to your teachers about your likely achievements.
  • Other qualifications: If you do other qualifications such as IB, Scottish Highers or other international qualifications, I would recommend emailing admissions offices BEFORE applying to check what your qualifications are equivalent to, if it does not say so on websites. For Cardiff, the email is: medadmissions@cardiff.ac.uk
  • Admission tests: The most common admission tests are UCAT (previously known as UKCAT), BMAT and for some graduate entry, GAMSAT. Make sure you check what the medical schools you are considering require and prepare early! (I will be releasing a blog on tips for this in July). Also, check where the nearest test centres are for you – this is particularly important for internationals as you may have to fly to a nearby country to sit the test. Commonly in UK, the UCAT (which Cardiff requires) can be done in the same place as driving theory test centres.

It is important to note that your choices may change after doing admission tests because you may get your score and it is not competitive enough to go into the medical schools you intended to apply to, so you may need to look at medical schools who place less weightings on admission tests. Alternatively, you surprised yourself, smashed your test and think you should try to aim for places with higher weightings on tests to increase your chances! Either way, make sure you have some back up medical school options on both sides of the scale so it is not a impulse decision and have researched them thoroughly.

Rankings & recommendations

Some people choose to cut down the medical school choices based on the top ranking schools at the time of entry. Personally, I did not pay as much attention to rankings because they change year on year and like I said, at the end of the day – all medical schools produce doctors! Also, I think the course structure and opportunities is much more important than just the name. However, I did take on board recommendations from older medics that I knew when I was in sixth form and find honest online reviews and youtubers to get a better picture of what it is truly like to study at their universities.

Location

Some people may choose to start off with location when cutting down on which medical schools to decide to apply to. You’ll recognise this map from my previous blog, but I literally did use a map to also help with cutting down choices! Another factor to ensure you find out is where the campus for the medical school actually is. For some universities, the medical school is on the same site, but for others, the medical school is far away from main university in a completely different location. At Cardiff, the medical school is based on Heath Park Campus, where the University Hospital of Wales is situated, it is in walkable distance from Talybont accommodation and about 35 mins walk from the main campus. In fact, Cardiff in general is just so walkable – that’s why I love it!

You may not be fussed about being near home like I was, so you can block out the places which are too close to home! Alternatively, you may want to stay near home and there’s nothing wrong with that! If that is what you want to do, block out the areas that you don’t want to venture to.

Expenses

If you choose to move away from home, you will learn such an important skill – how to manage your own money at university! Budgeting? What does that even mean?! With time, you will settle into a rhythm of spending wisely and hopefully monitoring money well. Therefore, there are some expenses that you should think about when choosing medical schools.
  • Fees: If you are an international, one of the biggest factors will be the cost of going to university, as you are unable to receive student finance for tuition fees and maintenance loan like UK students.
  • Travel: With relation to fees, the cost of flights and travel for international students may mean unfortunately you won’t be able to go home as often. For UK students, travelling within the UK can also be pricey, particularly with trains, but if you think ahead and buy advance tickets or consider using the coach, some of these costs can be reduced.
  • Accommodation: Prices of accommodation can vary depending on where you go to. In first year, you can often get good deals with university accommodation, but moving out of halls in 2nd year onwards, searching for houses can be expensive depending on the areas. Cardiff has fantastic prices, having experienced living in Talybont accommodation and in a house now, it is very cheap compared to other cities like London.

Other personal preferences

Finally, have a think about any other things that are important to you that you would like to be able to do. For example, have a look at societies, sports teams, orchestras, local places of worship etc. If you are an outdoor person, think about if there are places to explore in your free time. If you love shopping, how close is the nearest shopping centre?!

So you’ve put 4 choices down, do you leave the last one blank? Do you put a back up? If I had to go back in time and reapply for medicine, one thing I wish I looked into was feeder streams that increase chances of getting into medicine as a graduate, e.g. Cardiff have 4 feeder streams for the A101.

I admit I was a massive risk-taker and chose not to put a 5th choice down. My intention was if I did not get in first time, I would do a gap year and try again the following year rather than do a back-up that I was not completely certain about. However, I have to say this did put me through more stress waiting for offers, when my other friends who had put down back-up options at least had a safety blanket to fall back on. The 5th choice or not is truly UP TO YOU! All I can say is that make sure it is something that you would be happy to do instead or would give you the option to get into medicine as a graduate.

I hope you found this blog informative and useful. One of the best ways to learn about the factors I have talked about is to visit the universities! I truly recommend coming along to a Cardiff open day (I will be doing a blog in March on how to plan your trip).  In the mean time, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me through UniBuddy where I am more than happy to answer any other questions you have!

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