University Application UK

In this page I am going to talk about the process of getting into University to study Medicine, from how to choose a University, what to look for in the university you are applying for and also what you need to get into medical school. This only applies to British universities; I am afraid that I do not know how the American system works or even how most European universities operate their admission system, but they may be worth looking at as alternate options.

-The University
At this website there is a list of all the medical schools in the UK and to get started I printed off the whole list and started crossing them through based on which ones I thought I could get to/from quickly and easily. This is because the last thing you want to have is a 15 hour journey to get home at Christmas or even just wanting to come home for the weekend to have a long awaited shower! But there are other aspects about the universities that you should be looking for...

-Course Style
There are three styles of medical course that can be undertaken at university and choosing the one for you is a huge decision to make when deciding on your suitability to the university. But remember that not all of the three the styles appeal to everyone and that there may be one style that suits your particular learning while others don't.

PBL (Problem-Based learning)
This is a very new style of learning and is used in universities such as Liverpool and Keele. It is very centralised around independent learning where a problem is allocated to the students and they must go away to learn about the scenario and then come back into groups to discuss; as illustrated by the BMJ, "they do independent, self directed study before returning to the group to discuss and refine their acquired knowledge" ( The reason why this style is adopted is to hone skills early and quickly for use in the clinical part of the course and becoming a doctor.

This is the style adopted by the 'older' more traditional universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Queens Belfast. This course is mainly centralised around lectures in the first two years and then the clinical placements in the final three years, including your elective (a chance to go anywhere in the world for 8 weeks). It is "a subjects based course of lectures (i.e. you do an anatomy course, a physiology course, a biochemistry course etc. all of which are completely separate" ( You then carry out your clincal placements in the last 3 years of the course.

This is the most popular style of course structure with Dundee, Cardiff, Bristol and many others adopting it. "Instead of teaching anatomy and physiology etc. as separate courses, the idea is to join them into systems; where you will take a bodily system, such as the circulatory system and consider the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, pathology of it all at once. The new integrated approach also encourages early patient contact and self directed learning" ( As with the traditional course, it is a course mainly focused around lectures, although "there have been interpretations of the integrated system which led to the development of PBL by Manchester" (

The elective (which I mentioned earlier) is a great chance in your medical career to travel. You get 8 weeks after graduating (from any university) to go wherever you want in the world (obviously you have to organise it beforehand!) and perform medicine while being overseen in any speciality you wish to learn at a foreign hospital or medical setting. Someone I know went to Canada to work in Toronto as well as an in Inuit villages in North Canada. Another doctor I met went to Johannesburg, South Africa for the two months, coming back with some amazing stories, so it is a great opportunity to combine travel with your medical career.

-Intercalated Degree
This is offered by some universities but not all, and in some there is competition for places. It is a chance to take a year out from your medical degree and do another degree that interests you. It is an intensive year (just like the rest of your medical school years!) but it is challenging and rewarding and shows that you can also do research. A really good website to look at for information on intercalated degrees is; There are a huge number to choose from and you don't have to decide whether to do it until later on in medical school or until offered by your medical school (if they operate based on merit).

These are two 'clinical aptitude' tests that test your suitability for working on the wards in a hospital. They are both very time intensive tests that are needed to get into some medical schools.

The BMAT 'BioMedical Admissions Test' is a test needed to get into medicine at Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and Imperial as well as other courses such as Veterinary and Dentistry at other universities. It is a difficult, time intensive test with 3 sections in 2 hours.

  • "Section 1: Aptitude and Skills
  • Section 2: Scientific Knowledge and Application
  • Section 3: Writing Task" (
The scoring is quite complex and can be viewed at this URL (

The UKCAT 'UK Clinical Aptitude Test' is used by most UK medical schools (except those who use BMAT and those who don't use any admission test-Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool). "The test helps universities to make more informed choices from amongst the many highly-qualified applicants who apply for their medical and dental degree programmes" ( It is split into four sections instead of the BMAT's three but is still a very time intensive test as can be seen here(
  • "Verbal reasoning - assesses candidates' ability to think logically about written information and to arrive at a reasoned conclusion.
  • Quantitative reasoning - assesses candidates' ability to solve numerical problems.
  • Abstract reasoning - assesses candidates' ability to infer relationships from information by convergent and divergent thinking.
  • Decision analysis - assesses candidates' ability to deal with various forms of information, to infer relationships, to make informed judgements, and to decide on an appropriate response, in situations of complexity and ambiguity" (
The tests do cost money; with the UKCAT costing £80 (2012) and the BMAT at £42.50 (2012). But there are a number of books that have been created to help students through the tests. Two that I have found useful are 'How to master the UKCAT' and 'How to master the BMAT' (Elite Students Series). They have a huge number of practice questions to have a go at and develop timing techniques as well as talking you through how to do tackle each of the sections. Another well reviewed book is 'Passing the UKCAT and BMAT (2011)' (Student Guide to University Entrance).

The UKCAT is used in different ways by every university and looking into how they use it is very important. Some specify certain thresholds/cut off points that you must achieve as your average/overall score (thus if you don't achieve this score you are extracted from the process immediately, wasting a university option) whilst others rank you in order with all the other students applying and then allocate points based on your score. For example, the test is scored out of 3600 with four sections, each of 900. You get an overall score and then an average score of the four sections. Say you got an average of 650 (600 is the national average) but the university had a cut off of 700 then you would immediately have lost the chance of getting into that university.

Sometimes it isn't that straight forward though, because the universities may set the UKCAT threshold after everyone has applied, so that they know how many are above a certain point i.e. just take the top 1,000 applicants.

All I can say is prepare well, do it as early as possible so that it is out of the way before going back to sixth form/college and do a lot of practice from textbooks and use the practice tests from the UKCAT website (

This website shows some of the thresholds in from past years.

-A-Levels and Grades
These vary between universities and will change year by year but the structure of most of the universities is to achieve three A2's and one AS level. A typical offer would be AAAb (where the lower case b is the AS grade (that you drop for A2) and the three A's are the A2 grade). It is also advised that when you choose your medical school you choose a medical school with lower grades (although there aren't any offering lower grades any more) i.e. AAB so that if you don't quite meet your grades you have a back up option (if you get accepted by them).

In terms of the A-Levels that should be undertaken, once again the medical schools have different requirements, but typically they require Chemistry and Biology to A2 (or Biology to AS if you get an A in it). Some then like another science i.e. Maths or Physics, but others say anything from that point on. But an essay style subject could look good, because it shows your writing capability i.e. English Language/Literature or History.

Here is a webiste showing some of the specifications for getting in, although I do advise you research it yourself.

However an issue is that with medicine almost all of the universities want the same grades AAA and sometimes the only way to differentiate between universities is to look at the AS grades they want i.e. AAAa/AAAb.

-Work Experience/Volunteering
These two things are extremely important in your medical school application. Getting prolonged volunteering in a care home looks very good on your personal statement. This is because you are showing commitment, but you need to show that you got something out of it as well. This is what really matters in getting work experience and volunteering; you need to show that you got something out of it.

In terms of work experience it is very difficult to get into places by applying directly to it and it's a shame but it is all down to who you know in the medical profession. Ask anybody you know whether they are in the medical profession or have links to people who are (i.e. family members), this is almost the only way of getting your foot in the door. Once again though you need to find out from the work experience what it meant to you and why you want to be a doctor. But try and get as much as possible to back up your drive for becoming a doctor.

Another thing to consider is to go to Medical conferences such as MedLink or conferences run at your local hospital. They can give you new ideas on what to do for work experience and volunteering and also motivate you further to do medicine by giving you an inside look at the life you will have as a medical student.

-Personal Statement
Finally, to the most important part of your medical school application and what could make or break your application process. This is the only part of the process where you get to talk about yourself (apart from the interview if you are asked for interview). In the personal statement you need to stand out from all of the thousands of other medical applicants. The admission tutors reading the personal statements will have read hundreds of them, and yours needs to be the one that they go "wow, that was amazing!" Try to get as many people to help you with it, to read it and make it the best it can be.

It is the place where you talk about all of the extra-curricular activities you have done, the work experience, volunteering, subjects that you study, but, also and maybe most importantly, why you want to be a doctor. No-body can tell you this but you must develop your own reason for wanting to, and you must display a drive to study it; why should they choose you and not the other thousands of applicants?

There are a number of books available to you that can help to develop your personal statement such as one that I have found useful; 'So you want to be a doctor?' by Sanders, Metcalfe and Dev. But only you can decide where you want to go to university, what style of course suits you and why you want to be a doctor.

A source I found on Student room that shows just how hard it is to get into medicine, but look at what they have done and what you can do better!