Before the UCAS application

REMEMBER: the UCAS application deadline for medical schools is October 15! Apply here.

To apply for medical school in the UK, it is a several-step process, unlike in Sweden. In this article, I will try to compile all you need to know before starting your application on UCAS.

Do your research

Each medical school operates in their own way, therefore each medical school require different things. It is up to you to know exactly what they are after for your application to be successful. You can find a list of all the medical schools in the UK here, with links to each medical school for more information.

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  1. Academic requirements:
    • Look at the different schools offering medicine (UCAS code A100) and see what their grade requirements are. One can usually do this on their medical program page on the online prospectus. It is often possible to see their country-specific grade requirements, including what they require from Swedish grades (what I applied with). If not, send them an e-mail and ask! That’s what I did. I have also heard  that UCL only accepts Swedish applicants with IB grades. I’m not sure if there are any other schools who do the same so to be on the safe side, once again, ask!
    • Although these grade requirements are not entirely absolute, it gives a good overview of  what grades they are looking for. If you don’t have exactly what they’re looking for, don’t worry! If you have high UKCAT scores and an amazing personal statement, you still have a shot at getting an interview (if the medical school does interviews). I know a few who got in despite being below the grade requirements. However, I would suggest you to apply at a different school where your grades match the requirements completely to have a better shot!
    • As a rule of thumb, medical schools in the UK require you to have the majority of your grades to be at A or B level (making your average to be around between 18.0-19.0 or even higher), especially your grades on the science subjects Chemistry, Biology, Maths and/or Physics.
  2. The medical school application requirements:
    • What exams do they require? English test requirements like IELTS or TOEFL? Do they put a big weight on the UKCAT? Do they interview? Do I need certain vaccines before starting?
    • Find out what other requirements the medical school has, so you are fully prepared and aware of your chances for your application! More detailed information on the different tests can be found on the next section.
  3. The medical school itself:
    • Location:  I began medical school in St Andrews Scotland, where education is free for EU citizens. If one studies elsewhere like in England, one can expect to be paying £9000 (about 100 000 sek) a year for tuition fees. This was definitely a major factor for me when choosing medical school. Also,  where would you like to spend your next 5 years, in a small town or a massive metropolitan like London?
    • Teaching style: You should find the teaching style that suits you. Medicine is taught either Lecture-based (traditional) or Problem-based learning (PBL), but many curricula strive for the System-based approach.
      • Lecture-based (traditional) is when the material depending on the topic is given via a range of lecture series. I remember spending 10h of lectures in St Andrews each week.
      • Problem-based learning (PBL) is an approach which depends highly on your ability to study alone. There are minimum lectures and as a guide, one has learning goals aimed to be reached/studied on your own time. When I was in Manchester, I recall having about one lecture every other week which was a big difference from my previous medical school!
      • System-based learning is sometimes described as a combination of the two. All information given during the lectures usually coincide with clinical sessions/labs etc.
    • Nothing beats going to an Open Day. If you have the chance, do go! Talk to current students and get a proper feel of the school, who knows, you might end up there for the next five years!

Find things to make you stand out

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Unlike in Sweden, it is not enough to have amazing grades to get in to medical school. You need to be able to show that you are committed to the medical profession and you have the skills necessary to succeed in medical school. As a guide, on your personal statement and eventually interview, you should be able to prove the following:

  • Strong academia apart from grades
  • Leadership skills
  • Able to take responsibility
  • A team-player
  • An understanding of the profession, especially as a patient-centered vocation

When reading through this list, don’t worry if you can’t think of an example for each one! You still have time, try to find something to show for it before you submit your application!

I know you have top grades, but what do you know beyond them? Outside your school requirements, perhaps you speak several languages or are interested in research. Showing the ability of speaking different languages shows a strong academic capacity. If you are interested in research, prove it. Contact a lab and work with them for a little while, or maybe even join a science summer school like at Karolinska or at Stockholm University? This would definitely give you an edge on your application!

In terms of leadership skills, good and classical examples here would be student council, leader of school clubs, captain of sport teams etc. Following this, would be your ability to take responsibility. Yes, it is possible to have a leadership role, but do show as well what you did as a leader. What kind of things were you responsible for, big or small?

As a doctor, you will always find yourself working in teams, making it essential for one to be a team-player. Do you play in a band, orchestra or sing in a choir? Do you play in a sports team or part of any other type of team? If not, start!

It is a big commitment to become a doctor. Several years of studying followed by years of training. Medical schools want applicants who show that they know what the profession entails. Perhaps you have seen or heard stories from family members within the medical profession, or maybe even worked (PRAO?) within healthcare before. If not medical, maybe you have experience within helping others like volunteering for the homeless, refugees or at a retirement home. On your application, you should be able to show your dedication to a patient-centered profession, and know that this is what you want to do. Not just because you watched Scrubs or Grey’s Anatomy and could picture yourself in their shoes. If you don’t have any of these, I know that there is always a demand for volunteers and visits at a retirement home are always appreciated by the elderly!

Now that you have an overview of what to expect, you’re ready to start your application. The earlier the better, let’s go!

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NEXT: The UCAS Application

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