About to Apply to Med School? Here are four tips to ace the process
By Helen Lami, director of Academic Summer
Applying and getting into medical school in the UK is tough. This country has many of the best universities in the world, with Oxford, Cambridge and UCL frequently being voted in the top 10. Every year thousands of people apply to study medicine here from all over the world, with around ten applicants for every placement that’s currently being offered.
If you’re planning to apply for a 2019 start – the deadline for which closes on October 15th – you’ll hopefully have done a lot of the groundwork already. You’ll probably have a good idea of which universities you want to apply to, you’ll most likely have taken the assessment tests (either the UKCAT or the BMAT and you’ll hopefully be feeling confident that you have the necessary grades.
Even at this late stage though, there are still plenty of hurdles that could potentially trip you up. To help you over the finishing line, here are my four tips for acing the application process.
Admission test results: don’t be afraid to change your mind
Many universities require prospective students to take an admission test, which assesses applicants on a range of skills to examine their aptitude for medicine. Most likely, you’ll probably have received your results by now.
Even with just a few weeks to go before applications close, you still have time to change your preferred university choices if the results weren’t what you were hoping for. For example, certain colleges consider the UKCAT to be very important. There’s little point in applying to them and setting yourself up for disappointment if you underperformed on the test. Other universities will be more open to overlooking UKCAT results and, while they might not be your preferred option, they should still be considered.
If you’re not willing to compromise on your choices, you could always wait for the 2020 application process next year, when you can take the test again. In the meantime, you could get some more quality work experience or even get private tuition to help you work through the issues that held you back the first time you took the tests.
Have you got the necessary social skills?
With only a few weeks left, you’ll no doubt have already started on the UCAS application. The process of applying for medicine is like any other university subject. You’re asked to fill in several sections where you detail your educational background, all of which can be done online. The process is mostly straightforward, however the personal statement you’ll need to provide will require quite a bit of thought and preparation.
The mistake many students make is to focus too much on their academic abilities and fail to show they have the social skills required. A career in medicine involves meeting and helping potentially hundreds of people in any given month. As such, it’s crucial that you demonstrate your communication skills and your team-working abilities.
It won’t be enough just to say you have these qualities. You’ll need to back them up with real examples in your personal statement, helping course tutors to see how you’ll apply them during the course and during your subsequent career.
Think outside the box for your interview
For many, the interview is the hardest part of the whole process. They can take place anytime between the end of October and the end of March. Some universities will ask for a single meeting, others will expect you to attend a second or even a series of mini-interviews. They will most likely take place at the college itself but, where this isn’t possible, phone or Skype interviews can also be arranged.
Course tutors will naturally ask you questions relevant to your personal statement and your work experience, as well as question you on your academic and problem-solving abilities. However, they will also gauge your commitment to a career in health services by testing your general understanding of the sector. This is where some applicants come unstuck.
Make sure you’re regularly reading the British Medical Journal and other relevant publications to help get you up to speed on the latest news and trends. Speak as often as you can to people working in health services so you’re able to speak convincingly about the realities involved, both good and bad.
Be ready to talk in detail about your work experience
Being able to talk and write eloquently on your work experience is a crucial part of both the UCAS application and the university interview. Course tutors will expect you to go into a lot of detail on your placements. This won’t just mean running through the basics, such as where you worked, for how long and what responsibilities you had. You’re going to be assessed on your ability to really reflect on those experiences – what you learned from them, if they changed your perspective on medicine, the challenges you came up against, etc.
Before starting the application, spend some time looking back on what you picked up during the placement. Read over any diaries or notes you wrote at the time and prepare answers in advance to allow you to write and talk about it more easily and openly when asked.
There’s plenty of resources online now to help with preparing for the interview and with putting the finishing touches to your application, including UCAS’s own guide. Many universities also publish information on their website on what to expect from the interview process.
Getting into medical school is tough but not impossible, so follow my advice and spend as much time as possible researching and preparing. It could be the difference between disappointment and being one of the lucky ten percent. Good luck!