If you are reading this article, chances are that you are that you’re planning for, or at least thinking about a career in medicine. If that is true, you probably also want to know how difficult it is going to be to get into medical school, and whether it is truly the path you want to take. In this article, we are going to look at how difficult it is to get into medical school in the UK, and what you need to do to get in.
The short answer is that medical school is very competitive, and therefore difficult to get into. It is widely regarded to be one of, if not the, most difficult path to take after you’re finished with school. Not only do you need very good qualifications and work experience, but even then, the acceptance rate is very tough, at around 31.6%. However, that is not to say it is impossible. 7500 people do it every year, and with the right preparation, it is very achievable to secure a place at medical school. Let’s go into a bit more detail about just how difficult it is.
You now have the short answer, but keep reading to find out the specifics of getting into medical school, just how tough it is, and whether it seems right for you.
Table of Contents
How Hard is it to Get Accepted Into Medical School in the UK?
You now know that medical school is tough to get into. Let’s look at the facts. According to ‘Premed Projects’ in 2020, 23,710 people applied to study medicine in the UK. There were 7,500 places available. Doing the maths, that’s around 31.6% of applicants who have space to be accepted.
While this isn’t great, it is higher than Oxbridge acceptance rates in general. Not only that, but medicine is one of the most competitive courses in the UK. The unis that offer it are generally very high level. This means that, the likelihood is, all the other students applying are going to have good grades and be well prepared.
As time goes on, the application rate for medical school in the UK rises. The figure for 2020 was up 10% on the previous year, and with the ever-growing need for NHS doctors, there will never be a lack of desire for more people studying medicine.
However, the more people apply, the more competition there is. There are still only limited places available in medical schools, and therefore more people applying means that it will be harder for you to get in. In short, it’s not easy, but it is definitely achievable. 7,500 people will get into medical school in the UK per year, and you could easily be one of them, if you know how to prepare.
What GCSEs and A-Levels Do You Need to Get Into Medical School in the UK?
Good qualifications are going to be very important to get into medical school. Firstly, it is important to know that medical schools will take GCSEs into account as well as A Levels, so if you haven’t yet done GCSEs, and are thinking about a career in medicine, make sure you work hard for those qualifications.
Bear in mind the competition will likely have strong grades, so you need to make sure you achieve the best grades you can. Generally, the school will look at your performance across all the GCSEs to get an idea of your general academic ability, so hard work across all subjects is essential.
However, if you have already done GCSEs, the most important bit is still ahead of you. A Levels will be the first consideration by medical schools when deciding whether to accept you or not. You will need a minimum of three A grades to secure your place. You will need to be doing an A Level in chemistry, and for most schools, biology will also be required. It is worth checking up on the specific requirements of the schools you want to go to. Physics and maths will also be useful A Levels to have.
More and more people are now suggesting that you need 4 A Levels to have a chance at getting into medical school. While this isn’t true, and you can get into medical school with three A Levels, it will give you an advantage having all four of the subjects I have mentioned at A Level, and is the most reliable way to get into medical school. Bear in mind how competitive medical school entry is, if you think you can handle doing four A Levels, and want to get into medical school, I would recommend you do it.
Are Some Medical Schools Easier to Get into Than Others?
So now you know what qualifications you will need to get into medical school, but are some schools easier than others to get into? Well, first of all, as I have already shown, there are no easy medical schools to get into in the UK. It will be difficult no matter where you decide to apply for. However, some may be slightly easier than others.
The best way to see which school is easiest to get into is looking at acceptance rates. Naturally, the higher the acceptance rate, the higher chance you have of getting in. These can easily be found, and you should do your research into how hard different schools are.
The highest acceptance rate is ‘Queen’s University Belfast School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences’ with an acceptance rate of 38.3%. The 10 highest acceptance rates for medical schools can be found on this website here. It is also worth looking at what A Levels will be required for certain schools. Some will require AAA while some require A*A*A, so this is definitely another factor.
Another thing to think about is the location. While a lot of this obviously comes down to your personal preference as to where you want to study, if we are talking specifically about how difficult it is to get into different schools, location has an impact. Schools in the north of the country and Scotland will generally face less admissions and competition than schools in London.
Also, laws in Scotland mean that, if you attend medical school there, you will only have to pay £1,820 a year, while in England you will have to pay £9,000. This doesn’t change how easy it is to get in, but may well affect your choice!
Overall, there are certain schools that are harder to get into than others, and you should do your research to make sure you get the right school for you.
The UCAT and BMAT – How Hard are Medical School Admissions Examinations?
All UK medical schools now require you to sit one of two tests. These are the UCAT and the BMAT tests. Each exam will take two hours, and is separate to your A Levels.
The two tests are different. The UCAT is a digital test that determines general aptitude, testing you on 5 sections, which includes verbal reasoning and decision making, amongst others. The UCAT website is very good for those who wish to take this test. They have practice papers, and make it clear how to apply for the test. Registration opens in May, and you can sit the test between July and early October. See the website for more details.
The UCAT is by far the most commonly used test, and the vast majority of schools will use it, meaning chances are you will be taking this test. However, some schools will instead want the BMAT test, and you should do your research to see who wants what. You can take a look here.
The BMAT is different from the UCAT in a number of ways. It is a written test, and has three sections, testing your verbal, mathematical and scientific ability, as well as an essay task at the end.
Both tests are designed to be difficult, and there is no clear sign that one is easier than the other. There is also no easy way to pass the exams, so unfortunately, the only way to ensure success is to practice. A lot. Make sure you do your research into what exactly the tests entail, and what type of questions you need to be prepared for.
You also need to be organised enough to book the tests yourself, and they do come at a price. The UCAT is £80 and the BMAT is £46. They are not easy tests, but they are necessary, so do your research and get practicing.
What Work Experience Will You Need to Get Into a Medical School?
Now you know what tests you need to do to get in, and that some schools will demand different results. However, good exam results alone may not be enough in such a competitive field of study. To gain that extra advantage, you may need work experience.
Many universities actually require work experience, so you will need to think about getting some. Just like everything else about the process, this will be fairly difficult. In fact, many students who I have spoken to personally say this was one of the hardest parts of the whole application process.
Each hospital generally only accepts around 20 students per year, and the process is very complicated, with lots of paperwork to do. Your first port of call when looking for work experience should definitely be to look for it in a hospital, as this will be incredibly useful.
Having said that, medical schools understand how hard it is to find work experience in a hospital, and if you can’t find any, don’t give up totally on the idea of work experience. Anything you can do that shows you’re helping people will be valuable to medical schools. This means volunteering is very useful, and things like care homes and charities are always looking for volunteers. You’d be doing them a major favour and doing yourself one as well. This link here is a great place to start looking for a job.
With medical school being such a competitive field, it is essential you do everything you can to stay ahead of the competition, and valuable work experience will allow you to do just that.
How Hard are the Interviews for Medical School?
Knowing what you need to do in order to give yourself the best chance of getting in, now let’s discuss another important part of the process. The interview.
First of all, if you get to the point where you are being called in for an interview, then you should feel very proud, as it is a difficult challenge even getting to that point. The interview will generally aim to go into more detail on what you put on your UCAS application, as well as looking at your interpersonal skills and general intelligence.
The interviews aren’t easy, and the interviewer will deliberately aim to challenge and test you. There will be questions about modern day medical issues, so it’s a good idea to keep up to date on these issues. There are plenty of websites out there that can prepare you for the interviews, and I would recommend taking a look at them to practice and prepare.
Another point worth remembering is that Oxbridge interviews will be a bit different, as the courses are more focussed on research, and thus the interview will test your ability to think outside the box and process information more than the others.
There is also another structure of interview being used more and more these days called the MMI interview. This is an interview where you will see lots of interviewers in quick succession, and each will give you different questions or a task. This aims to test your ability to adapt, which is obviously incredibly important in a medical scenario. Make sure you know what style of interview you are going to have, so you can prepare properly.
None of the interviews are easy, but the MMI interview is generally considered to be the hardest. Jen Gibson, a Physician, said “I did not enjoy the MMI at all.” The interviews are tough, but be yourself, do your preparation, and you’ll be fine.
Are Private and Grammar School Students More Likely to Get in to Medical School?
We’ve now covered how hard the process is to get into medical school, right from GCSEs to the interview. But even those might not be the only concerns on your mind. A fear that is so common among many students is that people from grammar schools and private schools will get preferential treatment when it comes to getting accepted into medical school, and make it harder for those who don’t attend those schools.
Well, let’s look at the facts. Around 29% of students at medical school in the UK do come from private schools, and another 22% come from grammar schools. About 50% of schools in the UK have never even applied a student for medical school.
This is an astonishing figure, and it certainly points to the fact, that, unfortunately, it may well be harder for you if you don’t attend a private or grammar school. However, that’s not to say it will be impossible at all.
Pretty much half of the students at medical school don’t attend either of those types of school, meaning thousands every year still get in. You should not, under any circumstances, allow these figures to put you off. If you put in the hard work and prepare properly, you can definitely still make it, but it would be lying to suggest that grammar and private schools will make the process harder for those who don’t attend them.
What Impact Does Race or Gender Have on Your Chances of Getting in to Medical School?
So, the regrettable fact is there is a leaning towards grammar and private school students when it comes to acceptance into medical school. But another fear for many students is that their race or gender will affect their chances.
Well, let’s start with the gender issue. In most areas of society, women feel they will be punished because of their gender, and this is often true, but not in this case. In 2018, 57% of all UK medical school entrants were women. There is debate on whether this is an issue which I won’t get into now, but it is good news that women are not discriminated against in this area.
There is also no reason to be concerned as a man. Generally, more women attend higher education, and while that is a debate for another article, the fact is that when it comes specifically to medical school, you’re no worse off as a man than any other path on average.
Let’s move on to race. In the national census of 2011, 81.7% of 15–24-year-olds were white, while the BME population made up 18.3%. In 2016, 41% of those who entered medical school were part of the BME community.
This is more good news, as it shows your race does not have an impact on your ability to enter medical school. It is hopefully a relief for many students to say that these issues will not make the tough process any more difficult.
What Should You Do If You Don’t Get Into Medical School?
In this article, we have covered how difficult it is to get into medical school, and what we’ve found out is that it is pretty tough. However, it should also be clear to you that it is not impossible, and that you should not be put off from trying.
Having said that, with such a tough process, it would be good to prepare just in case you don’t get in. The main thing is don’t panic. While it is incredibly frustrating to have gone through such a difficult process only to come up short, the chances are it was no fault of your own.
There are simply more applicants than places, and some people have to miss out. Your life isn’t over, and there are plenty of options. If you missed out because of grades, you can re-sit exams and apply again.
You could go for another degree, and with the work you put in to get into medical school, you would be more than equipped for courses such as biomedical science. This may also allow you to enter medical school as a graduate, and take the fast track, 4-year course. It will also give you more time to gain work experience and support your graduate entry.
Overall, missing out after so much work is very annoying and upsetting, but it really isn’t the end of the World, and there are so many other options out there for you to consider.
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