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May 20, 2013 by Emedica
Making the decision to apply for medicine is absolutely huge. Unfortunately you can only apply to study Medicine at four universities. It can be extremely difficult to whittle it down to those final few. As it’s such a competitive course, it would pay off to be strategic in your research and try to maximise your chances of getting an interview and/or an offer.
Make sure you do your research! I can’t stress enough how important this is. The course it available at a number of universities, but each university is different. They will ask for, and offer, different things.
Do they look at GCSE grades? Have you met their GCSE requirements?
Which subjects are they asking for? Most universities ask for two sciences at A2 (out of Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Physics) but may not specify which ones, but some might (the ones I applied to said they wanted Biology and Chemistry at A2). If you are doing Further Maths and Maths, before applying, contact the university to ask their position on whether they will consider them as two separate A Levels or whether it will be considered as one. The same goes for if you completed an A Level in one year instead of two. Some universities will only accept the grade if it was achieved over the two years of study.
What grades are they asking for? At the moment, the standard offer for most medical schools is AAAa at A Level, but some – like Birmingham – are asking for A*AA. Have they specified which subject this grade has to be achieved in? If they specify that they want an A* in Chemistry, for example, is that plausible for you or are you more likely to get an A in this and an A* somewhere else?
Do they offer any intercalated programmes? Are these optional or compulsory? A intercalated degree could add on a year to your overall years of study, but it could also be a huge opportunity. Is that something you would be interested in?
Do they use UKCAT? If so, to what degree and what is their UKCAT cut off? One of the universities I applied to used overall UKCAT scores as a way to determine a range of people that they would pick interviewees from, whereas another was looking for consistent scores across each of the sections rather than a high overall score (so 650, 630, 670 and 660 would be considered better than 800, 530, 690 and 600). Does your score meet what they are looking for?
What kind of course are they offering? PBL, lecture or a mixture? Find out what kind of learner you are, the different aspects of each type of course, and which would suit you more.
Obviously, there’s loads more to consider when choosing a university, but those are the first ones that spring to mind. Hopefully all this intense research should make it a bit easier to pick which open days you want to go to!
Travelling around for open days can be expensive, so I would recommend booking tickets as early in advance as possible to see if you can get them a bit cheaper if you are going by train or coach. No matter how much research you do online, it’s always better to go their yourself to try and get a feel for the city and the uni. One that seems perfect on paper might not be a great fit for you in real life. It happened to me with Keele! Open days are a brilliant opportunity to talk to current students and get their opinions on the course first hand, and to talk about anything you’re worried about. Ask questions, go to talks, tours, etc. If you’re planning on living away from home, check out the accommodation. This could be your life for the next five to six years, so you want to know as much about it as you possibly can. (Although this isn’t the most important bit, open days are also a great excuse to visit cities that you wouldn’t otherwise have a reason to go to! I really liked Sheffield).
Anyway. Once you’ve picked your four (well done if you manage this first time, it took me absolutely ages to pick because I kept changing my mind!) it’s down to your UCAS application to bag yourself an interview. Your personal statement is one of the shortest and most significant pieces you will write in your young years. As you’re so restricted with the word limit, make sure you don’t ramble. Sell yourself. It might not feel normal to you – it may feel like you’re bragging or showing off – but do it anyway. This is your chance to shine. Play up your strengths. This, along with your references, is the only indication that the admissions tutors have about what kind of person you are. They’ve not met you, they don’t know all the wonderful reasons you want to go into medicine and why you would be perfect for it, so tell them! Why should they pick you out of all the other applications they have? Don’t repeat any information that has already been mentioned anywhere else in your application (such as your name, where you study, what subjects you’re studying) as they will already see this elsewhere and it’s using up valuable space for you to advertise yourself. Get as many people to read your personal statement as you can: friends, family, teachers — anyone who knows you and would be able to offer input or point out any key things you’re missing out. “Oh, what about that fundraising event you organised last year for charity?” Work experience is a big one. You need to mention your experience and what you’ve learned from it, how you’ve developed as a person and how you felt about it. If you saw someone terminally ill when you were on a placement, how did it make you feel? Even if you weren’t able to get any experience at a hospital, general practices, hospices and care homes are all good places to go to. Long term volunteering is also a good thing to have done to show your commitment.
Draft your personal statement. Check it and then check it again. Leave a few days in between, then go back and edit it and repeat this process until you are happy with what you’re reading and that it is the best possible summary of you and why this is what you want to do. Use strong, key, power words like motivated and dynamic, etc (but don’t go overboard!). Make sure it sounds like you. When the admissions tutors read your personal statement, they have a picture of you building up in their head. If you are invited to interview and you are completely different to what they expected, that’s when foul play is suspected. It’s not unheard of that people pay others to write their personal statements for them but it rarely ends well, so don’t risk it! Don’t copy anyone else’s either.
I hope this has helped, and feel free to ask any questions. The UKCATPrep team are very helpful with any queries about the test, and are very friendly. Additionally, The Student Room (www.thestudentroom.co.uk) is a great place to find answers and talk to others in the same position too.