How To Pick The Right Medical School - 5 Key Factors

Are you struggling to pick the right medical school for you? In this article, we look at the 5 key considerations you need to weigh up!

Picking which university you want to go to is a major decision. Especially when you are going to spending over 4 years there to get your medical degree.

 

Here are the top 5 things you need to know about the right medical school for you:

  1. Living arrangements and expenses
    1. Accommodation
    2. Transport
    3. Scholarships
    4. Fees
  2. Student life
  3. Employment prospects
  4. Research opportunities
  5. Admission requirements

 

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1. Living arrangements and expenses

To pick the right medical school, there’s much to consider. Starting uni could mean moving out of home for the first time. This introduces a whole range of new practical considerations:

  • Accommodation
  • Transport
  • Scholarships
  • Managing fees

So, let’s dig into what uni means for where you live, work and sleep, how you get about, and how you fund your study!

 

Accommodation

Ideally, your dream medical school would provide housing options that suit you, or is at least near options that you can privately seek out. These are the most common types of student accommodation:

  • Student halls — These are often run by the university on-campus and the advantage of student halls is that you will have so many opportunities to meet fellow students and be engaged in student life. It’s also pretty convenient to attend lectures if you are living on campus.
  • University approved or affiliated rooms — A tick of approval from your university is often a good reassurance that you are making the right decision of where to stay, especially if it is your freshman year.
  • Privately rented rooms/houses — Generally, you’ll be able to find cheaper rates for privately owned properties, but keep in mind that this will not include meals and cleaning services that most university accommodation provides.
  • Home-stays — These living arrangements are rarer, and typically aren’t long-term. They could last less than a year, but are a great option for the duration of an exchange programme, as you’ll have the chance to authentically experience the culture of the country.
  • Living at home — This may be the most economical choice, but it may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on the location and environment of your home.

 

Ultimately, picking the right medical school will come down to how much you value these key factors:

  • The cost
  • Facilities available
  • Distance from your medical school
  • The sense of community
  • Your personal comfort
  • Transport

 

Transport

If you are living on campus, this won’t be a concern. However, if you are looking to rent or live somewhere further away, you will need to make sure that it’s feasible for you to be travelling back and forth on an almost daily basis.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there available public transport? See what that trip would look like here.
  • Will you need to drive/walk/cycle? If you plan on walking or cycling, are there safe pedestrian routes and bicycle lanes?
  • Does the university provide a shuttle service for its students?
  • What are the fees for your transport options?
  • How long will it take?

You will need to weigh up whether the effort of travelling and the cost associated with it is worth it for the medical school you are going to.

If it is, then find a way to manage your transport. Email the university student centre asking about student transport services, carpool with friends, or start waking up earlier to make time for your morning commute.

If that still doesn’t work out, then you will need to move to live in a more convenient location or consider going to a different medical school.

 

Scholarships

When you are dealing with a full-time workload, a scholarship can really help support you. Scholarships can come in the form of cash, free accommodation, paid-for exchange programs and more. It might be the deciding factor if you are tossing up between two medical schools that you are really interested in.

 

You can be awarded a scholarship for a variety of reasons:

  • Academic excellence scholarships to reward students who are top performers in secondary school or in their relevant university course
  • Sporting scholarships for elite athletes
  • Leadership or social impact scholarships to acknowledge the great work that students have done for their community and their potential to drive more positive change.
  • Equity scholarships to support students in minority groups or experiencing disadvantage (typically financial or social disadvantage)
  • Research programs
  • These scholarships may be general or course-specific, or exclusive to domestic or international students.

 

Each university has its own processes to select its scholarship recipients, so you need to be aware of the closing dates and what you need to provide. This could include all or some of the following:

  • A personal statement
  • Evidence of your service or achievement
  • Evidence of disadvantage.

 

Most university websites will have a search engine to help you filter all the scholarships that apply to you.

Here’s what that looks like for the University of Edinburgh:

How To Pick The Right Medical School - 5 Key Factors hero scholarship search

Alternatively, you might need to dig deeper to find the right scholarship for the university.

For example, the University of Manchester does not offer scholarships exclusively for medical students, but they have a range of bursaries and the Manchester Access Program that also lowers admission criteria for Year 12 applicants.

 

Managing fees

Medicine degrees are one of the most expensive degrees you can get; and that’s not even accounting for the amount of time you’ve put into studying, when you could have been working to earn money.

Universities will have different fees for domestic and international students, and generally, international students not from the UK have to pay much more.

At the University of Liverpool, for the academic year 2021:

  • Domestic medical students (UK) were charged £9,250 in tuition fees
  • International medical students (including EU) were charged £37,350 in tuition fees

At the University of Edinburgh, for the academic year 2021:

  • Medical students from Scotland were charged £1,820 in tuition fees
  • Medical students from the rest of the UK were charged £9,250 in tuition fees
  • International medical students (including EU) in Years 1, 2 and 3 were charged £32,100 and those in Years 4, 5 and 6 were charged £49,900

We’ll discuss how those tuition fees are charged, which students can apply for loans and how they can repay these loans.

 

Domestic students

As of 2021, the cost of a full-time medicine degree is capped at £9,250 for domestic UK students, but usually it is quite close to that maximum. Fortunately, domestic students do not have to pay upfront, as they can apply for a Tuition Fee Loan from the government of up to £9,250 for each year of their full-time study.

Moreover, students may also be eligible for a government-funded Maintenance Loan to help cover their living costs. How much you can get depends on where you live, whether you are renting or living at home, and your household income if you are a dependant. These loans can be up to £12,382 each year (based off the 2021 to 2022 academic year). The UK government provides this Student finance calculator to help you estimate the amount that you are entitled to.

While these loans are not interest-free, you will only be required to pay them back once you start earning an income above a certain threshold. What that threshold is and how much you will have to repay at a time will depend on what type of student you are and where you live, which you can find out about here.

 

International students

Unfortunately, international students have to pay much more for a medical degree in the UK and cannot claim the educational loans that domestic UK students receive from the government. This means that if you are not a UK national and do not qualify under any other exemption listed here, you will need to pay your medical school fees upfront or find another way to finance it.

To even be eligible for a student visa to enter the UK, you must prove that you have enough money to pay for 1 academic year of your course (upwards of £30,000 in most cases) and to financially support yourself, which is an additional £1,334 per month for courses in London or £1,023 per month for courses outside London. You can find the full list of conditions for a UK student visa here.

If you want to study at a UK medical school as an international student, seriously consider how and whether it’s feasible for you to fund your overseas education. Here’s some ways that you can do it:

  • Apply for scholarships at all the medical schools you are interested in.
    A scholarship can help take some financial pressure off, and be a deciding factor of which medical school you go to.
  • Apply for an overseas study loan from your country of residency/citizenship.
    Overseas study loans provided by the government or a private organisation. Not all countries will have such loans, but Australia and the USA (Stafford Loan, PLUS loan) do, so find out whether you are eligible.
  • Work part-time, casually and/or during your holidays.
    The study load from medical school definitely should not be underestimated, and some schools explicitly recommend that you don’t work during your study. However, this is not possible for everyone and some past students have found time to work short shifts during the weekend and the weekend to fund their studies. Keep in mind though, you are not allowed to work for more than 20 hours per week during the school term on an international student visa. Some common jobs that can fit around your study schedule include: retail or hospitality worker, tutor, waiter, receptionist, baby sitter, dog walker and more.
  • Ask for help from friends and family.
    It’s not easy to save at starting balance of over 30 grand on your own, but it’s easier with the support of others. If you are fortunate enough to have people who can help you, appreciate it and use it to achieve your medical school goals.
  • Consider going on an exchange programme instead.
    Exchange programmes enable you to have many of the same experiences that you would as an international student, over a shorter period of time. An exchange program may be more suitable for you, especially if it can help you avoid financial stress and allow you to focus more your medical degree.

 

2. Student life

University isn’t all about books and study.

University, is your first taste of adult life.

To that end, your choice of university affects other aspects of your development. When you are picking a medical school, you want to look into what the student life offers – societies, sports, exchange programs – so you can think about how you want to develop as a person, not just a student.

 

Societies

Societies are like the clubs in secondary school. They are formed around shared interests like sports, culture, art or what degree you are studying.

These are examples of some societies at the University of Plymouth:

  • MedSoc (Medicine Society)
  • PUPS (Plymouth University Paediatric Society)
  • Disney Society
  • Malaysian Society
  • Scuba Society
  • Students for Global Health
  • Concert Band

 

Societies are a great way to make friends outside of class, especially in freshman year. You can also gain lots of professional skills by running for a leadership position or engaging with their networking events (e.g., Q&A panels with people in your dream profession).

So, when you are picking a medical school, see what societies they have available — societies can really make or break your student life and give you an edge entering the professional world.

You should be able to see all the university’s societies on their student union website.

How To Pick The Right Medical School - 5 Key Factors hero browsing societies

Browsing through societies on the University of Plymouth Student Union website.

If you think there’s something lacking, usually you can pitch a new society, but otherwise, check out the socials of the societies that you are interested in. Most will have Facebook or Instagram pages so that you can learn about what they are really about and see if that’s a university culture you want to be a part of.

 

Sports

The right medical school for you will have the means to support you in pathway to becoming a medical doctor, without compromising your other passions. And that includes sports and fitness, whether it’s competitive or recreational.

These are some universities offering medical degrees that also have sterling reputations for their excellent facilities and student-athletes and programmes.

 

The University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh has over 64 sports clubs and offers performance programmes for over 30 of these sports, allowing its student-athletes to access world-class coaching and support. They also offer scholarship programmes for their top student-athletes. You can apply for these, here.

The university has also impressive sporting facilities, which have even been used by elite-level athletes including the New Zealand All-Blacks Rugby Union team.

Here are some of the facilities in their Pleasance Sports Complex and Gym:

 

The University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham has over 50 sports societies, but it is probably best known for its American football team, the Birmingham Lions. The university was also the training grounds for the Jamaican team (including Usain Bolt and Johan Blake) at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

Its facilities include:

The University of Birmingham offer over 100 sports scholarships annually and its programme aims to help these student-athletes balance their athletic career with their chosen field of study.

 

The University Of Exeter

The University of Exeter facilitates over 52 sports, including 9 competitive sports — rugby, sailing, golf and tennis, just to name a few. The university typically awards sports scholarships to their student-athletes competing in these performance sports.

The university has its sports facilities spread out over two main venues:

Over £6.5 million has been spent on Russell Seal Fitness Centre to equip it with all sorts of gym technology and equipment including:

  • Bikes, rowers, cross trainers, treadmills and climbers
  • Weights and resistance machines
  • Ski trainers
  • Circuit stations
  • Basketball, netball, badminton and tennis courts
  • Swimming pool

Meanwhile, the St Luke’s Sports Centre consists of 30 gym stations to provide a “more personal training environment”. It too is equipped with cardio, resistance and weight equipment plus a swimming pool, dance studio, sport courts and more.

 

Exchange programmes

Studying abroad can have many benefits: it exposes you to different cultures and perspectives while helping you gain a range of social and employability skills to help you succeed after you graduate.

If you want to study abroad, the right university for you will have a medical programme that accommodates the summer, semester or year-long exchange that you want to undertake.

Often you will need your home university to endorse you in order to be accepted into an exchange programme. Some universities will have requirements for you to even apply for this endorsement.

For instance, the University of Liverpool picks applicants using a combination of their average mark for semester 1 and their application responses, which are marked by two members of their Study Abroad Team.

Alternatively, to apply to study abroad on a summer programme, the University of Liverpool only requires you to pass all your exams in order to be eligible to study abroad. So, be realistic and find a university where you will actually have the opportunity to be accepted into an exchange program, if that’s what you desire.

 

3. Employment prospects

Let’s be real, the reason why you’re studying medicine in the first place is to work in it! So, when you pick the right medical school, you want to consider two factors:

  1. The graduate employment rate
  2. The industry connections you can build

Ideally, you want to be attending and graduating from a university that will guarantee you a job with prospects and solid connections to help you progress along your chosen path.

 

Graduate employment rate

You want to study medicine because you are passionate about having a career in that field. So, you want to make sure that when you put in all the hard work to finish the degree, there will be real employment prospects waiting for you.

Here are the medical schools that have some of the highest graduate employment rates based on the data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency:

  • Lancaster University
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Sheffield
  • Brighton & Sussex
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of East Anglia UEA
  • Cardiff University
  • University of Plymouth
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Liverpool

 

Industry connections

Often, medical students will graduate and commence their first medical job at a place where they did clinical placement. Considering that your university generally organises your clinical placements at NHS Foundation Trusts that they are partnered with, your medical school’s industry connections will potentially impact your career.

So, check where your clinical placements will be, and know what the programme looks like. Ask yourself, “will it allow me to explore the specialties I am interested in?”

Are your clinical placements going to be at places you would want to work at and build professional contacts?

If not, you are better off going to another medical school that provides opportunities that enable to pursue your personal interests.

 

4. Research opportunities

If you are interested in using your medical degree to pursue a career in research, it’s paramount that you consider what your medical school can do to support you with their resources, facilities and industry connections.

Does the medical school have paid/unpaid research internships or summer research projects? What are their research facilities like? Can they connect you with professionals in your field of interest?

The Russell Group consists of universities that are known to maintain top research standards and have the industry connections to link their graduates with professional research work.

These are the members of the Russell Group that offer a degree in medicine:

  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Cambridge
  • Cardiff University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • Imperial College London
  • King’s College London
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Manchester
  • Newcastle University
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Southampton
  • University College London (UCL)
  • University of Warwick
  • University of York (Hull York Medical School)

 

5. Admission requirements

Lastly, now that you have a good idea of where you want to go, you need to know what you need to do to get into that medical school.

If you are looking for answers regarding specific medical schools, our university course guides can help you:

Otherwise, we provide general answers to some common questions here.

 

Will you need to sit the UCAT?

Not all, but most medical schools will need you to. In fact, this whole list of medical schools require you to perform well in the UCAT:

 

For international students, will your ATAR or SAT results be accepted?

In most cases, SAT scores will not be accepted for admission into UK medical schools, but ATARs will be.

 

What are the cut-off scores?

This varies widely. Check our university guides for your chosen medical schools:

 

Are there any prerequisite subjects you need to take in secondary school?

Typically, there is an expectation that you have completed Chemistry and at least one other science subject in secondary school. There may be other requirements for Maths subjects, but you’ll need to check our guides to be sure.

 

Will you need to attend an interview and what is it like?

In almost all cases, you will be assessed based on an interview, which could be a discussion between you and the interviewer(s) in an individual setting or in a group setting with other candidates.

Some medical schools use an MMI format — Multiple Mini Interview — to test your skillsets in a very quick and diverse manner. This article goes through 6 common MMI scenarios and how you give responses that stand out.

 

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