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Medicine is not only one of the most competitive of all degree subjects, but it also has its own distinctive application process.
While the majority of sixth-formers have until January 15 to submit their university applications, aspiring doctors must have theirs in by October 15. And while most applicants can apply for up to five courses or universities, for medical schools that choice is limited to four.
In addition, unlike most other courses where late applications are often allowed, if applicants for medical school miss the deadline then they have no option but to wait until the following year.
These strictures — which also apply to applicants hoping to study veterinary science or dentistry — reflect the popularity of the courses. According to Ucas there were 24,347 applications for medicine and dentistry last year, of which 9,078 were accepted.
The competition accounts for the early deadline, says Aku Atubra, admissions team leader at Exeter University’s medical school. Unlike for many other subjects, most candidates for medical schools will be interviewed, and the October deadline is needed so interviews can be carried out before Ucas’s offer deadline in March, she adds.
Academic requirements are typically a minimum of three As at A-level, although some universities will ask for one or more A* grades. Within these parameters, there can be quite wide variation. At Exeter, for example, these should include at least two science subjects, one of which should be chemistry, while Newcastle University asks for either biology or chemistry.
Attitudes to GCSEs also vary: Exeter has no minimum GCSE requirement, other than English language and maths at C or above. “Our primary focus is on AS and A-levels,” says Atubra. Manchester, on the other hand, looks for five A or A* grades, according to Prof Tony Freemont, head of its medical school.
Most medical schools will also ask candidates to complete an online test of their suitability for a medical career. The most common, the UK clinical aptitude test (UKCAT), assesses skills including problem-solving, non- verbal and quantitative reasoning, and is taken online before the application is submitted. The results can be crucial.
But interviewers are looking for more than just high test scores and predicted A-level grades, says Prof Roger Barton, director of medical studies at Newcastle University. Among the areas assessed at interview are communication and interpersonal skills, knowledge and understanding of the health service and a commitment to helping others, he says. “Lots of people can achieve academically, but you are looking for a more rounded individual.”
Evidence of a caring personality is also important. This could take the form of voluntary work in a healthcare setting. Extracurricular activities such as Duke of Edinburgh awards are also useful.
“We’re trying to analyse whether they have the personal skills that are required to be a doctor,” Prof Freemont says. “It is about being able to make decisions, taking the lead in patient management and working in a team.”