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Which Medical Schools Should You Apply To?

Learn how to research and decide the medical school to apply to.
University of Glasgow Medical School building
© CC0 Creative Commons

Once you’ve made a decision that medicine is definitely the career that you want to pursue, and you know that you are likely to meet the academic requirements for entry, the next step is to research well which medical school to apply to and where you would want to spend the next 5-6 years.

Researching the different medical schools early on in the process is important for various reasons:

1) to get an idea of what is expected from you as an applicant, so you can tailor your application accordingly and choose the schools that match your strength;

2) know about the course structure and the teaching methods employed; you may have an idea how you study best, so it is important that you choose a school with the teaching style that you prefer and that suits you best;

3) the length of the study – the standard entry course is 5 years, graduate entry is 4 years and courses with a compulsory Intercalated degree are 6 years;

4) it is important to choose the location of the School as well – you will spend 5-6 years in a place of your choice and various issues such as sociability, sport and music scene as well as safety and comfort of the place you will settle on cannot be overlooked! It is important to consider, for instance, living cost, availability of good, affordable accommodation, and the vicinity of medical school to the hospital sites you will be training at.

The majority of UK medical schools have minimum academic requirements that you will need to meet in order to apply. You will not be given extra credits if you do better than the minimum required, therefore it might be wise to concentrate on the subjects you need and can safely achieve the required grades in rather than take more subjects and risk not getting a sufficient number of the high grades needed. If you are concerned your qualifications might be slightly low, you should check carefully through the requirements of all medical schools – this resource lists all the school in the UK and the document is regularly updated, so make an informed choice/play to your strengths:

You may choose to take a traditional course with a clear division between 2-to-3 pre-clinical years and the subsequent clinical years (Oxford and Cambridge Universities have traditional course structures for example). Traditional courses are lecture-based and you will be taught the scientific foundations of, for example, Physiology, Anatomy and Biochemistry in the first 2-3 years, followed by application of the acquired knowledge when you move to clinical teaching formats. There may still be some lectures and tutorials in small groups at this stage, but they will be complementary to the clinical training you receive in that phase of your medical education. A traditional course thus gives you a strong grounding in the sciences that underpin medical practice, i.e. good academic training, but it also involves lots of exams and essay writing to assess performance in those years.

The ‘newer’ courses are integrated with clinical exposure early on, meaning that scientific knowledge is delivered alongside clinical training. Such a course may involve elements of problem-based learning (PBL) as well. You can read about PBL in week 2 and watch part of a live PBL session in Glasgow. The main difference between the traditional and more modern courses is that teaching on modern courses is more integrated and ‘systems’-based, as students cover the anatomy, physiology and clinical and communication skills relevant to a given ‘system’ in question (e.g. liver, nervous system) in one block. This way you get the information on that system from the various disciplines in a way designed to promote a more complete understanding before moving to the next system. This makes learning interesting and as close as can be to the ‘real’ life medical experience early on. It must be said however that some students might feel overwhelmed when confronted with patients before they feel they know enough. It is a steep learning curve, but students adapt well and quickly become confident and learn important skills necessary in their future careers – both self-directed learning and team working.

An integrated course may involve a fair amount of PBL, where lectures will be supplementary, rather than the focus of the concurrent PBL sessions. Alternatively the course may have a lighter PBL component (with relatively few PBLs underpinned by lectures to support learning), or even none at all. Some medical schools also use team-based learning (TBL), so it is important to find out what learning modalities (or the combination of) a course uses – ask questions whenever you attend Open Days or phone/email the university and ask them for any information you need if you can’t visit them – it is important to make the right decision!

One more thing to consider when choosing your medical school is to ask about what extra choices are available to students (for example, student-selected components or elective studies or an intercalated degree year) as well as what opportunities there are for engaging in research, attending student conferences or taking part in exchange programmes to attend a university abroad for a teaching block. It is hard to think about all these choices before even starting university, but try to go to Open Days and talk it over with the staff and students that you meet there, and take the time to think it all over.

© University of Glasgow, 2020
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Study Medicine: Applying for Medical School and Becoming a Medical Student

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