It has really been a tough year in terms of applying to a medical school. It seems like there is much ado about the prospect of landing a medical school place.
A career in medicine is very varied and there are hundreds of different types of doctor. One of the biggest advantages of studying medicine is the number of options open to you when you qualify. You can specialise in anything from broken bones to skin conditions, mental illness to open heart surgery, or pregnancy to post-mortems. Whatever type of doctor you would like to be, the first step is to study medicine at university. Source: http://www.medschoolsonline.co.uk
The 2011-12 application cycle is also the first time there is a unanimous A-level (minimum threshold) entry requirement as all medical schools (including Aberdeen and Keele increasing their offer grades from AAB) kept or introduced a minimum of 3As at A-levels. The days that medical schools would open their doors for AAB applicants ended in the this application cycle. However, some medical schools have still a work-around for the new requirement, considering A*AB to equal AAA. In spite of all the protest surrounding the tuition fee rise and the subsequent expected drop in applicants number, most (not all) medical schools have witnessed an unprecedented rise in the number of medicine applicants. This comes as a shock, contrary to what was reported in the media: the number of applicants to higher education courses that had 15 October, 2011, as their deadline had fallen by 9%. This news has not given the whole picture of those applying to medicine.
I do not like picking up an anecdotal evidence to illustrate my point but the inflated statistics can be proved from the data released by some of the medical schools and further extrapolated from the feedbacks fellow applicants (and me) received in the 2011-12 application cycle, which has not yet been disclosed by the medical schools themselves as they have not finished working on the 2012 entry. After applying to Aberdeen medical school, I came into terms with an unprecedented fact that they have received around 2300 applications, the tuition rise in England might have possibly dissuaded more Scots from applying to English Universities and this might have inflated the applicant number. Leicester, to which I also applied to, have had a marginal increment from 2463 applicants for A100 programme (standard five years) to 2500 applicants. This might be partially attributed to the new application assessment they introduced, which ranks UKCAT scores.
BSMS has seen a 15% rise in applications for its undergraduate course for 2012, despite an increase in tuition fees to £9,000. The medical school has received 2500 applications compared with 2170 for 2011. Applicants will be competing for a maximum of 138 places to start the course in September 2012.
This application cycle was my first time I have applied to read medicine. Being on MANCAT’s Access to Medicine course (predicted all distinctions), having good GCSEs for a mature applicant, a personal statement that reflects my endeavours to read medicine to a good account (presumably personal opinions about it would differ), couple of months volunteering as a support worker (but not in the NHS), a mediocre UKCAT score (below the national average), I was determined to shrewdly go through the application process and play to my strengths. The fact that my UKCAT was not impressive (largely my weakness for not practising enough, though I doubt whether that would significantly raise the score) limited the number of medical schools that would have suited my academic calibre. I listed down the specific medical schools that endorse the MANCAT Access to Medicine course and chose those that do not put too much emphasis on UKCAT (‘the hungry institutions’). But still I would deem picking the right med-schools challenging as there are far more qualified applicants than the places available and very small things are used to distinguish between applicants. The admission practicalities will also differ from year to year and it is wise to be perpetually updated.
Though much has been said about how adaptable mature students are to the requirements of medical schools for the fact that their choice is more of a deliberate plan to study medicine and the likelihood they will drop out is less, it is not a secret that most medical schools prioritise traditional A-level applicants than those that enrolled on further education courses. This has its own manifestation in the application process. Aberdeen, for instance, has not given an interview for the whole medicine cohort at my college and heard a similar thing for the access cohort at Stow College, though it is explicitly stated that they would happily consider applications from mature applicants. It is obvious that quality matters over quantity yet I feel like there were some people really worthy of a medical school place in my class. Being oblivious to last year’s facts made me feel exasperated, but the bottom line is there is no explicit data made available from trusted sources to let me refrain from applying to certain universities. It seems to me that most medical schools do covertly frown upon mature non-graduates, apart from those who are graduates, and in one sense this approach violates the very primary objective embodied in widening access schemes.
Leicester medical school, known for its ‘dissection’ anatomy lessons and in the top ten league tables for 2012 rankings, first asked for a second reference from our tutor for selected students yet ended up rejecting without interviews all who applied to them. This was the rejection letter I received from them:
Thank you for applying for a place on our A100 5-year MB ChB course. I am sorry to inform you that after careful consideration, we will not be inviting you for an interview. You will, therefore, be hearing from UCAS that your application for medicine at this University has been unsuccessful. You will appreciate that we receive approximately 2500 applications and competition for the 162 places on the course is very intense. All applications were given the same rigorous assessment and scored against set criteria. Following this process, approximately 750 are being called for interview.
Leicester did introduce both the Multi-Mini Interview (MMI) format and UKCAT grading for this application cycle, and interview the whole selected cohort in separate three days, spaced over three months. I was bemused by their instant rejection as they did not even wait long to assess the second reference submitted by our tutor, and the whole cohort was rejected at the same time on the same day. The feedback I received from them was as follows:
As you can appreciate, we receive many applications from Access students. It is our practice to ask for second references and then reconsider applicants who may be called for interview. On reconsidering and ranking your application I am afraid that you were not ranked in the top selection we have called for interview. I wish to reassure you that your application was given full consideration.
Keele medical school is by far an unpredictable university when it comes to admissions as they put too much emphasis on personal statement and they only use the UKCAT for borderline cases. Different medical schools look for different qualities from prospective applicants and not all focus too much on grades. Keele received accreditation from the GMC to run their own curriculum in January 2012. Apparently, they did witness a drop in the number of applications (from around 3000 for 2011 entry to 2264 this year) received but this might largely be for the fact that they increased their typical A-level offer grade from AAB to AAA for 2012 entry. Keele also gave me a punch on my cheeks saying that I did not make the cut for an interview, which stated as follows:
Thank you for your application to study Medicine at Keele University. Your application has been considered very carefully by our Admissions Tutors but unfortunately you have not achieved the required score to be invited for an interview. Competition for medical school places is extremely fierce and we shall only be inviting around 500 applicants to interview from the 2264 who applied.
There was an attachment which was sent as a generic feedback for all pre-interview rejections. It also reads as:
We are sorry that we were unable to offer you a place. As always, competition for places was intense. We received over 2,260 applications for a total of 150 places on the three courses (A100, A101 and A104). We shall be interviewing approximately 500 candidates. This means that only 22% of applicants will be invited for interview. Ultimately, only 15% of applicants will receive an offer to study Medicine at Keele. Clearly, we are in the difficult position of being unable to offer places to many highly capable and motivated students owing to competition from even stronger candidates.
It was a tough two months that I had in January and February and those rejections challenged my confidence and determination yet reinforced my perseverance in the long run to hold on to my dreams, which I honestly believe I could do it after strengthening my applications. There are far more qualified applicants than places offered by medical schools. The admission officers want to pick those who they feel have proved or demonstrated to have enough attributes to be a successful doctor in their work experience or application at large. I believe getting into medical schools is not a question of if but when for an individual determined to hold on to his/her dreams and see it through.
It was Brighton and Sussex medical school (BSMS) that at least lifted my spirits by putting me on a pre-interview waiting list (without an outright rejection). Though the chances of being called from that group are slim, as opportunity only comes if enough applicants have not firmed BSMS in April/May or not attained their predicted A-level grades in August, it still gave me the belief and confidence that I am a medical school material. Their letter states:
Your application has been assessed as a strong one, but unfortunately the competition for places has been especially severe this year and it has not proved possible to offer you an interview in our scheduled November or February Admission Days. You have, however, been placed on our Reserve List. BSMS Admissions Board will be reviewing the progress of the BSMS admissions cycle and may decide to hold an additional Admissions Day in April. If so your application will be considered at that time. In addition, Reserve List candidates unplaced elsewhere will have priority should any BSMS places become unavailable at Clearing in August.
Fingers crossed the small openings that might appear would be for a positive cause. I am still waiting to hear from Aberdeen but as time passes by the likelihood that I will get an interview at this time of the year is highly unlikely, an inevitable rejection. After all rejections from medical schools might be the right medicine for a mature applicant like me, provided I would learn from the feedbacks I received and hang on my pursuit for fulfilment. I always resolve challenges confronting me into two, problems and opportunities. If we can see the opportunities inside the challenges we are faced with, it is highly probable the good days are near. Rather than worrying about problems, the easier part would be rearranging them in a way that are solvable through addressing the factors that contributed for their occurrence in the first place, like inadequate work experience, uncaptivating personal statement and low UKCAT score. Practice would by no means harm an applicant’s UKCAT score (possibly could improve considerably); hence attention must be given to this part of the application process as it is the common tool most medical schools use to short-list applicants for interview.