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What You’ll Need When Applying to UK Medicine as an International Applicant

Updated: Jul 25, 2021


The application to Medicine is tough. There are seemingly endless requirements to fulfil, even more so if you’re applying as an international applicant.


When we went through the application ourselves, we thought: “If only I could find out about everything I’d need applying to Medicine as an international student!”. That’s why we prepared this post for you!


This post is intended to give you an overview of the things you’ll need for the application process. Before we start, we’ll explain some basic things.


How Competitive Is Applying to UK Medicine as an International?

Applying to study Medicine is so competitive because the number of places medical schools can offer is limited. Medical schools offer an even smaller number of places for international students, which makes it even more competitive. This is evidenced by higher competition ratios per place for international students VS home students.


If you are an international applicant, you will be considered in competition with other international applicants. With a large group of people competing for a smaller number of places, this makes the competition even more intense.


Most international applicants will also be applying with the best qualifications possible, making the competition even fiercer.


What Exactly are GCSEs and A-Levels/IB?

If you do different exams where you’re from, you might not know what these refer to. These are the most typical academic qualifications that applicants apply with and they refer to the exams taken in the UK/England.


In this post, we will be using them to refer generally to the exams taken in these stages of education:

GCSE = exams taken at age 16/17

A-Level/IB = exams taken at age 18/19


There are international equivalents for each country which may be accepted by medical schools in place of the UK qualifications.


Age Requirements

You must fulfill the age requirements for Medicine. Most UK medical schools require you to be 18 and over by a certain date. For example, Oxford requires students to be 18 by 1st November in the year they start the course.


The exact date varies by medical school, so make sure to check before applying!


What You Actually Need In the Medicine Application Process

Below is a summary image of the timeline in the journey from applying to medical school and getting ready to start, feel free to print it out and add to it based on your own application!

A timeline of the UK Medicine application for international students.

Note that this is based on someone applying for Standard Entry Medicine, for more info on other pathways to Medicine in the UK check out our previous blog post!

To read about specific areas, click on the item in the list:

English Proficiency Test (IELTS)

As international students, we are required to prove our level of English proficiency. For Medicine, you will have to fulfil a slightly higher standard of English requirements than for some other courses.


Universities will publish their requirements for English proficiency tests on their websites.

The most commonly done English proficiency test will be the IELTS. You’ll have to take the Academic module which is divided into Speaking, Reading, Writing and Listening.


Most universities will require an average score of band 7.0 or 7.5, with a minimum band of 6.5 or 7.0 for the Writing/Speaking component for Medicine. This varies by medical school so make sure to confirm what you’ll need!


It is best to do the IELTS early. The results will be valid for two years, so if you do it the year you start your A Levels or IB it will still be valid by the time you apply for Medicine and start the course.


This will also give you more time to redo it if you missed your target band. Doing it early gets it out of the way so you can focus on other requirements for the Medicine application. (yes, there’s more to come!)


The best tip for the IELTS is to practice lots! Most people find either the Speaking or Writing component to be the most difficult, doing mock tests and asking for feedback helps a lot with improving your performance. Your English teachers will be a good source of feedback for this!


Sometimes if you’ve studied in a country that is considered majority English speaking for a certain amount of time or have taken a qualification that meets certain standards you might not need to take a proficiency test. These requirements vary significantly by university so we can’t give a generalised summary, please do your own research.


Strategic Application

The things mentioned in the coming sections will be used in different ways by medical schools to decide which applicants to select for an interview and ultimately offer a place to.

This is why there is a need for strategic application! Try to boost your chances by applying to medical schools that give more emphasis to stronger aspects of your application. For example, if you have a high UCAT score, apply to a medical school that uses it to decide who to offer places to.


We’ll be releasing a one-stop resource about each medical school’s selection process soon, stay tuned for that!


Work Experience

Medical schools look at work experience as a way for applicants to gain insight into what Medicine will be like and demonstrate commitment to a caring role.


Typically most international students will get work experience by shadowing a doctor but what you can do in that role is limited. Due to your age and experience level, you’re likely to not be allowed to take an active role in the medical team or talk to patients.


You’d basically be a passive onlooker when shadowing. Although this will give you some idea of what a medical career could be like, you won’t have much to talk about in interviews. Medicine interviews love asking about work experience and specifically, what skills you have picked up/improved on.


Shadowing can also be difficult to get if you don’t have connections with anyone in the medical profession. You may have to cold email professionals/institutes, stating your interest in applying for Medicine in the UK and attaching a CV. You may end up not getting a response at all.


That’s completely normal so don’t beat yourself up too much for that! Just make sure to start enquiring about work experience opportunities early on so you can approach as many institutions/professionals as possible. It may also be worth getting a reference/letter from your school making the request on your behalf.


Medical schools understand that some applicants will not be able to get work experience in a medical setting. Therefore, they usually ask for long term commitment, usually for a caring role. A lot of applicants obtain work experience by volunteering; this gives you more to talk about in interviews since you can bring in your own experiences in that role. It will also be a good way to demonstrate how you manage your studies alongside volunteering and how you developed your interpersonal skills.


UCAS Application and Personal Statement

The UCAS application deadline for Medicine is earlier than for most other courses. Usually, this deadline is the 15th of October. When applying to Medicine, applicants can only put down 4 choices of medical courses. You can have a 5th choice of a course that is not Medicine. This can be used as a backup plan if you don’t get accepted into Medicine.


To decide which medical school to choose, there are multiple factors to consider including your preference of course style, the medical school’s selection process and more. More info on how to choose a UK medical school is available on this blog post that we did recently.


The personal statement is a 4000 character long essay, in which you convey why you’re interested in Medicine and how you’d make a good medical student/doctor. (4000 characters is around 500 words.)


Medical schools use the PS in different ways, some end up not looking at it when deciding which applicants to interview/give an offer to because they are aware that personal statements can be written by someone else.


Our best tip for the personal statement is to get lots of feedback and keep redrafting! It’s something that can’t be rushed and requires a lot of reviewing to make better.

Before you submit your UCAS application, there are a few other requirements to meet.


Grade Requirements

GCSEs/Equivalent:

Most medical schools will require you to have a minimum number of GCSEs at a minimum grade. The requirements usually include Maths and English.


Medical schools use GCSE grades in different ways: for some they form the first stage of selection for interviews, for some they use it in conjunction with other parts of your application.


If you are taking the IB, you are usually not required to have taken GCSEs.


A Levels/IB:

Most medical schools will require a minimum of AAA for the A Levels for an offer and around 35-37 points overall for IB (with 666 at 3 HLs). Some medical schools such as Oxbridge have a higher requirement. It is usually compulsory that applicants take Chemistry, some medical schools do not require Biology while some require both Chemistry and Biology. If you are taking the IB, these subjects are usually required at HL.


Note that these are the minimum requirements, as we stated at the beginning: because it is so competitive to apply, other applicants would probably have gone over and beyond these minimum requirements.


If you have not taken your exams by the time you apply, you will be using predicted grades from your school.


If you’re doing a different qualification it may be accepted too, make sure to check on the medical school website! Some medical schools ask applicants to enquire about their academic qualifications before making the application. You may also need to submit an academic transcript. Please check directly with the admissions team if you have any queries.

Admissions Tests

Medical schools require applicants to take an admissions test that assesses qualities that are thought to be important among doctors. There are two tests: the UCAT and BMAT.


Whichever admission test(s) you take, you can only take it once in the year that you’re applying. You don’t have to do both, it depends which medical schools you apply to and which test they require. Each medical school will only require one admissions test. Results from your tests will also be submitted to the medical schools you put down in your UCAS application so you don’t need to send it to them yourself.


The UCAT:

A computer test with 4 sections: Abstract reasoning (AR) , Verbal Reasoning (VR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR) and Decision Making (DM). There is another subtest, which is the Situational Judgement Test (SJT).


This is a computer-based test which is usually taken at a test centre.


The score ranges from 300-900 for AR, VR, QR and DM. The SJT is graded differently, you’ll be given a band from Band 1-4, with Band 1 being the best score.


The test usually takes place from July to the end of September and you’ll take it the year you submit your UCAS application. You get to choose what date and time you do your test, this is subject to the availability of test slots. For more information on the UCAT, click here.


Majority of the UK medical schools require the UCAT, so taking it gives you more choice when putting down your UCAS choices. Results are available immediately after the test, so you can use your score to decide which medical schools to apply to and maximise your chances of getting accepted.


The BMAT:

A test consisting of 3 sections: Section 1 for Thinking Skills, Section 2 for Scientific Knowledge and Section 3 which is a writing task. A select few medical schools use this test which is notoriously difficult!


Sections 1 and 2 will be scored from 1-9 with 9.0 being the best score; Section 3 will be scored from 1-5 for quality of content and from A-E for quality of English.


The test is usually paper-based (for 2020 it will be computer-based) and will be taken in an exam centre. Your school may be a centre so make sure to check whether you can take it there!


There are two sessions of the BMAT: the September and November BMAT. Some medical schools will only accept BMAT results from a certain session so make sure to check which you’ll have to take! For more information on the BMAT, click here.


Other Paperwork

Some medical schools will have some additional paperwork for you to submit, usually you will be informed about it after your UCAS submission. These are not to be taken lightly as they may be used to decide whether you get an interview/offer!


Due to the character restriction of the PS, these documents may present an opportunity for you to expand on what you may have already mentioned in it. Make sure not to copy and paste what you wrote in your PS!


For example, for Manchester we had to submit what is known as the Non-Academic Information form (NAI) which is often thought of as a “second PS”, focusing on areas of our applications that the medical school wanted more detail on. It can be a great opportunity for you to include what you’ve not managed to include in your PS and expand on what you’ve already mentioned in your PS.


Other medical schools may have their own paperwork too. Based on what we know, Cambridge and Bristol also ask applicants to fill out additional paperwork.


Interviews

Interviews usually will be done in the UK and there are 2 possible formats to the interview. The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) consists of multiple stations where each station assesses something different; the panel interview is what you typically imagine with 1-4 interviewers speaking to you. The MMI usually includes a greater variety of questions including roleplay scenarios and calculations.


Most universities now do MMI because it can assess multiple things in 1 interview and each station is considered a new start. That way an applicant’s nerves would not affect their entire interview performance because each station is scored separately.

Comparison of MMI VS Panel Interviews for Medicine. In MMI you go around stations and carry out different tasks; whereas a panel interview will mostly be a Q&A session.

As international students it is worth applying to med schools that offer overseas interviews, just imagine the cost and time required to fly to the UK for every interview you have! Even if the medical school does not offer an interview in your country, travelling to a location closer than the UK would be more convenient and disrupt your studies less.


Some medical schools including Manchester, Sheffield, and Cambridge offer interviews in Malaysia and other locations. Usually if you have an overseas interview a medical school doing MMI in the UK might do a panel interview when overseas as it is easier to organise.

NB for Cambridge the interview is much earlier than other interviews (September VS between December-March for other med schools).


The best tip for interviews is to practice practice practice! Go through questions that you may be asked, some roleplay scenarios and calculations that may be featured in an MMI. Mock interviews can help you manage the nerves during your actual interview, but make sure not to overpractice to the point where your responses sound rehearsed!


After Interviews: Offers, Exams, Results

You’ll probably find out about the outcome of your interview by April, and you’ll be given a conditional offer (if applying with predicted grades) or an unconditional offer if you already have your achieved results.


Once you hear back from all the universities you applied to, on UCAS you select your firm and insurance choice. (The firm choice = 1st choice, insurance choice = 2nd choice, usually with a lower grade requirement in case you don’t get the required grades for your firm choice). You’d go on to take your final exams if you haven’t already.


If you have a conditional offer and meet the grade requirements, your offer will be made unconditional and you’d have been accepted into that medical school! Now it’s time to prepare to start medical school!


Tuberculosis Check

For applicants from some countries, this is an important document required for your UK visa application. On the document, you will have to fill in the university’s address so if you are unsure where you will end up going then you might have to wait for your offer to be made unconditional. When we did this we told there would be an additional charge if we had to change the university details.


If you’re sure that you’ll be going to a certain university then go ahead and get it done as soon as you can as there are only a certain number of hospitals where you can get this done. Appointments slots can get filled up quickly!


Criminal Record Check

Medical students in the UK cannot have a criminal record. UK home students will have to get a DBS check to confirm that.


For international students, we have to obtain a Letter of Good Conduct (or an equivalent) from our own governments. It takes quite a while to receive that letter and the medical school may expect you to bring it to the UK; Jean nearly didn’t get hers on time so make sure to apply as soon as you can! You don’t have to wait for your results to apply for this.


Occupational Health

Being a medical student requires you to work with people who are at higher risk of falling ill. Hence it is important to protect yourselves and others.


You will be required to provide vaccination records and disclose any disabilities that you may have before/when you start medical school. Make sure to have your vaccination records ready for this! If you’ve not gotten certain vaccinations, you may have to get it in the UK at the University’s Occupational Health Service/your GP.


Visa Application

We won’t mention too much about the visa application since we’re not experts in it, but make sure to complete your visa application as soon as you can! Once you’re done with that, you’re all set to start Medicine in the UK 🙂


Conclusion

Congratulations on making through this lengthy post and thank you for staying! To sum it up, this what you’ll need from application to starting medical school:

  1. Age: to be of age by a time specified by the medical school

  2. Grades: GCSE, IB/A Level/Equivalent

  3. English proficiency: usually demonstrated with IELTS

  4. Work Experience: to demonstrate the commitment to Medicine

  5. Admissions test: UCAT/BMAT/both

  6. Additional paperwork if any

  7. Attending interview

  8. To start medical school/get a visa: TB check, criminal record check, and vaccination records

We hope this was helpful and explained pretty much everything involved from starting to apply to Medicine in the UK and getting ready to start your first year! Do share so more people can benefit from this. As always, we’re available here and on Instagram.

Jean and Thinzar

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