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What I wish I knew before applying to medical school
Applying to medical school can be a daunting process. From taking the UCAT and/or BMAT, to writing your personal statement, there are many aspects which lots of students find challenging. Finding the right help and guidance is therefore beneficial, hence, these tips and pieces of advice should prep you with your applications and make you more aware of what to expect when applying to medical school.
Get to know the application timeline
Firstly, you should familiarise yourself with the various deadlines and timelines for medical school applications. It is crucial that you are aware of the test-taking timeframes for the UCAT and BMAT, the deadline for your UCAS applications as well as any interview dates that you may have if you are invited. This will ensure you are organised right from the beginning of your application process and will help you organise your time and workload efficiently so you can start to plan ahead and be well prepared for the different aspects of the application. For example, you could organise a work experience placement well in advance rather than rushing it towards the deadline of your application.
Figure out how universities use the admissions tests
Secondly, it’s important to note that each university assesses UCAT & BMAT scores differently. For instance, a few universities regard the UCAT as highly important, and some only use it in borderline circumstances when selecting successful candidates. Therefore, after you have taken your UCAT or BMAT exam, it may be useful to research which universities would be more suitable to apply to given your score. This will help you choose a university better, based on your performance in the test and comparing with how much weight your chosen universities give to the admission test required.
Do your research
It is important that you thoroughly research all 4 medical schools that you are applying to. This can be done by reading their prospectuses, websites, going to open day visits and even liaising with current medical students studying there. These collectively will allow you to gain as much information as you need to base your final decision. For example, you may like the idea of studying at a particular university and after having read that they offer full body dissection, your decision may be strengthened if you have always wanted to experience this type of teaching.
Also, have a look to see the overall teaching style of your chosen universities. Do they offer Problem-Based Learning (PBL) or do they have a combination of lectures and PBL? Do they offer dissections or only prosections during anatomy teaching? By asking and researching these questions as well as other aspects of the curriculum, you can gain a much deeper insight into the kind of teaching offered and whether you prefer one style to another.
Moreover, do not forget applying to medical school does not just mean keeping yourself busy with books all the time! There is also time to relax and participate in extra-curricular activities and each university may offer a slightly different experience. Hence, you may find it useful, to find what interests you about that specific university. For example, ranging from sports clubs, to competitions, and academic/non-academic societies. Remember, medical school is 5 (or 4 or 6 in some cases) years long, and you should base your final decision upon where you think you will truly enjoy your university experience from both academic and non-academic perspectives.
Preparing well for the admissions tests
Another aspect I wish I had known before applying is how to prepare well for the UCAT. The different sections can undoubtedly look confusing at first glance, and it can take time to fully familiarise yourself with the question styles and answer the questions within the time allocated. Thankfully, the Kaplan courses are extremely beneficial and they continue to help thousands of medical school applicants with their UCAT & BMAT exams because their techniques are very effective and time-saving. The Kaplan book also has lots of practice questions which help you to attempt similar-styled questions to those you will see on Test Day thus, helping to boost your confidence.
Furthermore, it is crucial to spend some time doing work experience. Not only will it help you gain a deeper insight into what a career in medicine may entail but it also shows the admissions officers that you are a serious candidate who takes the initiative to be proactive and organise placements for themselves. Many students ask how many placements are required or what kinds of placements count as work experience. You should aim to undertake placements in a combination of clinical and non-clinical settings to have a breadth of experience. This could range from shadowing a consultant around a hospital ward to observing a General Practitioner in a community practice or even working in a high-street retail shop.
Remember, it is your reflection that is key. Wherever you decide to undertake your work experience placement for however long it runs, it is vital that you reflect on what you have learnt, the skills you developed and how you think it applies to having a career in medicine. Do not be put off by students doing expensive month-long placements abroad in other parts of the world if you have managed to organise a few days at a pharmacy. Instead focus on how your experience has enhanced your understanding of medicine and the attributes of a doctor you have taken up through the process.
Hopefully these tips will benefit you immensely. All the best with your applications!