Which Is the Best Medical School for Me? 17 Factors to Consider

Last updated: 28/08/2021

It’s a really big decision.

Your choice of medical school will affect your life for years to come, so it’s important to choose the best university for you.

There are over 30 medical schools in the UK but you can only choose four on your UCAS application. All medical schools teach slightly differently, but all must adhere to standards set by the General Medical Council (GMC), so that you meet minimum requirements when you graduate.

After reading this article you will know which factors are most important for you and will have the tools to make the best choice.

Once you've thought about your choices, read 'How to get into medical school'.

Reviewing human anatomy on a smart phone

1. What are the minimum grade requirements for medical school?

The first and most important thing to consider is the entry requirements of each medical school. This may sound counterintuitive but there is no point in choosing a medical school with the requirements of which you cannot meet. Establish your options and then thoroughly research the best choices for you.

Although entry to any medical school is tough, some are more focused on academic achievement than others. Some place weight on the results of admissions tests like the UCAT, some take more account of the personal statement and others consider the overall impression they have of you as a person.

It is very unlikely that a medical school will make an exception for an application that fails to meet one of their minimum entry criteria, regardless of how good the application is in other ways.

An important part of medicine is knowing your own strengths and weakness and playing to them -starting with your application. Do your research and make logical decisions about your application choices.

Be ambitious: it is worth applying to your dream medical school as long as you meet their minimum requirements. However, ensure that you have other, well-researched options, which are places with requirements and values that match you and your application.

Remember, that there is no medical school that is universally easier to get into than others, but there may be some that you stand a higher chance of getting into based on your personal strengths.

Learn more about getting the grades for medical school.

The entry requirements for universities vary from year to year. But note, chemistry A level is compulsory for most universities, along with a second science subject (maths, biology or physics).

2. Location

Before deciding on a location, do some thorough research. At this stage, it's a great idea to take a trip around the city to get a feel for it - when possible.

Given the current situation with Covid-19, virtual tours are becoming popular. They are a great opportunity to ask the right questions and think about your needs.

  • Relocation: For some, being far from the family home is a dream come true. Others prefer those close family ties. Think about the implications of moving far from your family. 

For university students in general, staying local was almost unthinkable in 2013, with around 7% choosing to stay at home. UCAS’ recent study indicated that 25% are now considering staying local.

  • Cost: A monthly transport pass in London costs £150, which in Cardiff would cost just £53.50. On average, rent is a staggering 60% more expensive in London than most other cities. Factor in all expenses; transport, rent, and other day-to-day costs.
  • Culture/rurality: Campus universities mean knowing everyone’s name and the safety of being in a student population. Big city universities have nearby facilities and cultural options. Consider what's important to you.

3. Medical Course Format and Teaching Style

Medical school teaching styles are typically classified into traditional, problem-based or integrated teaching. Traditional medical courses include Oxford and Cambridge, problem-based courses include Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Glasgow. Most medical schools currently adopt the integrated style, which is also recommended by the GMC. The table below summarises how these teaching styles differ:

Stages of Study

  • Traditional courses: 2 years pre-clinical (biomedical science) then 3 years clinical (in the hospital wards).
  • Integrated courses: Pre-clinical and clinical stages are integrated so you do clinical work from the start.
  • Problem-based courses: A patient-oriented approach, you do clinical work from the start.

Method of Study

  • Traditional courses: Lectures and clinical learning.
  • Integrated courses: Lectures/tutorials and self-directed learning.
  • Problem-based courses: Tutor-guided group work and self-directed learning.

Content

  • Traditional courses: Study anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, etc., all as completely separate courses.
  • Integrated courses: Study systems holistically (e.g. circulatory system).
  • Problem-based courses: 'Open inquiry' approach where facilitators play a minimal role. Problem solving is encouraged.

One study concluded that Problem-Based Courses 'reported greater student satisfaction with feedback [but] also showed lower performance at postgraduate examinations’. That being said, this method is often used as part of the GMC’s recommended integrated style.

Make sure you know why you chose the course before your interview! Learn more about medical school interviews.

4. Which Teaching Style is Right for You?

Questions to find out which type of medical school is suitable for you
Get ahead on your learning with the top 5 medical podcasts.

5. Programme Type

Depending on whether you are applying for direct or Graduate Entry Medicine, you'll have different options - although some universities offer both.

6. Statistics, Requirements and Prerequisites

Direct Entry Medicine:

  • ≈ 29,000 applicants per year
  • ≈ 30% are successful
  • Typical requirement = AAA at A-level, including 2 sciences
  • Most universities require an entrance test (UCAT, BMAT, GAMSAT). Not all universities use these tests in the same way. Sometimes the candidate needs a minimum UCAT score, others it is only used as a tie break or not used at all
  • Duration of study: 5-6 years
  • Choice of over 30 universities

A-levels 2021 News and Medical School Requirements

Full list of Universities Offering Direct Entry

Graduate Entry Medicine (GEM):

  • ≈ 10,000 applicants a year 
  • The most competitive route, ≈ 34 applicants per place
  • Typical requirement = 2:1 in your degree
  • A science-based degree is often beneficial and sometimes compulsory
  • Duration of study =  4 years (accelerated), sometimes 5 (depending on your previous studies)
  • You can only choose from 13 universities (see below)

Universities Offering Graduate Entry Medicine

  • Barts
  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Cambridge
  • King's College London 
  • Liverpool
  • Newcastle
  • Nottingham
  • Oxford
  • Queen Mary's, London
  • Southampton
  • St George's
  • Swansea
  • Warwick
A female medical student studying on her laptop

7. Which Undergraduate Degree is Best for Medical School?

This depends on the university in question. Some accept any degree, providing a 2:1 is achieved, whereas others require a science-based degree. 

Clearly, if your objective is getting into med school, subjects which relate to medicine such as neuroscience and biochemistry will strengthen your application regardless of the university in question. 

Choosing a science-based subject will show that you have wider interest and transferable skills which you can bring to your medical studies. They will also help you learn parts of the curriculum more easily. For example, a degree in neuroscience means you will have a strong foundational knowledge in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, molecular/cellular biology and possibly even psychology.

8. What is the Best University to Study Medicine in the UK?

Here's the top 10!

Rank

The Complete University Guide (2020)

=1

Dundee

=1

Glasgow

3

Oxford

4

Aberdeen

5

Edinburgh

6

Queen Mary London

7

Cambridge

8

St Andrews

9

Imperial College London

10

Swansea

Rank

The Guardian (2020)

1

Dundee

2

Aberdeen

3

Edinburgh

4

Oxford

5

Brighton and Sussex

6

Cambridge

7

Swansea

8

Keele

9

St Andrews

10

Leeds

Learn more about league tables for medical applications

9. Decide on Your End Goals

  • Once you’ve worked out your goals, ask yourself if a ranking gets you towards that objective. Contacting the university's admissions team may help you work this out. L
  • If you want close supervision and structure, consider choosing a traditional programme from a university with a high staff to student ratio (see the list below). This might be more important for you than 'research quality', for example.
  • If you are considering Oxford or Cambridge, make sure you have thought about whether it is the right environment for you.

10. Universities with Good Student to Staff Ratios (2020)

The Guardian’s University Guide 2020

  • St Andrews: 10.9
  • Sheffield: 10.7
  • Queen’s Belfast: 10.4
  • Hull York: 10.1
  • Leicester: 9.9
  • Oxford: 9.8
  • Queen Mary: 9.8
  • Warwick: 9.7
  • Cardiff: 9.3
  • Bristol: 9.3
  • King’s College London: 9
  • Exeter: 8.9

11. Realise that getting into any medical school is a massive achievement

Top Tip: Make your 4th choice a university with lower requirements

Jen's Experience with Direct Entry Medicine

Jen was in doubt about her grades. Her school predicted her AAB, which excluded her from most med schools. Jen was pretty sure she could get AAA if she worked hard enough and found focus, but it was a tall order.

She spoke to her school's advisor, who suggested she use one of her choices on a university with lower entry requirements. Jen chose Central Lancashire, because it required AAB and wasn't too far from home. Her other choices were based on the location she wanted, which was in or around London. If the worst came to the worst, she would sacrifice the location to make sure she got a place.

In the end, Jen got her As in Chemistry and Biology, but slipped in her non-science subject and ended up at Lancashire. If she hadn't been smart when weighing up her choices, Direct Entry Medicine wouldn't have been an option.

Despite disappointment with her grades, Jen's experience at Lancashire was fantastic, and is now working as a junior doctor.

‘I realised it wasn’t about getting into the right medical school, it was about getting into any medical school’

12. Universities with Lower Requirements for Medicine

  • Buckingham: AAB
  • Central Lancashire: AAB
  • Kent and Medway: AAB

The full list of A-level requirements for medical school.

13. Cohort Size

Benefits of large and small cohort in medical school

Here are some real examples…

Manchester University

Medical school cohort size: Over 400 students

Resources: An anatomy dissection room, Consultation Skills Learning Centre, and library

Diversity: 11,000 international students from more than 160 countries

Extensive Clinical Experience: In hospital and community settings 

Cultural Resources: Imperial War Museum, Whitworth Gallery, and more.

Lancaster University

Medical school cohort size: 125 students

Setting:  A 560-acre parkland site 3 miles from the city centre and a stone's throw from the Yorkshire Dales.

Engagement & Strong Bonds: With such a low number of students, staff can get to know students better and students can form friendships more easily.

Relaxing environment: Given its rural setting and low population, life is much more relaxing than in a major metropolis like Manchester.

14. Tuition Fees and Scholarships

The annual tuition fee for medicine is £9,250. This full amount can be covered by the UK government in the form of a tuition fee loan, but this only applies to domestic students. 

Buckingham University is the exception to the rule. It is a private medical school that charges £38,000 a year with no government subsidy.

Given this, tuition fees will probably not be a big factor in your choice of university. The only thing that may sway your decision is scholarship availability. This is determined by each university in any given year and they are highly competitive.

Finally, there is an NHS Bursary, which is available to both domestic and international students. This does not depend on your choice of university, but on your individual circumstances, such as your income, location, and whether you have children. Some students can claim travel expenses.

Did you know?

Medify offers bursaries for students on the basis of academic merit, financial difficulties, extracurricular achievements or other awards. Find out how you can apply for one.

Five good books to read before applying to medical school
Read Medify's Top 5 Good Books to Read Before Applying to Medical School

15. Intercalation and Research

Intercalation means getting an extra degree, normally between years 3 and 5. It is a very intensive programme of learning.

You can use this time to delve deeper into an area of biomedicine that you are particularly interested in, such as neuroscience. If you want something completely different you can even do philosophy or music.

At universities such as Imperial, UCL, Oxford, Cambridge and Nottingham, intercalating is not optional, whereas at other universities it may not be offered or will depend on your grades.

It is important to note that this is an extra year of study, not a year out!

UPDATE: Graduates entering a foundation programme from 2023 will not be able to include additional educational achievements of this type in their applications. 

Types of Intercalated Medical Degrees

  • BMSc (Hons)/BMedSci(Hons): Bachelor of Medical Sciences with Honours)
  • MSc: Master of Science
  • MA: Master of Arts
  • MPH: Master of Public Health
  • MClinEd: Master of Clinical Education

Cost of Intercalated Medical Degrees

They will often cost extra, and for postgraduate study this can be in excess of £7,000.

Availability of Intercalated Medical Degrees

Check availability at www.intercalate.co.uk .

Which Medical Schools Have the Best Research Programmes?

There are different ways of measuring the research impact of an institution. Two indicators used in determining the QS World University Rankings for Medicine are the H-index citations and research citations per paper. 

The H-index is a measure of productivity and impact, which takes into account both the number of published papers and number of citations. 

Based on these two indicators, the top eight medical schools in the UK are:

  1. Oxford (195.5)
  2. Cambridge (189.9)
  3. UCL (181.1)
  4. Imperial College London (178.2)
  5. Edinburgh (168.6)
  6. King’s College London (167.6)
  7. Manchester (166.7)
  8. Newcastle (161.8)


Medical students playing rugby

16. Extra-Curricular Life

As we have mentioned, your choice of medical school is likely to be influenced more by which ones will accept you than by other factors. On the other hand, since you have four choices (+ one non-medical choice), you could factor in extra-curricular activities as well.

Clubs and Societies

Top 10 Med School Societies (According to Student Hut)

1st: Snowsports - Exeter

2nd: Atlas Theatre Company - Sunderland

3rd : Men's football - Exeter

4th: KCL Hockey - King

5th: Muay Thai Boxing - Birmingham

6th: Islamic Society - Queen Mary U. of London

7th: Brumski & Board - Birmingham

8th: Nightline - Manchester

9th: Burn FM.com - Birmingham

10th: Cheerleading - Bournemouth

17. Understand how your degree will affect your future medical career

Where you go to medical school will not affect your application for a junior doctor’s post when you finish your degree. The application for your first job as a doctor will be an online process and depend upon four factors.

The Four Factors are:

  1. Your ranking within your medical school (classified in deciles among your peers).
  2. Your academic achievements, which include points for additional degrees or publications.
  3. A reference from a tutor at your medical school.
  4. The scores of a situational judgement test (SJT).

Therefore, focus on applying to medical schools that you love and hope to thrive at, rather than making a selection based on how good you think one medical school is compared to another.

Because of the ranking system, at an academically rigorous university you would need better grades to get a good ranking than at a less academically rigorous institution.

The different degree classifications from medical school (i.e. MB BChir/MBBS/MB ChB) are all equivalent.

Summary

  • The main consideration: Where can you get in!
  • Location will have a big impact on your experience at university, consider it carefully.
  • University ranking is not normally part of the decision-making process, as it often often doesn't affect undergrad life as a medic.
  • Cost is not normally a factor, as fees are standardised.
  • Intercalation might be a factor if you would like to widen your research or understanding in a specific area.
  • Reach out to medical students who are attending the medical schools you are interested in for advice.
  • For students who have already received an offer: offer holder events represent a great opportunity to learn more about the university, community, academic life, student life and support services.

Get Into Medical School

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