Applying to Medical School from Scotland



We explore how applying to medical school from Scotland differs to applying to medical school from England.

Applying to medical school from Scotland can present quite different challenges when compared to applying from England. 

Much of the content about entry to university assumes that the reader is English, discussing requirements only in terms of A-levels and GCSEs, rather than also including National 5s and Highers that take place in Scotland.

We understand this can place Scottish applicants at a disadvantage. 

In this article we’ll be exploring both English and Scottish teaching systems, how to choose Highers and Advanced Highers in Scotland, applying to Oxbridge from Scotland, and the Students Awards Agency Scotland.  

How does England’s teaching system differ from that of Scotland's?

As we’ve already mentioned, most of the resources you’ll see online will assume a reader knows the quirks of the English education system. But this is not always the case. 

Here’s a breakdown of the English teaching system in contrast to Scotland:

English pupils start in reception (pre-school), then move into Year 1 and continue all the way up until Year 13. In most cases, English students transition to secondary school in Year 7, which is the equivalent of P7 in Scotland. This takes place a year earlier than in Scotland. 

English students take their GCSEs after two years of preparation at the end of Year 11 (S4 in Scotland). GCSEs are similar to Scotland’s National 5s, although students study more subjects (between 9 and 12) with some being optional and some compulsory. 

After Year 11, the system changes a little more. Whereas in Scotland both S5 and S6 are important exam years, students in England study for 3 or 4 A-levels over the course of Year 12 and 13. Some students opt for the International Baccalaureate (IB), which offers a wider range of subjects.

A-levels sit somewhere in between Highers and Advanced Highers in terms of UCAS points. You can use this calculator to explore the UCAS point values of different qualifications

As A-levels are taken at the end of Year 13, many students will receive conditional offers for university based on their upcoming results. At the same time, Scottish students receive unconditionals, as they have already sat their Highers.

However, this is often not the case for medicine. Most universities give out offers for Scottish applicants based on Advanced Highers at one band lower than the offers they give to English applicants.

For example, if the A-level requirement was AAA then the Advanced Higher requirement would be BBB. Note that this does not always hold true for Oxford and Cambridge.

Scottish thistle and English rose

Choosing Highers and Advanced Highers

A summary of the entry requirements for Scottish universities 2022 entry is shown below (UCAT is required for all).


Higher grades

Advanced higher grades

Higher subjects

Other requirements


AAAAA by the end of S5

BBB or AB + B at Higher in S6

Chemistry + Biology + Physics or Maths

National 5 English at B


AAAAB in one sitting


Chemistry + Biology or Maths or Physics

National 5 English at B + National 5 Biology at A


AAAAB in one sitting


Chemistry + 2 from Biology/Human Biology, Maths and Physics

National 5 English and Maths at B


AAAAB by the end of S5


Chemistry + 2 from Biology/Human Biology, Maths and Physics

National 5 Biology, Chemistry, English and Maths at B

St Andrew’s



Chemistry + Biology or Maths or Physics

National 5 Biology, Maths and English at B

Chemistry is clearly a good subject to take at Higher and Biology is often required too. You may also want to opt for another science subject, just to be safe. Note that, if you’re just applying for Scotland, you don’t need a clean sweep of scientific subjects.

Scottish universities state that outside the subjects they specify, there is no advantage to choosing ‘more medical’ courses. So we recommend that you choose subjects that you enjoy and are good at, as you’ll need at least 4 As and a B to be in with a shot. 

Take a look at the entrance requirements for English universities

Be certain to thoroughly investigate any universities you might later consider when choosing your Highers and Advanced Highers. It is also worth checking if you have any extenuating circumstances that could lower your entrance requirements.

Person ticking items on a checklist on an iPad

Applying to Oxbridge from Scotland

Getting into Oxford and Cambridge to study medicine can be very challenging for Scottish applicants. As previously mentioned, these medical schools often don’t lower their entrance requirements for Scottish qualifications. This means even students who receive an offer will often have it conditional on 2 A1s and an A, or a similar requirement. 

At Advanced Higher, this can be particularly difficult. For example, in 2019 only 1.2% of learners achieved 2 A band 1s. In contrast, in 2020-21, 25% of students in England at A-level got 3A*-A grades or better. So if you’re thinking of applying to Oxford or Cambridge, be prepared to put in the work to get the grades you need.

The Clydeside Project is definitely worth considering - it pairs applicants with current Scottish Oxbridge students who can offer advice and insight into the application process. Best of all, it’s completely free. Remember that Oxbridge also relies on the BMAT to stratify applicants. 

Finally, make sure that you want to go to Oxbridge for the right reasons. The novelty of being able to say ‘I study medicine at Oxford/Cambridge’ will undoubtedly wear off after some time.

There’s no denying that these universities provide a superb education, but remember whichever university you go to, the end goal is the same. And very rarely does a patient care about where you studied!

Female student standing outside the University of Oxford

Students Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)

SAAS is the organisation responsible for funding university places in Scotland for Scottish students. If you’re a Scottish student, you will also apply to them for your student loan (at least £4,750 per year) and an additional bursary, depending on your household income. 

If you’re studying outside of Scotland but still within the UK, you can apply for a tuition fee loan as well.

Find out more about support and funding available.

It’s vital that you get your SAAS application in as soon as possible, ideally before 30 June 2022. Applications open in April and you’ll need to apply even if you aren’t sure if you’ll get in. You can always cancel it later if things don’t go to plan. 

Make sure to take the time to see if you’re eligible for any bursary, or an increased student loan. You need to reapply to SAAS every year so that they can pay your tuition fees for the upcoming period of study. 

There’s no need to worry about SAAS until you’ve finished your exams and interviews. Towards the end of May and early June, it’s definitely worth doing some research. 


Regardless of where you apply, you will need to take the UCAT or BMAT. Succeed in these exams with our affordable online courses. 

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