A Complete Guide To Deciding Which Medical Schools To Apply To In Your UCAS Application

This comprehensive guide will walk you through how to choose which medical schools to apply to in your UCAS application form. Like our other application guides, it is entirely free as part of our commitment to making high-quality information about a career in Medicine free and easily accessible to anyone who is interested

We start by discussing if the “prestige” of a medical school is important when deciding which medical schools to apply to. We discuss if there is such a thing as the “best medical school to apply to” and how your medical school affects your future medical career. We then discuss 19 factors that you can systematically run through to help decide which medical schools to apply to.

Getting the balance right

You can apply to four UK medical schools via UCAS. Our 19 factors to consider when deciding which medical school to apply to are a balance between finding the ideal medical school for you (course structure, facilities, city, proximity to home, etc.) and making sure that you are applying to medical schools where you have the best chances of gaining a place. The 19 factors also consider the tactical element of deciding which medical schools to apply to. For example, applying to one medical school which typically gives lower offers, so you can use it as a UCAS insurance choice in case you do not get the grades for your UCAS firm choice on results day.

What is the best medical school to apply to study Medicine in the UK?

Don’t be fooled by university rankings for the “best place to study Medicine” or “the most prestigious medical school”. Deciding where to study Medicine is different from choosing where to study other courses such as Law or Engineering as there is no “best medical school in the UK”. Rather the question is, “what is the best medical school for you?” League tables have very little relevance for medical students. The reason for this is where you study Medicine will not affect how competent a doctor you will be and will not change your career prospects in any noticeable way. This is unlike most courses.

For example, studying English Language at Oxford University will give you a significant advantage over students studying this degree at most other universities around the world. Certain degrees are more respected if they come from a prestigious university and this makes it easier for those graduates to get jobs. The same is not the case for Medicine. A medical degree is highly respected from any UK medical school, and your merit will be the determining factor of your job application success rather than what medical school you went to. One of the reasons for this is because of how final year medical students in the UK apply to their first two years of jobs as doctors. A computerised system is used which gives no weight at all to the medical school of the applicant. We explain the process of how medical school graduates secure their first graduate jobs in more detail in our blog post on how doctors apply for their first job.

The quality of all UK medical schools is excellent

This is another reason why choosing where to study Medicine is different from choosing where to study many non-Medicine courses. All UK medical schools are quality assured by the General Medical Council and have to meet a minimum standard. They are all able to produce excellent doctors. Employers will not expect you to be a more competent doctor because you went to a medical school which is part of a prestigious university.
15 Factors to consider when deciding if a medical school is a good choice for you to apply to

Are you sure that you are eligible to apply? Entry requirements vary significantly

Make sure you meet the entry requirements for each medical school you apply to, otherwise you may be automatically rejected. Requirements vary considerably between universities and from year to year. For example, Brighton & Sussex Medical school and Leicester Medical School do not have a minimum required number of 7/A or above grades for 2019 entry. However, Nottingham Medical School requires at least six GCSEs at grade 7/A or above. For applications to Oxford Medical school, the higher number of high GCSE grades candidates have will help them in the selection process. On the other hand, when applying to Newcastle medical school additional academic achievements beyond the minimum requirements e.g. extra A*s do not give an advantage over other applicants in the later stages of the application process.

Some requirements are subtle or unique to a medical school so do not be caught out. For example, Manchester Medical School for 2019 entry do not state a UKCAT cut off score. However, they will not consider applicants who receive a band 4 (the lowest scoring band) in the SJT component of the UKCAT. Most medical schools do not allow similar subjects such as Biology and Human Biology or Maths and Further Maths to count as two A-levels. For 2019 entry, Nottingham and Liverpool Medical School both require A-level Biology while most other medical schools do not.

The competitiveness of your application

Entry requirements are simply minimum requirements – many candidates will far exceed them. You may meet the minimum requirements for some medical schools, but your application may not be competitive there. For example, if a medical school places a high emphasis on the UKCAT score or the BMAT, and you have a poor score, then you will need to consider if it is wiser to apply to a medical school that places less emphasis on these admissions tests or does not use them. Similarly, if you score highly then you can consider applying to medical schools that place a high emphasis on these test results.

Widening participation and the use of contextual data

All medical schools are trying to widen the type of people who apply to Medicine. In 2009-2011, half of all UK schools failed to provide a single applicant to Medicine. 80 percent of all applicants to Medicine come from just 20 percent of schools. If you are a highly talented applicant and meet certain criteria such as being from a low-income family or poorly performing school, then medical schools may view your application differently. They can use “contextual data” which means entry requirements may be lowered. Each medical school has very different policies and schemes.
Many widening participation schemes, such as the Manchester Access Programme are limited to students who are local to the area. Kings College London offer an extended six-year Medicine programme.

The prestige of the university

We have already discussed this in the opening section. There is no such thing as the best medical school in the UK or the most prestigious medical school. If you want to apply to a medical school from a prestigious university, then feel free to do so. However, remember that it will not make you a more competent doctor nor will it have any relevance in getting a graduate job.

Do you require a specialist Medicine course?

These include Graduate Entry Medicine programmes (see our free comprehensive guide on applying for graduate entry Medicine), extended Medicine programmes, or degrees with either a foundation year or a Gateway year

If you require one of these courses, then your application will be limited to medical schools which provide them. Alternatively, you could use your four UCAS choices to apply to a mix of courses. For example, applying to some standard entry Medicine programmes and some Graduate Entry Medicine programmes.

Course type

In a nutshell:

All UK medical schools produce excellent doctors and are quality assured by the GMC. Pick a course structure that suits you and provides the best learning environment for you.

In more detail:

All UK medical schools are approved by the GMC and are designed to produce graduates with the required skills to be a first year doctor. There will be certain procedures, skills, knowledge and attitudes that are laid out by the GMC which all graduates must possess. How different medical schools go about achieving these standards and teaches its students varies greatly.

The main approaches to teaching Medicine include:
• Traditional courses
• Problem Based Learning (PBL) courses
• Integrated courses

Which course structure is the best way to study Medicine?

All forms of teaching produce highly competent doctors. Your choice of course type and structure should depend on your preferred style of learning.

How do these course types differ?

Traditional courses are now rare, with Oxford, Cambridge and Queens Belfast being examples of medical schools offering this style of course. It is a more didactic style of teaching with large amounts of lectures and tutorials early on. Topics are taught as separate disciplines such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and so on. There is a distinct separation between pre-clinical studies in the first few years and then clinical studies in the later years of the course.

This contrasts to integrated courses (by far the most common type of Medicine course) where pre-clinical scientific topics and clinical knowledge are taught together from the start so you can see how theory relates to Clinical Medicine. Unlike traditional courses, the material is taught by topics rather than by discipline. In a traditional course, you will study anatomy, physiology etc as separate disciplines. In an integrated course you will study a topic such as a body system e.g. the nervous system and learn all the related disciplines such as anatomy, physiology etc about that topic and then move on to another topic. Integrated courses (and PBL courses) tend to have earlier patient contact than traditional courses and more group activities.

PBL (and Case-Based Learning [CBL] which shares some similarities with PBL) is an approach to learning. Different universities use PBL in different amounts. This means PBL is frequently employed by integrated courses. There are very few medical schools which solely employ a pure PBL approach. Even medical schools such as Manchester Medical School, which helped pioneer PBL in the UK and are often thought of as being a pure PBL medical school, actually use a wide range of learning techniques alongside PBL and would be more similar to an integrated course.

PBL can be thought of as being on the other end of the spectrum to a traditional course Traditional courses usually use didactic methods and you very much “taught” Medicine. In PBL, you work in small groups and look at cases and then set your own learning objectives. You then come back after pursuing these objectives and share your findings. There are facilitating tutors in PBL sessions to make sure you set the correct objectives and to make sure you are on the right track. You will still have other tutorials, seminars, lectures, practicals, etc about the case you are studying and other forms of guidance, so it is a misconception that you are left on your own in PBL. This is certainly not the case. As you get better at the PBL process, facilitators will take less of an active role in the group but still make sure you are on the right track and that your learning objectives are aligned with the suggested learning objectives of the case.

Course length

In a nutshell:

If you are a non-graduate, you will need to decide between the most common length of Medicine degree i.e. five-year courses or the less common six-year courses (which is usually six years as it includes an additional BSc degree). If you are a graduate, the main decision you will need to make regarding course length is if you want to apply to an accelerated graduate course (usually four years) or to a Standard Entry Medicine course of five or six years. You can apply to a mixture.

In more detail:

Six-year courses that offer an additional BSc degree

Six-year courses are offered at Oxford Medical schools, Cambridge School of Medicine, St Andrews Medical School, UCL medical school and a few more. This is usually because these courses incorporate a BSc within the Medicine degree, so students graduate with both a Medicine degree and a BSc degree. Students in more common five-year Medicine programmes can usually also decide to take this option by adding an extra year to their studies and completing a BSc or other type of qualification (known as intercalating). However, in the case of the above six-year Medicine course, it is already a standard part of the course and not an optional extra.

Other reasons courses are six years instead of five

Another reason a Medicine course may be six years is because the Medicine degree itself is five years but before this a foundation year is taken. These courses are usually for high achieving students but who do not have the necessary science background to immediately enter a five-year standard entry Medicine course, e.g. they don’t have a Chemistry A-level.

Another reason for a six-year course is if the course is longer due to widening participation reasons, which are designed to help students study Medicine who have high potential but are from disadvantaged backgrounds. The additional year may be due to the course being taught more slowly or due to a foundation year being taught before students commence a standard entry five-year Medicine programme.

For graduate applicants: applying to Graduate Entry Programmes or Standard Entry Medicine courses

Graduate Entry Medicine Programmes are offered by some medical schools and are usually four years instead of the typical five or six years of non-graduate entry Medicine courses. Some medical schools accept a degree in any discipline while others require a science or health-related degree. We thoroughly cover applying to Medicine as a graduate in our free graduate entry Medicine guide.

Considering the City when choosing which medical school to apply to

The city in which a medical school is located in is very important as you will spend many years there and many students choose to stay after they graduate. Also, take note of where clinical years (usually year three onwards) are held. This is because these years are based in hospitals and community healthcare settings instead of at the medical school. Some students can be placed far away from their base medical school, as not all students can be accommodated near the medical school. For example, Manchester Medical place some students in Preston for their clinical years from year three onwards. Preston is far from central Manchester and the medical school which means that most students who are placed in Preston move away from Manchester and live there. Some medical schools such as St Andrews in Scotland or Oxford Medical school allow students to apply to go to a different partnered city for their clinical years.

Closeness to home and plans for clinical years and beyond

University is a great chance to explore a new city and find your own independence away from home. Most students will still want to visit home regularly on days off so you should factor in the distance and cost of travelling when choosing your medical school. Medicine is a long and demanding course, sometimes emotionally. Some people will enjoy the independence of moving out but like being able to easily and quickly visit home for some home comforts and familiarity.

As discussed earlier, in the clinical years (usually around year 3 and onwards) your base will move from the medical school to a teaching hospital. This may be based far away from the original medical school or even in an entirely different city. You should check each with the university where clinical placements are located. Sometimes students move out for the first few years and move back home for the clinical years, especially if their clinical placements are now near their home city.

Campus versus city universities

A city university (e.g. Manchester University) simply means that the university buildings are spread throughout a city. These tend to be towards the centre of a city. In contrast, campus universities (e.g. Lancaster University) have most buildings including accommodation located together. Campus universities tend to be located more towards the outskirts of cities. Sometimes a university could be made up of multiple campuses in different locations. Many campus universities will feel almost like a mini student city and have their own restaurants, theatres, gyms, doctors, supermarkets, hairdressers etc.

Campus universities can feel like closer knit student cities and have the benefit of having things close together. This usually means you will need to travel and spend money if you want to go to the main city. City universities, by contrast, can feel dominated by the city that they are in but have the advantage of offering everything that the city has, being more central and being populated by everyday people not just mainly students and staff.

Pick the type which is most suited to you. For some people, a close-knit campus is exactly the environment they are looking for. Others will be itching to break free from a small town feeling campus and will feel best in a city university.

Thinking ahead to results day: typical A-level offers & your UCAS insurance choice

Almost all medical schools will give offers of AAA at A-level for successful candidates. Some, such as Cambridge medical school typically give offers of A*A*A and Oxford medical school requires A*AA. Do not apply to these medical schools if you do not think you can meet their offer requirements. Additionally, it may be wise to also apply to at least one medical school which typically gives a lower A-level offer, e.g. AAA instead of A*AA or above. This is because if you receive multiple UCAS offers to study Medicine, you can pick one firm choice and one insurance choice. If your insurance choice has a lower A-level offer, then it can act as a backup if on results day you do not get the A-levels required for your firm choice.

Admissions tests

The UKCAT can be taken before you apply via UCAS and you receive the results immediately after the exam. In the past, the BMAT was taken after you applied to medical school, so you would apply without knowing your score. Now there is an option to take an earlier sitting of the BMAT which means that you can know your results before you apply. Not all medical schools accept the earlier sitting. See our free guide and FAQ to medical school admissions tests for more details.

You should consider your admission test results when deciding where to apply. For example, if you do poorly in the BMAT you need to factor in how competitive your application will be to BMAT universities. Medical schools use admissions tests very differently. Some use them to screen students for interviews and then do not use the results after that stage, while some use them in their overall decision to make an offer. Manchester Medical school for 2019 will interview the highest UKCAT scoring applicants if they meet the other minimum requirements. This could be a good medical school to apply to if you have a high score and want to assure an interview.

Your future location of work as a graduate doctor

Your medical school choice does not have any bearing on where you can apply to for your first job. You can study Medicine in Scotland and apply for your first job in London and vice versa. Often graduates decide to apply for jobs in the same city where they studied Medicine as they are familiar with the city or have developed ties there over time. On the other hand, many decide to apply for a job back in their hometown or somewhere else entirely.

Your future career in a speciality

It is generally unwise applying to a medical school thinking that it will help your future career in a specific branch of Medicine because that medical school specialises in that area. A medical school and its local hospital’s area of specialisation is likely to be of little practical benefit to you as a student. You are at too junior a stage to be specialising in anything. You also have many more years to make up your mind about a final career and are likely to change your mind several times. If you have a specific interest, then you will be able to explore this interest further regardless of which medical school you go to. This can be through student selected modules, intercalating, joining societies and groups, and through your elective which we describe later.

European Studies Programmes

This is not a widely known option and only offered by a tiny number of medical schools. Manchester Medical School, for example, offer a European studies option that medical students can apply for during semester 1. The programme gives students weekly language lessons in their chosen European language which will help them to practice as a doctor in that language. Students are able to spend a significant number of months of the course doing placements in other countries. Students will graduate with the normal MBChB Medicine degree and with European Studies.

Full body dissection

All medical schools will give you the grounding in anatomy needed to be a doctor. Some medical schools give anatomy more focus and devote more resources to teaching it. This will be of interest, particularly to aspiring surgeons. A handful of medical schools such as Manchester Medical School still offer full cadaver dissection (a cadaver is the body of a deceased person who has donated their body to medical science) which is a fantastic and hands-on (i.e. you will do some of the dissecting) method of learning anatomy alongside other methods e.g. models, computers, virtual and augmented reality etc. Providing dissection requires substantial amounts of financial and staff resources by the medical school. As a result, many other universities are increasingly using prosections, which are partial specimens already professionally dissected, so you will not have the chance to dissect them. A tiny number of medical schools do not use dissection or prosections in teaching anatomy.

Deferred entry/ gap years

Applying for deferred entry means making an application to secure a place, but for a year later than a normal application. In other words, to take a gap year. Generally, most medical schools are in favour of or at least neutral to students taking a gap year if they intend to do something useful or have a good reason. This is because they realise it is often an enriching experience and makes them more well-rounded, mature medical students. Carefully look at the policy of the medical schools you wish to apply to as a small number do not accept deferred applications. These tend to be for places on graduate entry programmes, but you should always check for any type of Medicine programme. For example, Nottingham Medical School does not accept deferred applications to its Graduate Entry Medicine programme apart from in exceptional circumstances.


An elective is a several month placement, usually in your penultimate or final year of medical school, where you can choose to work in a healthcare setting of your choice. Students often go to other countries. This can be anywhere from Australia to Zimbabwe. Virtually all medical schools include an elective. You can double check the duration and other specifics unique to that medical school in the course descriptions of the medical schools you are considering.

Do your own research

You can order free prospectuses for the universities online. You can contact the admissions teams for any matters specific to you or not covered elsewhere. Attend open days. Ask questions from students at the open days and when they do tours, so you get a first-hand account of their experience. Remember to bear in mind that somebodies opinion is one perspective and there are multiple perspectives, so do also have a look around the city yourself. All of these considerations will hopefully help you in choosing which medical school to apply to.

How can Medicine Answered help?

Once you have chosen your medical schools and have received interviews then preparing for your interviews is critical. We provide hundreds of free articles and guides on our site designed to provide you with useful help and tips in preparing for your interview. You may also wish to consider booking a place on our medical school interview course, delivered by doctors this aims to help you thoroughly prepare for your interview.