This article is designed to help you make your fifth choice on your UCAS form if you are applying to Medicine. It is comprised of two sections. The first section covers common queries regarding the 5th choice and UCAS Medicine applications. In the second section, we advise on how to decide what to do with your 5th choice if you are applying to Medicine depending on your individual circumstances and goals.

How many UK medical schools can you apply to?

You can apply to a maximum of four UK medical schools in your UCAS application form. Applications to non-UK based medical schools and some private medical schools are not done through UCAS so you can apply to these institutions in addition to your UCAS choices. Almost all candidates apply to all four medical schools to increase their chances of entry. You also have the option of applying to one further non-Medicine course.

Do medical schools know where else you have applied to?

Universities can only see what courses you apply to at their institution. They will not know what other universities you apply to unless you or your referee (your referee, typically a teacher, will write a reference for you) mention this. Doing so is unwise as naming a particular university in your Medicine personal statement will likely put off the others.

What about the 5th choice?

You can leave this blank. Or, you can apply to a fifth non-Medicine course. This is typically done to act as a backup in case you do not receive any offers from any medical schools or as an insurance in case you receive offers, but do not get the required grades. If you wish to use your 5th choice as a backup if you do not get the required grades for medical school, then it must be a course with lower grade requirements than your medical school choices. Your 5th choice can be at a different university to the medical schools you have applied to or at the same university as one of your choices of medical school. We discuss how to decide what to do with your 5th UCAS choice and the various possibilities you have for your 5th choice after this Q&A section.

Do you use the same personal statement for all the medical schools and your 5th choice backup?

You submit your UCAS application to all four medical schools and your fifth choice in one application. For this reason, you send one personal statement to all these institutions via your UCAS form. You should ask the 5th choice university if they would like an additional separate personal statement. You would send this directly to the university in question. Additionally, a tiny number of medical schools ask for some extra information to apply to Medicine at their university. For example, Manchester Medical school ask candidates to send in a form with questions that the university asks candidates to fill in. Your answers will be very similar to what is found in a personal statement (such as details of your work experience) but is structured in a format that the university set.

Should I tailor my Medicine personal statement towards a particular medical school or my fifth choice?

Your personal statement should be targeted exclusively for Medicine. Medicine is very competitive and targeting another subject in your personal statement will seriously diminish your chances of acceptance by a medical school. Regarding your fifth choice; universities will know what position you are in when they see from your personal statement that you are applying to medical school. They will know this is why you have aimed your personal statement towards Medicine alone. Usually, they welcome high calibre candidates such as Medicine applicants although bear in mind some other universities and courses are highly competitive, and it can be tough to get into them without tailoring your application to that course. You should ask the university if they would like a separate personal statement, which you would send directly to the university.

Does a 5th choice harm your chances of getting into medical school?

If your personal statement is tailored exclusively to Medicine, then a 5th choice will not prejudice your application to medical school. Medical schools will not even know you have made a 5th choice unless it is at the same university, which again will not harm your application (although if you pick something entirely different at the same university, e.g. history of art, be prepared to explain why).

Do medical school sometimes give offers for other courses?

If a medical school rejects a candidate’s application sometimes they give an alternative offer to study another course such as pharmacy. This also often happens to candidates who receive offers to study Medicine but fail to achieve the grades on results day. You should not rely on this in either situation as it does not always happen. We have a separate article on what to do if you receive no offers to study Medicine or receive an offer but do not get the grades on results day.

What is a conditional and unconditional offer?

An offer by a university can either be unconditional or conditional (i.e. you have an offer, but you must go on to meet certain conditions, e.g. get certain A-level grades).

What is a firm choice and an insurance choice?

If you are successful in getting multiple offers you will have the option of making a firm choice and if you wish, an additional insurance choice. You will have to decline your other offers apart from these two choices. Usually, the reason for selecting an insurance choice is because it has lower grade requirements than your firm choice. This means if you do not get the required grades for your firm choice then as long as you meet the grades for your insurance choice you will at least have a place to study.

If you receive an unconditional offer and you select that offer to be your firm choice, you cannot choose an insurance choice. If you pick a firm choice which is conditional, then you can have an unconditional offer as a backup. You can still decline either your firm and insurance offer if you wish and apply to UCAS again at a later date but bear in mind that some universities will not let you apply to the same course again.

Deciding on how to use your 5th UCAS choice if you are applying to Medicine

This section looks at what options you have with your 5th UCAS choice if you are applying to Medicine. You should use your 5th UCAS choice tactically and based on what you intend to do if either of the following possible future scenarios occurs:

  • Either you do not receive an offer from any medical schools
  • You receive an offer but on results day, fail to get the grades your offer requires. Here are some options to consider.

Leaving the 5th choice blank

If you are sure that if you don’t receive an offer to study Medicine or fail to get the grades that you will take a gap year and try again, there is little point in selecting a 5th choice. You should be sure you want to do this, although if you do change your mind and don’t want to take a gap year, there is still a chance to change your mind later and apply to something else. This is because even if you send off your UCAS form with no 5th choice, you can still apply to other non-medical and non-Oxbridge courses later on using UCAS extra or UCAS clearing. There are still high-quality courses at top universities available but bear in mind that applying later will mean that many courses are not available as they would have already filled up with applicants who applied earlier. There are occasionally a few places from a limited number of medical schools available on UCAS clearing available for candidates who meet the requirements.

Using the 5th UCAS choice to pick a different course or career

If you can see yourself doing a different course or having an alternative career, then this is an option. Pick something you think you will enjoy, is suited to you and gives you good options in the future based on your values and ambitions. If you instead want to do another course but with the intention of using it to apply to Medicine, either as a course transfer or applying after you graduate from another degree, then see the advice below.

Picking a course that is specifically designed to allow you to apply to Medicine

Before talking about these courses which have become increasingly popular, we need to briefly explain applying to Medicine after completing an undergraduate degree as it requires similar considerations.

You have the option of applying to study Medicine after completing an undergraduate degree. Options include applying to a fast track four-year Medicine course or for entry to the standard Medicine course which is open to students with only A-levels or equivalent as well as students with degrees. Most standard entry Medicine courses are 5 years. A few are 6 years in length, although, in some 6-year courses, graduates can complete the degree in 5 years. For 4-year accelerated graduate Medicine courses, some medical schools accept applications from graduates with any type of degree while others require scientific or health-related degrees, so a science degree gives you the broadest application options. The main disadvantage to applying as a graduate is the extra time and money completing a degree requires. We discuss pros and cons of studying an undergraduate degree in more depth towards the end of this article.

An alternative option to applying as a graduate is applying to courses which are specifically designed to help you apply for Medicine. They allow you to apply to medical school when you are in year 1 of the course for entry into medical school the following year. Applicants who are unsuccessful in getting a place into medical school can elect to continue the course and go into year 2. An example of such a course is the BSc available at the University of Buckingham. The course content itself is much more medically focused than other BSc degrees. It allows candidates to apply to Medicine (either in the UK or internationally) during the first year of the degree. If they are unsuccessful, they will enter year 2 (which is the final year) of the degree. This will mean that they can complete a BSc in only 2 years instead of the usual 3 years that most other universities require. They can then apply to Medicine as a graduate applicant if they wish.

You can find out more about this course from their website: MediPathways.

Picking a 5th choice to study a degree with the intention of transferring to Medicine

Although this is an option, it is an extremely competitive one. You must consider the consequences if you do not succeed in the transfer – will you be stuck in a degree that you do not like or does not align with your ambitions and values?

Some universities allow a select few candidates in science-related subjects to transfer to the first year of that same university’s Medicine degree after completing the first year of their science degree. Competition for these places is fierce. One example is the University of Newcastle which offers such a scheme to students from certain science degrees. 68 students applied for transfer in 2016-2017. 15 were invited for an interview, and 15 students received conditional offers (subject to their semester two results).

Some other medical schools consider applicants in the first year of degrees in other universities. In all cases, you must check with the relevant medical schools and universities very carefully as their policies are very different. For example, some medical schools will accept an application from someone in the first year of another degree but will use their A-level and UKCAT results. Others will also consider the performance of the current degree that the applicant is studying and may even base their offer on this. A large number of medical schools will not accept any applications from people in the first year of another degree whether they are from the same or a different university.

Choosing to do a BSc or other degree with the option of graduate entry Medicine in mind

In the examples given above, if candidates are not successful in transferring to Medicine they would continue the degrees that they are on. Transfers are very competitive and also restrict the universities you can apply to. Another option for your 5th choice is applying for a degree with the aim of completing the degree and then applying to study Medicine. A BSc science degree will give you the most options. Here are some pros and cons of studying another degree.

Pros of this approach

– You can study a degree which appeals to you

– People’s working lives are long. An extra 3 years is short in the grand scheme of a full working life

– University is a valuable experience. Your degree will teach you skills which may be useful and mean you are a more mature and experienced person. Overall it should make you a stronger and more experienced applicant.

– An extra degree will help you stand out in some future job applications and careers. To what extent will depend on what you studied and on the type of job you want. For many medical jobs, it will provide only a small advantage or no additional advantage. Having a BSc or higher gives you extra points in the national application system for applying to your first job after medical school. While this small number of points can make the difference between getting your first choice of job or not, there are other areas where candidates make up for not having the points an extra degree awards.

Cons of this approach

– There is no guarantee that you will gain a place in medical school after completing your degree.

– Finances and funding: A BSc and most other degrees typically take three years and costs money. You also lose the ability to work full time while you are in a degree, so there is a loss in potential earnings to consider. Completing a degree affects the amount of money you can receive in loans and grants if you want to study a second degree (Medicine).

– You may lose focus or motivation to study Medicine once you start another degree or your life circumstances may change so that you are no longer able to apply to medical school.

– It may be difficult or unfulfilling studying a degree which is not your preferred one.