How to choose which medical schools to apply to

 This blog goes through how you can decide which medical schools to apply to, in order to maximise your chance of gaining admission and finding the best course which works for you.

Why am I writing this blog?

The reason I am writing this article is that I know that choosing which medical schools to apply to can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for a lot of students. It sounds simple enough – just choose your favourite 4 right? However, if you do that approach, you risk not gaining admission into any medical school. Alternatively, if you are overly analytical, you may end up in a medical school that you don’t like at all. Therefore, from personal experience, I want to show you an algorithm that I used when deciding my medical schools and how it helped me maximise my chances of admission.

At the end of the day, it does not matter which medical school you graduate from. Each MBBS degree holds the same value, and when you are applying for your foundation jobs, your university is anonymised anyways to make the application process fairer. So, keep an open mind when deciding and follow the algorithm to maximise your chances of fulfilling your dream of studying medicine.

There should be no problems with deciding your medical school. You can pick whichever one you want, PROVIDED THAT IT SATISFIES THE 4 KEY VARIABLE AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE. Don’t worry, we will come onto these 4 variables after going through the algorithm.

Choice 1 – Your favourite

This is the easiest choice to pick. Your first choice should simply be your favourite medical school. You have 4 choices so you might as well treat this choice as a bonus that, if all things went perfectly, you would get. Do not be afraid to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, who knows, you might get an offer.

Choice 2 – The SENSIBLE choice

Whereas deciding option 1 is very easy (picking your favourite), options 2 and 3 are where more thought is required. It is getting these wrong where students throw their application in the bin, as they get swayed by emotion and end up making silly decisions. You must decide with your head, using a systematic logical approach.

Option 2 depends on whether you have done the BMAT or just the UCAT. Again, there should be no matter of pride here. Going to a BMAT university will not make you a better doctor. Some of the most successful doctors out there did not study at Oxbridge. But, whether you are doing the BMAT will influence how you decide your second and third choice.

1. If you are doing the BMAT:

If you are doing the BMAT, the first rule of this algorithm is not applying to more than 2 BMAT universities. So, if your first choice is a BMAT university, then you can only pick one more BMAT university.

– If you have done your BMAT in September, you will know what score you have before you have to apply.
– If you are doing your BMAT in November, you must do some practice tests to work out what score you think you will achieve.

Once you have your actual/predicted score, you must then look at the BMAT universities to find out how they use the BMAT score. You can only apply if you know your score will reach the cut-off score required. It is important to be harsh on yourself. It is better you tell yourself not to apply rather than the medical schools reject you and you lose a choice. So pick a BMAT university where you have a good chance of gaining admission into. If your BMAT score is too low, then you will have to drop the idea of applying to a BMAT university and pick a UCAT university.


2. If you are not doing the BMAT

If you are only doing the UCAT, then you will have your UCAT score before you apply. In a similar vein, you must look at the UCAT universities to find out how they use the UCAT score. You can only apply if you know your score will reach the cut-off score required. Again, it is important to be harsh on yourself. It is better you tell yourself not to apply rather than the medical schools reject you and you lose a choice. So pick a UCAT university where you have a good chance of gaining admission into.
Some students who have low UCAT scores take a huge gamble and decide that they will sit the BMAT in November and apply to BMAT universities. Remember, if you find the UCAT hard, the BMAT is much harder. It is designed to distinguish between the best applicants. So, I would not suggest this. With enough research, you can find plenty of medical schools to apply to which will give you an interview if the other parts of your application are decent, even if you have a very low UCAT score. So don’t try and go for a miracle, pick sensibly.

Choice 3 – The SMART choice

Picking the 3rd choice is similar to the second. Remember the rule, do not apply to more than 2 BMAT universities, so this one will probably be a UCAT or non-admissions test medical school.

The reason I call this the SMART choice is that many students are not aware that last year, 8 new medical schools were founded in the UK. Because they are new, they are less competitive and have lower entry requirements. So for your 3rd (or 4th) choice, I would check these out.

For example, Buckingham University does not even look at the UCAT score. Interestingly, it is also a 4 and a half year course which starts in January and one that I would take a look at. Here is a list of some of the newer medical schools and the number of places available.


Medical SchoolPlaces Available 
Anglia Ruskin University100 places in 2018-2019
Universities of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church100 places in 2020-2021
Edge Hill University30 places in 2020-2021
University of Lincoln90 places in 2019-2020
University of Sunderland

50 places in 2019-2020 &
50 places in 2020-2021


Choice 4 – Your fall back option

 This is a simple option. This choice should be a medical school you think you have a high chance of getting into. It should be the one with the lowest entry requirements (in terms of grades, UCAT cut-off score, applicant to offer ratio). Remember, all medical degrees are equivalent – you will still become a great doctor and have a fantastic career if you study here. So swallow your pride and pick a medical school which ensures that you will gain admission into university this year.

It sounds obvious but I would make sure that this choice is not a BMAT university. If your UCAT score is high, pick a UCAT medical school. If you UCAT is low, then pick a medical school that either does not use the UCAT at all or has a low-cut off value/does not pay much attention to the score.

Important Things to consider

 Although the algorithm is very robust, there are some important variables that are essential to consider when you using this algorithm, which will influence your choice of medical schools. You will need to check your choices against this list of variables to ensure that you can still apply there:

1. Distance from home – For a lot of students, the location of the medical school is very important as you might want to come home to see your family on weekends. Therefore, no matter how much you may want to apply to a specific university, if it is too far (or too close), you may have to cross it off your list and pick another university.

2. Cost – Although the tuition fee is the same for all medical schools, living in London, for example, is much more expensive than other parts of the country. So again, you will have to check your choice to see if you can afford to study there.

3. Entry offer requirements and predicted grades – Each medical school will have on their website their standard offer. Check this offer against your predicted grades. You can only apply if your predicted grades match or exceed this offer. If not, then you will be automatically rejected and waste a choice. It sounds obvious, but so many students make this mistake every year just by not doing the research.

4. UCAT/BMAT cut off score – For all your choices, you need to first see how they use the UCAT/BMAT. Many universities have a cut-off score. You must ensure that your score matches this else you will be automatically rejected. Again, if your score is below the cut off, DO NOT APPLY THERE. Information about cut-off scores and how they use the UCAT/BMAT is available on the university websites or you can call them. If they do not tell you, ask for last year’s score as they will be very similar. Alternatively, I have included information of the entry requirements for the UK medical schools on my personal statement course. Check it our here.


In conclusion, I hope you found my algorithm of choosing medical schools useful. Ultimately a lot of it will depend on the strength of your application (grades, UCAT score, BMAT score) of course. However, having 4 choices still does give you the flexibility to maximise your chances by picking wisely. Even the algorithm is flexible – if you have great results, then feel free to pick whatever medical school you want. However, if your scores are low, your options will be more limited and you will want to be looking at medical schools more like those I have talked about in options 3 and 4.

I hope you found this useful. One of the most important parts of the application for all medical schools is writing a personal statement. If you liked this, I have put together a course on how to draft the best personal statement here. Please subscribe below for more advice and articles!

Ankit Chadha
University of Cambridge

About The Author

Ankit is a graduate from the University of Cambridge, currently working as a junior doctor in London. 

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