Applying to a Scottish medical school

My youngest daughter has just gone through the ordeal of applying for a place at a Scottish medical school. I thought I might share what I learned as an anxious observer of the process.

Scottish pupils can apply to six different universities. Four of these applications can be for places at medical schools.

An article in the Times stated that there are ten applicants for every place at a Scottish school, and five applicants for every place at an English school. I think this estimate is about right. One medical school told my daughter their application statistics. They had received 1500 applications, and had interviewed 400 people. After the interviews they would offer places to 300 of the applicants, and they expected 150 of those to accept. I think the situation at the other medical schools is similar.

One conclusion from this is that if you actually get an interview at a medical school you have a very good chance of being offered a place. It might also seem that, since people can apply to four schools, they have quite a good chance of getting at least one interview. In fact this is not so. It is the same small group of applicants who are getting all the interviews

Four pupils [three boys and a girl] applied from my daughters’ school. Two got one interview each, the other two got three interviews each. All but one of the interviews were at Scottish schools. One pupil got three offers. The other three got one offer each. All but one offer was conditional upon getting a particular grade in one or more of their sixth year examinations.

Both the parents of one of the four are doctors. The brother of another one is training to be a doctor. There were no other medical connections.

Medical schools seemed very willing to consider mature applicants. When I took my daughter of an interview at one of the schools I had the opportunity to speak to a group of first year students. About half had come direct from school. The rest had at least already completed a degree in some other subject. The oldest member of the group was in his mid thirties and had worked as an IT consultant.

Good academic qualifications are essential, but are not enough in themselves. Applications need to have done a lot more to demonstrate their knowledge and commitment. My daughter did work experience at one medical centre and two hospitals, plus a lot of voluntary work.

My judgement of the ranking of the Scottish medical schools is as follows –

1. Dundee
2. Glasgow
3. Edinburgh
4. Aberdeen
5. St Andrews

Though I have ranked St. Andrews as fifth in the list, in a recent survey of student opinion it ranked the highest of the Scottish medical schools. The problem with St. Andrews is that it's not actually attached to a hospital. Students do their first three years at St Andrews and then go to Manchester to complete the rest of the degree. This means that a St Andrews` medical degree takes one year longer to complete than a degree from the other medical schools. It also means that the students get less clinical experience in the early years of their degree.

Glasgow has a very innovative curriculum. So does Dundee, but it is not as radical as Glasgow’s. The other three appear to be more conservative in their teaching methods.

Going to a private school with a track record of winning medical school places makes a lot of difference. At my daughters school the four applicants supported one another by exchanging information and sharing experiences. The school arranged contacts and helpful events. For example, it held mock interviews with a panel made up of three doctors, and arranged talks from hospital consultants. Some school governors, and many old boys are doctors. School staff knew the application procedure and gave good advice on what pupils had to do to succeed. I am sure that none of the medical schools give any preference to pupils from private schools. Nevertheless, such pupils have a real advantage over anybody applying from a state school.

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