Applying to university is an exciting yet often daunting experience. The process may seem difficult and confusing, but it doesn’t have to be if you use the support and guidance available to you. I am hoping this article will give people a bit more information about where to start and an insight into what it was like for me.
If I don't know what I want to study yet, what shall I do?
Many people already know the area they want to study. For me, this was a gradual decision that developed throughout my GCSEs, until I finally settled on medicine. This course will enable me to have a variety of career options in the future and it also combines something practical with my love for science. For many, this is a very hard decision as there are lots of options, but my advice is to try and find a balance between what you enjoy and also what will allow you to achieve the future you want. You can apply to more than one type of course, so if you can’t narrow it down straight away, don’t worry, just make sure your A-Levels are applicable to whatever university courses you are considering. I applied to Medicine and Chemistry and Medicinal Sciences as this gave me more security, since medicine is very competitive. The teaching staff at Prior’s Field were invaluable for practical advice, particularly my form tutors and Sixth Form teachers because they know us and tend to know our interests and our academics very well.
Which university should I choose?
In tandem with choosing a course, you need to think about the university. There are many factors to consider; location, social life, sporting/extra circular opportunities and the type of courses they offer. You need to prioritise what is important for you and make your decisions based on that. Although other people's opinions can be useful and are important to hear, ultimately you will be the one living and learning at your uni, so above all, you need to like it. I prioritised universities with a good location, as I wanted somewhere relatively close to home, a practical-based medical course and good teaching hospitals, so I chose some London universities as well as Southampton.
How does the application process work?
Having made these decisions I decided to wait, take a gap year, then apply. I knew medical applications were particularly challenging, so I wanted to separate this from my A-Levels. My gap year also gave me time to work, develop personal interests and appreciate a break before I went into a very work-heavy lifestyle.
For most courses, you would now write a personal statement, maybe have an interview, complete your A-Levels and leave the rest to those behind the scenes. However, with medicine, there are extra exams to take, these are the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) and the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT). The scores from these exams are used in the decision-making process. The exams you sit depend on your chosen unis, some use UCAT and some use BMAT, therefore if you wanted to only take one extra exam it would be wise to only apply to either UCAT or BMAT universities. I ended up doing both, however, due to my gap year I was able to make more time for preparation. There is lots of information available on the internet about how to prepare for these exams but practice is key, so make sure you start early and follow the ‘little and often’ approach, as they are likely to be different to exams you’re used to. But don’t worry, despite the exams being hard they are not designed for you to fail so with some practice you should be just fine.
What happens in the interview?
Once the med schools have reviewed your application, they may offer you an interview. Similarly to the BMAT/UCAT exams, preparation and practice are vital. Use your friends and family and especially your teachers to help you. Prior’s Field were more than happy to set up mock interviews and were brilliant at helping me develop my answers and interview techniques. You must research what will be in the interview as each university interview is slightly different. I also found that interviewers were particularly impressed when I knew information about their course and university specifically and the research they’re currently carrying out, so I would recommend spending some time on this.
Once the interviews are done your application is nearly complete, it is now a waiting game until the admissions teams make their decision. Your final stage in the process is completing your A-Levels (if you haven’t already done so) so focus your time and energy on that but also give yourself the break you deserve after completing one of the hardest application processes out there.
How did you make your final decision?
If you are lucky enough to receive multiple offers, it’ll soon be time to decide your first and insurance choice unis. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that the more highly ranked university comes first because that may not be your preference! I was lucky enough to have either Southampton or UCL as my final decision and despite UCL having a higher ranking in the charts and for many being seen as a dream university, I chose Southampton. It was a better fit for my location, extracurricular, course type and pastoral requirements but mainly I loved the feel of it. In many ways it reminds me of PF which gave me comfort and allowed me to see myself enjoying studying there.
What is your final piece of advice?
My goal is to become a practising doctor, however, the type of doctor I want to be is ever-changing. It is important to not put too much pressure on yourself, you don’t have to know all the answers right away and if you do ever want to change your mind, you can. My final piece of advice is to use the help you’ve got around you. Trust yourself and try and enjoy the process as much as possible, it can be exciting if you let it!
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