Applying for Medicine at University? Is Oxbridge for you?

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Thinking of applying to Oxbridge for medicine? u2 mentor, Síle (PhD in Cancer Therapy, current Graduate medicine student, University of Oxford), demystifies the Oxbridge admissions process. 

How did you come to pick Oxford for medicine?

The University of Oxford has an obvious draw: it has one of the most prestigious medical schools in the world. In fact, it has been ranked as 1st in the world by the 2018 Times Education rankings of Universities for Pre-Clinical and Health studies for the last 8 years. So when it came to applying for medical schools, this was very much at the forefront of my mind.

Historically, the medical courses in the UK are split up based on how they are run. You have traditional courses in which there are defined ‘pre-clinical’ and ‘clinical’ years; problem-based learning courses with a self-directed learning style and integrated courses which have a bit of both. As I have always been really interested in science, I was particularly drawn to the traditional course type, as it would allow me to indulge my scientific curiosity for three years before having to seriously commit to the clinic. I was torn between following a career in medicine or in scientific research. Ultimately, if I found that I was more interested in the research than the clinic, with the traditional course set-up, I could opt not to progress to clinical school and possibly instead go on to do a PhD at the end of my three years. Furthermore, I felt that the split between pre-clinical and clinical would allow me to build a solid foundation of the medical science before I would have to put it in to practise. This model has worked well for me and for many of my classmates, but I am aware that some students would rather do the lectures and clinic side by side. If this is your preferred method of learning, possible Oxford isn’t for you.

The traditional course style is primarily available at Oxford and Cambridge. From the open days, I got the impression that Oxford placed a higher emphasis on scientific research which swayed me towards it. In hindsight, there was very little between the two but my impression of the Oxford medical schools from the open day was that it was more organised and better taught, and in the absence of much hard evidence to separate the two courses, this is what I went with.

What was your interview like?

The interview process in Oxford is similar to a lot of medical schools. I was interviewed at two different colleges. The colleges differ greatly in their interview formats, so if you are going for interview, knowing what the interview at Magdalen is like might not necessarily help you with your interview for Merton. At one of my interviews I was presented with an MRI scan and asked to describe what I saw. At the other, I was asked to describe a scientific experiment. Both interviews had an ethical component (for which there are many guides available online) describing an ethical scenario in which you must propose how best to act as the physician. Both interviews also presented a graph from a research paper and asked me to interpret it. From classmates, I have heard of them being asked similar types of questions but it is really college-specific. It might be helpful to research the prominent medical faculty at your college to get an idea of who would be interviewing you and what kinds of questions you might be asked. Or even better, ask previous interviewees! u2 tuition has a huge number of Oxbridge graduate medics who are well-placed to host mock interviews either online or at their Head Office in Chelsea.

What kind of thing did you include in your personal statement?

My personal statement was shamelessly self-indulgent, as ones must be! There are almost 1,500 people applying for medicine in Oxford and only 10% will make it. As your personal statement is one of only few representations of yourself which can be used to ‘get you in’, it must make you stand out. As well as being self indulgent (trying to include mentions of awards and achievements as I could), you need to come across with personality. This can of course be achieved by you saying so, but it is far more credible if you can demonstrate this in some way. This can be achieved by including anecdotes in which you reference scenarios where you were displayed empathy, good communication skills, integrity etc. It’s helpful to look on the course’s ‘requirements’ webpage to see the language they use to describe desirable candidates so you can use this vocabulary in your personal statement.

Do I have to do work experience?

Work experience is indispensible for your application. Becoming a doctor is a major undertaking, and in the application process, those reviewing your application will want to see you have made an informed decision when it comes to applying to medicine. How can you do this if you haven’t made the effort to get in to the hospital or GP practise for a few days? (Note: preferably try and do both). The work experience might be extremely helpful for you to decide if medicine is even for you: I know at least two people who wanted to do medicine until they shadowed in a hospital for a day only to learn that the profession wasn’t what they envisioned, or saw on ‘House’. Some people just can’t come to terms with the bureaucracy, emotional strain or something as trivial as the smell! It is so important you give yourself the opportunity to discover your true feelings for the job before you apply, so you can save yourself some time and apply for something else.

Which A-levels should I choose?

As with most medical schools, there are standard academic entry requirements. Oxford requires A*AA in three A levels, one of which has to be in Chemistry and the other in biology, Physics or Mathematics. With these requirements, it means that you have to do Chemistry and then at least one of Biology, Physics and Chemistry. That being said, given that you have to get at least one A in those last three, you would increase your chances of doing so if you took two or all of them.

Applying to Oxbridge: The Key to Success

A successful application to Oxford very much has to have all of the features laid out above. Realistically, it is important for you to have an excellent academic record but also, some life experience: be that in getting work experience, volunteering, extracurriculars etc. Furthermore, I will say that there is a reason it is so hard to get in to Oxford: the course is extremely demanding and high standards are expected. If you are not willing to work hard and push yourself, you might be best to apply to a different medical school.

If you have read all of this and are still interested in studying medicine in Oxford, my advice to you is to start putting your application together now, even if it is a year or so before you have to apply. It would be best for you to construct the skeleton of the application to see where it might be weaker. This would allow you to plan how to address these shortcomings, and give you plenty of time to do so.

Medicine at Oxford is an amazing experience. There is no doubt that the teaching and learning environment is exceptional and the opportunities afforded by attending such an established programme are unparalleled. I would recommend the course to anyone who is interested in studying medicine, and encourage you to apply even if you only just meet the minimum requirements. The worst they can do is say no. Good luck! 

u2 tuition specialise in Oxbridge admissions support, with a team of 350+ Oxbridge-educated mentors. Each student is paired with a u2 mentor/s for in-depth preparation support, covering personal statement, admission test and interview prep, as well as 1-1 tutorial sessions and college choice advice. Contact us for more information below.