Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The inevitable "where the hell should I apply?" post

Currently listening to: Ocean Drive - Lighthouse Family

Warning: long post!

As forecasted by Tofu two months ago when I got my degree results, "the 'where should i apply' post is inevitable". Well she was right, so here it is, if rather late in the day. The reason for the late appearance of this post was that I didn't want to get really keen on my choices, only to do really badly in the UKCAT and have to bitterly give them up. My attitude towards my application (and life on general) is probably best summed up by Harold Macmillan: I'm an optimist, but an optimist who carries a raincoat”. Which probably means I'm a pessimistic optimist and therefore not really an optimist at all. But no matter since I got 697.5 in my UKCAT which would have been above last years cut-offs for most places, so now I finally feel like I can make this post without it just being pointless talk.

Where to begin? Probably some history about me: I didn't get amazing A-levels: ABCBC (A in biology, C in chemistry) and a lot of places expect BBB with a decent grade in chemistry. So that excludes the likes of Bristol, Liverpool, etc for me. I have done three shadowing placements and spent this summer volunteering as a teaching assistant at a learning centre for brain damaged adults, but two months isn't really major or long-term...so that excludes Leicester. My UKCAT is good, but it's not outstanding, so that would exclude Newcastle and KCL. When all is said and done, the only 4 year GEPs I stand a reasonable chance with are Barts and The London, Southampton and Warwick. Which are fine, but that's three choices out of four.

Originally I had planned to pick three GEPs and one standard degree. The GEPs would obviously be Barts and The London, Warwick and Southampton and the final choice most likely Kings College London (my UKCAT would be good enough for their 5 year programme I think). But the more I think about it, the less sure I am about Southampton. In fact, I really want to replace it with Barts and The London's five year degree.

The reason for this is simple: Southampton's admissions process is a total enigma. They don't interview so it's only judged on the contents of your personal statement (UKCAT has a very insignificant role for them). And judging a personal statement is such an arbitrary thing, I might think I've written what they're looking for, but how do I really know? Looking through last year's Southampton threads on New Media Medicine, an unbelievable number of well qualified applicants were rejected and they were completely perplexed by this. But at the end of the day, Southampton have to pick 40 top personal statements from over 1000 to make offers to so many people will end up disappointed...and I'm not confident enough to say mine will be that outstanding.

I don't want to be one of the many rejected, I'd rather be cautious even if it means going for another five year degree. I don't want to be writing in August 2012 without an offer and kicking myself for not applying to Barts and The London (getting an interview for A100 is based on UKCAT score and mine is reasonably good. Last year's cut off was 642.5.). I'm trying to be prudent and pragmatic, because this time next year I don't want to be starting a forced gap year, a PhD, or a job I dislike.

But applying to two five year degrees has its own drawbacks as theoretically it means you have a half chance of ending up with no tuition fee loan (assuming you get the offer in the first place). My plan for this is a) hoping I get a GEP offer and b) if I do end up with a five year offer, using my maintenance loan (£~7600 p.a in London) to pay for the fees...and moving in with my grandparents (they live in Zone 2, reasonably close to both BL and KCL) to eliminate living costs.

Not the coolest thing for a 22 year old to do, but medicine requires sacrifices. I guess this would be my one. Luckily my grandparents are really nice and let me do my own thing, so moving in with them wouldn't be bad at all. But it's either that, or working as a rentboy, which I did consider briefly, but on the whole I've concluded it's not really the right student job for me.

Some people have told me it would be a "waste" if I apply to or study for a five year degree. That my BSc and (by 2012) MSc would have all been in vain and I'd be back to square one studying in a class filled with 18 year old freshers. I don't see it that way. Medicine is what I'd love to do and I won't deliberately reduce my chances of gaining an offer because of misplaced pride. Not to mention, the skills I've gained in my BSc and MSc would prove just as useful in a five year degree as a four year one. Would I prefer to be a doctor in four years instead of five? Of course. Would I reject a five year offer if it were a choice between that and nothing? Not a chance in hell.

So I guess as things stand, currently I'm seriously considering the following choices:

Barts and The London 4 year degree
Warwick 4 year degree
Barts and The London 5 year degree
Kings College London 5 year degree

That said, being the pessimistic optimist that I am, most days I feel like I have a greater chance of getting into Katy Perry than of getting into medical school. So in reality even after all this strategising I could still end up with no offer come this time next year. But I really, really hope that doesn't happen!

All advice and words of wisdom are very much appreciated :)

Friday, 26 August 2011

UKCAT Results

Currently listening to: What You Know - Two Door Cinema Club

Just got back from my UKCAT. Anyone who's familiar with med school in the UK will know that this exam is yet another hoop the universities make you jump through, and one which I was quite anxious about. I last sat this exam in 2007 when I got 625 (later increased to 640 due to exclusion of one of the sections). Four years on and a degree later, here's how things look:

Verbal Reasoning: 550
Quantitative Reasoning: 720
Abstract Reasoning 670
Decision Analysis: 850

Total: 2790 - Average: 697.5

I'm very happy with this score, considering the average is supposed to be 600. I'm a tiny bit miffed that I didn't breach the 700 barrier (generally held to be an outstanding score), but I was very close. Something curious however is the decrease - by over 200 points - in my verbal reasoning score, which in 2007 was 760. Either I've become progressively less articulate and literate as I've gotten older, (unlikely seeing as I keep up a blog and was a student journalist) or the UKCAT is really just a totally arbitrary and pointless measure of "ability". I'm leaning towards the latter, but at the end of the day I've got a good score and I'm very happy with it, the rest is irrelevant...bit hard to be grumpy today!

My DA score is frankly quite unexpected, I'd been doing well in the mocks but certainly not that well. Unlike the revision books QR was a very, very pleasant surprise, there weren't pages and pages of text to decipher before you could even attempt the question. Some of the questions were as simple as locating a value in a table. Pure bliss and relief. AR was also very nice, considering I only got the hang of how to do this section last week, up until then I'd been scoring in the 500s, which shows that with practice you can definitely improve your score in anything.

I'm really shattered now, but I'll make the inevitable "where shall I apply with my score?" post some time in the next few days. Thanks for the good luck comments/messages of reassurance in the previous post!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Perpetual uncertainty: Is this life?

Currently listening to: Time - Pink Floyd

Sometimes I like to treat this blog like a sofa in a psychiatrist's office. I use it to reflect, debate, analyse and go over things in my mind to do with my future. I swear I'm not drunk when I make these posts, I just need somewhere to contemplate freely I guess.

Ten weeks have passed since I completed my BSc exams, got my grades, graduated, got accepted onto a masters degree and sorted out my accommodation for next year. The one thing that has constantly been on the back of my mind through all of this has been the UKCAT, which I have been preparing for. I have completed two revision books, a Kaplan pdf test, several free online tests, and hundreds of (paid for) online UPO questions, and now I've started them all again. I see patterns everywhere, I work out percentages whilst on the bus, and analyse newspaper articles for inferences and relationships.

Up til now I've been pretty laid back about the UKCAT, and I still am...after getting through the hell that is a biomed degree, I think few things will ever make me feel as nervous as my second year Immunology exam. But it would be silly to deny that - 12 days before the test - I'm getting nervous. I suppose it's because today it finally hit me just how important this test is. I was browsing some student forums (as you do) and stumbled on this post about the exam. The graduate in question had got 630 in his UKCAT and was wondering what he should do with this rather average score. The harsh, but honest, response?

"To be honest, that is quite a low score on the UKCAT for entry onto a 4 year program. I think you would struggle to get interviews for a 5 year program too. Your best bet will be to look at applying to unis that do not use an entrance exam ( Cambridge or Birmingham) or that use the GAMSAT. It does not matter how qualified you feel you are, the entrance exam plays a very large part in shortlisting for interview and with that UKCAT score I'm sorry to say you will be below the cut off for the majority (if not all) the UKCAT unis."

Of course I know that the UKCAT is important, I've never treated it less than seriously, but seeing this very honest advice 12 days before the exam finally crystallised what had been in the back of my mind for a long time: this exam is very, very significant and I really, really do not want to do badly, but what if after all this preparation I do?

Since getting my results, I've had nearly 8 weeks of un-nervousness. And now it's back. Is this life for me, forever? Stressing about my degree, stressing about my UKCAT, stressing about interviews, stressing about offers, stressing about rejections, stressing about med school yrs 1-4, stressing about MRCP 1, 2, 2A, stressing about registrar interviews...do I need to continue?

Sometimes I wonder whether it's all worth it. Whether it's even healthy. I'm not looking for sympathy in this post, I'm just hoping that all this uncertainty and edginess is a temporary part of my life, not permanent. Then again maybe everyone feels like this...