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 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 :)


  1. A waste, A WASTE!? rraaarrgh argh argh..... argh. Ahem. I do a five year degree and actually (apart from the money thing)I think it's the smartest way to do it. I'm not trying to cram two year's worth of knowledge acquisition into a year, I have more knowledge than my peers which gives me an advantage over them and time to breath as I have a head start on most of the topics we do which lets me get a job to cover the money thing. So... I get to spend an extra year being a lazy student living life on the cheap, I don't feel like I'm drowning in too much work to do and I'm doing a course I love. You just set bean on the people that call grads on 5yr programmes a waste. I'll show 'em. mutter mutter.../rant Congrats on the UKCAT by the way :)

  2. What about SGUL?

  3. @Bean: Thanks for that very reassuring comment, yep, I too see no problem with studying for a five year degree. I'd prefer a GEP offer, but only because I want to get to work sooner and it comes with extra funding. But really I'd be overjoyed with any offer!

    @Anonymous: SGUL wants the GAMSAT, I did the UKCAT :)

  4. With a A100 and an A101 offer, i stuck with the 5 year. Some may have thought i was foolish.. but i have very similar reasons for choosing the 5 year to those Bean has already mentioned.

    A year really isn't that long a time, and before you know it, you'll be thrown into 40+ years of employment with very little chance to take things easy and enjoy your holidays whilst they are still there.

    If finance is an issue, then by all means, 4 year GEP courses are great!! But if you are left with a 5 year coure, and if it means living with the grandparents..then take it.. it is a tad un-cool.. but meh.. im a living at home grad too >.<

    One thing to note grumpy, is to make sure the uni's you apply to will be okay with you doing a MSc, and note the finishing date of the MSc.

    When i was at KCL, i asked the very same, and realised that i would be unable to enrol on the course (if i had been accepted) without having attained the MSc degree transcript and certificate by enrollment. They will also then give me an offer on attaining a certain grade on my MSc, and not on my BSc alone i.e. i could potentially miss my offer (this was partially one of the reasons i decided against doing a MSc during my gap year).

    Defo apply to Barts 5 year too! Really hope to see you here! ^^

  5. You should just apply to the ones that you like the most so applying to two Barts courses is a great idea :)

    Now that you are more or less decided, I need to start thinking about my choices!!

  6. how about imperial? I remember they had an a-level requirement but can't find it on the website any more. I've been one of the students on the interview panel and as long as you have something sensible to say during the science question, you're likely to get an offer. Might even get a scholarship. though since you've been at barts you'll probably hate us by now.

    don't bother with southampton.

    and following from tofu's post, perhaps you might want to reconsider the masters? The thing is Imperial starts in October, so you will definitely finish your masters by then :P

    Kings 5-year is full of grads, though there may not be so many by the time you start if they don't have enough money :(

  7. @Tofu: Cheers, that was a really useful comment. I've emailed my choices and you're right, KCL would expect a Merit in my masters degree even though I already have a 2:1! Still waiting on the others to reply. I don't mind an extra year tbh, but it's mainly the extra funding which attracts me to GEP, but of course if I only had one five year offer I'd take it happily!

    @areyousure?: Cheers dude, yeah let us know and good luck with the UKCAT!

    @Anonymous#2: Imperial want 600 minimum in each subtest of the UKCAT, my VR was 550, plus I think they'd want a more impressive academic record than mine. But thank you anyway for that comment, I'm becoming less and less sure about Southampton tbh, just waiting on the rest of my choices to let me know if they would make the offer conditional on my MSc grade or not!

  8. Same here. I'm a Biomedical science graduate from Birmingham, and I am starting the 5 year course at Leicester come September, and just like you I picked graduate and Undergraduate entry.

    Honestly I think you'll maximising your chances of getting in by doing that, and not just putting all 4 year entry Unis. Would I have liked to complete my Medical degree in 4 years? - Hek yea! I even more excited about getting a place and actually starting Medicine - HEK YES!!!
    At the end of the day, you're doing what YOU love and want to do. 4/5 year, when it boils down to it, doesn't really make much difference.

    Believe me, from where I'm from - everyone goes. AHHH!! 5 years, you'll be old, you'll be this, you can't do this, yada yada yada....and loads of other stuff. I'm 22 as well.

    Go for it!! 4/5 year...either way, you're in Medical school. At the end of the day, that's all that really matters. Good luck! =)

  9. Hey Dolapo

    Welcome to the blog and also well done on getting in before the dreaded fees increase! I'm leaning more and more toward picking two 5 yr degrees and two 4 yr ones, I absolutely would prefer a 5 yr offer to no offer!

    @Tofu: In case you were interested I emailed all my choices, apparently only KCL would make the offer based on my MSc, the rest would only look at my BSc result. But thanks for the heads-up anyway :)

  10. Hi, congratulations on your UKCAT score - that is definitley something to use to your advantage! :)

    I just have a question regarding something that you wrote - How do you know that last year's cutoff score is 642.5 for Barts? As far as I know, they don't officially publish it publicly? Thanks!

  11. @Dan

    Thanks, and I emailed them a few weeks ago :)