Has Medicine Become More Competitive? 6 Year Review

If you are a current Medicine applicant or thinking of applying and would like to know how competitive Medicine really is, this article is for you.

Author: Rob Needleman

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Table of Contents

Over the last few years, Medicine has become more competitive, but why is this the case and how do I compete to achieve an offer?

Following on from our 10-year review to determine if Oxbridge has become more competitive, we decided to write a separate review for Medicine. Using the last few years of admissions statistics, we go through why Medicine is competitive, why it is becoming more competitive and how to compete with your fellow applicants. 

Let’s start by answering one of the biggest concerns for medical applicants:

Is Medicine Competitive?

Medicine is notorious for being one of the most competitive degrees in the world.

UK Medicine Applicant Success Rates

For some perspective, here are the applicant success rates of some of the top Medicine degrees in the UK (according to the Complete University Guide’s 2022 League Table).

Medical School
Number Of Applicants
Number Of Places
Medicine Success Rate
Oxford
1,864
159
9%
Cambridge
2,472
309
13%
Edinburgh
3,260
261
8%
Imperial College London
3,365
394
12%
UniAdmissions Students’ Average Offer Rate:
Oxbridge: 48%
Non-Oxbridge: 74%

These Medical School success rates are incredibly low and to provide some context, when looking at other degrees from Oxford, one of the most competitive universities in the world, popular degrees like Classics sees a 40% success rate, over 4 times higher than the Medicine success rate.

We should add that Undergraduate Medicine is still not the most competitive degree at Oxford and Cambridge (Oxford Economics and Management has an offer rate of 6% and Cambridge Computer Science has an offer rate of just over 9%).

We can safely say that Medicine degrees are very competitive, but how has this changed over the last few years and is Medicine actually becoming more competitive?

Medicine is notoriously competitive and it helps to have an edge. Our expert tutors are on hand to help you achieve your dream offer. 

Our students’ success rates for Medicine vastly outcompete the national average (our non-Oxbridge Medicine success rate is 74%).

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Is Medicine Becoming More Competitive?

Medicine is absolutely becoming more competitive. From using data by the Medical Schools Council and data from offer rates, we can review the last 6 years of UK Medicine admissions statistics:

Medicine Admissions Statistics 

Year
First Time Applicants
Reapplicants
All Applicants
Reapplicant Percentage
Overall Offer Rate
2016
17,050
2,050
19,100
12%
19%
2017
16,490
2,720
19,210
16.5%
22.5%
2018
18,250
2,480
20,730
13.6%
24.6%
2019
19,530
2,900
22,430
14.8%
26.9%
2020
20,670
3,050
23,720
14.8%
26.9%
2021
24,220
4,470
28,690
18.5%
20.1%

Let’s put this data into a more visual format:

Medicine Applications 2016-2021 chart

To start with, we can clearly see that over the last 6 years, the number of applicants has been gradually increasing until 2021, where there is a large increase (nearly 5,000 more applicants in 2021 than in 2020).

It is important to take into account the high number of reapplicants deferring entry due to COVID. The increased number of applicants from 2021 onwards will likely be attributed to this. 2019 was the last pre-pandemic year and the number of reapplicants in 2021 was 1,570 more than in 2019.

So how has this affected offer rates?

Applicants and Offers for Medicine 2016-21 Chart

As shown in the figure above, as the number of applicants increases, the offer rate decreases, particularly in 2021 where we see a nearly 7% decrease in offer rates between 2020 to 2021. This is in the space of just one year. 

You might be wondering why this is the case. As the MSC suggests, the consequence of this rise in applications is that the selection criteria universities use in 2021 are likely to be stricter than those used in 2020. Therefore, with more students applying to Medicine, the stricter selection criteria imposed by medical schools are likely to have contributed to this large decrease in applicant offer success rates, combined with limited spaces available and a growing cohort of applicants. 

To explore this further it is worth understanding why Medicine is such a competitive degree.

Why Is Medicine So Competitive?

Medicine is notorious for being competitive. We have said this before and there are multiple reasons why it’s hard to achieve a place to study Medicine. Here are some of the different reasons:

The Applicants

 A big reason why Medicine is competitive is down to you and your fellow applicants. The standard of today’s applicants is incredibly high, this means that you have to be the best of the best to stand a chance of getting into the top medical schools.

Using A-levels as an example, in the Oxford Medicine 2019 cycle:

Of course, A-levels are just one part of the application process, but they are a good indicator of the standard of students applying to Medicine.

The Number of Applicants and Places Available

The number of applicants and the places available impacts the competitiveness of Medicine. As suggested earlier, the increasing number of applications means that the selection criteria universities use is likely getting stricter each year.

Limited Resources 

The places these applicants are applying too are already very limited for a number of reasons. For example, there are limited resources available at medical schools, high costs for teaching and most schools lack the alternative of funding expensive new campuses to cope with the growing number of applicants. The pandemic has not helped with the surge in students wanting to be doctors but even without the pandemic, it is clear that there has been a gradual growth in the number of applicants for Medicine anyway.

Limited Places

Another factor related to the number of applicants is the consistent number of spaces available at UK medical schools. Although there are a larger number of applicants applying each year than in previous years, the number of spaces available is often the same or it does not change enough to match this increase in candidates. This results in lower success rates.

We have seen this very clearly with Oxford University as in 2011, Oxford had 17,346 overall applicants but made 3,481 offers across all their subjects. In 2021, Oxford had 24,645 applicants (nearly 7,300 more applicants) but only made 3,530 offers (49 more offers than in 2011).

As Oxford and many other universities/medical schools have barely increased the number of places available, offer rates at Oxford have fallen by around 5.8%. We have seen similar patterns with Cambridge so compared with a decade ago, in general, it is now around 30% more difficult to get into Oxbridge.

There are, of course, many other reasons why Medicine is so competitive, but our aim here is not to make you feel like applying is pointless after seeing how difficult it is to get in. There’s no denying that it is competitive but it is not impossible, so how do you give yourself the best chances of success? 

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How To Be Competitive For Medical School

Here are 3 key tips to improve your chances of getting into medical school:

1. Understand what Admissions Tutors look for in their medical students

Having a solid understanding of what Admissions Tutors are looking for will help you with writing your Personal Statement and knowing what is likely to come up in the Interviews. Most universities will provide a few key personal characteristics that show suitability for Medicine, such as on Oxford’s Website.

2. Start preparing early

Although it might feel silly to start working on your Medicine application at the beginning of the year when you have months to go before the first UCAT or UCAS deadline, planning the time now and starting the process will help you spread out your preparation so you can avoid stressful last-minute revision.

If you want to compete with fellow applicants, then the best way is to utilise the time you have now before your final deadlines. This gives you the opportunity to tackle the topics you find tricky in your Admissions Tests way before you sit them, and you’ll have ample time to really nail your Personal Statement by doing multiple redrafts.

3. Reflect on your work experience and wider reading

For any work experience you undertake, you must keep a journal and write about your experiences, thoughts, feelings, anything that you learnt and what you did to follow up after the experience, such as researching more into a particular medical field.

Reflecting on your experience could be you mentioning in your Personal Statement how watching a nurse comfort a patient really confirmed your desire to work in the profession, or how speaking to hospital porters helped build your understanding of the realities of working in healthcare.

By not reflecting, you do not demonstrate your capacity to learn and improve (reflecting is a large part of the profession) and you miss out on showcasing your personality.

Conclusion

Medicine is clearly a competitive degree and the data suggests that it is only getting more competitive. The reasons for this stem from factors such as the increase in the number of applicants, the limited spaces available which are not necessarily growing with the volume of candidates, and the high standard of applicants.

For those of you reading this that are applying next year or in a few years’ time, there is no need to panic and change your life plans because of the low success rates. The aim of this article is to emphasise the increasing competitiveness of medical schools, not to put you off.

We want to stress the importance of preparing early and preparing properly. This means structured learning through planning your time so you can focus on areas you find the hardest way before exam dates. Starting early will also provide you with ample time to organise and gain work experience and redraft your Personal Statement. 

Good luck with your application and if you are looking for effective structured support, please get in touch with our Admissions Consultants

Applying to Medicine is becoming more competitive, but we’ll ensure you can compete with fellow applicants.

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