16 Oct UCAS October deadline: applying for medicine, veterinary, dentistry and Oxbridge
UCAS and all that jazz!
Yesterday was the deadline for UCAS applications for most medicine, veterinary and dentistry courses in the UK, and all Oxbridge courses, so for a certain group of sixth years, the perpetual preening and pruning of personal statements has come to an end.
If you are currently still in fifth year (lower sixth in the English education system), but are hoping to apply next year for one of the above-mentioned courses which require an October submission, you have twelve months before it’s your turn to board the UCAS merry-go-round. Although October 2018 may currently seem a lifetime away, may we – without appearing premature – recommend that this is a sensible moment to take stock of where you are and what you need to have under your belt by this time next year.
All the aforementioned courses require you to provide evidence of substantial commitment to your chosen subject. Below, we consider some of the ways you can start preparing right now to be able to demonstrate your commitment when the time comes. To help you, we’ve compiled a handy preparation checklist to work through over the next 12 months.
Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine
If your intention is to apply next October (2018) for a place on a medicine, dentistry or veterinary studies degree course starting in the 2019/20 academic year, you will need to prove to your chosen university’s applications team that your motivation to be a doctor, dentist or vet is compelling, so start gathering work experience now.
If you’re contemplating a career in medicine, you might work part-time as a receptionist in a medical practice or volunteer at a residential home for the elderly. For example, here in Kinross, a number of the local senior secondary pupils volunteer at the children’s hospice, Rachel House, which is located in the town.
For pupils planning to apply to study dentistry, it’s important to mention any skills you possess that demonstrate good hand-eye coordination. Also, be sure to take advantage of any opportunities to shadow practitioners in different types of dental practices. Some universities with dental schools may allow school pupils interested in studying dentistry to try their skills on a dummy model or using haptic technology.
If you prefer the idea of caring for animals rather than humans, you could try to secure a lambing job on a local sheep farm over Easter, or ask your local veterinary practice if you can shadow one or more of the vets for a few days during the school holidays or at weekends.
Another good way of extending your knowledge of things medical over the coming months is to seek out copies of the British Medical Journal, British Dental Journal or Veterinary Record journal. All these publications are available online (see links below). Reading them regularly over the coming months will enable you to keep up with the latest developments in either human or animal medical science.
Oxford and Cambridge
For current fifth form pupils who are thinking of applying to Oxford or Cambridge, regardless of subject, it will be essential for you to demonstrate your intellectual curiosity and academic rigour in a tangible way. This could take many different forms, depending on the subject that you wish to read. Whatever subject you are applying to study, you would be wise to dig deep in the university (or individual college or faculty) website to ensure that you have not only formed a clear picture of the type of student they are looking for, but that you can also prove that you meet their selection criteria. Moreover, be sure to read the syllabus for your chosen degree course, where available, so you can refer in your personal statement to a specific aspect of it that you would find particularly interesting.
If your aim is to study English Literature or a foreign language (for which there is a significant literature element at Oxbridge), be sure to read outside the syllabus for the Advanced Higher or A-level course, and to familiarise yourself with a wide variety of genres in your personal reading. Ways of showing your genuine interest in literature include seeing theatrical/film adaptations of novels, writing book reviews for your school library, and attending talks by well-known writers (the Edinburgh Book Festival is an ideal place to do this).
Reading is an essential part of a literature-based degree, and in addition to gaining a good breadth of the subject, it is also important to show that you have studied the work of one or two writers in depth. This could then become the focus of an extended, self-driven project which you could present as either an essay/report or something a little more creative. For example, one of my tutees, who applied to read English literature at Cambridge last year, made a video about Shakespeare’s influence on Gothic Literature.
Another way of demonstrating true commitment to your chosen discipline is to enter an external subject-related competition. There are many essay competitions for senior pupils, some of them run by Oxford and Cambridge, and even if you do not win, you could still mention this in your personal statement as it shows self-motivation and a more than passing interest in your subject.
For languages courses, visiting the relevant country/ies and brushing up on the social and political actualities there is also good preparation. Read foreign language newspapers regularly or watch daily news shows in the requisite language(s) – or download podcasts. Remember, if you get to interview stage for Oxford or Cambridge, part of the interview will be conducted in the foreign language, so it’s best to start preparing for this well in advance.
Applying for other subjects at Oxbridge
Of course, the ways of demonstrating your genuine passion for a subject will vary from one discipline (department) to another. If you’re a keen geographer, you might consider subscribing to the National Geographical magazine for the next six or twelve months.
If you are applying to study economics, be sure to familiarise yourself with The Economist magazine and The Financial Times newspaper. If your ambition is to study law, there are plenty of legal theory books out there (even Plato’s ‘The Republic’ if you are feeling keen). And if you’re set on becoming an engineer, you should consider what kind – there are multiple types including civil, chemical, mechanical, electrical, and information. Also, look into some real-life applications of those types of engineering, be it the new Queensferry Crossing or the latest Formula 1 technology.
Whatever subject you’re hoping to study at degree level at Oxbridge, it is also wise to find out who the current movers and shakers in that discipline are – both nationally and internationally – and to read articles or books by them. This will give you valuable content to mention when writing your personal statement next autumn, as you’ll be able to demonstrate a genuine interest in your subject. But remember that if you refer to a particular author or scientific phenomenon in your application, you are very likely to be asked about it during your interview, so don’t claim to be interested in something just because you feel it will enhance your personal statement. Talk about aspects of your subject that genuinely intrigue you and that you would be happy to discuss further. It’s not always about what you read so much as what you take from it!
Other factors to include in your personal statement
The importance of ensuring you have (or are striving to gain) the necessary academic qualifications – as well as ample proof of your strong motivation to study your chosen degree course – cannot be underestimated. However, many universities also look for what are referred to as ‘rounded individuals’ and welcome applicants who also show commitment outside academia, e.g. are musicians, a regular member of a sports team, have done Gold Duke of Edinburgh or have a part-time job.
The fact that you train regularly and turn out each week to play for a team or to your shift at work – or, in the case of music, that you practise your instrument diligently and appear at orchestra (or choir) rehearsals regularly – proves that you have the necessary self-discipline and rigour to study independently. These activities also require a high level of teamwork, which is a good characteristic to possess. Indeed being part of any club or organisation that requires you to show up reliably and participate (be it dancing, martial arts, drama, bell ringing, Pony Club or Scouts) is worthy of mention in your personal statement.
The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme has the advantage of including a volunteering component, and the four-day expedition at Gold level can also be a highly formative and challenging experience. Remember to demonstrate how your experiences while completing the award have taught you lessons, as your ability to learn from experiences is what matters. If you don’t have any regular hobbies, holding down a part-time job while you are in your final years at school is another way of demonstrating to a university that you have personal qualities such as discipline and commitment.
Do remember, however, that extracurricular activities are only important as far as being able to show what you have learned from them, and how this demonstrates skills that are key to being a successful university student. Any references to such activities should come in a paragraph nearer the end of your personal statement – after three or four paragraphs in which you showcase your academic credentials and provide proof of your compelling motivation to study your chosen subject.
As an approximate guide, in a personal statement the ratio between curricular and extracurricular should be about 80% to 20%, and admissions generally prefer whatever you do mention to be related back to your subject – or to a life skill such as time management. For example, if you are applying to read English literature and you devote your free time to filmmaking, you could mention that this is another form of storytelling.
To-do list for the year ahead
The above provides a quick overview of factors you might want to start considering right now if you’re thinking of applying for a degree course (or to a university) that requires you to submit your UCAS application next October. Following these tips will help to ensure you’re perfectly positioned to pen a powerful personal statement in twelve months’ time.
12-month action plan:
- Read extensively on your chosen subject – and not just the prescribed reading for the exam syllabus. Find out which specialist magazine or journal is read by people in the requisite field and start reading it!
- Attend relevant lectures, meetings and courses outside school to show genuine commitment. Enter an essay competition or science innovation challenge that is relevant to the course you are applying for.
- Develop specific personal interests within your chosen discipline. You can then refer to them in your statement and discuss them if you are offered an interview.
- Research the content of the course you are applying for, e.g. the different units and topics covered in the first year. This will enable you to talk in your statement about which aspects of the course appeal to you most.
- If you are mentioning extracurricular activities, try to demonstrate what they have taught you and how this enhances your suitability to move on to university and study independently.
A final word
While the above might at first appear overwhelming, please don’t be put off. All this will involve effort, but few things in life that are worthwhile come without effort. If you’re planning to apply for a course with an October UCAS submission date this time next year, it’s valuable to start thinking about your personal profile now. Then, if you suddenly realise that your current profile isn’t strong enough for the course/university that you wish to apply for, you’ve still got plenty of time to ring the changes and do something about it. So what are you waiting for? Get reading and researching right away so that by this time next year you’ll be ready to write a personal statement that shows you in the best possible light.
Some useful websites: