Well it's a new cycle for 2012 medical applicants. I have a received a few messages about which medical schools to apply to. I can't remember if I have done a post on how to pick your unis so I'll just do another one just in case.
1. Get your priorities straight.
What do I mean by priorities? Each person has a different priority. If you're an international student like me: usually location is a huge point. So ask yourself: "what do I care about?" Location? Course structure? Teaching standards? Size of the university? Union? Night life? And so on...
2. Research. Research. Research.
Do as much research as you can to learn about the course structure for each university. Research about the city. Research cost of living. Some cities will cost more to live in than others. London for example is a very expensive place to live in. Finance is a huge thing especially for international students. This is something you should discuss with parents if they are going to be your main sponsors. If you will be on loan, again you need to make sure you spend your money wisely and try to be economic. You don't want to end up in money trouble after your first few years of uni. Also research the location of the university. Is it a campus university (e.g. Nottingham) or is it a uni within the city (e.g. Manchester)?
3. Course Structure.
For medicine, some universities have a PBL system, Traditional, or Integrated (Lectures with PBL). So how do you learn best? Do you like to have small tutoring sessions and learn best from those? Do you like to sit in a large lecture hall with hundreds of other students? Do you want to sit in a lecture hall and then apply your knowledge in a small group? Again, every person is different. By figuring out your learning style - you can already narrow down your universities.
3.1. Course Structure - Dissection.
Also some universities still have full body cadaver dissections and some have gone to prosection where you only get a section of the cadaver to dissect. What would you prefer? Some people don't care and some do. It's all down to personal choice. If you definitely want full body dissection that will literally shoot you down to a handful of universities. If you don't mind well you still got loads of unis to pick from.
3.2. Clinical Exposure.
Now some people see early clinical exposure as a very important aspect to their learning. Some people may not want such early clinical exposure. Some unis throw you out into the medical world in first year and integrate a lot of clinical experience into the course. Some universities keep it traditional and mainly keep you to the learning aspects and keep you away from patients until after 2nd/3rd year. This is something where you will have to do a lot of research on if this is important to you. Some prospectus/websites for the uni will not mention this so speaking to students from the uni of interest will be helpful.
Do you want to study in a big city like London? Or do you prefer to study in a smaller city such as St Andrews? Personally I chose against studying in London or big cities in general because of the distractions. Big cities = more distractions. I get distracted easily and will find excuses to not do my work. At the same time I don't want to be in an isolated area with nothing to do as I would lose my mind. I wanted to find a place with just enough distractions to keep me sane but not too many distractions that I won't get my work done. Best for you to go visit the universities to get a first hand experience of the city and university. I was quite fortunate to be able to travel the UK to visit all the unis I was interested in. Before I went I already had a rough idea which 4 schools I was going to apply to, but after visiting - my list was COMPLETELY different. You will know when you find the right school for you. You get a weird feeling and sense belonging. You gotta be able to picture yourself in that city for 5+ years. 5 years is a LONG time so you must make sure you will enjoy yourself there.
5. Entrance Requirement.
Some universities require higher grades than others. Your grades is something you can't really change or influence. You will probably have a ballpark idea on what grades you will achieve by the end of the year so look for reasonable unis that you know you will be a competitive applicant. It's nice to dream to go to certain universities but if you don't have the grades for it, you could end up wasting 1 of your 4 choices. Marks isn't everything to get into medicine. Everyone applying will be smart. They use marks as a cut-off and if you don't make the cut-off...well they won't even look at your extra curricular activities that make you seem unique. Also now with the UKCAT, more and more unis are putting more importance on it and using it to cut out applicants as medicine is such a popular course. Admissions need a way to cut down the number so they will use the UKCAT. So look up what are the cut-off marks for each university. Again like your grades, no point in applying to a uni where your UKCAT score is well below what is stated as they will cut you out without looking at your application. If UKCAT didn't go so well, there are still unis that do not look at UKCAT. I believe Birmingham and Liverpool don't use the UKCAT. Some schools need the BMAT so they will not look at UKCAT. Please do your research and look at the entrance requirements.
So this is a pretty rough list of what you should definitely keep in mind when choosing your universities. It takes a lot of research and priority setting. Location and Course Structure will probably be your best two filters to narrow down your list. If you're an international applicant, make sure you check if the university is international friendly. Some universities may not accept your high school diploma/standards. Remember choosing which uni to go to should be YOUR choice and YOUR decision. Yes of course if your parents are helping you out with money, they have a bit of say, but again you have to make sure you will be happy at the university and will enjoy the teaching. So select your unis carefully and take your time with it. Think it through and try and get some opinions as well. By the way I quite enjoyed this website: UnionView. It's a website which has a review of almost all the unis in the UK. So take a look at it if you don't get the chance to visit the uni.
Good luck with your application and I truly hope this has helped.