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Applying to Medical School as an International Student

Updated: May 5, 2020

By Malaika Haider

At this point in your life you’ve probably made two of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. Firstly, you’re committing yourself to medicine and secondly, you’ve decided to leave your home country in order to do so.

Congratulations! It’s a huge privilege to be able to study in a foreign country. The key word: foreign. It will undoubtedly be an unforgettable experience but it’s still an experience that you’ll be heading into at a disadvantage. You may have never even visited the country before.

While the internet has no shortage of resources and advice, only a small proportion of it addresses the unique circumstances that international students find themselves in. Personally, I was more concerned about the presence of an international airport than reading about the nightlife.

Keep reading to learn the key points you should consider as international students when applying to medical school.

Applying Tactically

This might be slightly controversial advice but it’s advice I was thankful to receive. In the UK, medical schools are only allowed to admit a certain number of international students per year. Some universities will provide this number on their website. The limit is usually 7.5% of the total medical student cohort.

For example, in 2018, the University of Manchester was able to admit 28 international students. This was the largest number that any medical school was allowed to admit that year.

Therefore, the odds of you securing an interview at certain universities are better than others. The information on how many students apply per interview and per place are easily available online. Sometimes larger universities with a larger intake might give you a better chance of securing an interview. On the flipside, smaller universities with fewer applicants might have a higher chance.

This definitely shouldn’t be the deciding factor when choosing your medical school. Nevertheless, when applying in a highly competitive field, it’s something to bear in mind.


While the I.B. is becoming increasingly well known in the UK as a high school qualification, the same can’t be said for other examination boards. Don’t panic if you can’t immediately see the requirements for your examination board listed- it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be accepted. Sometimes the website will provide a specific email for examination boards not listed or a link to a separate page. Universities are becoming increasingly conscious about different exam boards so it shouldn’t be an issue.

One major qualification that will impact your admission is an English proficiency test. Universities will be specific about the tests and scores they require. It might be annoying having to give an English proficiency test if you’ve grown up speaking English alongside your home language but unfortunately, it’s not something that can be avoided most of the time.

There are a few exceptions which should automatically be considered in your application. If you’ve taken a GCSE or equivalent qualification in English as a first language, most universities will usually accept this as proof of your English proficiency. If you’ve taken English as a first language as part of your I.B. diploma, universities will demand a certain grade to prove proficiency.

Each medical school might have a slightly different requirement so if you have any doubts, you should email the admissions department.

Hidden Costs

By now you should be aware that as international students you’ll be paying double or triple or even quadruple the fees of the average home student alongside accommodation and living costs. You still need to consider the additional costs of applying to medical school that won’t be immediately obvious- interviews being the largest one. A few universities hold regional or Skype interviews. For the vast majority, you need to be prepared to travel with limited notice. This cost entails’ plane tickets, accommodation, food, appropriate clothing and a visa if needed. Personally, my advice for a visa is to apply for one that will allow multiple entries over a long period of time. All my interviews that required me to travel in gave me at most 2 weeks’ notice which won’t be enough time to make travel arrangements and apply for a visa. Another major cost is an NHS subsidy which you have to pay before starting your course- it will entitle you to NHS care throughout your degree. Consult the universities’ website or email the admissions department if you want to know more about where interviews will take place. It might help you plan your choices.

Overall I hope this helped with providing some clarity when applying, and I wish good luck to y’all. If you have any further questions, we will be happy to answer them- head over to the Scrubbed Up forum.

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