We previously wrote a post on how to choose your college – http://oxbridgesciences.com/which-oxbridge-college-is-for-me/.
Just wanted to make a slight addendum.
The above post relates mostly to quality of life or ‘best fit’ principles. I appreciate however, that for many people the most important thing is getting in…..anywhere. Certainly when I was applying I had a vague idea of colleges, and I found it useful going there to look at them all, but when it came to it, I would have been happy anywhere.
So here I give you a few more practical pointers about picking the college that will pick YOU.
Grades – assuming you all have the grades, then it is well worthwhile spending time researching the colleges in depth with regards to how they weight the BMAT/GCSE’s/A-levels. All of the colleges work hard together to ensure that a good candidate doesn’t slip through the net somehow (pooling system), but you should not waste a first choice on a college that places most weight on BMAT if you are feeling underprepared. This holds true for your GCSE results.
Topics – If you have been a budding researcher/ have done lots of work experience in a particular area, you may consider applying to a college where one of your interviewers has a similar area of expertise. They will not favour you, but it is only human nature that they will be impressed by your knowledge and dedication, particularly if it is what they have dedicated 15 years of their lives to. You may even find a kindred spirit and develop a real rapport with the interviewer in the short time that you have to be assessed.
Gap-years – some look particularly unfavourably on these. Almost all will want you to do something worthwhile.
Extra-curricular – This does matter. All of the tutors want candidates who will excel academically AND in their lives outside of study. From a practical perspective this means that you will cope with the course, and will add more to the student population. Everyone wants each candidate to get the most out of their Oxbridge experience, and so it is useful to know what a college has a particular reputation for. Some for rowing, some for music etc etc.
Your extracurricular excellence is not a substitute for academic ability, however, your tutors may be more sympathetic to particular activities or hobbies that particularly inpress them and make you an asset to the college.
Hope this helps
At this time of year, people start to think about their personal statements. We aim to have a series of our tutors write their take on this important piece of scripture. Here is our expert from last year:
The time of year has come around where you need to be doing some serious thinking about your UCAS form. Getting the right mix of academic, extracurricular and work experience information into your personal statement is crucial. You can have all the A*’s in the world, but that may not get you past the first hurdle if you can’t articulate how strong a candidate you are. Medicine is getting more and more competitive every year, and it’s a sad truth that many capable, diligent candidates don’t even make it to interview because they didn’t approach their application seriously enough -so showing due care when it comes to your personal statement is of utmost importance.
It’s mid-September now, later than I have written this piece in the past, but hopefully your school will have given you some useful advice on how to approach your personal statement, and here I aim to provide you with some details on the medical personal statement specifically.
Have you thought about what your reasons are for doing medicine? You will be asked this time and time again – from the personal statement, to the medical school interview and onwards for the rest of your career. You have to convince the reader is that you are someone who wants to help others, gets on with others but also that you are intrigued/attracted to/ideal for a lifetime pursuing a scientific path. Medicine may be very practical, but as an undergraduate you must display an interest in human science – this is particularly important for Oxford and Cambridge medical schools.
For most people, this will tend to be the bare bones of the first paragraph. If you have another great reason then share it, but know that you must be prepared to be grilled on this in an interview if your reasoning is eccentric or unconventional. I know of some people who over-weighted the idea of helping people in their personal statement, and were pointedly asked why they weren’t becoming aid workers, and others who over-emphasized the academic side and were duly grilled about their lack of compassion. Getting the right balance is crucial.
1/ Your first thoughts when you entered this world don’t necessarily have to have been “I want to do medicine.” People have lots of varied and good reasons for wanting to be Doctors, and many applicants seem to believe that they will be disqualified from this unless they say that they have wanted to be a doctor since age 5. In many ways it may show that your decision was more mature and considered.
2/ Beware the epiphany – People’s reasons for doing medicine are weird and wonderful, but beware saying that you had a dream or saw a man die and therefore want to save lives. The universities may feel that this is a little impulsive and may also doubt your soundness of mind. Many people have grown up around infirmity or had a particularly difficult experience as a child and subsequently decided that they want to make a meaningful contribution, but this is completely different from the “evangelist’s approach”. Medicine is a life choice and not something to be taken lightly. See the section on work experience.
This is an area that you should not need to comment on. Your grades are self-evident, and your referee should know to discuss your academic aptitude in their part of the statement.
Your work experience –
If you are applying to medical school this year, then by now you need to have conducted some work experience!
Now I know that it is incredibly difficult to get any work experience for young people these days unless you have family connections. Hospital trust administrators are notoriously pernickety (something which will undoubtedly plague you for the rest of your career) requiring mountains of paperwork before you even get near a hospital – but persistence is the name of the game here, and if nothing else it shows that you have the motivation to overcome adversity.
You need to have done some work experience to show that you understand the realities of medicine – this is a career that is not for everyone, and you must demonstrate that you understand all of the implications that illness and infirmity can have for an individual and their families, and thus can understand the importance of your decisions and demonstrating a keen sense of empathy. Furthermore, you actually need to make sure that this is the right thing for you. 6 years is a long time studying, and 30 years practising is even longer, so make sure you like the idea of working with people from all walks of life, and that you can stomach the idea of your Saturday night spent in A&E and a lifetime of studying!
Most medical schools will like you to demonstrate what the work experience meant for you. Whether it was a liver transplant, excision of big toenail or groin swab that you have seen, what did this mean for you? What have you learnt from the experience, and how did your perceptions change from when you first entertained the prospect of studying medicine?
The T-word – sigh, the word team is an over-used, but highly important word in medical school interviews and personal statements. Do you really know what an MDT is (mutli-disciplinary team for the un-enlightened)?
I am sure this is no news to you, but no one is going to let anyone into medical school if they don’t realise the importance of the nursing staff, the physiotherapists, the occupational therapists and the rest of the hospital staff. If you are mean to nurses they will bite. FACT. It is the nurses who will save you when you do your first on-call night 6 years from now and can’t quite work out what to do with this urine specimen or that blood form. They will be your best friends, so neglect them at your peril.
EXTRA-Curricular – This is your chance to wow us all with just how awesome you are. Whether you are the world underwater chess boxing champion, serious gamer or Greco-Roman wrestler extraordinaire, be sure to mention this and what you have learnt from it.
The personal statement is an opportunity for you to display a small part of your personality and to shine. Why would you study for 13 years and then not give due care to this snapshot of your life. It doesn’t have to be the most mellifluous piece of prose, but it certainly should capture the reader’s attention. Be succinct and make sure you aren’t shy – if you aren’t prepared to let the reader know about your hidden talents or display your passion for medicine, then there is a strong chance you might not get that medical school place you deserve. Get writing early, and show it to your reference writer as soon as possible. Good luck!
Tom is an Oxbridgemedicine tutor and studied at Oxford.
Lectures tend to start at 9am and in first year this is often covering topics in either biochemistry or physiology as part of the Molecules in Medical Science and Homeostasis courses. After an hour in a lecture theatre in the centre of Cambridge, the vets split from the medics and head to the Veterinary Anatomy building for a two-hour dissection practical, learning veterinary anatomy in small groups each with a dog cadaver. After another hour back in the lecture theatre it’s finally time for lunch, either back in college or something bought from one of the many central cafes. The afternoon usually consists of either lectures covering the Principles of Animal Management or animal handling sessions covering a wide range of species, from cattle to canaries. When the day is done, it’s time to head back to college. Dinner in the college hall is a great opportunity to catch up with all your college friends who often study a variety of the subjects the University has to offer. Evenings vary from supervisions (small group teaching sessions) in college and preparing for the next day to spending time with friends, whether you enjoy relaxing watching a film or going out to one of the many clubs and bars.
The veterinary medicine course at Cambridge is extremely varied with a mixture of lectures, practicals and hands on experience with animals from Day 1. Both the pre-clinical and clinical courses are delivered by experts in their fields and experienced clinicians, making the teaching of up-to-date veterinary medicine second-to-none. The veterinary department and teaching hospital offer the best facilities to learn and develop skills, throughout your clinical years, on your journey to becoming a fully qualified veterinary surgeon. The college system is the unique factor when choosing to study at Cambridge. With small group supervisions, plentiful academic, pastoral and financial support, and the opportunity to mix with students from all subjects, college life completes the extremely enjoyable and positive student experience
The third year is a fantastic opportunity to find out more about a subject that fascinates you. At Cambridge, although most people study a science subject such as Pathology or Neuroscience, you can do more essay-based subjects too like History of Medicine or Anthropology. During this year you also get to know lots of new students who do not study medicine which can really enrich your university experience. What’s more, it does not have any impact on what speciality you can choose later, so do feel free to do what you find interesting! Clinical students often talk about what they got up to in this third year and it is a great topic of conversation to compare experiences.
The typical day varies according to what year and what term, so I think it’s best to focus on the first year initially, as later there will be much greater variation given that everyone will be specialising in different subjects and eventually running their own research project.
In first year you’ll have 12 hours of lectures which are always in the mornings (we don’t get off that lightly), 4 hours of supervisions and 4-6 hours of practical work a week. Each supervision will require circa 4 – 6 hours of preparation so the workload adds up to around 40 hours a week. It sounds like a lot, but once you get into the routine and get your head around having an extremely hectic 8 weeks x3 each year, and catching up on that additional reading (and sleep) during the holidays.
A typical day may or may not involve practicals, following lectures from 9am till 11am. I’d typically try to do some work during the day before a supervision and it’s a good idea not to leave the prep to the same day. Following the supervision I usually like to relax/go to the gym/ hang out with some friends before formal hall, which is at 7:20 pm. The evening is then my oyster – spending time going out, chilling out or doing some more work.
The workload in first year is high, but it goes very quickly and everyone finds a groove that suits them – whether you are a Varsity Blue, a chess champ or a leading actor/actress you will definitely manage to fit your extra curricular activities around it all.
I always used to try and break the back of the longer pieces of work such as essays during the day, then leaving maths problems for the evening as I enjjoyed them more. It worked for me, but something else might work for you.
It’s a good time to figure out exactly how you work, with whom and at what time. Enjoy!
Why Should you study Natural Sciences? Well firstly if you want to study sciences at Cambridge then you don’t have much choice. Better head off to Oxford instead. But frankly, I felt drawn to studying this subject because I was fascinated with Science, and the NatSci degree let me develop my knowledge and Scientific approach in the broadest sense.
It is no secret that Cambridge has a strong pedigree of scientists and something of a legacy of Nobel Prize winners, but what is important to know is that increasingly, innovation and advances come from inter-disciplinarity. Someone who studied physics and who hadn’t given much thought to what field they might enter later on, may find that they wind up working in a biomedical lab with Biologists, Chemists and physiologists. Nature doesn’t separate itself into well defined categories so why would I have done any differently with my education!
I feel that I am much better placed to enter into further studies and perhaps a career in Science having been able to explore lots of different areas before specialising. I am not sure yet whether I would like to do a PhD or work for a chemical company, for example, as I think that there are many skills in the lab and in producing original publications that I feel I would benefit from. And the course at Cambridge has allowed me this choice.
Even my friends who are incredibly focused on a particular branch, would recommend the broad based approach in the first year of study. There are things that you learn in your first year which seemed completely unrelated at the time, but which later become highly relevant in the context of the research project and advanced study.
The course is intense, and you will be expected to put in a lot of work (which at times feels tough if it’s not your primary area of interest), but as long as you keep things in context, you will find it extremely rewarding. There is also a lot of contact time, which requires preparation for each supervision, but also means that you will be interacting with an array of scientists, all willing to teach and mentor you, and all at the forefront of their specialisation.
As a final point, the number of lectures that you have as a large group in the first year means that you get to know the rest of year, and I have maintained a number of friendships with other Natsci’s who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s a really good way of having friends outside of your own college if you don’t have the luxury of a university-wide sports team or hobby.