by Robert S. Balan
The moment you decide you want to pursue a career in Medicine, you know you are expected to go through a lot of hard work and inevitably many hours of study. However, all your efforts will be worth it in the end. After all, being a doctor is one of the noblest and most rewarding professions in the world.
Applying to med school is not something you should do superficially. You have to choose your medical school wisely. To make your mission easier, we'll present the most common entry requirements to medical schools from Europe, the US and UK.
We’ll also throw in extra information like what GPA you’ll need to apply, what undergraduate degrees are accepted, and if you need an entry exam to get into medical school.
Top international destinations to study a Medicine degree:
So, what does it take to get into a medical school?
1. Admission requirements for medical school studies in Europe
These are some of the most common admission criteria for Medicine degrees offered by European universities:
- High school diploma (certificate)
- Good marks in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Math
- Letters of recommendation
- Letter of motivation
- Voluntary or work experience related to healthcare
- Candidates taking the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB) must offer three subjects including Chemistry and Biology at Higher Level, plus three subjects at Standard Level. Not all universities require an International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB).
- Minimum TOEFL and IELTS results
The requirements we’ve listed above are the most common, but Europe is a large continent, and some countries have different admission criteria or systems. Here are several examples:
Medical school admission and becoming a doctor in France
In France, each academic institution can have different admission criteria, and Medical studies are divided into 3 cycles.
The first cycle (PCEM) lasts 2 years. At the end of the first year, there’s a difficult examination which determines who goes into the second year. Usually, only 15-20% of Medicine students pass.
The second cycle (DCEM) lasts 4 years. It includes theoretical classes and exams, as well as training periods in healthcare institutions. In the last year, med students take a national examination and the grade determines their specialisation.
The third cycle is split into General Medicine and Specialised Medicine. The internships for General Medicine usually last 3 years. For Specialised Medicine, an internship can take 4-5 years to complete. At the end of the third cycle, all students receive a Specialised Studies Diploma (in French, DES: Diplôme d’Études Spécialisées).
The last step is writing and successfully defending a thesis before a jury, after which graduates receive their diplomas in Medicine. To practise Medicine, you still have to register with the Conseil National de l'Ordre des Médecins.
Medical school admission and becoming a doctor in Germany
In Germany, you’ll encounter the Numerus Clausus (NC), which stands for Limited Number in Latin. It is a system used to determine the number of available Medicine places for students. The number of available places varies from one semester/year to another and you must have a certain overall grade to be admitted.
Medicine degrees in Germany take at least 6 years and 3 months to complete, and they are not divided into Bachelor’s and Master’s courses. In order to graduate you will have to take a state examination.
The path to becoming a doctor in Germany can be split into several main stages:
- Stage I studies – 4 semesters followed by the first 3 sections of the state examination
- Stage II studies – 6 semesters
- Completion of a practical year (PJ) at a hospital or clinic
- The second and final state examination after which you receive your licence to practise Medicine in Germany
It’s very important to develop good German language skills, because most lectures and examinations are in German.
Medical school admission and becoming a doctor in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, if you cannot prove you’ve studied Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Maths, you’ll need to take an exam that will test your competence in these subjects. You’ll also need to learn Dutch. This is necessary to complete your postgraduate studies and to communicate with your future patients.
Dutch Medicine degrees fall in the category of Numerus Fixus or Decentralised Selection programmes. This means the number of places is limited and you can only apply for two Numerus Fixus programmes.
These are the stages you go through to become a qualified doctor in the Netherlands:
- Graduate a Bachelor’s in Medicine – 3 years. You’ll attend lectures and prepare assignments.
- Finish a Master’s in Medicine – another 3 years, during which you take part in different internships. You also need to write a Master’s thesis.
- To start working as a medical specialist, you have to register with the Royal Dutch Medical Association (RDMA).
Medical school admission and becoming a doctor in Italy
Italian universities use the Numerus Clausus system for both Medicine degree places and the professional training that takes place after graduation.
Some med schools in Italy require that students pass the IMAT (International Medical Admissions Test) or a similar admission exam, which tests the applicants’ logical skills and their knowledge of English, Biology, Chemistry, and other Science-related subjects.
The Medicine degree takes 6 years to complete and is followed by a 6-month clinical placement. You must then pass a national exam to become a registered physician. After passing that examination, you can start the specialisation training, which takes between 3-6 years, depending on your area of expertise.
Medical school admission and becoming a doctor in Finland
In Finland, you need to know Finnish for both basic studies and postgraduate training.
The only way to enrol in a medical school is to pass the entrance examination, which is held every year in May. The exam is in Finnish or Swedish.
The medical degree is a 6-year programme, which combines Bachelor’s and Master’s courses into a Licentiate degree. After graduation, med students can continue their education with postgraduate specialisation programmes.
2. Admission requirements for medical school studies in the U.S.
In the US, Medical degrees are considered second entry degrees, meaning you cannot enrol directly in a Medicine Bachelor's. You first need to do a Bachelor's (undergraduate) degree in a related Science subject (popular choices are Biology and Chemistry) before you apply to a medical school. Then, you can enrol in a Medicine degree that usually lasts 4 years.
Here are the general med school requirements for the US:
- High school diploma
- Undergraduate degree in the field of Sciences (3-4 years)
- Minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0
- Good TOEFL language scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Extracurricular activities
- Minimum MCAT exam result (set by each university individually)
Some American med schools have additional requirements, like completing premedical courses, such as:
- College Biology with laboratory, one year
- General college Chemistry with laboratory, one year
- Biology, Chemistry – minimum of 24 semester hours in areas of Humanities
- Mathematics (Calculus and/or Statistics, one year (6-8 semester hours)
- General college Physics with laboratory, one year (8 semester hours)
What is the MCAT?
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a multi-choice exam created by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Almost all US medical schools require applicants to submit MCAT exam scores during their university application.
The MCAT exam takes approximately 7 hours and a half to complete and it is comprised of 4 main parts:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Becoming a doctor in the US
Throughout the Medical degree, students develop their soft skills (communication, empathy, cooperation, etc.) and advance their medical knowledge.
During the last year, students choose a specialisation based on their interests and other factors and apply to residency programmes. The vast majority are matched through the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).
During residency, medical graduates train in hospitals with other healthcare practitioners. The residency can take between 3-7 years to complete depending on their specialisation. After completing this stage, residents can undertake a fellowship, which lasts 1-2 years and focuses on a sub-specialisation.
To practise Medicine, physicians or doctors have to be licensed by the state in which they want to work. The criteria for certification are established by 24 Specialty Boards. These boards require regular recertification due to the fast changes that occur in Medicine and Healthcare.
3. Admission requirements for medical school studies in the UK
We’ve listed below some of the most common requirements for applicants to medical schools in Britain. Be aware that each university is free to set its own criteria, which is why we encourage you to check the admission details on the webpage of the study programme.
Bachelor's degree in Medicine (MBBS) in the UK
- Previous (high school) studies it at least two Science subjects. Usually, Chemistry and Biology or Physics/Maths are mandatory.
- Proof of English language proficiency: IELTS – average score of 6.0 or 6.5.
- UCAT test score. Each university can use it differently. Some establish a minimum UCAT score they’ll accept. Other universities use a “points system” for evaluating applications and will offer you more points for a higher UCAT result.
- International Baccalaureate, with at least 36 points overall, including three higher level subjects (including Chemistry and Biology), and three standard level subjects. Each subject must be passed with a minimum of six points. International Baccalaureate is not required by all universities from the UK.
- Successfully passing the interview(s)
- Evidence of voluntary or work experience related to medicine and healthcare
- Reference letter from teachers/academic supervisors
What is the UCAT?
The UCAT (previously called UKCAT, UK Clinical Aptitude Test) is an online test required by medical schools in the UK. It is designed to test cognitive abilities, attitudes, critical thinking, and logical reasoning.
The UCAT helps universities select applicants with the right abilities to pursue careers in the healthcare field. The UCAT test is not based on a science-related curriculum. The format of the test covers questions that assess logical skills, such as decision making, quantitative reasoning, and situational judgement.
Becoming a doctor in the UK
After completing the 4 or 5-year degree in Medicine, you get a provisional license.
The next step is the Foundation Programme, which involves different practical placements and training in healthcare institutions. The Foundation programme provides salaries, and it takes 2 years to complete (F1 – first year and F2 – second year). At the end of F1, you can apply for a licence and receive full registration from the GMC (General Medical Council).
You can then start General Practice or Specialty training, which can take between 3-8 years depending on what you want to focus on.
Top questions about medical school application answered
1. What degree do I need to graduate before applying for medical school?
It depends. The US is the only country where you need to have a Bachelor’s and/or premedical courses to apply for a Medical degree. This is not the case in the UK or other European countries, although you are required to have studied Biology, Chemistry, and other related subjects during high school and/or pass an admission exam proving your logical skills and knowledge in Science-related subjects.
2. What are the most common names for Medical degrees?
The name of your Medical degree can vary greatly depending on where you study. In the UK and countries that follow the British system, it’s common to encounter the abbreviations MBBS, MB ChB, MB BCh, BMBS. They all refer to the Bachelor of Medicine, which is awarded to medical graduates.
Other European countries can use different names, like Licentiate degree in Finland or DES (Diplôme d’Études Spécialisées) in France.
In the United States and countries that follow its model, the medical degree is called Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). The DO is only awarded in the US.
3. Do I need to take an exam to get into medical school?
In the United States, yes. Almost all medical schools require applicants to pass the MCAT exam.
In the UK, many but not all universities require you to pass the UCAT examination.
Other European universities might ask you to pass their own admission exams, a national test, or other international exams, like the IMAT.
4. What subjects are accepted when applying to med school?
Most universities worldwide require that you have prior studies in Biology, Chemistry, and other Science subjects, like Physics or Maths.
5. How many years do I need to study to become a doctor?
It varies from one country to another. It generally takes 6-7 years to graduate with a Medicine degree. In most countries, med students will then start the internship or residency period, which can take between 3-8 years, depending on your specialisation.
6. What grades do I need to get into medical school?
Most universities will pay close attention to the grades you took in Biology, Chemistry, and other Science subjects. They want to see if you have the capacity to understand complex notions and memorise a lot of information, which is essential for all medical students.
If the university requires an exam, like the MCAT or UCAT, each institution decides how the examination impacts the students’ applications. For example, some universities have a minimum score, while others allow all students to apply and only accept the top students with the highest results. Other med schools give students with great results at the exam more points, which makes their application stand out and increases their chances of being admitted. So, there’s no universal formula.
We encounter a similar situation with the GPA (Grade Point Average). You’ll find study programmes mentioning a minimum GPA, while others accept all students, select the best ones, and then draw the line.
How to get into med school with low GPA or MCAT/UCAT scores
Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we want. No matter how much you prepare for an exam, stress can be overwhelming and impact your results. You feel disappointed and betrayed because you know it doesn’t show your true potential or knowledge.
There are also situations where you can face family or health problems, which prevent you from having an impressive GPA. We get it. Life’s not always easy or fair, but that doesn’t mean you should quit.
For those of you who have lower GPA or MCAT/UCAT scores, here are a few tips that might help you persuade the admission committee to give you a chance.
Show an overall improvement
Let’s say your GPA is lower than the minimum required by the med school you’ve chosen. If your first year of high school or undergraduate studies wasn’t great, but you gradually improved your grades during the next years, make sure to point that out during the interview or the personal statement. Remember what Plato said: “Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.”
Ace the MCAT/UCAT exam
This applies for those of you who have a lower GPA, but who worked hard and aced the MCAT or UCAT exam. The situation is tricky because the admission committee might wonder how you could score so high at this exam and yet fail to impress before.
Use this to your advantage. Include a section in your personal statement in which you explain how your failures from previous studies made you realise how much you really want to become a doctor. Explain how you push hard, focused on what mattered, and put in the study hours that got you a great result.
Get valuable recommendation letters
If recommendation letters are part of the admission requirements, you can use them to your advantage. Talk to people who know you well. They can be teachers, former employers or people for whom you’ve worked as a volunteer. Ask them to write a motivation letter for you and explain why you need it.
There’s no need to suggest that they write about this or that. Explain that your grades aren’t the best, and you want to support your university application with documents that show you’re more than a grade or an exam.
If you choose these people wisely, you can receive amazing recommendation letters that will impress the admission committee and increase your chances of being accepted.
Write a convincing personal statement
The personal statement is your chance to shine. You might no longer be able to change your grades or what people wrote about you in the letters of recommendations, but this statement is a great opportunity to express yourself fully.
Make no mistake. It’s not the kind of document where you should write nonsense, become apologetic, or lament your shortcomings. You don’t want to sound too emotional or forget your purpose: to convince the admission committee members that you’re the right candidate for the university and that the study programmes is the right next step in your academic and professional life.
Choose your words wisely, be honest and express your ideas clearly. Make sure each paragraph only focuses on one main idea. Give relevant examples where necessary and point out situations or achievement that show your lower grades don’t reflect your knowledge and abilities.
Impress during the medical school admission interview
Not all universities use interviews to screen their applicants. But if you’re university does, rejoice!
We know that for many people interviews can be terrifying. It’s easy to view the committee as an enemy or someone who’s there to make final judgments and decide your future academic fate. But that’s not exactly the reality, is it?
The interview is a great opportunity to impress. Dress sharp, but don’t overdo it. Be there on time, maybe a bit earlier. Use the extra time to calm yourself and put order into your thoughts. Several days, or maybe one week before the interview, think about the questions you might be asked.
Write down your answers and see how you could express them better. Remember, the idea is not to exaggerate or lie about something. You should use your words and examples carefully so that they highlight the best things about you, not the past failures. There’s no need to deny them since each obstacle can be turned into a valuable lesson. But you shouldn’t focus only on the negatives either.
Ready to become the next big-shot doctor?
Now, what are you waiting for? There are over 7,000 Medicine degrees waiting for you on our portals. Take advantage of the comparison tool and choose the best medical school for you. Studying abroad is a great experience and we hope you’ll make the best out of it.