10 factors to consider when choosing a medical school in New Zealand

3 months ago by Christopher

Choosing a Medical School to apply for in New Zealand is one of the first major decisions you will make on your path to becoming a doctor. Worldwide ranking and prestige should not factor into your decision making, as a medical degree from either Auckland or Otago university will give you a high quality degree and a licence to practice medicine. With entrance to the first year of study guaranteed at both universities, provided you meet the entrance requirements, most students will be faced with this choice.

So what factors should you consider when deciding between the two schools?

1. Distance from home

Some students prefer to attend university nearby to home, friends, and family. Some will prefer to leave home, meet a new social circle, and explore a new place. It can be useful to have a support network through your first year of university, as it will likely be stressful at times. Consider where you will stay during your first year, and the years to follow.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is your preference to stay at home? 
  • Should you apply for Top Achiever or Academic Excellence scholarships to stay in university halls of residence, or pay to stay in the same halls? 
  • Would you like to find a group of friends and rent a flat? 

All of these considerations will play a part in your decision making process.

2. City / Town Atmosphere

Auckland and Otago universities have different cultures and different locations. Otago is known for its student atmosphere and is a small, walkable city. On the other hand, Auckland is a larger city which has something for everyone. You will be spending years in the place where you study, so what would suit you best?

3. Entrance Requirements 

Auckland and Otago have different prerequisite high school grades. Auckland University has two courses you can commence to apply for medicine (Biomedical Science and Health Science), both of which have similar and high requirements.

Otago has lower grade requirements for its course (Health Science First Year). If you feel your high school grades don’t reflect your ability, or you barely missed the cutoff for Auckland, Otago could be a good option. Furthermore, some students who do not make the grade thresholds are still accepted each year.

4. Interview

How you expect to perform in an interview could impact your decision as to where to study. Auckland University uses a multiple mini interview (MMI) to help differentiate between candidates, with your interview making up 15% of the criteria for entry. Otago University does not use an interview for selection. Whether or not you think you will perform well in an interview could help you decide where to study, in order to increase your chances of securing a place in medicine.

5. UCAT score

How you expect to (or have performed) in UCAT is another factor which can help you decide where to study. This is why it is especially useful to sit the UCAT in year 13 to get an idea of how you may score. Auckland University uses the UCAT as 15% of the entry criteria into medicine, whereas at Otago University you must only meet a minimum threshold UCAT score to apply. If you think you’ll shine in the UCAT, Auckland might be the better University to choose, so that your outstanding UCAT results help your application.

6. Academic strengths and weaknesses

Consider the core papers that you will study at each University. Do these first year papers play to your strengths? Will they avoid your weaknesses? Auckland places less of an emphasis on physics, while Otago lets you bolster your GPA with another paper of your choice. What will help you achieve the best GPA?

7. Competition/Number of seats

Both Universities are hugely competitive for second year entrance into medicine. There are many applicants and only a limited number of seats available. Consider looking at the number of placements available each year, and how these placements break down by category. WIll you be applying using the general admission category? Or are you eligible for the slightly less competitive rural or MAPAS admission categories? The exact number of places in each category fluctuate slightly from year by year but they are a useful indication of your chances.

8. Prestige

Prestige is less important for Medicine than it is for degrees like Law, Commerce, and Engineering. Patients are more concerned about personal skills like bedside manner and diagnostic ability, rather than the university you attended. Once you graduate from either university, you will obtain a medical licence and you will become a practising doctor. The medical school you studied at will be relatively unimportant.

9. Clinical placements

In later years of medical school (years 4, 5 and 6) you will undertake clinical placements. If you study at Otago you will have the option to undertake these at Dunedin, Wellington, or Christchurch. If you study at Auckland you will have lots of options: Auckland, Whangarei, Rotorua, Tauranga, Taranaki, or Hamilton. It is worthwhile noting that at Auckland Medical School you will have to be at a different placement for each of these 3 years. Which option and locations appeal to you most?

10. Scholarships

Year 13 is a big year for applying for scholarships. While it is very useful to sit the NCEA scholarship exams, the universities provide some scholarships you can apply for as a school leaver too. These scholarships are often for academic success and extracurricular activity, and can go a long way towards paying for fees, or even getting you accepted into a fully paid for hall of residence. Getting one of these scholarships could be a big part of choosing to accept a particular offer.

As you can see, there are a number of factors to consider when choosing a medical school to study at in New Zealand. Most importantly, you need to choose the university that best suits you!

Written by Thomas, a past MedEntry student who scored 99th percentile in UCAT and is currently studying medicine in New Zealand. 

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