Your Fifth Medicine UCAS Choice: The Complete Guide

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

When applying for medicine through UCAS, you have five university choices available, but only four of these can be for medicine.

This means you’ll have a fifth choice that you can use however you wish.

Understanding how to make use of this fifth choice can be vital to maximising your chances of entering the field of medicine.

There are several possibilities for your fifth UCAS choice and it’s important to consider each option before submitting your application.

This can range from leaving it blank to selecting alternative courses that still align with your ambitions to pursue a career in healthcare.

By carefully examining each option, you can confidently decide on the best course of action for you and your aspirations of becoming a doctor.

How Many Medical Schools Can You Apply To In The UK?

Unlike other subjects, students applying to study medicine at university are limited in how many medical schools they can apply to.

When applying to study medicine in the UK, students can choose up to four medical schools to apply to through the UCAS portal. A fifth slot is available for students to apply to an alternate course at university, but this can not be an A100 or A101 medicine programme.

With only four choices available, you’ll want to maximise your chances of receiving an offer.

It’s essential to focus on selecting those medical schools which best align with your skills, qualifications, and career aspirations.

A student using their laptop to apply to medical school
Students can apply to up to four medical schools through UCAS

In addition to the four medical schools, you have a fifth UCAS choice which can be used for a different course as a backup option.

Students typically use this choice for a non-medical or science-related course that may have lower grade requirements than a medical degree.

This way, you provide yourself with an alternative path in case you do not receive an offer from any of your chosen medical schools.

Why Can You Only Apply To Four Medical Schools?

The primary reason for students being limited to only four medical schools is to encourage applicants to focus on their top choices and reduce the number of applications each medical school has to process.

Applying to medical schools can be a time-consuming process, requiring a lot of preparation and effort.

By limiting the number of applications, UCAS aims to ensure that you dedicate enough time and attention to each application, thus improving the quality of your submissions.

This also encourages you to research and select the best medical schools that suit your needs and preferences.

Additionally, medical schools in the UK receive an exceptionally high volume of applicants.

Limiting the number of applications reduces the administrative burden for medical schools, allowing them to review and select applicants more efficiently.

This benefits both the schools and the applicants, as it ensures that the application process is fair and manageable.

Furthermore, the limitation ensures that every applicant has the opportunity to select a backup.

This offers you a contingency plan should you not be successful in your medical school applications.

Why You Should Make A 5th UCAS Choice

While how you use your UCAS slots is ultimately up to you, I’d strongly recommend you use every option available and apply to five universities.

The Fifth Medicine UCAS Choice Pixel Infographic

As A Backup Plan

As I mentioned above, considering a 5th UCAS choice can be beneficial for you as a backup plan.

Medicine is a highly competitive field, and it’s possible you might not be accepted into your top four choices.

By selecting a 5th choice, you increase your chances of securing a place at university.

It’s an excellent strategy to choose a related degree with lower entry requirements, so even if you miss the grades required for medicine, you still have a chance to pursue higher education.

In Case You Decide Medicine Isn’t What You Want

While you may be passionate about medicine now, feelings can change over time.

A 5th UCAS choice can be an opportunity to explore an alternative degree that also grabs your interest.

It provides you with the flexibility to change your mind later if you realise medicine may not be the right fit for you during your application process.

Having an additional option gives you more freedom and allows you to make an informed decision about your future when the time comes.

To Apply To Medicine As A Graduate

Another reason to make a 5th UCAS choice is to keep the door open for applying to medicine as a graduate.

After completing your backup degree, if you still want to pursue medicine, you can apply as a graduate with more knowledge and experience in the field.

This approach can also improve your chances of getting into medical school, as many universities value the skills and maturity gained during a previous degree.

Can You Leave Your 5th Choice Blank?

It might be tempting to think that since you’re so committed to getting into medicine, you might as well leave your 5th UCAS choice blank.

I was fairly certain if I didn’t get into medical school the first time around I was going to take a gap year and try again.

However, I still put a 5th option down (I personally chose Biomedical Science).

The way I see it is putting a 5th choice down really doesn’t cost you any extra work or effort- the UCAS slot is there after all.

Even if you’re almost certain you wouldn’t use it even if you didn’t get any offers for medicine, it just keeps every door open for you in case things change in the future.

I can’t help but think it’s much better to have the offer there and not use it rather than regret not applying if circumstances change and you decide you would have accepted it.

What Courses Can You Put As Your 5th Choice?

If you are going to select a 5th option for your UCAS application, you may be wondering which degrees medicine applicants usually select for this backup slot.

Medically Related Courses

You might consider choosing a medically related course that is closely connected to the field of medicine, such as Biomedical Sciences, Medical Pharmacology, or Human Biology.

These courses can provide you with valuable knowledge and skills that can be beneficial if you want to reapply for medicine in the future. Some examples of such courses include:

  • Biomedical Sciences
  • Medical Pharmacology
  • Biological Sciences
  • Psychology

Courses That Let You Transfer To Medicine

Certain courses or universities may allow students to transfer into medicine after completing a year or two in another degree.

These options can be appealing as they provide a pathway to medicine if you don’t secure a place in your first application.

Remember that transferring is often competitive and not guaranteed. Examples of such courses are:

  • Biomedical Science
  • Medical Science
  • Clinical Sciences
  • Natural Sciences

Allied Health Professional Courses

Another option is to consider courses that prepare you for careers within the healthcare sector but are not directly related to becoming a doctor.

These programmes can offer a fulfilling career path if you are passionate about healthcare but don’t secure a place in a medical school. Some allied health professional courses are:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Nursing
  • Radiography
  • Occupational Therapy

It’s not uncommon that allied health professionals, such as nurses, then go on to study medicine later in life.

An Unrelated Course

Lastly, you can choose a completely unrelated course that interests you and aligns with your personal goals.

This route is ideal if you have other career interests or if you want to explore alternative fields before making a final decision.

I think I’d have studied either physics or engineering if medicine hadn’t been on the table.

Selecting a non-standard course could also help you stand out from other candidates if you decide to reapply for medicine as a graduate.

Should You Accept Your 5th Choice If You Don’t Get Any Offers?

Considering the competitiveness of medicine courses, it’s not uncommon to face a situation where you don’t receive any offers from your top four choices.

In such circumstances, you might wonder whether to accept your 5th UCAS choice or not.

I’d start by analysing the degree programme offered by your 5th choice university.

If it’s a subject that genuinely interests you and has a lower grade requirement, accepting it might be a good fallback option.

Keep in mind that you can always pursue medicine as a graduate degree afterwards, so this choice doesn’t necessarily put an end to your medical career aspirations.

If you are curious about the possibility of transferring to medicine from this alternate degree, I’d contact the university and ask for advice on their specific policy.

Some universities allow transfers to medicine after the first year, while others require completing the degree programme in full.

Lastly, think about your other options outside of your current UCAS application.

If you’re adamant about studying medicine, you may choose not to accept your 5th choice and instead focus on strengthening your application for the next application cycle.

This may involve retaking exams, gaining additional work experience or volunteering, or improving your personal statement and interview skills.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to accept your 5th choice will come down to where you can see yourself in 5 years time and whether or not medicine is the be-all and end-all of vocations for you.

Final Thoughts

Remember, applying to medical schools in the UK is a competitive process.

By carefully selecting the institutions that best suit your passion for medicine and considering a strategic backup choice, you can maximise your chances of embarking on a successful medical career.

You can use your 5th UCAS choice to just keep all your options open to till the very last moment, ensuring that you don’t have any regrets should things not go your way.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.