How To Get Into Medicine With Low Grades (Every Method)

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.

Bad grades don’t have to stand in your way of getting into medical school. In this article, we’re going to cover four ways you can get into medicine with low grades (as well as one secret method).

Applicants can get into medicine with low grades by studying medicine with a gateway year, studying graduate entry medicine or studying medicine abroad. Retaking exams is an option to improve your academic profile while clearing is a high risk opportunity for last minute offers.

Just because things didn’t go to plan on results day doesn’t mean you won’t end up as a doctor.

You just might need to follow one of these five strategies that I’ll walk you through step by step.

How To study Medicine With A Gateway Year

Applying for medicine with a gateway year might be the perfect option for you if you didn’t achieve the A-levels traditionally required for medical school.

The entry requirements are generally more forgiving: ideal if you’re trying to get into medicine with low grades!

You also don’t necessarily need to have taken sciences at A-level. And after the gateway year, you simply filter into a regular medical degree.

What is Medicine With a Gateway Year?

Medicine with a gateway year is essentially an extra year you do at university before enrolling into a regular medicine course.

So if a medical school’s A100 medicine program is five years long then medicine with a gateway year will be six.

The syllabus varies between medical schools but they generally have a strong scientific focus with small elements of patient contact sprinkled in.

They’re designed to bring everyone up to speed in their fundamental sciences in case people either hadn’t taken the required subjects at A-level or struggled at school.

Who Can Apply To Medicine Gateway Programs?

The gateway medicine courses are used to help widen participation in medical training- i.e. provide an opportunity to study medicine to those who have been disadvantaged in some way.

That means there are normally entry criteria that you have to meet to enroll.

Each medical school has it’s own specific rules but common themes include:

  • Having attended certain non-selective schools
  • Living in an area with low progression to higher education
  • Living in a low-income household
  • Having been in care yourself
  • Acting as primary carer for a family member

The list goes on. You can find the exact entry criteria on each medical school’s website.

What Are The Entry Requirements For Medicine With A Gateway Year?

Gateway medicine courses have more relaxed academic requirements than their regular counterparts.

That’s why they need to be on your radar if you’re trying to get into medicine with low grades.

These again vary but are usually in the range of ABB-BBC.

Students in a medicine gateway lecture

Some of the courses actually have maximum A-level boundaries too!

For example, you can’t apply to the Hull York gateway program if you’re predicted (or have achieved) ABB or above.

Most of the courses also require you to sit either the UCAT or BMAT.

Those that don’t initially require them normally need you to sit one before progressing from the gateway year onto the A100 course.

Which Medical Schools Have Medicine Gateway Programs?

Not every medical school offers medicine with a gateway year as an option.

However, all medical schools have some sort of contextual admissions policy- that is, if an applicant has evidence of some significant disadvantage they may be granted an automatic interview or given a lower offer.

The medical schools that currently run medicine gateway courses are:

  • Aberdeen
  • Bristol
  • Dundee
  • Edge Hill
  • UEA
  • Glasgow
  • Hull York
  • Keele
  • King’s College
  • Lancaster
  • Leeds
  • Leicester
  • Lincoln
  • Liverpool
  • Nottingham
  • Plymouth
  • Southampton
  • St Andrews

If you’re thinking of applying to a gateway course I’d recommend getting in touch with the admissions team at that medical school directly.

They can give you more information about the program and confirm your eligibility.

Should You Retake Exams To Get Into Medical School?

Choosing to retake your exams can be a life-changing choice if done well.

It can take you from zero to university hero with a bit of hard work and determination.

There’s no need to try and get into medicine with low grades if your grades aren’t low anymore!

However, there are some things you should consider before diving in to retakes…

When You Should Resit Your Exams To Get Into Medicine

I think to answer this question you have to be quite frank with yourself.

What was the reason you didn’t get the results you wanted in the first place?

Did you work hard enough for them? Or did you leave all the revision till last minute?

Did you turn up to every class? Or did you cruise along and take the year easy?

If you can pin-point what went wrong in your exam prep, and crucially have a plan to rectify it, then retaking your exams could be the perfect option.

However, if you’re not sure why you failed, or you can’t think of anything you’d have done differently, then going through the motions again may not be the best option.

In this scenario you might consider sitting an alternate A-level that you may find less challenging (depending if it’s a mandatory science for medical school).

How Can You Retake Your Exams For Medical School?

The logistics of retaking an exam may not be as complicated as you might think.

You can retake a GCSE or A-level:

  • At your school
  • At a sixth form college
  • Online!

If you choose your school you’ll have timetabled lessons like normal and have to attend those classes. This option is normally the cheapest.

However, not all schools allow students to retake exams.

Or you might feel like you’re ready to move on from school. Therefore, you may choose to go to a sixth form college.

Here you’ll still attend classes but they can be significantly smaller in size than school. Some colleges specialise in resits- they focus on exam technique and provide 1-1 coaching.

Students at a sixth form college library

Unfortunately, they can charge up to £6000 per A-level!

Retaking exams online means you’ll sit the papers as a private candidate.

This option let’s you take things at your own pace and at times that suit you.

There are plenty of options out there for online resits and tutoring so make sure you do your research.

You can retake as many or as few qualifications as you like.

This means you can target the specific subjects you might need better grades in for particular medical schools.

How To Retake Your GCSEs To Get Into Medical School

If you do choose to resit your GCSEs you can usually take them alongside any A-levels you’re doing at the same time.

This means you won’t be held back at all by your decision to resit.

And if you take the personal study/online route, you can mould your revision timetable around you.

However, if it’s just your GCSEs you’re concerned about you may be surprised by what medical schools actually require.

There are plenty of medical schools that have extremely low GCSE thresholds- including three that don’t actually need any specific GCSE qualifications at all!

Check out my article ‘Medical Schools With Low GCSE Requirements’ to learn more.

How To Retake Your A-Levels To Get Into Medical School

It’s important to note that not all medical schools accept applicants who have had to resit exams.

There are broadly three policies used by medical schools:

  1. A-level resits aren’t allowed full stop
  2. Resits are allowed as long as the candidate has evidence of extenuating circumstances
  3. Resits are allowed with no penalty

It’s therefore incredibly important you research whether your preferred medical schools accept candidates who’ve resat.

Their policies are usually on their website or you can always give the admissions team a call. The Medic Portal also have a great list here.

If you don’t want to have to take a year out or the medical school you want to go to doesn’t accept resits then you might want to consider this next strategy…

How To Get Into Graduate Entry Medicine With Low Grades

Graduate entry medicine can be an excellent route to get into medical training if you’re feeling somewhat let down by your grades.

By going away and performing well in an undergraduate degree you’re proving to medical schools that your past grades don’t represent you now and you’re more than capable of taking on the challenges of medical school.

‘Graduate entry medicine’ is a bit of a broad term and there are actually a few different ways of doing it…

Transferring From An Alternate Course To Graduate Entry Medicine

This is an extremely high-risk option and one that I do not recommend.

The reality is that each year a few of the top-performing students on courses such as Biomedical Sciences may be given the option to transfer onto that university’s medicine course.

It’s extremely high risk because there’s no guarantee that the option will be given to you and it can be a very competitive environment trying to outperform your colleagues.

On the other hand, if you’re planning on an doing an undergraduate degree anyway, there’s no harm in studying at a university where this is a possibility.

Which Medical Schools Have Graduate Only Courses?

Graduate only medicine courses are only open to people who have done another degree previously.

They’re normally shorter, four years long instead of five, and are only offered at certain medical schools.

Not having an extra year at university means:

  • You get to stop being a student and become a doctor quicker
  • You start earning quicker
  • You don’t have an extra year’s course fees to pay

But because you essentially have to cover a five year course in four years, things move a lot faster:

  • You’ll be busier during term-time
  • Holidays tend to be shorter
  • You have to learn more, in a shorter period

These graduate entry medicine courses also tend to be incredibly competitive to get in.

Because of this, some people prefer to go for this next option…

Can You Study Undergraduate Medicine As A Graduate?

Graduate entry medicine is going to medical school after already having done a degree.

However, just because you’ve done a degree before doesn’t mean you have to apply to a university’s graduate entry program.

Some university’s only offer an undergraduate course. Some only offer a postgraduate course. Some offer both, and let you apply to both. 

Medical students sitting in a lecture theatre

As a postgraduate, you can essentially pick and choose which courses you like the look of. Many people do end up applying to a mixture of both undergraduate and postgraduate medicine courses.

That’s because undergraduate medicine courses tend to be less competitive to get in.

Although your course will take a year longer, some people prefer to not be rushed and have the time to absorb all the information that’s going to be thrown at you.

How To Get Into Medicine Abroad With Low Grades

Studying medicine abroad is becoming an increasingly popular option with UK nationals. Doubly so for those trying to get into medicine with low grades.

The mismatch between a relatively small number of places at UK medical schools and the high number of applicants means lots of people are missing out on spots for their dream career.

There are also plenty of misconceptions about studying medicine abroad that can make it seem a lot more daunting than it actually is. For example:

  • You don’t have to learn a second language. You can find plenty of courses taught entirely in English
  • You won’t have to pay incredibly high course fees. Many international programs in Europe are actually far more affordable than the UK
  • You can get a job in the UK after graduating abroad. Many British hospitals have extremely strong links with international medical schools, regularly recruiting new graduates to their trust

Entry requirements at foreign medical schools can often be considerably lower than here in the UK.

There are plenty choices out there from Belarus to the Caribbean!

If you think this might be the route for you I’d get started early and thoroughly research your options.

How To Get Into Medicine Through Clearing With Low Grades

Yes, medicine spots do occasionally go through clearing. This is my secret method as not many people actually know this happens!

You’ll have to be quick though as they’re in hot demand.

Clearing is a bit of a last-ditch approach but it can get you into medicine if you’ve got low grades!

If it’s a case of missing your offer on results day, then it’s always worth giving the medical school a ring.

One of my very good friends was lucky enough to be accepted with AAB as opposed to his AAA offer!

If you’ve just missed your offer it’s important to remember they gave you one for a reason. You impressed them at interview!

They’ve got spots to fill on their course so you may just be in luck like my friend…

Final Thoughts

Congratulations, you made it! You should now have a solid understanding of how you might get into medicine with low grades.

I believe that if you’re sufficiently determined to get into medical school you’ll eventually get there.

It may not be pretty or easy, with years out and potentially having to work incredibly hard for an undergraduate degree, but with enough resolve I’m confident you can bag your dream career.

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.