Every year we speak to hundreds of students who know that they will not be able to get a place in the UK to study their chosen profession, usually because they have exhausted their options here already or their AS levels did not support an application straight out of school. Such students have an advantage in that they are able to plan their next move in a timely manner, investigating the full implications of studying abroad for somewhere between five and seven years.
It is those students who are holding offers in the UK which they narrowly miss who are likely to be facing a big decision on where their future lies. If this is a dilemma that you are facing for the first time this week, or if it has suddenly become real, this advice is for you. It is based on the typical questions that students ask us when starting to think about studying abroad. Clearly, there are many aspects of the decision that we cannot influence, you might decide that medicine or dentistry is not the route for you after all, and we can never know your own personal circumstances, but we think there are many questions you will have where we can perhaps help.
- How do I choose the right medical/dental/vet school?
Which is the best medical school in Europe that is easiest to get in to? This is a typical first question from students and it is an awful one. Is the best option likely to be the easiest? It might very well be the most affordable (what you get and what you pay for aren’t always the same thing) but getting into medical school just means you have jumped the first hurdle – there are many other things to consider.
Obviously you need to know that you meet the entry requirements (and if you don’t have both chemistry and biology A levels, or if you have BTECs or an Access to HE qualification you quite possibly won’t) and that your grades will be acceptable but many medical, dental or vet schools won’t actually care about your grades. What they will care about is how you do in their own entrance exam and this is the first problem that you will face: you are quite possibly too late to apply for 2016 admission. Some schools will have exams in the next few weeks in London; recruiting British students after results day is a well-established practice. The entrance exam for Italian public medical schools takes place next month but you would need to have registered for this already.
Once you have satisfied yourself that you stand a chance of getting a place, the next question I would ask is probably the most important of all: how many students start in the first year and how many of those graduate on target five (or more usually six) years later? How many of these are the same people? You will undoubtedly come across agents offering guaranteed places. Do you really want to go to a medical school that accepts just about anyone who can afford it? This is one area where you really do get what you pay for in the sense that private, more expensive medical schools are likelier to cap the size of their classes at a sensible number. For example, the number of students at Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome is 54 per year and their students are well supported throughout their time at the university. The maximum number of students at European University of Cyprus is 100 per year. The typical first-year intake of some Bulgarian medical schools is well over 1,000. Italian public universities are notorious for overcrowding but these latter options will be significantly cheaper. You could make a strong case for it being a worse investment, however.
- Will I need to learn a foreign language?
For most British students the next thing to consider is the language in which the course will be taught ie. will it be in English? There are an increasing number of options taught entirely in English but they are not available in all European countries. For example, we get many students who wish to study in Germany and Scandinavian countries because tuition fees there are zero. There is no chance of this happening if you don’t speak the language (and, let’s be honest, your chances are exceedingly slim even if you do – Polish, Hungarian and Czech medical schools are full of Norwegian and German students). Every year we come across one or two new European options but they are usually in the same countries:
- Medicine – central and eastern Europe, Netherlands (50% in Dutch), Italy, Cyprus and Malta
- Dentistry – central and eastern Europe, Spain
- Veterinary Medicine – central and eastern Europe, Spain (50% in Spanish)
It is quite rare for British students to combine A levels in languages with sciences (if you haven’t, you have already ruled out your chances of studying medicine in Malta, for example). In many students’ imagination, learning a foreign language seems like an insurmountable task. If you live in a country where it is spoken, the language should be much easier to acquire than in a GCSE class a few hours a week. In most cases (exceptions noted above) your classes and exams will be entirely in English. You will need to speak the local language to deal with patients and, to put it bluntly, you cannot become a doctor or a dentist if you cannot deal with patients (vets have owners to think about). We occasionally have students who insist that they will only go to places where they can qualify entirely in English and this is possible: if you have the money, by all means go to the Caribbean or Australia (Ireland is extremely unlikely and the USA will almost certainly bankrupt you). For most people, however, studying health sciences abroad means studying elsewhere in Europe and that means learning a language. It is fair to say that Spanish might be easier to learn than Bulgarian or Czech (not to mention more useful later in life) but if you go into this thinking that you can minimize the importance of learning the local language, you are going into this with the wrong frame of mind and we would encourage you to think twice.
- Will my degree be GMC/GDC/RCVS recognized?
Yes. But here is the one area where Brexit could have a major impact on your future. European degrees will not suddenly become worse overnight if we are no longer legally obliged to recognize them. Given the sheer number of foreign-qualified doctors, dentists and vets working in the UK (not to mention Brits working abroad), there will be problems if we suddenly stop recognizing foreign qualifications. However, it is possible that this will happen. I cannot rule it out; nobody can. All I can say is that if you start from where you are today and you want to become a doctor in the shortest time possible, going to study in Europe is probably still the best move.
- Should I take an alternative Bachelor’s degree in the UK and try for graduate entry?
OK, I appreciate that my advice here might be biased and needs to be tempered by all the other considerations that you will have. However, I think it is definitely something you need to hear as it might contradict what you will be told by other sources.
Clearly, many students in the UK are attracted to options that appear to keep them on track to becoming a doctor or dentist after the completion of a Bachelor’s degree. However, this doesn’t always work and there are precious few graduate-entry routes available elsewhere in Europe. This means that upon completion of a 3 year BSc in Biomedical Science, for example, you might have to start at the beginning again at a European medical, dental of vet school. Given the sheer expense involved in studying in the UK now (and the fact that money will be required to study abroad), does it really make sense to start down this path even if it is the only one that might be readily available to you this week?
Every year we have students who drop out midway through a BSc to start their studies abroad before they have graduated here. Their prior study is not always taken into consideration by their new university, meaning that their UK studies are effectively worthless. Of course, I do not believe them to be worthless but they have no impact at all on the length of time required to train as a doctor, dentist or vet. At most, a prior degree might shorten your studies by one year.
- How much is it going to cost?
Well, given that you are looking at a five or six-year commitment, you can expect it to be expensive. However, there is a wide range of potential tuition fees and living costs. It is probably best to check our website for the cost of individual courses.
The one financial consideration that is the same wherever you go is that British student finance isn’t going to travel with you; you are on your own financially. This usually means that the decision to study abroad is one that needs to be taken as a family. You definitely need to get their input when trying to decide what is feasible. There is absolutely no point in applying to a university if you know you will not be able to afford to take up your place there. Scholarships and bursaries are extremely rare. Many universities that offer them to other students actually make exemptions for students of medicine and dentistry. To once again put it bluntly, as an international student you are a cash-cow. You will be expected to contribute to the bottom line, not subtract from it.
The only country currently operating a student loan system that you might be able to access is Bulgaria. Even here, there are restrictions on the loans and last year, the system ran out of money before all students were able to complete their application. It is worth checking the current status of the student loan system in Bulgaria before committing to a place there, especially if you will not be able to afford to study there otherwise.
- Do I need an agent to get into medical, dental or vet school abroad?
Once again, my advice on this point is a little biased based on my own experience but I can perhaps offer some perspective on this issue that you might not otherwise get.
If you are looking to apply last-minute for 2016 entry, you are almost certainly going to need help. Applications can be complicated procedures but often the part that is least tricky is getting you a place. Obviously, this depends on supply and demand as well as your academic record but if you meet the required standard, and places are available, it is often quite easy to arrange to sit an entrance exam or get an offer letter if this isn’t necessary.
Meeting the other requirements around payment, translation of documents, moving to a new country etc. are all examples of issues where you might need assistance. However, none of these are of any importance at all if you do not have an offer letter even though some agents will make you pay for these services up front even if you never end up needing them. There is no point applying to a university if you just want to see what would happen if you put in an application. This is a waste of everyone’s time and most university representatives should be able to give you a good idea of your chances without submitting a formal application.
I can also see it from an agent’s point of view. You are likely to be considering multiple options, sometimes at the same university using different representatives. This can create a conflict of interests and nobody likes to work on the basis that they might never get paid for their efforts. It is therefore understandable that some agents will charge fees before you get an offer letter. This has led to an incredibly competitive marketplace, a race-to-the-bottom particularly around medical schools in Bulgaria and Romania. Last time I counted, there were over 40 representatives offering places at these schools to UK and Irish students with fees ranging from around £750 to £3,000. While I can sympathise with agents who need to operate this way, I also cannot see how this situation can be squared with offering impartial advice to young people who are facing a huge decision about their future.
There are agents out there who will offer free advice. We work as an agent with a handful of medical, dental and veterinary medicine schools and we do not charge students for our services. However, this also means there are many options where we cannot help you any further than just offering general advice. The purpose of this blog post is to provide you with just that information. We really don’t have much more to say about other options. If you would like assistance with any of the following universities for 2016/17 admission, please feel free to contact us for more detailed information:
- Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome, Italy (2017 entry only)
- European University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus (2016 entry by interview)
- Universidad Catolica de Valencia, Spain (one place remaining as of 15/08/16)
- Universidad Europea de Madrid, Spain (full but students might be successful from the waiting list)
- University of Zagreb, Croatia (2016 entry by interview)
- CEU Cardenal Herrera University, Valencia, Spain (first two years in English, then in Spanish – very limited availability)