The top 5 reasons overseas applicants fail (and their solutions)

Some of the best medical students when I was at university were overseas students. They were mainly from China and Malaysia but also from the Middle East, Europe and Africa. These were individuals who had worked harder than me to win their place at med school. No doubt they have all have become good doctors.

Some of them have stayed in the UK, but plenty have returned to their home countries. One or two have found attractive opportunities in the Gulf, Australia and the US. Every one of them that I personally know are doing very well in their careers. A UK MBChB degree goes a long way almost anywhere in the world.

If you’re an overseas student, the chances are that you’ll be a great asset to any UK medical school. Overseas students offer a reliable bank of good exam results and almost never drop out.

So it isn’t surprising that medical schools like overseas students, and would prefer to fill their classes with as many as possible.

As an overseas student you are also likely to pay much more in tuition fees than a home student and this is a further reason why medical schools might be fighting for you to accept a place. You may be aware that universities have a quota to fill with overseas students.

However, as an individual student it may not feel that you are in such demand. In fact it will probably feel like an uphill struggle. More recently there has been increasing interest by overseas candidates and competition for places has increased.

Compared to UK students, overseas students are given very limited guidance about the application process and have poorer interview and presentation skills.

In addition they are competing with ever increasing numbers of students from a vast number of countries, many of whom are good candidates.

Here are the top reasons why you might get rejected as an overseas applicant and what you can do about them.

1. Poor English
Even with the best background education in English, the demands of writing a perfect personal statement or the pressure of performing under interview can make you suddenly look like a complete tourist.
The only solution is to practice speaking under pressure. That means mock interviews wth someone who is prepared to criticise every grammatical and pronounciation error.

2. Poor knowledge about medical training in the UK
I remember interviewing a young girl from Zimbabwe who was an excellent candididate in almost all regards but the panel (including me) reluctantly rejected her. The reason? She lacked awareness about postgraduate exams for GP training and didn’t know about the length of training. The relevant information is widely available. Make sure you’re familiar with it.

3. Sartorial incongruity (!)
Candidates from mainland China are often guilty of this but so are plenty of others. It’s not your fault. You wear the standard formal wear of your city or country which is probably a suit of some description. However one small error in colour, cut or style can make you look like an incongruous loser, or worse still, like you’re using the interview to make some sort of fashion statement.
My advice? Dress like the people you are going to impress, not like they do in the country you’re leaving. Look like you fit in and they are more likely to believe you.
Read the upcoming article on how to dress and be very, very careful.

4. Style failure in your personal statement
I’ve read some personal statements from brilliant students who have lost everything because they couldn’t get the style right. Medical schools expect too much and are not forgiving because they have so many good candidates to choose from. Make sure you read through examples of winning statements and compare yours to see if you have the tone and style right.
One more point here. Are you doing medicine for ‘job security’? Do not put this on your statement! It is commonly seen and seldom liked. See the articles on how to articulate this.
Get someone else to read your statement for you too. Do not rely on your own judgement. Email me for guidance if you really are struggling to find help.

5. Too few places!
The truth is that we receive huge numbers of applicants from overseas. Way more than we can possibly accomodate. Some excellent candidates are therefore rejected where they would possibly have been offered a place had they been a home student.
This is good news for home students of course, but the quotas for overseas students will undoubtedly increase in future years due to funding problems in the higher education sector as a whole. There are big changes just around the corner.

Finally, as an overseas student you probably have many medical schools, possibly in different countries as options.

Remember, if you’re called for an interview, make sure you tell the panel how much you want to study at their medical school. Better yet, if you can tell them you know someone that studied here and liked the course, or you have some connection with the city or some other specific reference point you can add some authenticity to your story and perhaps get some sympathy from the panel.


7 Comments + Add Comment

  • Thanks for this. We get English education of a very high standard but have some mistakes in grammar.
    Is this the sort of thing that gets a rejection?

    Graham (Malaysia)

    • If you speak at an interview and make basic grammatical errors, you shouldn’t really be allowed in. Certainly not for medicine. English is my first and only language and I make plenty of errors that I’m trying to correct before my interview next week!

  • Are Brits more critical than others when it comes to this?
    Most people are very forgiving if you come to their country and show an interest in their language. I suppose if you want to be a doc you need to meet a higher standard?

  • I don’t think an increase in places for overseas students will do any favours for home students. Most overseas applicants come from wealthy families who can choose which country to study in. They therefore have vastly greater places to choose from than students who can only afford to stay in their home country.

  • I am an international student currently wafting through an array of potential universities and endless applications. It really does seem like an uphill battle….

    AK (South Africa)

    • Hi Avika,

      Yes the whole thing is an uphill battle. Many before you have been through it and surely that means you can do it too. Just take it a step at a time. It does get easier once you start seeing some fruits, such as an interview or an offer. Keep going!

  • Hi Leo

    I have so far been accepted to a medical school in Mauritius. Its only a year old and has all the promises that attracts one to anything new. It seems like it offers a solid education (concurrent with USMLE/PLAB syllabus), is close to home & is relatively affordable by UK/US/Australian standards as an international students. Any thoughts/suggestions?