How to Study Medicine in Australia or New Zealand?

Entry Criteria

University websites can be difficult to navigate and their selection criteria for medicine are often unclear.

Most Australian universities require a combination of your UCAT score, a medical interview and finally ATAR score to gain entry into medicine.

Every university differs slightly in how they select students for medical and health science courses. You should research each university individually to see what their criteria are and which course will suit you best.

In general, entrance into undergraduate Medicine, Dentistry or Health Sciences in Australia is based on three criteria:

  • Your high school results, or ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank)
  • Your score in UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test)
  • Your score in an interview or oral assessment (note: some universities also require a written application)

This is very different to most other non-medical courses which require ATAR alone.

These three criteria can be equally weighted, or some universities may put more emphasis on a particular criterion. Furthermore, universities may look at particular UCAT subtest score(s) rather than your overall UCAT score.

Course pre-requisites

Some universities will also require specific pre-requisite subjects to be studied in your final year of high-school, such as chemistry for Monash University. Others may only ‘highly recommend’ that you study these subjects. Thus, students need to ensure they select subjects that will satisfy these requirements. If you do not study a particular prerequisite subject and/or obtain a sufficient study score in that subject, you will not be eligible for entry into undergraduate medical courses at some universities.

Generally, many Australian/NZ universities require:

  • Satisfactory completion of English or other English/Literature subject
  • Satisfactory completion of Mathematics, Physics and/or Chemistry. Please note this differs between universities so it is important to research the particular universities you are interested in.

Don’t I need a really high ATAR/high school score to study medicine?

A top-tier ATAR is not the sole determinant of whether or not you will gain entry into undergraduate medicine in Australia/NZ.

No, you do not necessarily need a top-tier ATAR to gain entry into an undergraduate medical course in Australia/NZ. Respective universities differ, but in general it is the combination of your UCAT, ATAR and interview score that will help you to gain entry. Generally, the higher your UCAT score, the lower your required ATAR.

However, this does not necessarily work in the reverse because once your ATAR drops below 99.90 a poor UCAT score will not be overlooked for entrance into your preferred medical school. Thus a high ATAR score does not negate the need for a high UCAT score, whereas a high UCAT score will lessen the need for a top-tier ATAR score.

For most candidates to be eligible for entry into undergraduate medicine, they will need to score highly on the UCAT first. Without a sufficient UCAT score even an ATAR of 99.95 may not be enough to allow entry into your preferred university for undergraduate medicine.

A high UCAT score can help alleviate pressure on students wishing to gain entry into undergraduate medicine as it can lower the required ATAR.

Students should also be aware of what universities have as their minimum required ATAR. The required ATAR for undergraduate medicine for all universities will vary slightly from year to year. Furthermore, the minimum score published on a university’s website may not always be realistic. For example, in theory it is possible to gain entry into UNSW with an ATAR of 96. However, the median ATAR for students studying medicine at UNSW is in fact around the 99.7 mark.

Given how difficult it can be to achieve such a high ATAR, your performance in the UCAT exam will be the key to enabling entry into these courses. A high UCAT score will reduce your need to obtain a top-end ATAR result.

In fact, the UCAT provides an early indication of how likely it is that a student will achieve entry into their chosen medical degree. This is because each student will receive their UCAT result on the same day that they sit the test and before they leave the test centre. This provides a head start to students who achieve an excellent UCAT score, as it will provide an indication as to what ATAR score they will need to achieve in their school exams.

Administrative Information

Be mindful of VTAC, UAC, and QTAC closing dates as they are often surprisingly early in the school year.

Students should be mindful that if they choose to apply interstate they will need to register with the various state academic authorities, for example, VTAC (Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre), UAC (University Admissions Centre – for NSW students), QTAC (Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre) etc. Registering with only one of these academic authorities will not automatically register you with the others. Be mindful of the VTAC, UAC and QTAC closing dates (usually the end of September each year).

More Information

For more detailed information and approximate ATAR and UCAT scores required for each university, MedEntry students should refer to the University Admissions guide on the LMS. Course requirements for individual universities (for school leavers as well as for mature age students) will also be covered. MedEntry can assist students in completing their written applications for specific universities via the Application Review Service.

Entry for mature age students

For mature age students, some universities use GPA (Grade Point Average), UCAT score and interview score. Universities such as the University of Western Sydney (UWS), Newcastle, New England, Tasmania, Otago and Auckland use UCAT and not GAMSAT (Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admissions Test) for graduates.

If you cannot gain entry into an undergraduate medical course, you have the option of taking the graduate entry medicine pathway.

What is the difference between the graduate and undergraduate medical entry pathways?

An undergraduate course means you enter your chosen course straight away i.e. you commence studying medicine at university straight out of high school. A graduate course means that you must first complete an undergraduate degree in another area of study, such as science. Then, assuming you have:

  • maintained a high enough GPA
  • scored highly on the GAMSAT
  • scored well in an interview (usually a multiple mini interview (MMI))

then you will obtain entry into medicine and will be able to begin your medical degree.

In general, the graduate pathway is longer and more expensive than the undergraduate one. If you are sure that you wish to pursue medicine, it is far less stressful, less expensive and less time consuming to obtain entry via the undergraduate pathway. As one example, undergraduate medicine allows you to get out into the field and practice earlier than graduate medicine. Undergraduates will obtain more experience compared to those who take the graduate medical entry pathway (e.g. Melbourne University). Generally, those who choose the graduate route will end up practising medicine much later in life. The graduate pathway is best for those who are very unsure of their career path or who are unable to obtain entry via the undergraduate route.

What if I don’t do well in UCAT?

If you do not achieve the required result in UCAT but have performed reasonably well in your ATAR, you can resit the UCAT and gain entry into undergraduate medicine the following year. However, some universities will not accept students who have commenced an undergraduate degree elsewhere. For example, you cannot begin a science or biomedicine degree at Melbourne University and then transfer into medicine at Monash University (this is because Monash University only takes ‘school leavers’). Furthermore, for the limited number of universities that do accept non-school leavers, the number of places available decrease.

Some universities will NOT accept students who have commenced an undergraduate degree elsewhere

Alternatively, instead of commencing an undergraduate degree, you could take a gap year and re-sit the UCAT that year. The advantage of this is that you are still considered a ‘school leaver’. All universities offering undergraduate medicine will still consider you, and the number of places available to you will not decrease. In addition to preparing for UCAT, you could seek paid work, work experience and/or volunteer work in a health related field. This would not only help you confirm that medicine is the career for you, but will also help you significantly in interviews and written applications.

Note that one university in Australia, JCU (James Cook University), does not require UCAT for entry into medicine. If you do not do well in UCAT, you can still apply to JCU. Keep in mind however that the focus of this course is rural and tropical medicine. If you are a citybased person without significant experience in rural areas, admission can be difficult.

Ultimately, the decision you make will depend on a number of factors, and particularly your ATAR and UCAT scores. Guidance will be provided as part of the MedEntry UCAT course. However, unless you choose to take the graduate pathway and sit GAMSAT, almost all routes will require you to succeed in UCAT – it is crucial to being able to study undergraduate medicine.