Starting medicine when you are older is not easy. There are additional financial barriers such as existing debts and financial ties. You may also have to give up a well paid job and move to a new city, leave family and friends behind and uproot your partner or your children. But if you feel that medicine is for you then it could be the best decision you ever make. This section outlines some of the issues raised by studying medicine as a mature student.

Making the change

If this is the first time you have looked into studying medicine as a mature student, you might be feeling a little unsure about whether or not you are just being ridiculous. It could be that you have always wanted to be a doctor but didn’t go to medical school for one reason or another or perhaps you never really considered medicine until recently. Whatever your situation, you aren’t being ridiculous. Thousands of mature students begin medical courses each year and it is becoming more and more popular to make the change.

Am I too old?

Getting into medical school is certainly more difficult the older you are but there are lots of universities that encourage mature students, with or without a previous degree. Medical schools are no longer allowed to impose age limits and students in their 50s have been accepted in recent years – so don’t be discouraged if you are iin an older age bracket. There are hundreds of medical students starting their training in their 20s, 30s and 40s each year, so you are not alone.

Do I have the right qualifications?

As a mature student, your qualifications may not fit the standard entry requirements for medical school. You may have O levels, GCSEs, A levels, degree qualifications, Open University courses or none of the above. You may have left school with very few qualifications and now wonder what might have been. Alternatively, you may have been out of education for a long time and wonder if your qualifications will still be counted. Whatever your circumstances, the best advice for any mature student is to contact the universities directly before you apply. If possible, write to the medical schools, enclose a CV and ask if you meet their entrance criteria. If not, ask what you might do to improve your application. Many universities are prepared to consider applicants with non-standard entry qualifications on an individual basis. So it may sound rather time consuming, but it is really the only way to find out what your options are.

Do I need to have a science background?

Yes and no. Most medical schools require you to have A level chemistry or a science degree and some also expect A level biology. Those that don’t usually require the GAMSAT exam, for which you will need good chemistry, biology and physics knowledge. The good news is that you don’t have to have all this already.

The best advice is to sit A level chemistry and possibly biology. You can do this at night classes in some cases and it’s perfectly possible to do one or even two A levels with a full time job. Having these on top of your degree will open up most medical schools. The GAMSAT exam is an alternative, but is only used by 4 universities (St Georges, Nottingham, Swansea and Peninsula at the time of writing). The safest option is to do A levels and the GAMSAT – if you have the energy! Don’t be put off by science just because you may be a bit rusty, lots of people get anxious about this but then find they manage much better than they had expected to.

Will it be difficult to study with 18 year olds?

People are sometimes worried that it will be difficult to be with younger students and that they might feel isolated, being older than their peers. However, most mature students do not find this is a problem. As a general rule, how much you enjoy the social aspects of studying medicine depends on your personality and there is a lot to be said for just getting involved. In addition, most courses take between 15-40 mature students each year so there will be lots of people in a similar situation. There are also some courses that are only open to graduates, so all students will be older. See our course guide for more information about different types of degree.

What about my partner or my children?

Having a partner and / or children can make the decision to do medicine even harder because you have more than just yourself to think about. However, it is possible to manage medical school and a family and universities do not discriminate against parents. You can discuss medical school as a mature student on our forum. Some people with family committments decide to apply to only one or two courses near to their home, to prevent having to uproot their partner and children. This can occasionally work but you need to be realistic about the odds of getting a place. Applying to less than 4 courses seriously reduces your chances of getting a place.

Can I afford it?

Going to university as a mature student or returning to university as a graduate is financially draining. You can expect to have to live on a tighter budget and you need to be prepared to run up significant debts at medical school. However, it is financially possible to study medicine, even if you don’t have any savings or help from your family and you should earn enough to repay your debts when you qualify. You will be entitled to a student loan for the entire course and can get an NHS bursary and fee support for some years. There are also specialised bank loans, grants and scholarships that can help. If you want to study medicine, do not be put off by money worries. You can find out about funding for medicine in our money matters section.