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How hard is it to enter medical school in Auckland?

Female student studying to enter medical school
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The common misconception is that entering medical school, especially at Auckland is incredibly difficult, but in this article I’ll explain why this is frankly not true.

But first, why the misconception in the first place?

Why do people think that it’s hard to enter medical school?

To be clear, entering medical school is certainly not easy – it’s just not as hard as it’s often depicted as. So what are the difficulties?

Rank score

Entering into premed, either through Health Science or Biomed, requires the highest rank score for entry of any program at the University of Auckland. For NCEA, it’s approximately an Excellence endorsement, but when we consider internal and external results, gaining this rank score is possible for approximately 20 to 25% of secondary school leavers. Those that consider themselves relatively academically capable should not have much trouble with entering into premed in the first place. Students who are unable to reach this rank score likely lack the academic skills to tackle premed anyway.

These skills can certainly then be developed further with a gap year or a certificate or foundations course. Especially for students who are just on the boundary of the rank score, it’s highly unusual to lack the raw intelligence to do premed. In the overwhelming majority of cases, it’s simply the academic and study skills that let students down.

Nevertheless, this is the first hurdle to overcome and for some students, it will be difficult to achieve the required minimum score.

Statistics

Of between 1500 to 2000 students from around the country who meet the rank score and sit first-year premed in Auckland, only approximately 6 to 8% of these students will be accepted into medical school. Clearly, a 94% failure rate is not a great outlook, and that’s among excellence and A/A* achieving students from secondary school.

This ultra-high failure rate is mostly due to students being unable to receive a high enough grade, which sits at a staggering median GPA of 8.75 out of 9.0 in recent years. This equates to 3 A+’s and 1 A in the first-year core papers, or roughly the same level of difficulty as 5 outstanding scholarships in year 13. For most students, their premed year involves more studying in a single year than every other year of school combined! Students that don’t fail due to GPA get caught out due to the UCAT or multiple-mini-interview (MMI).

No other university undergraduate program has such a low acceptance rate.

Horror stories

Many students have heard of that super-smart family friend of their dad’s workmate who was a total genius at school but didn’t get into medical school and then went over to some unheard-of university overseas to study medicine. These “horror stories” can paint a picture that only the most intelligent students can enter medical school.

Perhaps this kind of exclusive image is desirable by the University. It would certainly explain the lack of transparency around medical entry that the University does not seem interested to address.

Why is it not really that hard?

Imagine giving a 5 year-old a year 8 maths problem. They would probably find it incomprehensibly challenging. Or if you had to study and sit your year 12 exams in year 9. It’s not hard to imagine how overwhelming it would be.

Let’s think about it a little more. What exactly would we find overwhelming about such a situation?

We’d probably find it hard to manage our time with all these internals, tests and exams. Getting on top of the volume of academic material would also be extremely challenging since it’s such a huge step up from what we were used to by that point. And even if we were able to be “on top of it”, we might not know and be able to recall all of it deeply enough to score well in our exams, especially if we need an almost perfect score in the top 10% of all students to pass.

But for a year 13 student to do year 12 would be fairly manageable. It might not be easy, but it certainly wouldn’t be this insurmountable challenge like if we had come straight off the heels of year 8.

This is exactly what premed is like.

The jump in volume, depth and time pressure is like going from year 8 to year 12 in a single step. Compared to year 13, what you might cover in 2 months at school would be covered in a 2-hour lecture at university. And you’re expected to not only keep up with this pace for multiple papers every week but then score a near-perfect mark in the tests that start as soon as 6 weeks into the semester.

If you’re struggling to get Excellences or scholarships in Year 13, the struggle will be very real in premed.

So how is this meant to explain why it’s actually not as hard as it seems?

Because there’s no reason you can’t develop the right level of skills before you start premed.

Just like how year 12 isn’t hard for a year 13 student, first-year premed isn’t hard if you know how to study like a university student. It’s ridiculously, unfathomably challenging if you try to tackle university like a high school student, but if you tackle it like a top-achieving university student, it’s surprisingly straightforward.

Does that mean you don’t have to work hard?

No, you will study a lot. It will be stressful. It won’t be easy. But it also won’t be that hard.

That’s why we’re able to predict generally how successful a student will be in premed and medical entry, even when we see them in year 13. We can observe the skills and self-management techniques that the student uses and extrapolate if they will be sufficient for a premed level. If it is, then we can logically expect a good result. If it isn’t, we can logically expect that the student will need to work very, very, very hard to overcome this skill difference with pure effort. In some cases, this will be enough, albeit highly stressful, but effort alone will not be enough in most cases.

Can you guess roughly what percentage of students do not have the right skills and are unable to overcome them with just “trying harder” (aka doing the wrong thing more)?

Yup, around 94% of students.

If you’re interested in learning about what skills you need and how to develop these, check out our other articles and tune into our regular webinars. You can sign up to our mailing list at the bottom of this page to be notified of the next one or check the next one on our Events page.

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About the author
Justin Sung
Justin Sung
Justin is a medical doctor, University of Auckland graduate, published research author, certified teacher, and founder of JTT. He has assisted thousands of students into healthcare careers since 2011, making him New Zealand's individually most experienced medical entry expert. He regularly works with schools and organisations to help students and professionals learn more effectively.

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