9 Factors to Consider when Choosing a Medical School

9 Factors to Consider when Choosing a Medical School

9 months ago by Chris

There are 5 universities in the Republic of Ireland which offer undergraduate medicine: University College Dublin (UCD), Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI), National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) and University College Cork (UCC).

It may seem difficult to decide which university is right for you and students often end up making their choice purely based on the number of points they achieve in HPAT and Leaving Cert. However, the golden rule when filling out your CAO form is to place your choices in order of genuine preference, not in order of points. Remember that points only reflect the demand for a course and the number of places available. Each university accepts students with the highest points who have applied for a course. The points achieved by the last student accepted is recorded as the minimum points required to enter that course in that year. Therefore, points do not reflect the quality of the course or university.

This blog aims to provide an overview of important factors which you should consider when choosing a medical school.



When choosing a medical school, it is important to consider location. Can you commute or would you need to move out of home? Many students jump at the opportunity to move away from home for university. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to doing so.

Student accommodation, especially in Dublin, can be expensive and hard to find. If you have a part time job back home, you may find it difficult to balance work and college when you are obliged to travel home each weekend. Some students experience homesickness and struggle with lack of support if they move away from home.

However, moving away from home can help you to become more independent. It can be fun to live with other students and is a great way to make new friends.


Course Length

Some universities offer a foundation year, commonly referred to amongst students as the pre-med year. This year provides a grounding in basic sciences and gives students a chance to settle into university, as it usually has a slightly lighter workload than subsequent years.

RCSI and NUIG offer a 6-year course, with the first year being the pre-med year. They also offer a 5-year course with no pre-med year. Students can choose the 5-year course if they meet a certain grade requirement in Leaving Cert science subjects.

UCD offers a 6-year course only. The first year in UCD is similar to the pre-med year in RCSI and NUIG, but is not optional.

TCD and UCC offer a 5-year course only with no pre-med year.

It can be difficult to decide whether or not to complete a premed year. Some students worry that they may not be able to keep up with the course content of medicine if they do not undertake a premed year, particularly if they haven’t studied certain science subjects in their Leaving Cert. However, students who haven’t done premed normally do not have difficulty catching up.

In fact, there are several advantages to choosing a 5 year rather than a 6 year degree. Most importantly, it will allow you to graduate and work in medicine earlier. Remember, medical training and specialising is a lengthy process!

However, if you would like a year to have a bit of fun without the normal workload of medicine, a 6 year degree with a premed year could be the right choice for you.


Campus Environment

The campus environment is important to consider when choosing a medical school.

UCD is Ireland’s largest university. The campus is very big and modern, with almost all courses being taught on the same campus. This means you have plenty of opportunities to meet other students.

The main TCD campus is located in Dublin city centre and is renowned worldwide for its beautiful buildings and historic library. It is Ireland’s oldest surviving university and oldest medical school.

UCC is located 1km from Cork city centre and also has a beautiful, historic campus. It also has a new student hub where students can access various services and hang out. Cork city is known as Ireland’s food capital as it has many great places to eat.

NUIG is located in the heart of Galway city. Galway is a great city for students, with university students making up 20% of its population. Galway has also been voted as the friendliest city in Europe!

RCSI is unique in that it only offers health science degrees.  Many international students study at RCSI, and it has a student community of over 60 nationalities.

It is helpful to visit the university campus and city (for example, at university open days) to find out more about the environment and see what appeals to you.



Being awarded a scholarship on entry into a 3rd level course is a huge honour. Universities offer various scholarships and awards based on academic and non-academic achievements. There are also scholarships available for mature students, school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and for those with a disability.

Here are some examples of specific scholarships offered by Irish Medical Schools:



  • Entrance Scholarships to first year students who achieve 560 points or more in their Leaving Certificate.

  • UCD Ad Astra Academy scholarships to students who have exceptional talent in academia, sports or the performing arts.

  • Scholarships for fluent Irish speakers as part of the Gaeltacht UCD Irish Language Student Residence scheme


  • Entrance Exhibition awards based on Leaving Cert examination results. Some students are also awarded a Sizarship, meaning they will receive their evening meal in Trinity free of charge for first and second year.

  • Foundation Scholarships (known as ‘Schols’) awarded to students who achieve an overall first-class honours result (70% or above) in optional examinations which students can sit in January of their second year. Successful students are entitled to free Trinity accommodation, their evening meal free of charge, a waiver of their tuition fees, and a small annual stipend for 5 years.

  • 30-40 high performance sports scholarships are offered each year.


  • BT Young Scientist and Technology first year scholarship for students who have won first prize in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Competition as an individual or as part of a group.

  • Various GAA and sports scholarships

  • Scholarships awarded through the Quercus Talented Students’ Programme for exceptional achievement in academia, sport, creative and performing arts, active citizenship and innovation/entrepreneurship.


  • Two Consilio Manuque Medicine scholarships for the students with the highest combined Irish Leaving Certificate and HPAT score.

  • The Aim High Medicine Scholarship to support students who are Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) eligible.

  • The RCSI's Traveller Community Access Programme (TCAP) for members from the Traveller Community.

  • The NCBI Gerard Byrne Bursary for students with a vision impairment.


  • Excellence Scholarships for the students who have achieved the highest CAO points (Leaving Cert plus HPAT scores)

  • Various Sports Scholarships

  • Scholarships for students from Donegal, Roscommon and Mayo

  • Scholarships for Excellence in Creative Arts

  • Scholarships for mature students, refugees, vulnerable immigrant groups and Irish Travellers

To explore a list of scholarships offered by universities in Ireland, click on the following link: https://careersportal.ie/scholarships/index.php?search=&college=



Some medical schools allow students to study subjects from other courses as part of their medical degree. These are called ‘electives’.

For example, UCD offers the ‘UCD Horizons’ programme which allows students to select an elective from any undergraduate course in UCD (subject to module entry requirements, timetable and availability of places). This means that you can continue studying subjects which you enjoyed in secondary school while still completing your medical degree. You can even try something different such as Tai Chi!

UCC allows medical students to select an elective from a list of relevant electives which includes language options and research opportunities.

You can find more information about electives offered at medical schools by visiting the college’s website and contacting the admissions officer of the course.


Research Opportunities

Engaging in research in medical school is increasingly becoming an important factor when applying for training positions after graduation. All universities offer research opportunities. For example:

  • RCSI, NUIG and UCD run summer research programmes where students can apply for research projects and present their work.

  • TCD medical students must complete a 14-week research project in year 2.

  • UCC allows students to select a variety of research-based modules as part of their degree. All medical students also complete a research project during their final two years.

Some colleges offer medical students the opportunity to complete a master’s in medical research as part of their degree. For example:

  • UCD, UCC and TCD offer a one-year intercalated master’s which medical students can complete after year 3 of their degree.

  • NUIG offers an 8-year medicine programme in which students complete their degree and also a PhD.

  • RCSI offers intercalated master’s programmes for some medical students.


Teaching Style

Most colleges have a similar teaching style, and all cover required content to practice as a medical practitioner. Differences in teaching styles are normally minor.

Each of the five medical schools have a detailed curriculum map on their websites which includes information about teaching styles. You can review these and decide if the teaching style aligns with your own learning style.

Here are some key features of the teaching styles used in each medical school:

  • UCD offers a modern curriculum which is split into separate subjects called modules. Many different modalities of learning are used to deliver the curriculum.

  • TCD uses a spiral model, where student learning is progressive and becomes more complex at each phase of the curriculum. Problem Based Learning (PBL) is used in first year where students work in small groups to solve a medical case.

  • UCC places an emphasis on small-group, patient-centred teaching. An integrated, systems-based curriculum is used, meaning that students learn clinical skills and professionalism alongside basic medical sciences.

  • NUIG also delivers an integrated, systems-based curriculum composed of individual modules.

  • RCSI places a strong focus on Inter-Professional Education (IPE), with students in Medicine, Physiotherapy and Pharmacy working together on projects and activities from first to final year.


Teaching Hospitals

Each medical school is associated with several teaching hospitals where students complete their placements. Placements primarily take place during the final 2 years of each medicine programme. UCD have Ireland’s most extensive clinical network with more than 20 teaching hospitals and over 100 primary care practices.

After you finish your medical degree, you will need to undertake an intern year. Some students prefer to undertake their intern year in one of the hospitals in which they trained.


University Rankings

A less important factor when choosing a medical school is university rankings. These rankings are often considered to be flawed as they usually look at research activity but may not consider other important factors, such as the quality of tuition and student experience. Different ranking systems may generate different results depending on which factors are considered.

In Ireland, the order of QS university rankings for ‘Life Sciences and Medicine’ 2023 is as follows:

  1. TCD

  2. UCD

  3. UCC

  4. RCSI

  5. NUIG

According to The Sunday Times 2021 Good Universities Guide, UCD was the number one university in Ireland for student experience.


A final word

The five undergraduate medicine programmes in Ireland each offer their own unique benefits and are all accredited by the Irish Medical Council. Therefore, no matter which medical school you attend, you can be assured that you are receiving a recognised degree in a world class university.

It can be hard to decide which programme is right for you but attending open days can be very useful. Where open days are held virtually, it is a good idea to arrange a visit to campus also if possible.

For more in-depth information about each Medical School please see the links below:

UCC Medicine

UCD Medicine

NUIG Medicine

TCD Medicine

RCSI Medicine



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