Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is pharmacy school attainable at this point?

Question: My issue is that I do not want to pursue something that will not be attainable. I received a BA in Business about 3 years ago with an overall GPA of 2.6. After working in a retail pharmacy I made the decision to become a pharmacist. I began taking courses at a CC and am now on academic probation ( Grades are B two, Cs, F, a W, and two Ds in an attempt at the same course. On top of working full time while attending class, I was in an accident and missed many classes as a result, in addition to the fact that I had never taken courses of this magnitude and may have been overwhelmed. What can I do, if anything, to possibly be accepted into a professional program? How much will volunteering and community service help? Or should I just begin looking for a career elsewhere? Thanks for your help : )

Answer: Thanks for your email. Of course, there are no absolutes in this world, so I won't tell you that your goal is unattainable. However, you have painted yourself into a corner and don't have much room to get out.

Without knowing the courses you are struggling with or how working full time and your accident affected you, I can only speculate. Although it may be unrealistic, I wonder if you were to dedicate yourself to your studies on a full time basis if you feel that would enable you to be successful. Ceratinly, I have seen cases of individuals with less than stellar academic records who have shown significant improvement once they focused exclusively on their studies and increased their chances of admission dramatically.

At this point, volunteering and community service are not going to get you into pharmacy school. It would appear that you need to markedly improve your grades. If you believe you can do this, even if it requires great sacrifice, that would be your best opportunity. You simply have to weigh the positives and negatives and determine what direction is best for you.

Good luck.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Question about pharmacy school deposits

Question: I've been reading your blog everyday since June and its been soooo helpful! Thanks!

My interviews are coming up soon and now my question is regarding to admission deposit. It seems that each school have $500+ deposit to save your spot for entering class and some school specifically requires the deposit a few weeks later we get acceptance notice.

So my question is, if we still have more interviews coming up and don't know whether we wanna go to that school or not, we have to pay that much money for each school??? Would that be better then if we arrange the interview dates close so we don't have to worry about this kind of issue?

And if you are able to choose the date, would that be better if you arrage the eariler date?(meaning better chance?) or it doesnt matter? Because I want to be well preapared for my interviews....but its coming so soon.

Answer: Thanks for your email. I am glad that you have found the blog to be helpful.

You are correct that a school wants you to pay a deposit to hold your spot. They are willing to make a commitment to you and they are asking that you do the same in return. I am aware of some schools that require significantly higher deposits than $500 with less time to decide whether to accept the offer or not.

I don't know if there is any real advantage to scheduling interviews close to each other. There is no guarantee that the schools will notify you at the same time of their decision. Instead, I might recommend scheduling the interview at the school you most want to attend first and the latter interview a couple of months later. That way, if you get into the first school, you accept the offer. If you don't or are waitlisted, you interview at the second school and see what happens. You might end up making a deposit to School B that you forfeit if School A subsequently offers you admission, but that's a small price to pay for the peace of mind that having a secured spot will bring you.

Let us know how the interviews go. Good luck!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Should I bother applying to a public school as an out of state student?

Note: This question has been asked in several different ways on multiple occasions.

Question: I have heard that public school (state sponsored schools of pharmacy) give preference to applicants from their state or who plan to work in the state after graduation. How true is this? I live in a rural state with no public school of pharmacy. I have good but not great grades and GPA. Do I even both applying to the big state school as an out of state resident or just start with private schools?

Answer: As noted in a previous thread, I do believe it is more difficult for out of state students to get into public institutions. If you live in Montana, you have a lesser chance of being admitted to the University of Texas (for example) than someone who lives in state. Does this hold true in all cases? Of course not. I don't have the statistics in front of me, but I suspect the large state institutions admit far more than half of their class from in state applicants.

For the record, I disagree with this on principle. I would encourage schools to admit a class that is more diverse racially, socially, and geographically. However, this is unlikely to change anytime soon as they are taxpayer funded to provide that particular state with pharmacists for the next generation.

There are exceptions to every rule (and you may be it). The bottom line is this: I encourage you to research all the schools where you consider applying and speak to someone in the admissions office. Ask them what percentage of their class comes from in-state or perhaps how many come from their undergraduate school (if one exists). Use this information to help you decide where you time and money are best spent during the admissions process.

Best of luck.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A pharmacist "friend" is writing a letter of recommendation

Question: I have a question regarding my letter of recommendation. My friend (who's also a pharmacist that I am working with right now. I've known him for about 10 years now, he tutored me English when I first moved to the U.S. and he was actually the person that influenced me and encouraged me to go into pharmacy...) is writing a letter of recommendation for me, but I know that many schools won't accept references from a friend. Should I ask him to submit his reference as a pharmacist and not mention that he's a friend of mine?

Answer: Unequivocally, the answer to your question is YES. He can list himself under a number of categories that would probably work, but I under no circumstance would I tell you to have him write your LOR as a "friend".

The key point here is to make sure that he understands his reference should be written from the standpoint of whatever relationship he chooses. If he selects "pharmacist", he should be writing about your promise as a pharmacist and the qualities that would make you a good pharmacist - not about knowing you and your family since you were a kid, etc.

The committees that I have been a part of take a very negative approach to applicants who use friends and family to write their letters of recommendation.. I have seen applications with letters of recommendation from parents, siblings, and friends from summer jobs. Please realize you are applying for a spot in a competitive professional school and you want to do everything you can to show the committee that you are prepared for that step. You indicated that you have worked with this pharmacist, so he should have no trouble documenting your abilities, work ethic, and interpersonal communication skilss.

For those readers of the blog who have a pharmacist "friend" that you might consider asking for an LOR, if you haven't done this already, get yourself into their pharmacy workplace and shadow for a day or a week just so the reviewer can say that you did so. That way, at a minimum, you have some experience to show on your application and it would make the relationship mentor-student rather than friends alone.

If anyone has additional questions about letters of recommendation, please let us know.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pharmacy school application questions

Question: I have a BS in chemistry. My overall GPA is 2.75. My pre-pharmacy math/science GPA is 2.88. Since some schools give you an exempt from core curriculum (such as history, government, social sciences, etc.) are they going to look at my overall GPA or just the math/science GPA ? I have mostly B's, 4 C's and 3 A's in math/science.

Some schools take an average grade if you retake some classes. So if I manage to replace those C's, I can get a 3.0 math/science GPA. With a low 2.75 overall GPA, should I bother to try ? I have lots of research experience and no pharmacy experience. Do the administration look at research experience ? What's the minimum pharmacy experience that I should have ( a year, a semester ) ?

Answer: I can only speak to my experience, but I believe it to be similar to most schools. We look at the overall GPA, with emphasis on the science and math prereqs. If you failed a civics or government class as a freshman, this won't ruin your application.

As far as retaking classes, we don't take the "average", but we count both grades (which essentially averages them). In a blog entry, this was addressed. If you get the chance, you can review the previous entries and check it out. Certainly, I believe that improving your GPA > 3.0 would be beneficial. (see link:

Different AdComs look at research experience differently. Personally, I don't look at it as being all that helpful to one's application. However, I know some members who do. Pharmacy experience would be preferred.

As far as how much pharmacy experience? The more, the better. But, even one day of shadowing is better than nothing. For more information on pharmacy experience, you can use the search function above and find quite a few posts on the topic.

Good luck.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Low Verbal score on PCAT - chances?

Question: I recently received my PCAT scores and my composite was 51 my verbal ability dragged down my score as it was only 15 however, my bio was 76 and my Chem was 77 I have a solid GPA of 3.8 with A's in Chem an O Chem. I also have worked in a pharmacy for 2 years as a certified tech. I have LOR's from 2 pharmacist and one teacher. I have leadership in being an athletic team captain and also volunteer work in my mom's nursing home. I am nervous however that with my modest PCAT score that I will not get in. What is your professional opinion?

Answer: A 15 verbal is a concern, obviously. As an AdCom, I would also be interested in your Reading subset and your Writing score. If these were more "normal", I might be able to gloss over the verbal score to some degree. I know some who would not, however. You are fortunate to have such strong Bio and Chem scores as those are infinitely more important to most AdComs. Your Orgo scores and Tech experience are also huge +'s for you.

Where do you plan to apply. So much of the application process boils down to where the student wants to attend. Will a 51 Composite get you into the most competitive schools? Probably not. But it would probably be enough to get you in somewhere or at least get you an interview and then it's up to you from there.

I hope that helps. If you have more info you can share, I'll try to provide additional assistance.

Good luck.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Concern about a letter of recommendation

Question: I have a question about a L.O.R that I am quite concerned about. Okay so here is the story. A while ago I asked a pharmacist who I volunteered with for one of my two required L.O.R's and he agreed. I was confident that he would give me a positive recommendation from our past experiences so I felt comfortable asking. Very shortly after, I put his information into the PharmCAS Reference section.

I was planning on giving him a copy of my resume and a few other papers later on in the week and I even told him he had until November to finish so I did not expect him to complete it so soon. This was his first recommendation so that might also be a reason why but long story short, there was a misunderstanding and he finished the recommendation in 30 minutes, which I timed between two e-mails that I received! I was very alarmed at how quickly he finished, especially because there was a comments section like you mentioned in the blog and I'm pretty sure he didn't have the letter typed already. In his last e-mail, he told me that he "highly recommended" me for admission but didn't mention the comments or the other sections, only that he finished and received a confirmation email. I checked pharmCAS and the status for his rec is "complete".

I waived my right to see but I'm guessing he put only a few sentences in the comments section and then submitted. I haven't asked him anything yet because it's pretty late. Should I be very concerned about this? I'm guessing because he already got a confirmation email, he can't make changes to his recommendation anyways, is this true? I was hoping something like this wouldn't happen.. do you think my application is shot because of this? And I know it's not his fault at all, he was only trying to help. It was my fault for being so careless and assuming but is there anything at all that I can do now? What would you recommend that I do in this case? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: Based on the number of emails we have received, you are not the only applicant with concerns and/or questions about their LORs. Here is my take: If this pharmacist highly recommended you, that should be good enough and I wouldn't stress too much.

Would we like for all of our LORs to be heartfelt novellas about our character and work ethic? Sure. However, he may have had a "stream of consciousness" and just knocked out a very supportive letter for all you know.

As a lesson, your situation does provide a nice case study for others. As noted in previous entries, we encourage you to first explain the application process and what you hope to have your reviewers do to benefit you. Give him/her a copy of your CV or resume and have a brief discussion of what it means for you to be accepted into pharmacy school. An honest, frank request for a positive evaluation is usually well received and I have found myself more likely to provide a student with a thorough and supportive letter when they have given me adequate reason to do so.

All in all, what's done is done. I don't think you have any reason to worry. A high recommendation from a pharmacist will serve you very well even if his comments are on the light side.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Online Discussion #9

Please Join us on Sunday, November 7 at 9pm ET for our 9th PharmacySchoolAdmissions.com online discussion. Everyone is welcome. Please take a moment to register on the forum (www.pharmacyschooladmissions.com - you can click the mortar and pestle -------> to get to the site) and use your registered username to enter the web discussion on Sunday.

See you then.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

LOR from pharmacy supervisor (not RP)?

Hi, admissions, Im about to get a letter from my pharmacy supervisor, he is not a pharmD though. He supervises over the other pharmacists, tells them what to do, type scripts; and gives breaks to both techs and pharmacist. I worked with him more than the other pharmacists. Would his LOR be better for me? Can I still submit it?


A letter from a pharmacist would be better than one from a pharmacy supervisor who is not a pharmacist. I'm sure you can submit an LOR from your supervisor as someone who can vouch for your work ethic, but it won't carry the same weight as one from an RP would. You might consider having your supervisor write a letter as well as requesting one of the RPs as well.

Good luck.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Struggling with Orgo - what should I do?

Question: I'm having a really hard time in Organic Chemistry and am very very overwhelmed. What do you notice in terms of Organic Chemistry grades? This is the first semester I'm taking and I am doing terrible. I have strait A's and my masters and never worked hard as I am in this course. Is there still hope for me?! I'm so stressed. I'm really working hard to do well but I feel like my best isn't good enough. Any advice on this would be great! I really appreciate your time to help me!

Answer: You are not the first (and will not be the last) applicant to struggle with organic chemistry. It sounds like the course has not yet completed, so hopefully you still have time to improve your grade.

As far as how an admissions committee will look at Orgo, you are correct to assume that your grade in this course will be scrutinized when your file is reviewed. If you can manage a C or better, I would discourage withdrawing (as noted in previous threads). Instead, meet with your course instructor and begin a dialogue on your difficulties and how you might be able to improve. Maybe they can offer you a tutor or other assistance. Stick with it and do the best you can.

Every year, we admit students with C's in Orgo. I know for a fact that we have admitted students who have failed Orgo and then retaken the course and scored significantly better the second time. If the rest of yor application (PCAT, GPA, LORs) is admittable, don't lose any sleep over your Orgo grade, but exhaust all resources to improve it as best as possible.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Letter of Recommendation - a word of advice

I reviewed a pharmacy school application today that included a "letter of recommendation" from a professor that was anything but helpful to the applicant's chances. It made me think it appropriate to remind you to have some discussion with those people you ask to write LORs to make sure that they can write a supportive letter. Do not assume that every reviewer will give you glowing marks. If they do not feel they can write a helpful letter, find someone who can.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Question about Letters of Recommendation (LOR)

Question: I have to choose one of the following professors for a letter of recommendation - who would be better? a) Organic Chemistry professor that I know well, but got a B in his class 2) Physics professor that I never spoke with, but got an A in class?

Answer: I want to remind everyone how important your letters of recommendation are. Grades are PCATs are very important, but it is very difficult to separate the students with 3.0-3.5 GPA's who have a composite of 70-85 on their PCAT. There are a lot of applicants who fit into those ranges and we don't have room to admit everyone. The LORs can make you or break you.

The people that you choose to write a letter of recommendation for you had better know you well enough to write a good letter. We see a lot of letters from professors who probably couldn't pick the applicant out of the class lineup. The letter begins like this, "Bob was a student in my class. He scored a B and ranked 35th out of 100 students in the class....". Obviously, there are cases where this might be the best letter you can get from a certain professor and you have to use it. It's probably not the best case scenario, but we do understand that it can be hard to stand out or develop relationships with professors in some settings.

To answer your question, I would suggest that you choose the professor who knows you well and can speak to your aptitude as well as your character and personal quailities. An LOR which strongly endorses your application can go a long way toward achieving an interview and possible admission. I suspect a letter from either professor would probably be more than acceptable, but one can tell the committee what kind of person you are and that should help you out.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Should I retake the PCAT again?

Question: Thank you for your very informative blog. I took the PCAT recently for my third attempt and got a composite 80. I understand that pharmacy schools only look at the highest score out of my three attempts, and I wanted to take the PCAT one more time in hopes of bumping my score up to an 84 or higher.

Would it look bad to the admissions committee if they saw my app. and were appalled I took the PCAT so many times? I understand this may vary at different schools, but how would you view it? And how bad would it look if I took the PCAT a fourth time and did worse than before?

Answer: Thanks for your question. It is incorrect to assume that all schools looks solely at your highest PCAT score from your three attempts. I have been involved with the admissions process at institutions that handled things very differently.

My previous school took the highest of the subset scores when reviewing files. For example, you indicated that you have taken the exam three times. This school would take the highest Chem score of the three, the highest Bio score, etc. They would generate their own Composite score from the best subset scores. Obviously, that would boost an applicant's overall "composite" and make it appear that the school was admitting students with better PCAT scores than they really were. Whether they admit it or not, schools do look to see what caliber of students their comparative schools are admitting. If there are 3 or 4 schools in one geographic area, I can guarantee you they know what the average PCAT is of the incoming students at the other schools.

My current institution looks at each exam uniquely, but comprehensively. You may have a composite of 40, then 80, then 60. We would see what the areas of strength and weakness are and determine if your corresponding grades matched what the exam showed. If you scored a 10 on the PCAT Chem every time and had C's and D's in Orgo, you are in bad shape even with a composite of 80. Similarly, if your composite scores are 20, 20, 80 - the committee isn't only going to look at the 80. In this example, your lower scores will be looked at extensively instead of simply accepting your highest PCAT as the final word.

Back to your original question, taking the PCAT multiple times can be good or bad. Not knowing what your first two scores were or where you plan to apply, I would say that your composite score is adequate for most schools. If you did worse on a 4th exam, it would certainly be considered when reviewing your application. That is the risk you take, in my opinion.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I have prereqs to finish this spring.. Apply now or wait?

Question: I am wondering what your thoughts are on applying for pharmacy school for 2011 while still having a few prereq's to finish up this spring. The ones I feel will be looked at closely I need to complete are physics and cell bio. I just want to know that with the money being invested into the pcat, pharmcas app, and supplemental application that it isn't foolish on my part if it's going to be frowned upon that I still have a couple of pre-req's to complete.

My GPA is fairly good, I am volunteering at a hospital pharmacy, am a certified pharmacy technician with 2 years chain/retail side experience, and will hopefully do alright on the pcat this October. Just curious to what your thoughts are on this.

Answer: There are two parts to this question:
1) How will you perform on the PCAT without having completed your preqreqs?
2) Will the school "frown" if prereqs are not yet completed?

Most applications that we receive and review have courses yet to be completed listed on them. For example, we have applicants applying after their first year of college with the hope of beginning pharmacy school following their second year. These applicants usually have multiple prereqs to complete, so that should not be a concern for you.

The question I have for you is, "Do you feel well prepared for the PCAT without having completed the outstanding prerequisite courses?" In your case, if you have completed Gen Chem, Bio, and Calculus, I think you should feel prepared for the PCAT. It is my opinion that Physics and Cell Biology are not going to significantly add to or detract from your PCAT scores.

I would encourage you to begin the application process at this time and take the PCAT in October. With an acceptable GPA and pharmacy experience, you have positioned yourself well to be a acceptable candidate. If your PCAT scores are good, you have a great chance.

Good luck.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review of PCAT score - one low area

Question: I recently recieved the following PCAT scores:
Verbal Ability: 442 - 96%
Biology: 425 - 86%

Reading Comprehension: 402 - 48%
Quantitative Ability: 426 - 80%
Chemistry: 485 - 99%
Composite: 436 - 95%

Although I am very happy with my composite score, my reading score is terrible and really stands out from the rest of my scores. I was wondering that since I am applying to top tier schools, will this reading score severely affect my chances? Should I retake? Thank you!

Answer: I find it peculiar that you would have such a depressed Reading score with an excellent Verbal. What was your written essay score? Usually when we see low Reading/Verbal scores, they are married to each other - both high or both low.

I will say this, however, if you are going to have one area of weakness on your PCAT a single low Reading/Verbal score is what you would choose. Particularly if the other is a 96% as yours was. I would be more concerned if your Chemistry score was in the 40's.

I don't think I would worry much about the single score affecting your chances at all. Your composite is top shelf and that is most important. Your 99 Chem score is impressive as well. If your statement and grades are good and your LORs are adequate/strong, you shouldn't have much to worry about. I would probably recommend against retaking the PCAT. However, if you felt confident that you could replicate the scores in the areas of strength while improving your Reading subset, it would just depend on how much time/money you wanted to spend.

Good luck.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Struggling in first year of pharmacy school?

Question: I just started pharmacy school about three weeks ago, and today I got my first test back, and needless to say it was not good, it was a 64. Does this happen? I'm not used to making such poor grades and now doubting myself, do you see this happen in your school? I drive 3 hours a day, study all the time, I'd say I put in 40 hours for this micro test, and all of my study buddies got A's. I'm not sure what to do, my school has a 98% retention rate, which makes me feel like I'm going to be the one to flunk out. I do have kids, and a family, but have been staying at school all day, and part of the night. Please tell me what your school does in this situation. Do you think I'm overreacting?

Answer: Well, I'll start by saying that pharmacy school is very difficult. I remember having struggles at times as do most professional students. Don't let a single test or one course dampen your hopes. It sounds like you are stretched to the absolute max with travel, family, and school, so try to find a way to simplify things if you can (I know that isn't easy to do). If a particular subject is worrisome, speak with the professor and ask for assistance. Most are willing to help the student with initiative who wants to be successful.

Good luck.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do I need to rewrite my personal statement?

Question: I graduated from 4 year college last year, and got a B.S degree with Biochem. When I was in senior year, I applied two pharmacy schools, and I didn't get in. So, last year, after I graduated, I applied two other schools and did not get in either.

Anyhow, I want to give a try again this year, and I'm wondering how I should prepare to write Personal Statement (PS) again. I was reading the blogs and your reponse in one of the blogs is to change the PS when re-applying. I am applying few schools including the old one that I applied last two years. Should I just add few lines of what I have been doing since I graduated in one more paragraph? If so, do you think it is good enough? Please let me know how you would suggest me in term of adding/changing my PS.

Answer: Without knowing a little more (grades, PCATs, etc) it is difficult to give you much advice. I would say this, however: If your personal statement that you used previously didn't get you in, don't you think it would be advantageous to start fresh and write a completely new one? The same probably goes for letters of recommendation.

Have you gained pharmacy experience or something else that will improve your application measurably? Did you take or retake the PCAT and perform better? Have you begun advanced coursework toward a Masters degree? If so, revamp your statement and use something learned from your experiences. If none of the above, I recommend starting from scratch. If you are going to spend the time and money to reapply, you owe it to yourself to give it your very best and not have any regrets or "what ifs".

Good luck.

Trouble starting personal statement

Question: I am having trouble beginning my personal statement. There's so much I want to write, but don't where to start. Should I tell a story of some kind or just tell the facts?

Answer: Without knowing your background and experiences, it is difficult to know where to begin. Occasionally, a brief retelling of a story is beneficial if you had an experience that impacted you. You might relate start by telling why pharmacy is a good career field for you and the personal attributes you have.

Just to unlock writer's block, start with, "It has been a dream of mine (whether it has been or not - just to get you thinking) to become a pharmacist since....." and go with it. See what you can come up with. You can do this over and over again with different opening statements and just start typing. Ask someone impartial to review them and see what seems right.

Your statement is the first chance to tell the AdCom why you would be a good addition to their pharmacy program - don't waste this opportunity!

Best of luck.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hiw important is courseload as I finish my prereqs?

Question: My question is do you know if the admissions look to see if you are taking a light course load? I have almost finished my PREREQs and am only taking one more class to fully complete it before applying. I didn't bother taking any more courses however there were a few that are indeed related to pharmacy.

Answer: Every Admissions Committee that I have been a part of has looked at the course load of the applicant. However, if you are only taking one course because that is all you need, you shouldn't worry at all. I think it would be silly to take a bunch of unnecessary courses just to have a full course load. What is concerning to me, and I suspect many committee members, is when an applicant spreads out their difficult courses as thin as possible to avoid the difficulty of taking multiple rigorous concurrently. While not entirely uncommon, such course scheduling can be looked upon unfavorably by committee members and I have seen this firsthand. Pharmacy school courseloads are substantial in the number of credit hours and difficulty level of the material; having success with a similar courseload can only help your application.

Good luck.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Accredit vs Non-Accredited schools

Question: In an earlier post, you mentioned to a student that he might consider looking at non-accredited schools of pharmacy if he thought he couldn't get into an accredited school Could you explain the difference?

Answer: ACPE accredits schools of pharmacy. In most cases, schools are "fully" accredited. However, there have been a number of schools that have opened in the past several years and before they can be accredited, they must go through a multi-year accreditation process. Thus, some are considered "pre-candidate" or "candidate" depending on if they have students enrolled yet or have yet to graduate a class. Here is a listing of schools and their current status.
In rare instances, schools can be placed on "probation" or have their accreditation denied or withdrawn.

Additional information from ACPE:

For some applicants, the thought of attending an "non-accredited" school is concerning because of the theoretical risk that upon graduation the degree will not be accepted by their respective state board of pharmacy. I believe this "risk" to be more perceived than real and would not discourage an applicant from choosing this route if it enabled entrance into the profession, particularly if they feel admission is more likely at a non-accredited school than an accredited school.

Please send me an email or add a comment for more information.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Who should write my LORs?

Question: What are the three letter of recommendations we do need? As far as I knew, it was

1) A Professor

2) An employer
3) Personal, but not a friend or family relative.

I somewhat have number 1, but he has not responded to my phone message or my email yet. Number two, I intend on shadowing at a pharmacy this coming month or so. Number three, I' not very sure on, could you explain this one?

Answer: Every school is different in how many LORs they require and who they "suggest" you have them from. Certainly, one should be from a professor. Preferably a science professor. If you are employed in pharmacy, I strongly suggest you get a pharmacist LOR.

However, each institution is different. Some request that you have an alum write an LOR. Others want a second professor (science or otherwise). For your third LOR, I would advise you get an LOR from someone who can judge your character and work ethic. Perhaps you have experience volunteering with a church group, Habitat, hospital, etc. If you have none, another teacher or employer would work.

I recommend that you research each school that you intend to apply to and map out who they want LORs from. There will be a great deal of overlap, but some differences as well.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kaplan guide helpful for PCAT?

Question: I was really happy to have discovered your blog today! I am currently planning to take the August PCAT. My question is quite typical of any student in hopes of pharmacy and it is simply, how would a Kaplan PCAT Study Guide be enough?

I am very worried because I stare at my three university textbooks (chemistry, biology and calculus), sigh as I glance over at my notes, and then see the Kaplan PCAT Study Guide. I feel overwhelmed! I know two weeks isn't a lot of time left to study but I just don't know how to go about with my approach in studying. I feel stressed and under pressure. Any advice?

Answer: I am glad that you have found the blog helpful. I think the Kaplan guide can be useful in preparing for the PCAT, but it is not sufficient to teach you everything you need to know. Obviously, that is why you have completed your prequisite courses and I would hope that the knowledge gained in Chem, Orgo, Bio, and Calculus would be enough for you to at least satisfactorily complete the exam.

I think it would be very useful to ask others who have taken the PCAT how they would prepare and what they thought was beneficial. I hope that some of the followers of this blog would give their advice as well (I will add this as a blog entry). Also, don't overlook the Reading and Verbal sections of the PCAT, as well as the Writing section. These make up a significant portion of the test and can help you out tremendously if you are deficient in the other areas tested.

Note to blog followers who have taken the PCAT: Please offer your insight and suggestions by adding a comment below. Thank you.

Has anyone taken a PCAT prep course?

Question: I am considering paying $1300 for a PCAT prep course. Yet when I asked a mentor pharmacist her opinion on a prep course she thought itwould not be necessary especially considering the cost. Are there people who have found the course helpful and people who haven't? I realize it will depend on the type of student and study skills yet feedback would be helpful. Thanks!

Answer: Thanks for your email. A question was asked regarding study guides earlier (see above). My initial thought is that the review course may not be worth the money, but if you are a non-traditional student who could use a serious refresher on chemistry, biology, etc, it may be worth considering. If you are a traditional student, I suspect a study guide would be sufficient.

Note: Please provide comments/feedback if you have taken a prep course or found a different study guide or method to be helpful (or less than beneficial). Thank you.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

PCAT score review

Question: Dear Admissions, This site has been so helpful in my pursuit to gain a better understanding of the pharmacy application process. Thank you so much for creating this site. I just received my June 2010 scores and I was wondering if you could tell me if I should retake it in October.

I know my scores are probably the very minimum required, but will that hurt my chances of even getting an interview even if my PS, LORS are strong?

My second question is: Which part of the score is weighted more heavily by the admissions committee: the individual scaled scores from each sub test, overall composite score, or the percentile ranking of each sub test?

GPA: 3.14
Verbal: 68%
Bio: 60%
Reading Comp: 62%
Math: 60%
Chem: 59%
Composite: 64%

Answer: First of all, thank you for the kind words. I am glad the site has been helpful. Just as a reminder, the advice I offer is based on my own experiences only, so other schools and committee members may have a different viewpoint. That being said, this is how I would advise you:

Your PCAT subset scores are very consistent. Unfortunately, this probably works against you a bit. In some ways, you might be better off if your PCAT Chem/Bio/Quant were in the 80s-90s and something else brought the composite down as those scores tend to be weighted more than verbal and reading.

I would suggest that your retake the PCAT. A PCAT composite score in the 60s will get you admitted to a handful of schools, however, I wouldn't be surprised if you feel into the alternate pool. You didn't indicate where you are applying so I can't offer much in terms of likelihood of receiving interviews. I think at our institution, based on scores and GPA only, (assuming average or better personal statement and LORs), you would probably be a middle of the road alternate.

Your scores simply aren't good enough for most schools to grant you immediate admission when a significant number of applicants will have better PCAT scores and a higher GPA. As time goes on and applicants begin to choose where they will be attending, waitlisted students are pulled into the discussion. If you can increase your composite > 70, your chances increase. I have found that applicants tend to fare better the second time they take the test, so there is little downside in trying, in my opinion.

Good luck.

Traditional vs. Non-Traditional students

Question: Why would a CC student who takes 1 to 2 classes at a time and work part time to full time job(s) be considered a poor predictor of success for pharmacy school? I hope pharmacy schools take into consideration that not all students (especially while the economy is down) have the means to attend a University full time. Many students I know have families, work, and still manage to do well in 2 science classes per semester.

Are you implying that some Non-traditional pre-pharmacy students are currently at a disadvantage compared to traditional full time students?

Answer: A disclaimer: I am answering this based on my committee experience only which may not reflect the opinion of every committee. Let's start with this: every application is unique and is judged uniquely. When we are discussing an applicant, we don't begin by saying, "Who would perform better in our program - Applicant A from the 4 year school or Applicant B from the community college?". Each applicant is judged independently and a decision in made based on the merits of each. Please understand that a student with a lower GPA from a high ranking 4 year school (who may also have great references, experience, PCAT scores) could be chosen over a student from another university or CC with stellar grades but poor recommendations, PCAT, etc. Grades matter, but we have to consider much more than GPA alone. Course load is something that is important to many of us. Yes, we realize that many applicants have jobs, families, etc and cannot attend school full time. Is having a lesser class load a poor predictor? Many committee members would say so.

My example using an applicant from an elite 4 year univeristy with marginal grades was simply to say that I wouldn't use poor grades from such an institution as a reason to keep someone out. That being said, we have offered admission to many qualified CC and non traditional students. I have personally interviewed many excellent candidates (who are now great pharmacists) that did their schooling at community colleges.

Something that we see occasionally is the 4 year university student who seems to take all of their difficult coursework (ie, Orgo, Biochem, etc) during the summer or at a CC rather than during the regular school calendar at their university. This can raise eyebrows with committee members and I would generally discourage it.

Please let us know if you have additional questions on this topic. pharmacyschooladmissions@gmail.copm

Community College Question

Question: Do you guys consider the difficulty of the school where prerequisites were completed? Would you view a 3.5 at a top-tier school the same as a 3.5 at a community college?

Answer: We have addressed this before, but the question is asked in one form or another somewhat frequently. The honest answer is, no, we would not look at a top tier univeristy and a Community College the same. However, the difference between a low end 4 year school and a CC might not be looked at too differently.

We have admitted an applicant with a 2.0 from Berkeley and rejected a 4.0 from a Community College before. I know students reading this who are taking their prerequisites at a community or junior college won't like reading this, but please understand: In many cases, we put great emphasis on the courseload a student takes. Typically, at a 4 yr univeristy a student takes 15-18 hours per semester (or equivalent) which shows they can handle the load of pharmacy school. Oftentimes, a CC student takes 1-2 courses at a time and does very well, but it may be a poor predictor of success for pharmacy school because they aren't prepared for the courseload of 17-18 semester hours that pharmacy school demands.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Low GPA - what should I do?

Question: I just returned to community college about a year ago. I went to college right out of high school for a couple years. I didn't know what I wanted to do so I got a job and starting working. I've worked several jobs since. I am currently employed at a local hospital (not in pharmacy) for about 4 years now. I recently become interesting in pursing a career as a pharmacist. I took an organic chemistry class in the fall and due to medical problems I ended up failing the course. I am taking the PCAT in august and will be applying to pharmacy schools for admission this year. I intend to graduate with an associate of science completing my courses in the summer of 2011. How much will failing that class be held against me? I plan on retaking the class this fall. My GPA has dropped to a 1.7 now. Will getting a higher score on the PCAT help my cause at all? Or am I pretty much out of consideration at this point? I know right now the odds are stacked against me. Will my work expiernce compensate a little for the bad GPA?

Any advice for me?

Answer: I'll be honest - things are stacked against you. I'll try to touch on each point:
1) Failing Orgo hurts, however, you have a chance to make up for it if your retake the course and do well. As you apply, you will want to make sure they understand what happened in your first attempt (illness, etc).
2) A GPA of 1.7 will obviously not get you in. We have admitted some students in the past with less than a 3.0, but that is usually the cutoff at most schools. So it sounds like you need to get that fixed asap. Do whatever you can to improve your overall and prereq GPAs. Whether that means taking summer courses or online classes, or maybe retaking prereqs, at this point you probably should consider every option.
3) A high PCAT score will solve a lot of problems. If you are serious about pharmacy, you need to really prepare for the PCAT and make sure you do well (a score in the 90s would be ideal).
4) work experience helps, but pharmacy experience helps more. If you currently work in the hospital, see if you can shadow a couple hours here and there. Anything would help.

Best of luck.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A comment on email addresses (sent to us via email)

Suggestion: I am on the admission review committee at _______ (name of school removed), and we enjoy this website - several items have made me chuckle. I have a suggestion to make regarding the use of email addresses when applicants are registering through PharmCas. Applicants - please use your school/university issued email address or one that is professional in nature. Occasionally, we see applicants using semi-inappropriate names and words in their email addresses and it does make us question the maturity of the applicant.

I would suggest not using slang terms, nicknames, or body descriptions in an email address that you are using to apply for professional school. Don't use: sexybaby@ _____mail.com or whosurdaddy@ _________mail.com. You get the idea.

Will you be rejected for using such an email address? Undoubtedly, no. But, please be professional in your approach.

Thank you and keep up the good work.

Response: Thank you for the advice. I agree 100%.

Will a committee check me out on facebook?

Question: I don't have anything entirely inappropriate on my myspace page, but there are photos of my friends and I being "crazy"... drinking, partying, etc. Do I need to worry that an admissions committee will look at the page and use it against me?

Answer: A year or two ago, I wouldn't have expected a question like this. However, as social networking grows and access to personal information becomes available, it would be wise to limit who has access to your myspace and/or facebook information. This past year, I recall only a couple of occasions where a committee member did "look up" a potential applicant on a social networking site and reported what he/she found to the committee. In those cases, nothing of consequence was mentioned - nothing negative at least. But, what if there were inappropriate photos?

However, applying to a professional school is much like applying for a job. This is a competitive field and you want to "look the part". If you allow public access to your personal information on a social networking site, be prepared for it to be viewed and used for or against you. Ask yourself the question, "Would I hire (or "admit") the person I see based on what they are posting online?" Better safe than sorry, right?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A question about letters of recommendation

Question: I just started working in a pharmacy part-time as a pharmacy tech. When I apply for pharmacy school, I will only have about 6 months experience in a pharmacy setting. I do plan on asking the pharmacist I work with for an LOR. Will it be frowned upon to only have 6-7 months experience in a pharmacy and an LOR from someone who has only know me for 6-7 months. I will have LORs from others I have worked with that have known me longer. Thanks!

Answer: I will start by saying that an LOR (letter of recommendation) from a pharmacist is a good thing. Particularly, if they "highly recommend" you. I believe there are 3-4 different types of pharmacist experience and I will discuss each briefly in the order of importance as a committee will view them:

1) Pharmacy Technician - Part or full time employment at a pharmacy will always earn you extra points. It shows that you are committed enough to the profession to seek employment and experience before applying for pharmacy school. Let the pharmacist you work with know how important it is to you to attend pharmacy school and ask that they write a supportive recommendation.
2) Pharmacy Volunteer - If an applicant has volunteered at a local pharmacy, I think it can help an application. I usually look at volunteering as something an applicant can do if they attend school out of state, but want a little bit of experience with pharmacy. If an applicant has regularly scheduled "volunteer hours" (say, 6-10pm every Monday), that shows an additional level of commitment.
3) Pharmacy Shadowing - This is my "better than nothing" category. Usually it means that you spent a few hours once or twice "shadowing" or spending a day with a pharmacist or at a pharmacy. I have had young people shadow me a few times and I usually kind of enjoy it. The applicant gets a little bit of exposure to what a pharmacist does without the commitment of a pharmacy job or volunteer hours.
4) Pharmacy Clerk - We have a few applicants every year who are the "cashiers" or "stock people" at a pharmacy or independent drug store. This might be the person who runs the cash register at the front of the store or stocks the greeting cards. No real first hand knowledge of how the pharmacy works, but they have been around the business a while and have some connections to the people in the pharmacy. This experience won't add much to your application.

So, to answer your question, I would look favorably upon an LOR from your pharmacist of 6-7 months. Committee members expect to see letters from professors, but a pharmacist who can speak to your work ethic and character will help you out.

I suggest that you provide everyone who writes you an LOR a one page "resume" that lists academic honors, extracurricular activities, work and volunteer experience. Some LORs that we see are written by reviewers who clearly know very little about the applicant and it shows. You need to be proactive and stress the importance that his/her letter will have on the committee no matter how long you have known the reviewer.

Thanks for your excellent question.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Personal Statement - Part 3

So how long is too long for a personal statement? Or how short is too short? Like all things, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Generally speaking, I think a 1-2 page personal statement allows more than enough space to say everything there is to say. I have read non-PharmCas statements that are 5+ pages long and the committee will get a laugh out of that. I was looking at an application recently that was only 3 paragraphs of non-descriptive sentences. This implied to me that the applicant didn't care to spend the necessary time in drafting a well prepared statement. There is no need for you to be long winded, however, make sure you give yourself ample space to show your value to the school.

I find applicants who make reference to being an accessible member of the health care team and wanting to be there to genuinely help individuals have a great start to their statement.

Personal Statement - Part 2

There are a couple of things I would advise against doing when writing your personal statement. You statement should not be:

a) a stand up comedy routine
b) a sob story
c) a collection of classes that you excel in (and try to connect them to be a successful pharmacist)

I remember when I was in college and I took a professional development seminar about writing resumes and cover letters. The one thing I remember was, "You should try to stand out among the hundreds of resumes that will be read". My advice to you - do the opposite. Don't try to stand out. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes when you stick your neck out the ending isn't pleasant. Too many applicants want to tell me a funny story instead of reasons why they want to come to my school to study pharmacy. And we all love the one about a great aunt who had cancer when was 5 years old and he had an epiphany that pharmacy was the career fir him at that moment. You get the idea.

I have read hundreds, if not thousands, of personal statements and supplemental application responses. I appreciate it when someone writes an actual statement about why they want to be a pharmacist. What has guided them to this time in their life? What values do they exhibit that would make them a caring health care professional? Why will my school be better if we admit him/her?

Personal Statement - Part 1

When an admission committee reviews an application the area that is most subjective is the personal statement. GPAs and PCAT scores can be compared. Why someone wants to be admitted to pharmacy school cannot. While I cannot write your personal statement for you, I am happy to suggest ways to put your thoughts into words. In another blog post I mentioned some things to avoid saying in your statement, but how does one put his/her best foot forward?

Let's start with this: During your application process, you will be asked to write responses to several questions. The first, in most cases, will be your personal essay on the PharmCas application. This will be followed by supplemental applications with university specific questions and then written essays at some schools when you are on campus interviewing.

As an example, for students matriculating in Fall 2009, the PharmCas essay, "should address why you selected pharmacy as a career and how the PharmD relates to your immediate and long term professional goals. Also, describe how your personal, educational, and professional background will help you achieve your goals". Easy, right? Hardly - I got winded just reading the question, so I can understand why applicants are so concerned about how they respond in their statement. Your assignment is to start thinking about how you would answer this question if asked in an interview. The beauty, however, is that you have months to prepare your answer, write and rewrite, correct and spell check, and then have someone review it before you submit it. In short, relax... you have time to get it right! With a little help, you can get you where you want to go.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Will Pharmacy Tech licensure help?

Question: I am planning on reapplying to a school this fall. I got my rejection letter from them in the mail in April. Does having a pharmacy tech license increase my chances of getting accepted? And if I do plan to pursue a pharm tech license by completing a 29-wk program starting in July, I will not get licensed until beginning of next year. But I plan to apply to schools as early as possible. This means that I will apply starting next week. Now would the admissions at the pharmacy school see that I am improving myself and am more dedicated towards pharmacy? Would I just have to state that I am pursuing a pharm tech license in my personal letter? My other reason for getting a pharm tech license is so that I can work in a pharmacy in the meantime if I do not get accepted for the Class of 2015.

Answer: I am sorry that you were not accepted this year. Taking the necessary courses to become a licensed Pharmacy Technician will not hurt your chances, but I think it will provide minimal benefit on paper. However, if receiving your licensure allows you to get a position at a pharmacy (which I am not certain if you had previously), then it is well worth it because it has opened to door for you to gain valuable work experience and a letter of recommendation from a pharmacist.

I think you should mention in your PharmCas statement that you are pursuing your technician licensure with the hope of achieving your goal to be accepted into pharmacy school. Committees like to see perserverance and it sounds like you have it.

Best of luck.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Does school attended matter to the committee?

Question: I have a quick question about one of the blog postings you made recently. In response to someone's question regarding how you filter through applicants, you said you "look at the PCAT score first, followed by the overall GPA, prereq GPA (particularly Orgo, Bio, and Calculus), and then the school the applicant attended."What do you necessarily mean by the school the applicant attended? Is a student that attended an Ivy League or other type ofprestigious school shown preference over one that went to a publicor community college?

Answer: Thanks for your question. I wouldn't say the committee universally gives extra credit for attending an "Ivy League" school, but it is undeniable that there is a diference between the level of education at Harvard and the local CC. The subjectivity and determining the "whole" application is one of the more difficult aspects of the process. While it is a factor, as I noted, there are several things that I personally look at before I get to the school attended.

We are frequently challenged by this question. Is a 3.0 at Harvard better/equal/worse than a 4.0 at a local CC? There is no right or wrong answer, which is why the rest of the application is so important. Have excellent LORs, better than average PCAT scores, some pharmacy experience and I think you'll do fine.

Best of luck.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Should I apply now or finish my degree first?

Question: I just finished my first year of undergraduate studies and want to become a pharmacist. I can complete the necessary courses and apply this year but I wonder if I would be better off finishing a degree and then applying? Suggestions?

Answer: If your focus is to become a pharmacist, I see no reason why you shouldn't apply for classes matriculating in Fall 2011. Do you have a better chance of gaining acceptance if you have a bachelor's degree? Probably. At some schools, great value is placed on possessing a degree. However, a large number of students are admitted every year without a degree so don't let that deter you if you want to apply now. It is my opinion that the number of schools requiring an undergraduate degree before applying to pharmacy school will increase in the coming years.

My suggestion is to apply now and see what happens. If you aren't accepted during this coming cycle, complete your degree and apply again in two years.

How important are supplemental essays?

Question: My question is, how important are the supplemental application essays compared to the pharmcas one? Should I just answer the question they ask directly? Should I spend as much time on it as I did with the Pharmcas?

Answer: I think the supplemental essays are probably more important that the PharmCas essay. Think of these as first and second interviews. If you pass the screening interview (PharmCas essay), you get to meet the boss and interview with him/her (supplemental essay).

My experience is that institutions spend a great deal of time and effort to develop supplemental questions that the school feels are important to them in determining which students are the best possible candidates for matriculation. This is particularly true if the institution has a religious affiliation, where you can assume one of more supplemental essay questions will relate to values, etc.

Students who copied and pasted portions of their PharmCas essay or who wrote single sentence answers in their supplemental applications were downgraded significantly. Do not take this portion of the application process lightly.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

PCAT feedback - June 19, 2010

I'm not sure how many of our followers took the PCAT today, but if you did, please provide feedback in the comments section below. Your thoughts or observations would be appreciated by many. How did you prepare? Do you plan to take it again? Please do not post actual questions asked on the exam - they will be deleted.

Please note: Candidates cannot disclose--in whole or in part--any exam questions or answers to anyone during or after the exam, whether orally, in writing, in any internet "chat rooms or blogs", or otherwise. The PCAT is a secure examination, protected by U.S. copyright laws, and any unauthorized disclosure of the exam's contents could result in civil liability, criminal penalties, and/or cancellation of test scores. Examinees are encouraged to report any internet activities that disclose information about test questions, so that Pearson may investigate and take any necessary action.

We hope to hear from as many of you as possible.

Thank you.

Friday, June 18, 2010

PCAT - June 19, 2010 - Advice, comments, suggestions

Good luck to everyone taking the PCAT this weekend. If you have taken the exam previously, please use the comments section below to offer any advice. If this is the first time you are taking the PCAT and you have questions that keep you up at night, please post them below and the many readers of this blog can help ease your concerns.

Please provide as much information in your questions and answers as possible.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Do pharmacy school AdComs frown on taking online courses?

Question: How do you admissions committee feel about online classes? I have checked with the schools, and some have said it is fine for me to take them. My reason for taking online courses is because during my undergrad years, I did great on the labs, but needed to improve my lecture grade (we got separate grades for this at my undergraduate institution--lab and lecture). Most schools have said that is fine for me to take the lecture since I have demonstrated proficiency in the laboratory part of the course, but in general how do schools feel about them?

Answer: This is an excellent question: As long at the courses are taken through an accredited university and the credits transfer, there really isn't a problem. I would guess that in a lot of cases the committee wouldn't be able to discern that a class was taken online depending on how it is listed on your PharmCas transcript. As we enter an era where more and more courses (including pharmacy degrees) can be completed online, I think there is less of a negative stigma associated with this type of instruction.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Looking for some advice

Question: I need some volunteering advice. I plan on becoming certified and probably working at a hospital. I've already volunteered before at a hospital pharmacy. Would it make sense to add more volunteer work? I really need backup to my low GPA which I plan on bringing up in the next year. I'm also going to take the PCAT in August, but it might take me 5 years to graduate with a Bio degree..does that hurt me?

Answer: If you have some volunteer experience, I don't think you will improve your application by adding more. However, if you were to gain work experience as a tech, that would be helpful. Once working, I would strongly suggest finding a pharmacist that you work well and use him/her for your LOR when the time comes.

The length of time it takes to earn your degree will have no impact on your application - if it takes 5 years, it takes 5 years. We have seen applicants on the 10 year plan before. What you need to focus on are your prereq grades and the upcoming PCAT. If you can be successful on the PCAT, that will stand out even in light of some course struggles if your GPA is low.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How can I get a volunteer position at a pharmacy?

This question has been asked several times in various forms the past couple of days, so I decided to simply add it to the blog.

Question: I contacted a lot of hospitals in my area about volunteering in their pharmacy, but the response was that either they didn't allow volunteers, I had to be a certified tech, or volunteering is only available during the daytime on weekdays. I'm stressed out trying to figure out how to meet this requirement so any suggestions would be helpful.

Answer: If you don't have a connection with a pharmacy or know a pharmacist personally, here are a couple of suggestions that I have found to be successful:

1) Contact a small, independent pharmacy in your area. Ask to speak to the owner or pharmacist in charge. Mention that you are planning to apply to pharmacy school and would like to gain some volunteer experience if they could accommodate you. You may have to be flexible in the hours you are available for them, but this approach might work.

2) Contact the school of pharmacy that you are applying to and ask if they have alums in your area who would be willing to host you. I receive emails from my alma mater occasionally looking for pharmacy sites for potential students.

If you have any additional questions, please leave comments below or send me an email to followup.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Reapplying - do I need to start from scratch?

Question: I was waitlisted and ultimately not admitted to my school of choice last year. I decided to finish my Biology degree and will be reapplying in 2011. Do I need to obtain new letters, write a fresh personal statement, etc?

Answer: Yes, start over. One of the first things I look at when reviewing a re-applicant is what has (s)he done to improve the application. Finishing a degree would be a significant improvement and I applaud you for doing so. However, any committee who reviews applications closely will look at your previous file as well as the current application. If the personal statement is a "copy and paste" from your previous application, it reflects poorly on your desire. Although it might not be cause for rejection, I think if you are serious about putting your best foot forward, you should certainly rewrite your statement to reflect the improvements you have made in your application and what has led you to this point in your academic career.

Good luck.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

When should I take the PCAT?

Question: I have yet to take Calculus and Chem 2 yet, but I want to apply to Pharmacy school early. (Around July), Will the admissions get my transcript and count me as applying early? I am missing the following classes for fall 2009: Calc 1, Physics 1, Chem 2. I plan to take those classes around Fall of 2010 to get into pharmacy school by fall of 2011. I do not know if I should take the October PCAT or if I should take the Jan one. If I take the Jan 2011 PCAT, and the deadline is on feb 2, will admissions get my PCAT score, Calculus 2 scores and Physics 2 scores?

Answer: I would suggest getting the prereqs scheduled for fall and plan on the October PCAT. You can take it again in January if you are not satisfied with your score. Depending on the school, they may wait to see your grades from the courses you are enrolled in or make a decision on what they see (rare, unless they are rejecting you). If your initial PCAT score is less than desirable, plan to retake it in January and inform the schools that you are scheduled to take the PCAT again.

It would be beneficial to contact the schools you are applying to to get the dates when they begin accepting admission paperwork. I think it is useful to begin building a professional relationship with someone in the office of admissions as these individuals can be a great resource for the many questions you may encounter (kind of like this blog!).

Best of luck.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Comparing pharmacy employment vs volunteering

Question: Does Working in a pharmacy setting OR volunteering at a pharmacy setting have any advantage over the other?

Answer: I believe that work experience is more beneficial than volunteering at a pharmacy when considering applicants. However, I know some committee members that think it doesn't matter at all. For example, a 20 year old applicant with no work experience applying after 2 years of undergraduate studies is less likely to have the opportunity to gain the pharmacy work experience of a 30 year applicant looking for a new profession. Is this a double standard? Probably. Should you lose any sleep over it? No.

In my opinion, any experience is better than none at all. Key point here - If you have worked or volunteered at a pharmacy, you had better get a letter of recommendation from a pharmacist at the location. If you have experience and then don't bother to get a letter of recommendation from your employer, it might reflect poorly.

Question about pharmacy experience, or lack thereof

Question: My question regards pharmacy shadowing/experience. Before I get to it, let me fill you in on my background: BS Zoology/Chem Minor, MS Microbiology. Undergrad overall GPA 3.43, science GPA 3.55. Grad GPA 3.78. PCAT scores: 89 verbal, 98 biology, 72 reading comp., 81 quant. ability, 88 chemistry, 92 composite. I feel like I am competitive in all those facets for applying to my schools, all of which are out-of-state. My one glaring omission is the TOTAL lack of pharmacy shadowing!

My applications have already been submitted, and none of my candidate schools explicitly state that pharmacy experience is required. The closest thing I have (and which I did specify on the PharmCAS) is undergraduate volunteer research working with medicinal chemistry and the mechanisms of thalidomide interaction with DNA. My question: loosely based on my background and scores, is the lack of pharmacy experience a killer? The reason why I haven't done any pharmacy volunteer work is that I was working fulltime during my 6 years of undergrad/masters program. I alluded to this in essay questions, but did not explicitly state it due to length constraints. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Answer: I will be honest and tell you that pharmacy experience is an area that I rarely make any decisions based on. I had absolutely zero pharmacy experience when I applied to pharmacy school, so I try not to hold it against an applicant who hasn't had the time to gain any either. However, I know some committee members who seem to give some benefit to applicants with experience in pharmacy. For that reason, I think it's always a good idea to try and acquire some experience whether via employment or shadowing. Plus, I know of prospective applicants who have shadowed other pharmacists who decided after the day or week that pharmacy isn't what they thought it might be and decided to pursue something else. For those reasons, I think there is some benefit in shadowing.

In your case (and many like yours), school, work, and family commitments do not allow for much free time to gain pharmacy experience. Since your scores and GPA are very good, I imagine most committees will not be bothered by your lack of pharmacy experience. In fact, your advanced degree should help you tremendously when decisions are made. You should be fine in my opinion.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What is an "Unranked Alternate List"?

Question: I applied and interviewed at a school of pharmacy only to be told that I would be an alternate. This school keeps an "Unranked Alternate List" which doesn't make sense to me. That sounds like they draw a lottery every time they take an alternate for a spot in the class which certainly cannot be true. Can you help?

Answer: In reality, there is only a "temporarily unranked alternate list". Of course, the committee will need to identify their best alternates in the event that they need to fill their class.

Here is an example: Rx School receives 1000 applications for 50 seats. After interviews, they send out 50 acceptance letters, 500 rejection letters and the remaining 450 applicants are waitlisted. At this moment, they have an "Unranked Alternate List".

In this case, imagine 25 of the accepted students choose to attend other schools. Rx School needs to review the 450 alternates to find those they want to offer admission to. After sifting through the files (and any additional information provided by the applicants since their interview), Rx School determines the best 50 alternates and sends out 25 additional acceptance letters. The process continues until the original 50 spots are filled.

So, if a school tells you that you are on an "Unranked Alternate List", it probably means:
1) They have yet to rank the alternates because they are uncertain how many spots will need to be filled by alternates
2) You are pretty low in the alternate pool and haven't been ranked
3) They tell everyone they are unranked to avoid applicants asking where they are ranked

I think a lot of times, #3 is the most likely answer. It helps avoid some unpleasant conversations and significantly reduces the number of phone calls and emails the admission office receives. However, as always, I would encourage you to contact the school you interviewed at if you need additional information.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Can I get an LOR from a teacher's assistant (TA)?

Question: I have a great relationship with my Chemistry Teaching Assistant. Is it okay to get a letter from her?

Answer: I think most committee members look at Teaching Assistants as sort of quasi-students and/or friends. Although this may not always be the case, I would strongly suggest finding a professor to write your letter of recommendation. If you worked on a project or something very specific with a TA and they can make a strong case for your aptitude and work ethic, you may want to add that as a 3rd or 4th LOR. However, I wouldn't use a TA recommendation in place of one from the instructor of record.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Who should I get to write my LORs?

Question: I haven't had very much of a chance to get to know my professors this past semester and many classes were larger lecture format. I am a senior and will be applying this summer, but I need to ask a professor for a letter of rec soon, but I'm not sure who would be better to ask. I have a professor for a 1-credit research ethics class who seems easy enough to talk to, but I'm not sure how that will look. I have another couple of professors who may remember me, but I wasn't very close with them. There were some professors who I had more outside of class or after class/study session conversations with, but it has been at least a 2 semesters since I've had them and I'm not sure if they would still remember me. I have done well in all of the classes (A- or above). This specific letter of rec is for only one school.Who would be the best person to ask for a letter of recommendation? Would it help, when asking them, to offer, in addition to my transcript and resume, to have a meeting with them (mini interview, almost)?Thanks!

Answer: This is a very good question. If you didn't know any of your professors well, find one that you liked and did well in his/her class. Make an appointment to discuss your goals. Have a copy of your CV with extracurriculars etc. Impress upon them how important it is to go to pharmacy. Then ask them if they would be willing to write an LOR. Most will agree and have done this many times before. If you show them what your interest is and look prepared, I suspect they will support you.

I have seen LORs from professors who do not know the applicants very well more times than I can remember. They will usually write something about extracurriculars or volunteer work. They will undoubtedly mention your rank and grade in their class. This is satisfactory as far as any committee I have ever been on is concerned. However, if you want to make a more positive impression, a letter from a professor who can attest to your character and work ethic (beyond grades alone) will do the trick.

Good luck.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Should I withdraw or retake?

Question: I am doing poorly in a prereq and don't want a bad grade (D or worse) on my transcript. Should I withdraw? Take the poor grade and retake the class? Please help!!!! What looks worse to a committee?

Answer: In my opinion, the answer depends on what class you are taking. You stated that it was a prereq which is a critical course when your files is being evaluated. Most schools will not accept a score of D or worse for a prereq. This would be much different than if you failed music or yoga, for example.

Let's look at it this way. If you score a D in General Chemistry II, it will stick out pretty clearly when a AdCom reviews your transcript. However, if you score significantly better when you retake the course, I think most committee members I have worked with are willing to forgive a single poor grade if you showed improvement.

Some would argue that if you withdraw, it might appear as though you weren't able to "tough it out". This could signify to a committee member that you won't work through the inherent difficulties of pharmacy school either. I do not feel this way, but I have heard it referenced that way before by others.

My suggestion would be to pour yourself into the course and do your absolute best on your final exam. Maybe you can raise the grade to a C. It wouldn't be a bad idea to discuss with the professor your desire to attend pharmacy school and how important it is for you to succeed in his/her class. Show your determination and hang in there.

If you end up with a D on your transcript, retake the class and focus on improving your grade. If a D or F is inevitable and unavoidable, withdraw and try again (perhaps with a different instructor, if possible).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Do public pharmacy schools give preference to in state applicants?

Question: Do pharmacy schools take preference for instate people? All the out of state schools I have been to either waitlist or reject me but all my instate ones takes me - what gives? I really wanted to go to this one out of state.

Answer: In short, yes. I do have experience with a state school pharmacy program and we did give preference to in state applicants. A number of people on the committee felt it was imporant to admit in state students, particularly those from less populated areas of the state. The thought being that those students would be more likely to return home and work in those underserved areas.

On more than one occasion I had more senior members of the committee say they felt the university system (because it was taxpayer funded) had an obligation to admit in state students who would stay in the state. So, yes - I do believe it is more difficult for out of state students to get into public institutions. I did not like it then and I haven't changed my opinion.

I feel a more diverse group of students makes everyone more well rounded whereas a homogenous group of instate students does not broaden horizons. Most schools do allot a certain number of seats for out of state applicants, however, so I suppose that is better than nothing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Should I send a thank you note after an interview?

Question: Should I send a thank you letter following a pharmacy school interview?

Answer: Some years ago, I received a thank you note or email from what seemed like most of the applicants that I personally interviewed. Today, however, I receive very few.

What I will point out though, is that I tend to remember those applicants who did send the note (which is the point of sending the note, right?). On several occasions when discussing a file, I have heard a commitee member comment that they received a nice card or email from the applicant being discussed. While it might not sway anyone's opinion, for the time it took to send the note, I'd say it was worth it.

I might also add that if you have been working with someone in the admissions office closely, it would be very polite to send them a thank you email as well following an interview. Sometimes I think they get overlooked.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Should I be worried?

Question: When a student get an interview from a pharmacy school, the school always tell us that we will know the result by four weeks, but base on my experience, I notice that if the school wants you to be in their program, you would receive the acceptance letter in one week.

I had an interview in the second week of the april and I still haven't recieve any news yet, does this mean that the school is rejecting me? And how come it take so long to sent a rejection letter?

Answer: Every school and admissions committee is different. While they may *want* get you an answer in 4 weeks, sometimes it isn't possible. At this point, they might be waiting on responses from their initial admission offers to determine which alternates get acceptance instead. If they tell you 4 weeks and it has been longer, it would be understandable to place a polite phone call to check on your status.

Best of luck.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What is looked at first on an application?

I know this question has nothing DIRECTLY related to the review process, but I just wanted to know what it is like to be in your shoes. If I were on the admissions committee, I would probably get tired of reading hundreds of personal letters and all these GPAs and numbers. Do you get tired after a while and just let some things slip? Finally, do you feel bad that some really eager and qualified applicants might get rejected because the reivew/interviewer might just be having a bad day? When you open the file of an applicant, what is the FIRST thing you look at? I know this has NO importance to the whole process but, again, I'm just curious. Do you look at the GPA/PCAT or just go straight to the personal statement or even just start off reading their background? I know everybody is different, but what do YOU usually do?

Answer: Generally speaking, I look at the PCAT score first, followed by the overall GPA, prereq GPA (particularly Orgo, Bio, and Calculus), and then the school the applicant attended. Just looking at those items allows me to reduce by about 1/3 the number of files to review. Some are "slam dunk" applicants, whereas others have no realistic chance of being admitted.

I would be lying if I said that we don't become weary at some point during the application cycle. It can be long and tedious, but most of us undersatnd the significance of the review process and try to give every applicant some consideration. Having said that, it is very obvious that many applicants have no realistic chance of being admitted. The toughest files to review are those of the applicant who has done everything right, but might have a below average GPA or PCAT and having to determine what their status should be. For this reason, I think there is great variability between responses from different schools. I have seen students rejected from one school without an interview and that same student is offered admission immediately from another. Unfortunately, it's not black and white.

Monday, May 3, 2010

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