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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