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@ or whosurdaddy@ 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.