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.