Monday, January 31, 2011

How do I overcome a language barrier and get into pharmacy school?

Question: I have a strong accent because English is not my native language. I'm afraid that if the interviewers do not understand due to my accent, they would reject me. Will this happen?
Btw, your blog is great. I really appreciate every single piece of information you have post so far. Thanks.

Answer: Let's start with the obvious: Our committee initially learns about you by reading your application and personal statement, so an accent or difficulty with oral communication will not become evident until later in the process.

However, if you apply to a school that requires the PCAT, the committee will see your reading/verbal PCAT scores and your writing PCAT score. I have seen scores in the single digits which will have killed applications. Secondly, a committee will see your PharmCas letters of recommendation where the reviewers are asked to grade you on your communication skills. Lastly, the committee will read your personal statement. If you have grammatical issues or difficulty with written communication, it will be known by this point. Assuming you have a satisfactory application after all this is considered, you might be asked to interview.

The interview will be the critical element and you will need to be prepared to answer the questions the very best you can. I know that we have asked candidates to interview for the sole purpose of determining their communication ability. I cannot stress the importance of the interview enough and encourage you to do "mock" interviews with family, friends, co-workers, or even a professor or advisor if they are willing. Research the institution and learn what their interview process is like and determine a plan to maximize your abilities, while minimizing communication shortcomings.

I have taught and precepted many students who spoke English as a second language and many have done very well and been very successful. Focus on what you want to say and how you want to say it and you'll be okay.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

PCAT discussion - January 22, 2011

If you have questions or comments on yesterday's PCAT examination, please share your thoughts with us by adding a comment below or by posting on the forum in the PCAT section.

Monday, January 17, 2011

3 year pharmacy schools

Question: Do anyone of you pharmacy geeks know of any 3 year pharmacy schools? I know of two- Appalachian and LECOM, are there any more? is it okay choosing a 3 year school over 4? or does it have its own side effects? I was also wondering if there are any schools that do not require you to take PCAT, except for LECOM, if you have a bachelors degree?

Answer: Yes, there are several pharmacy schools that have an academic calendar that runs year round and allows completion within 3 years. Someone compiled a list and posted it here:

I do not believe that one format is better than another. Students should find the program that best suits their particular interests and familiarize themselves with the differences (including length of the program) to make the most informed decision they can.

Good luck.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A comment about academic transcripts

We have received a number of emails over the past couple of weeks asking us to review PCAT scores and personal statements. I want to make sure everyone also understands the importance of the academic transcript that the Admission Committee receives.

When reviewing a file, there is a lot of information for a reviewer to process. Obviously, not everyone is the same and no two people probably look at things the exact same way. What I offer are my thoughts based on my experiences working with Pharmacy School Admission Committees for a number of years.

That being said, I have had prospective applicants ask why they haven't been given interviews based on the PCAT scores they send me. As many of you know, I think the PCATs are important, but so are the LORs, GPAs, personal statement and your academic transcript. If I am reviewing a file that has a number of withdrawals, F's retaken for better scores, or it appears that a student is "ducking" the most difficult prerequisites at their institution to take them at a lesser school or as a summer course, that can influence my perception of the student.

For example, last year I reviewed a file of an average applicant. PCAT was around 70. GPA was 3.2-ish. Had some pharmacy experience and decent LORs. In many cases, we would have waitlisted the file to see how the class shaped up and we would then revisit this application. Instead, when the committee reviewed the transcript, we saw 10+ withdrawals and D's in GenChem from the 4 year school which were retaken during the summer at a community college (Orgo wasn't attempted at the 4 year school, but were taken at the community college).

What do you think of this file. At face value, the PCAT and GPA were probably acceptable for admission at a number of schools. But, looking deeper into the file raised a number of questions about the applicant's ability to perservere through difficulty. It appeared that every time a course was challenging, he/she chose to drop it. Instead of retaking Gen Chem at the same school, the applicant took it as a single summer course at a less difficult (in this case) school. Ultimately, the committee decided that this applicant probably didn't have the constitution to "gut it" through pharmacy school and she was rejected.

If you have something in your transcript that might be a concern to a reviewer, I suggest you address it. It is possible that the W's were related to an illness or family crisis? Sure. If they had been, we would have considered that. However, forcing the reviewer determine the cause of your difficulties is something I would advise against. If you have a question about whether you should specifically address a transcript "red flag" post a comment below and we'll try to assist.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

No pharmacy experience - need guidance

Question: I work full-time, take full-time courses, and have a large family (with a supportive husband). I have been lucky to secure a weekend, night position so that my weekdays are free for family and college courses. I have no pharmacy experience at all, including shadowing. I do have one day a week free this upcoming semester to do research. Would it be beneficial to me to work with a researcher that I have known for several years in the medicinal chemistry lab, and secure a legitimate letter of reference? Would my time be better spent volunteering on this "free" day at a pharmacy? If I choose the research route, I will not have a reference letter from a Pharmacist.

Answer: In a case such as yours I have often heard adcoms ask the question why someone in your situation wants to become a pharmacist. The catch here is this - if you have no rx experience at all, the question of what motivates you to apply to pharmacy school becomes tricky. I've had applicants such as yourself tell me that they've dreamed of becoming a pharmacist and have sacrificed many things to apply to pharmacy school. However, it always seems odd to me that someone would be willing to do so much for a profession they seemingly know so little about. Spending even a day shadowing a pharmacist would give you some talking points and eliminate some of the concerns an adcom might have. I think you could keep your research position and get your researcher LOR and still take a little time to shadow a pharmacist.

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Good luck.