Monday, June 27, 2011

Application question about being a "Native English" speaker

Question: I haven't had the chance to say thank you! Thank so much for reviewing my personal statement, it truly boosted the quality of my personal statement to a whole 'nother level! :) I have another question for you, and this is regarding language. On PharmCAS under the Personal Data section, it asks, "Is English your native language?" while some other supplemental applications ask "Is English your first language?"

I was born into a Korean family, and didn't speak English until I entered pre-school, and from then on I spoke primarily in English, although I spoke in Korean with my parents at home. That being said, I'm more fluent and use English more often than I speak Korean.

Would I click "yes" or "no" in regarding the question on PharmCAS? My gut feeling is telling me to click no, but because I speak English better than I do Korean, I'm somewhat confused on what I should do.

What constitutes a person's "native language" and what distinguishes a "native" language from a person's "first" language? If I answer no, then I am required to take the TOEFL exam for certain schools for their "english proficiency requirement". If you could clear that up for me, I'd truly appreciate it.

Answer: Good question. My hunch would be that it would be best to identify yourself as a native English speaker. You might indicate that you are bilingual, but consider yourself more fluent in English. I have seen a couple of examples of public universities (not necessarily schools of pharmacy) that will require TOEFL if an applicant doesn't indicate being a native English speaker. I am unaware of any benefit that claiming being a non-native English speaker would afford you.

It would be my recommendation to say you are a native English speaker if you are comfortable and fluent with the language.

Good luck.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Does nepotism exist when reviewing pharmacy school applications?

Question: A friend and classmate of mine was accepted into a school of pharmacy where one of her parents is a university researcher. I was waitlisted. I know for a fact that her PCAT and GPA were substantially lower than mine and I was frankly surprised that she was even given an interview based on what I know about her application. Is it unfair for me to assume she got in because of nepotism?

Answer: True story, several years ago we had rejected an applicant whose grades were just not acceptable. A rejection letter had not been sent out yet, however. Shortly after the decision was made, one of the committee members came back to the group and asked that we look at this particular application again, which we did. At this point, someone in the admissions office indicated that the applicant was the child of a professor.

There was great disagreement whether we should even reconsider the application simply based on her parent's connection with the school. I was quite unhappy when some of the same committee members who were quick to dispatch the application as a rejection now wanted to grant an interview (and subsequently admit) this individual. I give credit to the applicant and her parent, however, for neither had mentioned to anyone that there was a relationship between "Applicant Smith" and "Professor Smith". They wanted the decision to be made on merit only, but one of the committee members recognized the name and home address on the application and asked the parent, which set off the aforementioned chain of events.

So, in a politically correct world, I would tell you that nepotism does not exist. That all applicants are judged purely on their merits and nothing else. That everyone has a equal chance. At most institutions, I believe that to be true. However, I have seen firsthand that nepotism or favoritism can play a role in the decision making process and I agree that it is not fair. I do my very best (as most committee members do) to create a level playing field for all applicants, but sometimes there are flaws in the system and you may have exposed one. I hope that you are also granted admission and don't feel that his/her acceptance is the reason you were not admitted at this time.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How to answer a question about religion?

Question: I am applying to school of pharmacy that has a religious foundation in Christianity. I am Jewish. One of the supplemental application questions specifically asks how I will use the values of the school. I'm not sure how to answer this as I don't have the same belief system. Help please.

Answer: This is an excellent question. Without knowing how the question is worded, my answer would be this: As administrators and admissions committee members, I suspect we all want to attract the best students regardless of belief system. I imagine if you asked the school what percentage of the students accepted each year were Catholic, you might be surprised at how low the figure is. So, don't let the question deter you.

In answering a question that appears to have a religious component, I would suggest visiting the school web site and familiarizing yourself with their mission statement and goals. If the school emphasizes caring for the poor, for example, perhaps you can share any life experiences where you volunteered or exhibited these values. I imagine that as prospective health care professionals, most applicants share a core set of values including, but not limited to, helping others. If you can apply that philosophy into your response on a supplemental application question that you feel is religious in nature, I'm sure you will be fine.

Good luck.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How can I overcome poor grades in undergrad?

Question: How do pharmacy schools view applicants who have already done poorly in pre-requisites but then retake them in post-baccalaureate programs? Should I retake these courses only, or should I also take other upper-division courses I've never attempted (as in academic enhancer track type versions of post-bac programs)? Or am I just taking this all too seriously?

Answer: We have many applicants who are transitioning to pharmacy from other professions and we also have many who always had an interested in pharmacy, but were unprepared or unqualified during their undergraduate studies. I appreciate the way that you acknowledged and accepted the reasons for your struggles and I think it will help to explain them in your personal statement. I have no problems admitting a more "mature" student who might have had issues when they were younger if it is apparent that they have learned from those experiences and have now shown their aptitude and motivation to pursue pharmacy school.

If your sole purpose is to attempt to get into pharmacy school, I would probably advise against taking new upper division courses as I'm not sure you are going to get the added benefit that you think you might. Instead, if you retook some of the core sciences that you did poorly in, you put yourself on a level field with many of the applicants you will be compared with and that should probably balance the playing field for you. These courses would also probably help some in your PCAT preparation.

Ultimately, you need to stress the aspects of your application such as starting a pre-pharm club, etc. Show the committees that you have made attending pharmacy school your #1 priority and you have dedicated yourself to that goal. Gain some pharmacy experience or shadow a pharmacist who can write you a positive letter of recommendation. If you can do all of those things successfully, I see no reason why you wouldn't be a strong candidate for pharmacy school.

Good luck and please keep us posted.