Thursday, August 25, 2011

Should I apply to pharmacy school now? Or wait?

Question: I would really like to thank you for creating a blog that answers the questions of the pharmacy school hopefuls. I have already gained much knowledge just by reading some of your recent answers to questions. It sounds like an attempt at flattery to gain your favor, but I truly am grateful. My local school's advisory department are either too booked, or lack the experience, to help me guide in the direction of pharmacy school, so your blog was extremely helpful. My only wish is that I have found this site when you started it. Now to my questions...

I am not sure how confident I should be about my eligibility, hence my question:

How eligible should one make him/herself before initiating the application process?

I graduated with a BA degree in Philosophy and English 9 years ago with a GPA of about 3.3. I have completed most of the science, math, and economics prerequisites at a community college, with GPA of about 3.9, but I divided out the load over the span of 4 years. I am planning to take some upper division course at a four year school to augment my prerequisites, which should allow me to broaden where I can apply, and hopefully show that I can handle tougher classes. (This has been quite confusing because many of the schools require the same courses, exception of one or two),

Most of my healthcare volunteer experience were attained at hospitals. Though it may not be relevant, I have been committed to volunteering at my church for about 10 years as a teacher, coordinator, and director of high school programs. I have been phasing myself out of our programs in hope to develop my own career. I have no lab research experience and no experience in the pharmacy. I have just started looking for shadowing experiences and volunteer research opportunities since pharmacy technician positions are still quite scarce.

I am planning to take the PCATs, though most of the school I have looked into do not require them. Since my course were done at community colleges, I am hoping the PCATs can help.

I wanted to know if you would advise me to withhold my application until next year to make myself more eligible to become a pharmacy student. I feel like I am trying to rush into the application process because I am 32 and I am worried that I may have to redo my prerequisites since they are getting older. I am hoping to gain experience in the lab and the pharmacy this upcoming season but also feel that it may be insufficient because applications deadlines for some of schools start in November (which would give me about a month or two of experience at best).

What would you recommend?

Answer: Thanks for your email (and flattery). Hopefully. I can answer your questions adequately.

I have advised a number of students in your situation over the years, but each case is unique so I apologize for any generalizations. Because your grades appear strong through your initial degree and now your prereqs, I don't see any reason why you should withhold your application for next year. Make sure you contact the schools that you are interested in and get as much information as possible as to what you need to do to become eligible to apply. Make sure that you can complete the necessary prereqs for each program in time.

In a situation like yours, pharmacy experience would help. The question that we often discuss when someone is making a career change is why they are choosing pharmacy. It would help you discuss your motivation if you had some shadowing or volunteer experience to reference when you are asked this question. I know I sometimes roll my eyes when an interviewee tells me they have always wanted to be a pharmacist and that it is their life's calling, but they seem to have no idea what a pharmacist actually does.

In summary, as long as the schools where you want to apply will accept your prereqs, I would encourage you to apply this cycle. One word of caution: if you are going to take the PCAT, make sure that you are well prepared. I know applicants who had admittable grades and then they took the PCAT without adequate preparation and they really damaged their chances with terrible PCAT scores. Just something to keep in mind.

Good luck and please keep us posted.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I got my degree in 3 years, but my GPA suffered because of it.

Question: During my undergraduate studies, I was a little bit worried about how I was going to afford four full years of college, so I tried to go lightspeed and finished my degree in three years instead of four by averaging about 20 units a quarter and doing four summer sessions at my university (not community college). I think that as a result of this, my GPA suffered somewhat (~3.5). Do you think that the admissions people will take my heavy course load into account positively to counter my less-than-ideal GPA, or could they hold it against me for making such a foolish decision?

Answer: First of all, a GPA of 3.5 is pretty good. In most cases, it is above average of the admitted class. If you have a degree as well, that will be beneficial to you.

As a rule, we do look at how heavy an applicant's course loads are. I think most committee members would be impressed by your efforts and know that you are prepared for the rigors of pharmacy school. I would address your heavy course load in your personal statement - use it to your advantage. State something like this, "I was focused on finishing my degree in three years and I challenged myself by taking heavy course loads. While this may have affected my ability to earn all A's, I was still were able to maintain a 3.5GPA while completing a degree in three years at a major institution of learning."

Best of luck.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How should I address past academic struggles?

Question: I used to attend a decent university in my area several years ago to study management. But my interest was never in management. My first semester ended ok (a few Bs and a C) but at this point I was already sure I didn't feel like being in school anymore. The next semester began and I was going to class but somewhere down the line I started skipping classes and eventually just stopped going. I received 4 Fs for the semester. I was thinking of maybe squeezing in those classes into this summer and next so I can show the committees that I can do well in those classes, but is that really necessary? I don't really know what to do. How do I make my past disappear? The student I am now is not the student I was. Sometimes I wonder how I'm even going to write a personal statement to explain my situation.

Answer: I will be honest with you and let you know that your past academic transgressions with work against you strongly. However, it isn't impossible for you to gain admission. You need to very specifically address in your personal statement the causes of your academic failures. As you know, your overall GPA will be significantly lower than most of the other applicants because of the Fs you had early on. You want to point out the positives: greater focus and resolve since determining you wanted to be a pharmacist. Point our you vastly improved grades in your science courses compared to your management courses. There would be no benefit of retaking managment courses at this time.

I strongly suggest that you get experience in pharmacy, whether shadowing, volunteering, or beginning a technician job. This will help show the committee that you are committed to the profession and a strong LOR from a pharmacist there will help more than you know. Depending on where you plan to apply, your PCAT score could really make a difference.

Good luck.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Can I use the same experiences in my personal statement again and a supplemental answer?

Question: One of the supplemental questions that I have encountered is "What unique, personal qualities and/or life experiences will you bring to your pharmacy career?"
My question is: If I already talked about an activity or a life experience that answers this question in my PharmCAS personal statement, would it be advisable to talk about it again for the supplemental?

Answer: I think it is fair (and expected) to use elements of your personal statement in your supplemental application responses. However, do not copy and paste them verbatim! I have seen reviewers literally throw files in the reject bin because the applicant didn't take the time to specifically answer the questions asked on a supplemental application. School officials, administrators, and deans can spend a great deal of time determining what to ask on their supplemental applications. These are important to their institution. Take the time and give an answer that incorporates some of what you have said in your statement, but take a slightly different approach to reinforce what you feel are your most important attributes. You owe it to yourself and to the school to thoughtfully answer the specific questions designed to find a "good fit" for their program.

Thanks for your question.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Do extracurriculars matter?

Question: I have been filling out my application on PHARMCAS and was curious on your thoughts about extracurricular activities. Do you put much emphasis on this? I have many, many examples from my years in undergraduate school but since I have been out in the professional working world for 10+ years, I do not have as much in way of extracurricular activities in recent time. I do a lot of volunteering with my church, but that is about all. Do I even bother putting all my extracurriculars from college?

Answer: Every institution and committee will tell you that they want well rounded applicants. That being said, my honest reaction to your question about extra curricular activities is that they won't make or break your application.

I usually look through that section of the PharmCas report pretty quickly and don't focus on it much. You should use your church volunteering, of course. I would say you might as well go ahead and list of the ECs you did in college, particularly if they had any relationship at all to health care. If you helped at a blood bank, use it. If you did a Alzheimers Walk or Race for the Cure, use it.

In the end, will it make a difference one way or the other? Probably not, but listing something is probably better than listing nothing. I wouldn't fret about it or spend too much time on it, however.

Best of luck.