Saturday, August 18, 2012

Should I take 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.

Good luck.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Should I be concerned about the future of pharmacy, job prospects, etc?

Question: I was just curious since I've been reading intensely about pharmacy ever since I chose of making it my career. I have been reading that jobs have been declining (especially on the east coast where I live with my family) with all the new pharmacy schools opening up. I was wondering how the job market will look like in 2018 and should I consider a new career path? I want to do this, but I'm not sure if it's worth the potential debt I'm going to face and uncertainty even with a doctorate in pharmacy. What does the future hold and will the wages decline greatly?

Answer: I have been asked this question (or a variation of it) many times in the past year or so. The job prospects for grads in the past couple of years have not been as plentiful as they were in the preceding decade. However, I do not blame this on additional pharmacy schools - even 10 new schools would only produce about 1000 grads a year. Instead, place blame on the economy. A decade worth of bad economic times has forced tens of thousands of practicing pharmacists to extend their careers when they might have retired previously. I feel that is why there are less jobs available right now. Still, compare pharmacy to almost any other profession and it compares favorably.

Look at the demographics of the United States and you will see that the population is aging. Over 65+ in the fastest growing segment of our population and these are the folks who use the most medications. I believe there will be an increased need for pharmacists in many roles in the coming decade.

I wouldn't let the current economic environment sour your view of the profession.


Friday, August 3, 2012

What are my chances at getting into pharmacy school with a low GPA?

Question: I am in my 4th year of undergrad and overall my GPA is a 2.7. I had a tough first year of college, and have slacked myself into the situation I'm in now. A 2.7 is not exactly competitive, but I've seen some pharmacy schools with a minimum GPA requirement of 2.75, and some with a 2.5. I still have a few more pre reqs to take (O. Chem, Calc, Bio II) and I want to make As but being real with myself, I would be lucky to get a high C or a low B. I also have a couple Ds (A&P I, Gen. Chem II) but I retook A&P and got an A, and am taking Chem II. again this upcoming semester. Im going to take the PCAT, probably a semester before graduation and then see where it takes me. How often do these students like myself with below average GPAs get considered for admission against peers who posses much higher GPAs? And what other factors do admissions put an emphasis on other than just your GPA. 

Answer:  Good questions. A very strong PCAT (>90) will do you wonders. Plus, obtaining A's in any courses in progress or retakes would help. If you have pharmacy experience, a strong letter of recommendation from a pharmacist is a must.

Ultimately, you need to convince the AdComs to overlook your first year of college. If you can show improvement after that year, your can make a case that once you decided to pursue pharmacy that your grades improved. Every year we have situations exactly like this where we need to decide what matters most - overall transcript or more recent work.

It's hard to give you guidance on your chances. At some schools, it is probably close to zero, but there are others that might be willing to look past your shortcomings. Your advantage is that there are enough unknowns at this point -PCAT, OChem, Calc grades - that you can still improve your chances.

Good luck.