Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What are my chances of getting into pharmacy school with low verbal/reading PCAT scores?

Question: I was looking at your blog, and I have a question for you please. I too the PCAT for the second time yesterday, and i dont know if i should retake. I took it the 1st time in January, here is the two different scores:

January 2012
Verbal Ability :7
Chemistry: 93
Quantitative Ability: 27
Reading Comprehension: 43
Biology: 27

September 2012
Verbal ability:25
Chemistry :88
Quantitative Ability :61
Reading Comprehension :16
Biology :84

My gpa is 3.80 , and English is my second language, and I volunteered for medical missions, has been on the Dean's list 6 times, getting my bachelor of science in Chemistry minor in biology this coming December, been the secretary of local American Chemical Society at my school, member of Alpha Chi and Phi Theta Kappa honor society, member of International student association and residence association, been Teaching assistant for organic chemistry two semesters, genetics, principles of biology, basic chemistry and dissect.
I really need your advice.

Thank you

Answer: It sounds to me like you are a very competitive applicant in almost every way - congrats on the considerable increase in your Bio and Quant scores on the September 2012 PCAT.  The only issue is that your Verbal/Reading scores are not ideal, obviously.  Personally, I wouldn't be all that concerned and we see cases similar to yours every year.  I do know some AdComs, however, who place a greater emphasis on what the PCAT says and some of them might focus on those scores when the file is reviewed.

I would recommend that you find a writer for your LORs who can comment on your communication skills.  He/she might say that English is not your first language, but that you were able to process the information presented in class without difficulty.  As an Adcom, that would ease my mind.  Having a strong interview when you can exhibit adequate communication skills is also a must.

Good luck.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What does as AdCom look at first when reviewing pharmacy school applications?

Question: I know this question has nothing DIRECTLY related to the review process, but I just wanted to know what it is like to be in your shoes. If I were on the admissions committee, I would probably get tired of reading hundreds of personal letters and all these GPAs and numbers.
1) Do you get tired after a while and just let some things slip?
2) Finally, do you feel bad that some really eager and qualified applicants might get rejected because the reivew/interviewer might just be having a bad day?
3) When you open the file of an applicant, what is the FIRST thing you look at? I know this has NO importance to the whole process but, again, I'm just curious. Do you look at the GPA/PCAT or just go straight to the personal statement or even just start off reading their background? I know everybody is different, but what do YOU usually do?

Answer: Variations of this question have been asked multiple times, so I will discuss thoroughly again since it has been a while since we posted on the topic:

1) You are correct that it can be mundane to review the number of applications that we do. At some point, the personal statements become indistinguishable and the PCATs, GPAs, core science GPAs, etc are just a blur. That being said, I do (and I know my colleagues do as well) take this responsibility very seriously. We don't want to waste our time, the time of the people working in the Admissions Office and certainly not the time of the applicant.

2) I'm not sure if a reviewer or interviewer having a "bad day" is enough to fell an otherwise worthy applicant. However, every reviewer has pet peeves and if you say something or write about something that is a trigger for him/her, "bad luck" might get you. One example I saw last year was an applicant who indicated on his personal statement that he struggled in some of his undergraduate science courses because the professor was from India and had a very strong accent that he could not understand. Well, as you might imagine, one of his primary reviewers during his pharmacy school applicants was a professor from India.  Oops.

3) When reviewing a file, I look at the PCAT score first, followed by the overall GPA, prereq GPA (particularly Orgo, Bio, and Calculus), and then the school the applicant attended. Just looking at those items allows me to reduce by about 1/3 the number of files to review. Some are "slam dunk" applicants, whereas others have no realistic chance of being admitted. I don't want you to think that the personal and supplemental statement don't matter - THEY DO MATTER! However, a quick glance at "the numbers" usually gives me a snapshot of the applicant's profile before getting into reading the statements. That is what I look at first, but isn't what I spend the greatest amount of time on.

I hope that helps.  Good luck.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Open file vs closed file interviews

Question: I have a question regarding the interview process. I was wondering what the pros and cons of open vs closed file would be. Also, I would consider myself a shy person. I don't talk very loudly in situations where I am nervous and I'm sure I would be for something as important as this. I know I'm going to have to practice a lot for this when the time comes but do you have any advice for someone who is not the most outgoing type. Would closed file interviews be worst off for me?

Answer: I prefer closed file, which means the interviewers know little if anything about you before you enter the interview area. They don't know your GPA, PCAT, etc. They are there to see what kind of person you are and if you would "fit" at their institution. In closed file interviews, my experience is that the committee has probably decided in advance what your status will be (accept or waitlist) and the interview will confirm or deny it.

Open file means the interviewers have your information during the interview. They might see that you struggled with Orgo and ask questions about how you handled a difficult situation like that. Or perhaps an LOR mentioned something negative or concerning and that will direct the conversation. I feel that open file requires the applicant to sell him/herself a little bit more than closed file.

Therefore, if you are shy or not outgoing (as your questions states), I would think closed file would suit you better as it seems a bit less stressful.  You might also ask if the interviews are done individually or as a group.  More and more schools are using group style interviews and Q&A sessions with applicants.  In such a case, you may need to make an extra effort to be heard.

Best of luck.