Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What are my chances of getting into pharmacy school? Need advice

Question: I'm a 25-year-old who needs a bit of advice. I have about 115 credit hours under my belt, but they consist of various classes that can't be applied to the same bachelors degree. The truth is, I took me a while to figure out what to do, and this "trial and error" shows in my grades. Right now I have a 2.4 cumulative GPA and a 3.4 math/science GPA. I've been taking one class or two at a time for the last 2 years, but am now going full-time to take a shot at a 3.0. I have not yet taken the PCAT and have about 20 credits of pre-pharm classes left.

I desperately want to go to pharmacy school. The reasons for such are numerous, but all of them are founded on my deep attachment to the profession. My full-time job (in an unrelated field which I've had for the last 5 years) has consisted of working with a pharmacy program, so I'm pretty familiar with the faculty and staff at my school.

My question is... Do you have any recommendations given my circumstance to increase my chances? I have retaken all failed classes from 8 years ago to hopefully show the AdCom that my study habits are different now, but I now wonder if this was at all beneficial since the cumulative GPA I believe shows my previous attempts.

Thanks for any advice you can provide!

Answer: My first reaction to your question is to recommend that you sit down with someone in the Admissions office, particularly if you have an existing relationship with them. Assuming that you have a positive relationship, you need to use this to your advantage. As you noted, your overall GPA is marginal at best. However, it looks like your science and math GPA are quite respectable. A strong PCAT would help immensely.

I am certain that they will accept your grades from classes retaken, but understand that those will likley not replace existing grades on your transcript. That is a common misconception among applicants.

In the end, it is up to you to show the AdComs that your study habits are different and than you have the ability to be successful in their program. Undeniably, you have the desire to attend this program and I think if you are able to channel your efforts, you can make a legitimate case. However, I would strongly encourage you to make an appointment with someone and discuss all the items you mentioned above.

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is it important where I complete my prereqs for pharmacy school?

Question: How important is the school where the prereq classes were taken? Someone I work with has almost a 4.0 from a subpar school, whereas I have a 3.3 or so from a pretty rigorous 4 year university and I had to work damn hard for my grades. I would hate to think that a committee wouldn't realize the differences between the schools and just look at the GPA which might hurt my chances.

Answer: In my opinion, this is the most difficult element when reviewing applications. It is virtually impossible for a committee to really have an idea of how rigorous a specific undergraduate programs really is. The "rank" of a school or program is one way for us to try and measure it obviously.  I will admit that I have been a part of some pretty heated conflicts on this topic. I've seen committee members discount community colleges or lesser ranked institutions. I have seen lesser students from elite schools afforded some breaks as well. Those examples are rare, but they exist. Understand, committees are made up of human beings who have preferences and opinions and this is a very subjective matter. When I don't know how to compare schools, I look at the PCAT scores and LORs for a gauge of what kind of student the applicant is.

But the simplest (and least-PC) answer to your question is, that yes - in some cases it does matter where you completed your prereqs.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is age a factor when AdComs review pharmacy school applications?

Question: As a member of an adcom, would you say that age plays a role? Do adcoms tend to have preferences based on, well, I can think of various criteria that could be considered, such as young and single (as in no family) and more apt to succeed with studies because of more time/less responsibilities. Or maybe on the other hand, could an older applicant be viewed as more responsible and goal oriented? What about the fact that you already got a degree in your younger years in something science unrelated. Sometimes I feel like adcoms can be apprehensive towards someone who decided toward a particular field, and now wants to chance...I have a BS in teaching. Generally it is a good thing to have a degree but I'm wondering whether that's a plus or a minus to a pharm adcom. I was asked this question in my first interview, and while having my reasons for deciding to change, I feel a bit challenged in providing an answer that they would like. I'm also 29 and have a child. They didn't ask about that though, which I was happy because I thought they could see that as a barrier for keeping up with a pharm school curriculum. A friend of mine who's also a mom, and already in the program told me she lied about not having kids.

Age may play a minor role in my perception of a applicant. I probably give a younger student, say one applying after 2 years of undergrad, a break if he/she doesn't have pharmacy experience, for example, simply because they've had less time to get it compared to a 30 year old applicant looking for a career change.

In your case, I would think that having some type of pharmacy experience would be very helpful to your chances. That is, when asked what made you want to switch careers, you could indicate that you had spent a great deal of time and effort into procuring a decision and that your time spent in the pharmacy reinforced that pharmacy was what you wanted to do.

I will point out that a number of AdComs do give "credit" to those with degrees (in any field) as well as those who have dedicated the time necessary to take the necessary courses to apply to pharmacy school while working full time and having family and parental responsibilities. I think it is illegal for us to ask about families. marriage status, and children. We can ask if there is anything that might prove to be difficult for student when they are in school, but not, "how many kids do you have and what will you do with them while you're in school".

In summation, issues surrounding an applicant's age / maturity, are things we might consider.  It is rare however, that I have seen this keep a student out of pharmacy school.

Good luck.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Question: My preferred school only accepts one letter of recommendation.  My choice is between my chem. teacher and the lead pharmacist at a state mental hospital. My chem. teacher and I have kept in touch and he has had an opportunity to get to know how great I truly am. The pharmacist is from a my hometown area. She was very supportive and offered exceptional insight. She is the type of pharmacist I'd like to become. Which LOR would be better for this application?

Answer:  Tough question. I would say if you have actual work experience with the pharmacist, a letter of recommendation from her would probably carry more weight with a committee. She could speak to the specific attributes that would make you an excellent pharmacist having witnessed your work in the pharmacy. To me, that is probably what I would most like to see as a reviewer.

If the pharmacist is simply a friend/advisor, I think the LOR needs to come from your chemistry teacher.

Best of luck.