How to Get Into Pharmacy School

pharmacy school

If you’re considering a career in pharmacy, you’re in good company. Demand for pharmacy professionals has increased in recent years, along with a fast-growing elderly population in the United States.

Trained pharmacists are also becoming ever more essential in drug management and therapies for all patients.

But many aspiring pharmacists aren’t sure how to get into pharmacy school or improve their chances of acceptance. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about getting into pharmacy school.

Improve Your Odds of Admission to Pharmacy School

The Pharm.D. program can be highly competitive. It’s a good idea to strategize and improve your chances of acceptance into pharmacy schools with the following tips.

Apply for a 0-6 Program

If you’re in high school and aspire to be a pharmacist, applying for 0-6 programs is a smart move.

Going through a 0-6 guarantees your admittance (as long as you meet the requirements) to the Pharm.D. professional program after your first two years. And because the application pool for 0-6 programs is relatively small compared to standard Pharm.D. programs, you have a much higher chance of acceptance.

If you’re planning to apply to pharmacy school right out of high school, a good foundation of math and science courses is essential. You will also need to demonstrate oral and written communication skills, so college preparatory classes in literature and humanities are encouraged.

You may be required to submit test scores such as College-level Examination Program (CLEP), Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), SAT, and ACT.

The requirements for 0-6 programs vary depending on the school, so you will need to check your prospective pharmacy school’s website or admissions department for more details.

Strategize in Undergrad

While you don’t need to major in pre-pharmacy or chemistry to apply to a Pharm.D. program, a strong foundation in math and science will help boost your chances of admission.

While you’re in undergrad, if you choose to major in something outside of the sciences, you will need to take elective courses in chemistry, biology, and advanced math.

For school-specific course requirements, visit PharmCAS or speak to your prospective Pharm.D. program admissions department directly. You can improve your chances by taking more advanced courses in science, math, and healthcare and earning high scores on tests.

High Test Scores and GPA

Whether you’re in high school, undergrad, or you’ve already earned a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy, high test scores and a high GPA will always improve your chances of getting into a Pharm.D. program.

Pharm.D. programs each have their own GPA minimum requirements; however, the actual GPA you’ll need to be considered a top applicant is likely much higher than that minimum.

To improve your chances of admission, know what GPA and test scores your ideal Pharm.D. program is looking for, and make sure you’re hitting those targets.

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Work and Volunteer Experience

Pharmacy programs often require applicants to have work experience—either paid or volunteer. This experience is typically expected to consist of working with patients in a healthcare setting, such as a nursing home or hospital.

Depending on the school, work and volunteer experience may be a crucial requirement for application, or it may just be a bonus that helps you gain acceptance. (Work experience generally isn’t required for 0-6 programs but volunteering while in high school will improve your chances of admission.)

If you’re unable to gain experience that is directly related to pharmacy or healthcare service, contact the admissions department at the school where you are applying to find out what other kinds of experience they may accept.

Letters of Reference

For many Pharm.D. programs, you will need to submit one or more letter(s) of reference—also known as evaluations. Submitting glowing reference letters will help you gain acceptance to the school of your choice, even if the school does not specifically require them.

You’ll need to request these letters from your post-secondary professors in math or science (choose one you get along well with!) and/or a healthcare provider you have worked with professionally.

In some cases, letters of reference may be accepted from an employer, a professor in a non-math or -science field, or a faculty advisor.

Apply In-State or Go Private

Some pharmacy programs give preference to in-state applicants. Depending on the institution’s policies, out-of-state and non-U.S.-resident students may have to compete for a limited number of spots, or they may be completely ineligible.

How Hard is it to Get Into Pharmacy School?

As it turns out, admission to pharmacy school is more flexible now than ever before. This is because of the range of programs offered by different pharmacy colleges.

To earn your Pharm.D. (Doctor of Pharmacy) degree, you need to complete at least two years of undergraduate coursework. However, most schools don’t require a bachelor’s degree to apply. You can apply after two or more years of college, or even immediately after high school.

Pharm.D. 0-6 Programs

Without any college credits under your belt, you can apply for and enroll in what is known as a Pharm.D. “0-6” program.

This ratio refers to the zero years you’ve spent in a separate undergraduate program and the six you will spend earning your professional degree.

If you get into to a 0-6 program, you’ll complete your undergraduate coursework as part of your six-year program.

After completing the first two years of pre-professional work, you’re guaranteed admission into the four-year professional Pharm.D. degree program, unless you fail to meet GPA or other requirements.

Pharm.D. 2-4 Programs

Not all schools offer a 0-6 program for their Pharm.D. degree. Instead, you may need to complete two years of specific undergraduate coursework and then apply to the four-year Pharm.D. program, even if you’re planning to attend the same school for both.

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy notes that most pharmacy students enter the Pharm.D. program after completing at least three years of college.

Post-B.S. Pharmacy Programs

Some Pharm.D. applicants already hold a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy.  While the two degrees cover similar material, they prepare students for very different career prospects.

A Bachelor of Science in pharmacy prepares students to work within the broader pharmacy industry, while a Pharm.D. allows licensed graduates to work directly with patients.

But because the coursework is similar in many ways, some schools offer non-traditional Pharm.D. programs for B.S.-holders.

Pharmacy School Admission Requirements

Although pharmacy degree programs are highly flexible, the admissions process is still competitive and can be complex.

As is the case with other professional-level degrees—especially those in the medical field—the Pharm.D. program has specific requirements you’ll need to meet before you’re admitted.

Minimum GPA

Most pharmacy programs have a minimum grade point average requirement (typically 2.5 or 3.0). You can find this information on the school’s admissions page or by contacting the admissions department.

Keep in mind that a school’s minimum GPA might be much lower than the average GPA of admitted students. That means that your GPA may actually need to be significantly higher than the minimum to get in.

The AACP’s Pharmacy School Admissions Requirements (Table 5) provides the average GPAs for the most recent Pharm.D. class. The Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS) lists the expected GPA of entering students and the minimum GPA at each school.

Passing the PCAT

The Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) is a specially-designed standardized test used by a majority of pharmacy programs in the admissions process.

The PCAT measures a test-taker’s aptitude in the following areas:

  • Biological Processes
  • Chemical Processes
  • Critical Reading
  • Quantitative Reasoning

The PCAT consists of 192 multiple-choice questions, and candidates have 205 minutes to complete the test (plus a short break halfway through).

Applicants to 0-6 programs aren’t required to take the PCAT. Other test scores may be requested.

More than 85% of pharmacy programs require applicants to take the PCAT.  To see which schools require you to submit PCAT scores, you can visit the PharmCAS School Directory.

To register for the PCAT or request your scores be sent to a college, visit the PCAT site.

Course Prerequisites

Each institution has different course requirements for students applying to their Pharm.D. programs. If you’re an aspiring Pharm.D. student, you’ll need to check the course requirements for the specific school or schools where you plan to apply.

Some school-specific information is available on PharmCAS and in the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s “Pharmacy School Admission Requirements,” which is published annually.

If you’re admitted to a 0-6 program, your school will provide you with the coursework necessary to move onto your professional studies.

Undergraduate Degree Requirements

Choosing a major is difficult for every student, but it can be especially so for aspiring Pharm.D. applicants. Many pre-pharmacy students wonder which major they should pick for the best chance at Pharm.D. admittance. And unfortunately, “pre-pharmacy” isn’t always an option.

If you know which school you want to attend for your Pharm.D. program, the best way to choose your undergraduate major is to look at the program requirements listed by that school. The school may suggest a major, or you may be able to base your choice on the credit and course prerequisites.

Chemistry is one of the most common majors for pharmacy applicants. Many of the courses required for application to the Pharm.D. program are covered within a chemistry undergrad program.

However, pharmacy students come from varied educational backgrounds, from English to business, communications to biology. If you are missing the requisite courses to apply to the Pharm.D. program, you can take those courses as electives.

Admissions Interview

As part of your admission process, you may be required to complete an interview with Pharm.D. program directors. The format of this interview varies depending on the institution, and it may be with a single faculty member or a panel of interviewers. You may only be required to participate in a group orientation.

Before your interview, prepare to answer several questions about the following:

  • What made you choose the pharmacy profession?
  • How do you view the role of pharmacists in healthcare?
  • What made you choose this specific program and school?

As with any other admissions interview, you will be rated based on how well you present yourself and your oral communication skills, as well as your motivation to enter the career and your overall knowledge of the pharmacy profession.

You may also be asked to solve situational problems and/or write an essay.

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