Flashbacks and Forward Thinking: My Advice for Prospective Students

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By Carolyn Rath, Class of 2020

In October of this year, I had the privilege to return to my alma mater, Duke University, for a recruitment event for the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy (ESOP). The event was called Graduate and Professional School Day, and was catered towards undergraduate students interested in pursuing business, law, and – my personal favorite – health professional programs. When I arrived at the event, I joined Aaron Todd, the Assistant Director of Student Affairs at ESOP (check out his Twitter if you haven’t already – @UNCpharmAaron) at the UNC table. Throughout the evening, Mr. Todd and I had the chance to talk to students about our program and the myriad opportunities available in the field of pharmacy today. And then, after many pleasant conversations with interested students, a vivid memory suddenly came to my mind.

*Flashback*

It’s late October of 2015. I am in the same room where the professional school fair is held, but it looks different. Instead of the rows of representatives brandishing brochures, there are tables scattered throughout the room where students are studying, chatting, or eating a quick lunch between classes. I am simultaneously trying to scroll through my emails, update my weekly calendar, and enjoy my plate of pasta before rushing off to Physics lab.¬† And then, just when I am about to close my laptop, one last email comes through with the subject line “UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy – Invitation to Interview.” In that moment, all thoughts (read: fears) of Physics lab disappear as I literally jump for joy, paying no attention to the stares from my peers. This is really happening!

*Flash-forward*

As I stood at the UNC ESOP table, reminiscing on that happy day, I started to think about my pharmacy school application process. While it all worked out in the end (thankfully), there are several things that I would do differently if I could go back now. If you are currently applying to pharmacy school, planning to apply in the future, or just enjoying my blog post here (which I completely understand), this list of tips is for you:

  1. Ask for advice. The process of applying to pharmacy school can be stressful! While you might be navigating territory that is unfamiliar to you, remember that many before you have forged a path to success. When you have questions or feel overwhelmed, seek help from advisors, admissions officers, and current PharmD candidates. Asking your questions now can save you from uncertainty or anxiety down the road.
  2. Show gratitude. Take a minute to think about all of those who have supported you on your pre-pharmacy journey thus far. Have you let them know how much their time and advice has meant to you? Have you kept them informed about your application and interview progress? A quick thank-you note or email update can mean a lot to your biggest fans.
  3. Celebrate the little moments. If you’re applying to schools right now, I know what you’re thinking – can’t I just get accepted to pharmacy school already?! During my application process, I was so focused on checking off boxes on my to-do list that I missed chances to celebrate the small things, like presenting myself well in an interview, receiving my first acceptance, or looking fabulously professional in my interview suit ūüôā Taking time to appreciate the small victories will help you to enjoy the process more!
  4. Be kind to yourself. It’s easy to become so wrapped up in the application process that you lose track of life a little bit. If you’re in your last year of college, don’t miss out on those invaluable, top-of-the-bucket-list experiences. If you’re working, continue to engage with your work and strive to make an impact. Spend time with your family and friends, and pursue activities that bring you joy. It might seem like your application process is the only thing that matters – but remember that your health, happiness, and relationships with others should be top priorities too.
  5. Think beyond the acceptance letter. When I received my first acceptance to pharmacy school, one of my best friends said: “You’re going to be a pharmacist!” Her simple statement reminded me that pharmacy school was not my end goal, but rather the beginning of my journey towards serving patients in the future.

I was so grateful for the chance to return to Duke as a representative of UNC ESOP. Not only did I have the opportunity to share the vision of ESOP with prospective students, but I also had time to reflect on the steps I have taken to get where I am now. To those of you who are applying to pharmacy school, I wish you the best of luck for the beginning of this promising journey, and I hope you enjoy each step along the way. And while I don’t yet have the power to flash forward to the future (still working on that), I have a good feeling about the next class of student pharmacists that will join us at UNC in 2017.

PCAT Q&A

We’ve received quite a few questions about the PCAT exam this week. Congratulations to all of you who took it in July!


What are the minimum scores you consider?

We recommend that students get at least 50% on the composite and sub sections to be competitive for our program. Scoring 70% and above on the composite section will make you most competitive. Our average PCAT composite score for accepted students the past few years has been 88%. Please note that is the average; many students fall below and above that score.

I didn’t do as well on the PCAT as I hoped. Should I retake it?

ūüôĀ First off, sorry to hear that.

You can, if you feel that you will do better. If you fall below our minimums (see the first sentence in the question above), you might want to study and retake the PCAT. We do superscore; if you take it multiple times, we will consider your highest overall scores.

Since you superscore…if i retake the PCAT, can I focus on the sections I did poorly on the first time, and not focus (ie-not try as hard) on the sections I did well on before?

This is not the best strategy. If we see that you aced your biology subsection the first time and significantly decreased your biology score¬†the second time around, this might be cause for concern. I would recommend focusing your studying beforehand on the sections you didn’t do as well in, and still try your hardest on all sections when you take the exam.

Which sections are most important in the admissions process?

We focus most heavily on the composite score, and the biology, chemistry, and quantitative sections. The critical reading and essay are important, but we prefer to assess those areas in other parts of your application.


What other questions do you have about the PCAT exam?

Advice from our application readers

We use independent application readers to read and evaluate PharmD applications. After wrapping up application review this past year, I asked our application readers to share their application advice for prospective applicants. 


Outside of PCAT/grades, what makes an application strong or stand out positively?

A strong essay and strong letters of recommendation.

  • Essay – do not repeat what is already in your application. Tell the reader about yourself. We want to get to know you. We know what courses you have taken, we can see that you have been involved in student organizations¬†and have shadowed, etc. Dig deeper! How were those experiences meaningful, what did they teach you, how did you deal with challenges, take us through the problem solving experience, etc. If you do want to share more about something already on your application, make sure you are sharing something above and beyond what is already included. We have so many outstanding candidates with excellent qualifications. We need to be able to get to know you through your essay. It is your opportunity to differentiate yourself.
  • Letters of Recommendation – do not gather letters of recommendation from high school teachers or a family friend who is a pharmacist. We want to learn about you as an undergraduate. We want to hear from those people who have known you well during your undergraduate experience – professors, lab supervisors, pharmacy supervisors, volunteer supervisors/advisors, etc. The main emphasis should be on asking people to write letters of recommendation that know you very well, and will write you a positive letter. Don’t ask a professor to write a letter just because you earned an A in their course. S/he will simply write that you earned an A in the course, which we already know from the transcript. Ask people who you have spent significant time with and can comment on who you are as a person¬† – professors who you have spent considerable time in office hours with, lab supervisors if you have taken part in a research project, volunteer supervisors/advisors particularly if you have had a leadership role and have been very active in supporting the volunteer organization (or any organization), etc. I want to learn something new about the applicant that no other section on the application can tell me.

Outside of PCAT/grades, what makes an application weak or stand out negatively?

  • No pharmacy/health care experiences – either shadowing, volunteering, or even participating in a Pre-Pharmacy organization. If you have not attempted to partake in any of these types of activities, how are we as the reader supposed to believe that you really want to be a pharmacist?
  • Essays and letters of recommendation that lack depth. If you don’t put effort into your essay, we can tell. If your recommenders don’t know you well, we can tell.
  • Any spelling or grammar errors. That is just sloppy! Ask someone else to review your essay or application before submitting it.
  • Plagiarism. Don’t¬†do it.

What advice would you give prospective applicants regarding their application?

  • Don’t assume…
    • …that we will figure out that you did research unless¬†you write about it in your essay¬†or¬†list it in your resume section. We see hundreds of applications from hundreds of schools, and we do not know your schools/majors well enough to realize that a 40- level course entails a major research project.
    • …that we understand what it means to be involved in a certain club or activity at your school. If you don’t have enough space to explain the activity in the resume section and it was a important part of your life or a big responsibility, make sure to elaborate on¬†it in your essay.
  • Provide context for low grades – if we see that you got all A’s and B’s and one F, that F stands out (and not in a good way!). It’s always better to explain what happened in that course.

What is your biggest application pet peeve?

  • Not completing the transcript portion of PharmCAS accurately. If you want to earn possible credits to satisfy prerequisites with AP scores, you must include those in the transcript portion of PharmCAS.
  • PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD!

What is your favorite part of application review?

Reading a fabulous essay or reading very strong letters of recommendation! Both of these areas of the PharmCAS application really help me get to know the student better.

International student FAQs

Recently, we’ve had a number of questions from¬†international students. If you’re an international student, I recommend you check out this post, and read some of our Frequently Asked Questions below.


Do you have a Master’s program in pharmaceutical sciences?

Yes, but it is likely different from other schools. We have a PharmD program (which is patient focused and prepares students to become pharmacists), a PhD program (which is research-intensive and prepares students for a career in academia or the pharmaceutical industry), and a Master’s program. The Master’s degree is a specialization in health-system pharmacy administration that prepares pharmacists for leadership positions in health care. Applicants for the Master’s program must hold a PharmD degree and be a licensed pharmacist in the US.

Do you accept international students to the PharmD program?

Yes, we do.

How many international students are in the PharmD program?

A small number – usually between 2-5 in each class.

Are there scholarships or fellowships available for international PharmD students?

We do not offer scholarships or fellowships to incoming students. Students are eligible to apply for scholarships for their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years in the program. Please see this post for more information regarding financing your education as an international student.

Do you accept prerequisite courses taken internationally?

Yes, we do. All international transcripts must be evaluated by a by a foreign transcript evaluation service. We prefer World Education Services, Inc. (WES), but you can find a complete list of services here. You can find more details about determining prerequisite coursework equivalencies here.

What is the minimum GPA/PCAT score you will accept for international students applying to the PharmD program?

The minimum GPA we will consider is a 2.5, and the minimum composite PCAT score we will consider is a 50%. This is for all applicants; the minimums are the same regardless of whether the applicant is a US citizen or not. For more information about being a competitive applicant, I recommend that you read this post.

Do you require the TOEFL for the PharmD program?

We do not. The PCAT exam has a Verbal and Reading section which assesses applicants’ English skills. We also assess communication skills during the interview.

 

 

Getting ready for pharmacy school when you’re in high school

One of my favorite questions to ask current students is: when did you get interested in pharmacy as a career?¬†The answers always vary; some students decided on pharmacy in college, whereas others knew as early as middle or high school that pharmacy was the right field for them.¬†If you’re in high school and thinking about pharmacy as a career, that’s great! You’re ahead of the game and have plenty of time to prepare for pharmacy school. Here are some things to focus on now:

  • Take advanced coursework in math and science. If your school offers Honors, AP, IB, or dual enrollment classes, challenge yourself to take hard classes (and do well in them). Taking advanced courses in high school will prepare you for our prerequisite courses and ultimately our curriculum.
  • Talk to your pharmacist; shadow if possible.¬†Anytime you or your family has to go to the doctor or pharmacy, make an effort to talk with the pharmacist. If you let them know that you’re interested in pharmacy as a career, I’m sure they would be happy to talk with you.¬†Depending on the pharmacy, you might be able to set up a time to ask the pharmacist questions about their career or shadow them.
  • Find a passion.¬†What do you like to do with your free time? Are you involved in extracurricular organizations, community service, a sports team, or a music ensemble? Finding a meaningful way to spend your time outside of school will make you more well-rounded.¬†Your passion doesn’t have to be science or pharmacy as a high school student (but that’s great if it is!).
  • Develop strong communication skills. Pharmacists have to be strong in math and science, but they also have to be strong writers, speakers, and overall communicators. Every day, pharmacists talk with patients and health care team members including other pharmacists, doctors, and nurses. Focus on¬†your writing and speaking skills now, and it will help you in the future.

 

 

The fast track or the traditional track – Part 3

The PharmD program is unique in that applicants do not need to have completed a bachelor’s degree before starting. Approximately 20% of each incoming class does not hold a bachelor’s degree. They enter the PharmD program after 2 or 3 years of undergraduate study – however long it takes¬†to complete the prerequisite coursework.

One of the most common questions we get is in regards to whether an applicant should complete their bachelor’s degree or forgo their bachelor’s and¬†apply early. This is a challenging question, because there is no clear cut answer! Two weeks ago, I¬†wrote¬†about the benefits to being on the fast track, and last week I wrote about¬†the benefits of being on the traditional track. This week, I’m wrapping up this series with some final thoughts.


Ultimately, whether you decide to finish your bachelor’s degree or not before starting pharmacy school is a very personal and difficult¬†choice. There are many factors to consider when making the decision, and the decision might be different for each student. While we certainly see more students starting our program after completing their bachelor’s degree, we have many successful students who complete their prerequisite courses in 2-3 years, and are ready to enter our program afterwards. Whether you’re thinking of taking the fast track or the traditional track, we hope that you take the time to consider the benefits to each side. Which route is the best one for you?

The fast track or the traditional track – Part 1

The PharmD program is unique in that applicants do not need to have completed a bachelor’s degree before starting. Approximately 20% of each incoming class does not hold a bachelor’s degree. They enter the PharmD program after 2 or 3 years of undergraduate study – however long it takes¬†to complete the prerequisite coursework.

One of the most common questions we get is in regards to whether an applicant should complete their bachelor’s degree or forgo their bachelor’s and¬†apply early. This is a challenging question, because there is no clear cut answer! Here are some things to consider if you’re trying to make the decision whether or not to complete your bachelor’s degree. This week I’ll post some of the benefits to finishing your undergraduate work on the fast track, and next week I’ll follow up with the benefits to finishing your bachelor’s degree (the traditional track).


Benefits to completing your prerequisite courses in 2-3 years (the Fast Track):

  • Some students finish high school with AP or IB credits or dual enrollment courses which transfer in as credit to their undergraduate institution. They might test out of a course altogether, or receive placement into a higher level course. This enables them to start college with enough credits to complete the prerequisite classes in less time.
  • If you know that pharmacy is right path for you, you will likely want to get to the PharmD program as quickly as possible, because those are the classes you’re going to be most interested in. Rather than taking an extra year of coursework at the undergraduate level just to fulfill degree requirements, you want to pursue¬†your passion as quickly as possible.
  • The cost of pursuing a bachelor’s degree and a PharmD degree can be huge. Students looking to lower their debt post-graduation might choose to finish their undergrad studies early in order to save money.
  • If you’re able to demonstrate that you’re a competitive applicant already – strong academically, well-rounded, mature – and are ready to enter a rigorous PharmD program, then what do you have to lose by applying early? If you feel that one more year of undergraduate work is not going to make you more competitive or more ready for pharmacy school, then you might benefit from applying early.

 

 

 

Admission decision FAQs

Every year, we receive more applications than we have spots in our class. Admission to our PharmD program is very competitive.

If your application was denied admission, you probably have many questions. Below are some of the most common questions we receive. If your question isn’t listed below, we would be happy to answer it:
pharmacy_admissions@unc.edu or 919-966-9429

Why was my application denied?

We do not provide specific feedback on why an application was denied. The Admissions Committee reviews each application thoroughly, and considers whether the applicant is academically qualified, a strong applicant, and a good fit for the program. There are many different reasons why an application might be denied, and it also depends on the size and strength of the applicant pool. We receive more applications than we can offer an interview (or a seat in the class), so we are selective.

Is there any more information I can provide the Admissions Committee to overturn the decision? Can I appeal my decision?

No, the Admissions Committee has reviewed your application and made an admissions decision. You cannot submit new information after the application deadline has passed. The decision is final.

Can I meet with someone to review my application?

No, we do not meet individually with students to discuss their applications, and we do not provide specific reasons for why an application was denied.

What can I do to be more competitive next year?

We recommend that you review this website to learn more about the types of students admitted to our program. You can find statistics for students previously admitted¬†here. We will update this¬†website with the Class of 2020’s admission information by July 1, 2016.

We also encourage you to review our Admission FAQs.

This post has recommendations for becoming a more competitive applicant. Feel free to check back on the blog in the coming months; we will post more content that will focus on being competitive.

In general, consider which aspect of your application was the weakest, and focus your efforts on improving that for the next admissions cycle. Every application and every student is different, so what might be the weakest part of your application might not be the same for your friend’s application. Sometimes the weakest part of an application is the academics (prerequisite courses, GPA, and/or PCAT). If that is the case, focus on improving your GPA, retaking any low prereq courses that you might need to review, and studying to improve your PCAT scores. Many times, it is because outside of academics, the applicant was not strong. We like to see students who are well-rounded in terms of their extra curricular involvement, who demonstrate leadership, have explored pharmacy and healthcare, and have research experience.

Is there additional coursework I can take to make me a stronger candidate?

You are always welcome to take more advanced coursework in your major or in an academic area (especially math or science)¬†that will help you prepare for pharmacy school. We also encourage you to take courses you are interested in! If you’ve always wanted to take an art or psychology class, go for it! You will have 4 years to study science and pharmacy, so now is your opportunity to take classes outside those disciplines.
If you need coursework to fill credits, we recommend taking a research or writing-intensive class.
If you have lower grades (C- or lower) in prerequisite courses, we encourage you to retake those classes (and aim for an A or B grade). Don’t feel that you have to retake your prerequisite classes if you have above a C- in a prerequisite course. Retaking a class just to improve your GPA should not be your goal. Your goal should be to learn the material.

Can I reapply?

Yes, you are welcome to reapply. Our application for Fall 2017 entry will open in mid-July 2016.

 

LEAD program

Are you interested in learning more about pharmacy and how to become a stronger applicant? Then, you might want to apply to the LEAD program. Offered on both campuses for both high school and college students, the LEAD (Leadership, Excellence, And Development) is a one-day professional development program for students interested in pharmacy. You’ll get to meet students, faculty, and clinicians, and through seminars and hands on activities, learn more about pharmacy.¬†There is no fee¬†to attend LEAD, but you do have to apply. The application is available here.

In Chapel Hill, LEAD will be held on February 20, 2016 (for high school students) and February 27, 2016 (for college students). The deadline to apply is February 1, 2016.

In Asheville, LEAD will be held on March 12, 2016 (both high school and college students). The deadline to apply is March 4, 2016.

 

PCAT Prep

Have you already taken the PCAT? If you’re applying for Fall 2016 entry, the latest you can take the PCAT for the first time is November 2015.

You can register for the PCAT here. There’s also great information on that website regarding what is included on the exam, and sample tests and questions.

The PCAT is just one factor we review in the Admissions process to determine your academic preparedness. Last year, the average PCAT composite score for accepted students in our program was 88%. We recommend that students score at least a 70% on the composite score to be competitive.