Flashbacks and Forward Thinking: My Advice for Prospective Students


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.


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!


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.

Health Professions Week

Are you interested in learning more about careers in health professions, including pharmacy? Read more below to learn about Health Professions Week!


Register now for the first annual Health Professions Week! HPW is an exciting, free, week-long event for students interested in learning more about careers in the health professions. If you are thinking about pursuing a career in healthcare, this is a great way to get exposure to 19 different health professions and hear directly from practitioners in these roles.

Over five days in September, through a series of online and in-person activities, HPW will offer you the opportunity to:

  • ¬†Explore 19 diverse and rewarding health professions during¬†two virtual fairs¬†and an¬†online treasure hunt;
  • Interview a variety of health professionals¬†to¬†learn about what their life is like in their chosen profession;
  • Engage with educators and health professionals near you at alocal community or campus event.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @healthprofweek
Learn more at ExploreHealthCareers.org/HPW
Register at CareerEco.com/events/HPW 

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.

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.

PCAT prep course

Are you preparing to take the PCAT this summer or fall? One of our student organizations, Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA), will be offering a PCAT prep course at the Chapel Hill and Asheville campuses this summer.

From SNPhA:
“We will provide detailed instruction in Biology, Chemistry, Math, and English. We will also be covering test-taking strategies, administering pre- and post-exams, and hosting a mock MMI session to simulate the pharmacy school interview process.”

For more information or to register, please visit their website: https://pharmacy.unc.edu/events/the-pcat-preparatory-review/

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?

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.


Student Perspective: Position Yourself for Success

A blog post from Hannah Carr, Class of 2016.

Two Saturdays ago, I attended the Position Yourself for Success Program.¬† Several potential students came to learn how to prepare themselves to be the best candidates for pharmacy school.¬† They listened to speakers and participated in a case discussion.¬† I ate lunch with three of these students and was quite impressed with their diverse backgrounds.¬† As someone who is admittedly committed to the path of community pharmacy, I was pleasantly surprised to learn of their interests in industry and hospital pharmacy.¬† I answered questions about the application process, class difficulty, and possible career opportunities for pharmacists.¬† After our lunch and ‚ÄúQ and A‚ÄĚ session, I led a brief tour around the two pharmacy buildings (Kerr Hall and Beard Hall).¬† These are the ‚Äúhome‚ÄĚ of every student who attends the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.¬† We peeked into the corridors of Kerr Hall to the Department of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy and the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Experimental Therapeutics.¬† Several of our acclaimed faculty have offices in these areas.¬† Then we looked in on the student lounge area and pharmaceutical laboratories in Beard Hall.¬† This building is where we have our weekly lab meetings and where our administrative faculty is located. Hopefully, now, these potential students have a general feel for the life of a student pharmacist and they feel better prepared applying to pharmacy school.¬† My goal at these types of events is to be a resource for potential students the way others were for me.¬† And, overall, I felt the day was a success for both the potential students and myself.

Student Perspective: A Unique Perspective – what major is right for you?

A blog post from J. Carrington, Class of 2016.

Many prospective students want to know what they should study in their undergraduate course work to prepare for pharmacy school. You may be wondering, ‚ÄúWill my future pharmacy school only consider me if I was a biology or chemistry major? Do I have to declare ‚ÄúPre-Pharmacy‚ÄĚ? Should I even get a bachelors degree?‚ÄĚ

Here is my story and humble opinion on the matter.

As a senior in high school thinking about my future career in pharmacy, the first step was deciding what I want my major to be. I was a 4-H agriculture program kid, horse enthusiast and knew I was going to Virginia Tech ‚Äď a wonderful university with a great agriculture school in Virginia.

Upon my acceptance to Virginia Tech, I considered pharmacy as a career path due to my love of science and desire to help people. The conflict was what to study. My dream major was Animal and Poultry Science, a degree in the College of Agriculture and Life Science that focused in animal production and science. I was sold on this major ever since going to Virginia Tech for youth horse judging and 4-H events.

Upon evaluating the Animal and Poultry Science curriculum further, I saw that the course work required for this degree matched very well to what is expected for pharmacy school. It also had courses focusing on practical hands-on skills and the opportunity for research projects. I customized my curriculum to be great balance of my passion for agriculture and rigorous science based classes. I took the normal Organic Chemistry and biochemistry, but I also got to take Animal Breeding and Genetics, Physiology of Reproduction and Embryology. I also got to take fun classes like Livestock Marketing along with Equine Biomechanics and Horse Production. All of these classes together gave me a unique perspective and was a great conversation starter at interviews.

Most majors will cover the core requirements needed for acceptance in pharmacy school and are flexible enough to allow you to take extra courses that may be needed like Organic Chemistry or Human Anatomy and Physiology. I loved every minute at Virginia Tech and truly got to study something that I love. The background and unique perspective I gained as an Animal Science student helped me in pharmacy school.

The number one goal: Study something you love! Don’t worry if it isn‚Äôt biochemistry or medical science. If you enjoy it do it! I have many classmates with degrees in Art, History, and even foreign languages. They are all in pharmacy school and successful in the rigorous coursework. My advice is to enjoy your undergraduate experience regardless of what you study or if you get a degree. The memories you make in your undergraduate career last a lifetime. Get a good science foundation but don’t forget to take something completely different because you never know the experiences it will give you!