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.