Every pharmacy program has its own requirements for applicants. The minimum PCAT score, minimum GPA, pre-requisites, number of recommendation letters required, etc. all vary. If they all want something different from you, then how do you appeal to several different programs?
The truth is, they’re all looking for a certain kind of applicant. So, what is it they’re looking for?
A Well-Rounded Student
It’s pretty common knowledge now that schools don’t want one-dimensional students. A student can be book smart without possessing other qualities necessary to make a good pharmacist. Your science knowledge, memory, analytical skills, and other necessary qualifications can be proven through your grades. But, a good pharmacist needs to be more than an academic. They should be able to communicate effectively and relate to the people they work with and serve. They should be a good leader as well; a pharmacist will likely have people they supervise.
Try to do some volunteer work. Join on-campus groups and clubs; having leadership roles in these can help make an applicant stand out even more. Internships are always recommended. If you have the ability to work while you’re an undergrad, that shows versatility and time management among other things. You want your application to show you as the complete picture, not just a piece of it.
Strong Letters of Recommendation
Although some people believe that recommendation letters aren’t too important if students have a strong application, this is an incorrect assumption. Admissions committees take your letters of recommendation very seriously. These letters help to show the admissions committee that you are the student and person your application makes you appear to be. They help to make you more three-dimensional to the people reviewing thousands of paper applications. They can also help you stand out from the rest – something that is important in a competitive program.
Make sure that you are requesting these letters from people who actually know you – and know you well. If you’re an active member of a campus group or club, consider asking the advisor. Professors that you’ve developed a relationship with are great sources for recommendation letters. If you worked closely with someone during your volunteer work or your internships, consider asking them as well. The better they know you, the more convincing their recommendation will be. It helps if these people are from the field you are trying to enter, but it’s not necessary.
Aside from strong content, which is important, you really want to make sure that what they are writing matches the information you’ve provided on your application. If you say you worked with a professor doing research, and they say you just brought them coffee, it may be a problem. If you say you worked in a leadership position, and they say you were an intern, problem. You shouldn’t be lying, or embellishing, on your application to begin with, but make sure that whoever you’ve asked to write these letters is on the same page as you are.
A Solid Personal Statement
They want to know why you’re planning on pharmacy school. What led you down this path? Why pharmacy school? Why this program? Don’t just tell them what they want to hear. They want something that doesn’t sound forced, something that appears genuine. Make yourself stand out as an applicant. Think of it as a cover letter for your application. This, even more than the letters of recommendation, can help make you a more three-dimensional applicant to the admissions committees.
While they do like well-rounded students, having experience in your preferred career can make a big difference. Internships are always a good idea; most schools will offer assistance in finding opportunities and applying for them. Bonus: you may even get credit for them. You can choose to shadow a professional as well. Speak to your career center, advisor, or professors and see if they know anyone who may consider allowing you to shadow them.
You may even want to consider a job as a pharmacy tech if possible. The credentials necessary to become a pharmacy tech vary – some states require you to get certified through a program and some allow you to get on-the-job experience before getting certified. Check into it; this may be a great option for you either during the school year or during the summer.
Obviously, pharmacy programs want you to meet their minimum requirements at least. If you have an average GPA and an average PCAT score for the program you’re applying to, having a stronger overall application can help you. Being a strong all-around applicant can really help you stand out. Don’t just worry about meeting the prerequisites and GPA/PCAT requirements. Your application is about more than that. While they may be the larger, more important pieces, the little things, like some of those mentioned above, matter too.
If you’re a successful pre-pharm student with excellent grades and an awesome PCAT score, that’s great. Unfortunately for you, many of the other applicants will have those same great grades and PCAT scores. So, remember to focus on all of the pieces of your application. You’re required to submit letters of recommendation and a personal statement regardless of the program you’re applying to, so make them memorable. Choose the right people to write recommendations for you and make sure that your personal statement reflects who you are while highlighting your passion for pharmacy. Be involved on campus and work off-campus if you can. These are the things that make you a stronger applicant and help you to stand out.