What It Takes to Get into Pharmacy School

What It Takes to Get into Pharmacy School

The well-publicized pharmacist shortage has led to stiffer competition for students with apothecary dreams. Colleges big and small, flooded with promising talent, are forced to become more selective about who gets acceptance letters.

What can you do to give yourself a competitive edge in the admissions process? A lot depends purely on academics: higher-than-average grades in math and science and good achievement test scores. But certain extracurricular activities could pay dividends with decision makers as well.

Ground-Floor Experience

Admissions officers say job shadowing, industry experience and even publication of scientific research and patents are giving aggressive students a leg up.

"Understand what the profession entails," suggests Karen Condeni, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid for Ohio Northern University's Raabe College of Pharmacy. "Shadow a pharmacist. Pick [a pharmacist's] brain about what kind of things are part of a typical day."

Experts say pharmacy technician experience is also a plus. Smaller institutions like Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, are developing programs that help determined pharmacy hopefuls stand out from the pack. Harcum offers a three-month pharmacy tech certification course that gives ground-floor exposure to the daily grind in aspects of pharmacy including hospital, retail, mail order, home infusion and institutional.

"This program is a good way for students to begin their paths towards higher-level pharmacy options and acts as a launching pad to enter pharmacy school," says Tom Sorge, dean of Harcum College's School of Continuing Studies. Sorge says Harcum is in talks with area pharmacy colleges about establishing a feeder program that would give Harcum students an advantage.

Publishing and Patents

High school students today are vying for pharmacy college classroom space by forging into territory once reserved for more mature academicians: publishing scientific research and winning patents on unique concepts.

"When we visit high schools, we ask students who are involved in scientific research to raise their hands -- more and more are raising their hands," says Robert Gould, vice president of enrollment management for Albany College of Pharmacy in New York. "On their applications, we are beginning to see that some high school students are publishing. Some are actually getting patents. Those are the things that really make students in our applicant pool stand out."

Footing the Bill

Once you win the competition and secure a spot, paying for pharmacy school is another challenge. But financial-aid gurus report a higher number of opportunities for scholarships, loan repayment programs and employment contracts in today's climate.

Employment contracts are gaining particular popularity as pharmacies seek to fill today's and tomorrow's shortages. Major chains like CVS and Walgreens, among others, are paying tuition for up to two years in return for an employment commitment from the student.

"On the average, our students are able to finance well over half the cost of their education," Condeni says. "It's much more affordable than what meets the eye. We always encourage students not to be deterred by the cost."

With an aging population and a generation of Baby Boomers who will soon retire, admissions officers report no end in sight to the need for pharmacists, and many are taking active measures to meet student demand. Until then, they will continue to look for the best and brightest to educate and send out to hundreds of pharmacies seeking qualified druggists.