SCHOOL LEAVERS / MAR. 29, 2015
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Tips for Choosing a Pharmacy School

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Do you dream of a career where you have a chance to help others, delve into medical science, and earn a high salary?  One field with plenty of opportunity is pharmaceutical science.  While the job of pharmacist is growing at an average rate (14% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), it is an important one, and a role which will always be needed.  The BLS reports you could make an average of $116,670 yearly, or $56.09 per hour.  How do you actually become one though?  You will have to go to pharmacy school to earn a doctoral degree.  And you will need to pick a great school so that you can pass your two licensing exams!

See also: Top 10 Skills Needed for a Job as a Pharmacist

Your considerations when you are selecting a pharmacy school will encompass many of the same concerns you took into account while you were selecting your undergraduate university.  Some considerations, however, will be specific to the field you are studying.  Let’s take a look at both lifestyle and academic aspects for pharmacy schools.  Most pharmacy programs take at least four years to complete, so that is a big investment of time and money.  You will want to make a choice you are going to be happy with!

Lifestyle Considerations

Location

Do you want to study somewhere close to home, or are you willing to relocate?  Do you plan to live on or off campus?  Are you searching for a pharmacy school which will allow you to do at least some of your courses online?  Note that you cannot expect to complete a full course load online.  The majority of online programs you find for pharmacists are designed for continuing education for professionals who have already established themselves.  Pharmacists do need experience with hands-on work, and there is no way to learn all pharmaceutical tasks in an online environment.  Still, a school which allows you to telecommute to some classes may save you time and money.

Cost

Staying in-state may save you money.  Out of state, you will likely find costs are comparable wherever you go.

Admissions  

Many pharmaceutical students are happy simply to be accepted at any pharmaceutical school.  If you do have options, though, you may want to apply at schools which have an admissions process you are familiar with and which you find friendly and approachable.  You may also want to take the process itself into account as you make your selection.  What was it like to deal with the admissions staff?  Were they friendly?  Knowledgeable?  What were the other students like who were present when you interviewed?  Did you like the people you met?

Demographics and campus size  

Is the campus diverse?  Is it so large you will feel lost, or so small you will feel confined?  Will you feel welcome and comfortable there?

Extracurricular activities  

As a pharmacy student, you will be very busy with your course load, but you will still find yourself with time for social activities.  Does the school provide you with a chance to get involved with clubs, athletic activities, and other events and pastimes which interest you?

Academics

Coursework  

What is the program like at each school you are looking into?  You may not only want to look up the specifics of what you can expect in class, but also check up on what happens to graduates after they complete the program.  What is the passing rate for the NAPLEX?  The NAPLEX is the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination.  You want to make sure you attend a school with a high passing rate.  The passing rate is a direct reflection of how well the program will prepare you to become a professional pharmacist and embark on a successful career.

Focus  

Are you planning to enter a particular niche, such as becoming an industry pharmacist or a government pharmacist?  If so, you may want to look for a school which has a specific concentration on your area. 

Faculty  

Depending on your own connections, this may or may not be an issue that is relevant to you.  If you are already well-networked, however, you may have a passing familiarity with the staff at some of the schools you are applying to.  It may be worth your time to talk to your current professors to see if they recommend any particular schools or teachers.

Research opportunities 

As a pharmacist-in-training, you will not only be soaking up a lot of book knowledge, but also delving into hands-on research.  You may even have a chance to participate in cutting-edge, groundbreaking science.  Which schools will give you the best opportunities to research and begin making a name for yourself?

Residencies  

Breaking into the pharmaceutical field is easier in some cities than it is in others.  Some cities are fairly saturated, and finding residencies can be challenging.  Do your research and try and pick a school in a city that will offer you a larger pool of residency opportunities.

Program Structure

Another huge consideration to take into account when selecting a pharmacy school is the program structure.  The top pharmacy schools nearly all consist of four year programs.  Generally, the first three years you will spend in class, and the fourth will be an internship or residency where you will get hands-on experience working in a real pharmaceutical environment.  These schools are all graduate schools; you must first get a four-year undergraduate degree, and then apply to pharmacy school.  That means a total of eight years of schooling.

However, a few schools are different.  For example, if you are still in high school, and you are certain that you want to go to pharmacy school, you may be able to cut two years off of your journey.  How?  Certain schools, like the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Drake University have accelerated programs.  You apply directly from high school, and then complete a two-year pre-pharmacy program as a prerequisite.  This is done as an alternative to a four-year undergraduate degree.  From there, you enter into the four-year professional pharmacy program. 

You may also find schools like the University of the Pacific in California which offer variations on this theme.  You might be able to study for five years or seven, instead of six.  Some schools also allow you to spend three years doing pharmaceutical studies following two years of general studies. 

Choosing a pharmacy school is a process that will take some serious time and effort.  While you may be tempted to go for the first pharmacy school that accepts you, this may not be the best decision.  Remember, the city you study in is the city you are committing to live in for the next four to six years.  The saturation of the job market there will determine how easy or hard it is for you to find a residency.  The research opportunities available may also set you on the right track or the wrong one, depending on your career goals. 

See also: How to Become a Pharmacy Technician  

So take the time to do your research online.  Head over to your school’s career center and ask what additional resources they can offer you.  Some career centers offer advanced classes with additional tips for finding and applying for pharmacy schools.  Also, be sure to speak to your advisor and your professors.  They may have some excellent advice to point you in the right direction.  Good luck embarking on your educational journey toward the pharmacist job of your dreams! 

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