One Size Does Not Fit All – The Multiple Paths to Pharmacy School

One Size Does Not Fit All – The Multiple Paths to Pharmacy School

By: Viktoria Phillips

As the academic advisor in the School of Pharmacy, my job entails meeting with all pre-pharmacy students at UMKC and prospective pharmacy school applicants who are either in college or post-college. During these meetings, the questions and comments I most often hear center around the path each individual is taking to gain acceptance into pharmacy school.

Students seem to fear they are doing it wrong because their path doesn’t look like their friend’s or “that person they know who is already in pharmacy school.”

You might think, “Six years already sounds like too much school. Seven years scares me.” Please ask yourself, what do you want to be doing in ten years?  Would you like to be a pharmacist? Or working as something else. If the answer is “A Pharmacist,” the effort will be well rewarded. And trust us, college is fun (so fun, we decided to work at one!).  Pharmacy school is fun as well! Very challenging, but very fun.

So today, I am here to expel the rumors, calm the fears, and ease the worries. And if you take nothing else away from this article today, take this – there is no one correct path to pharmacy school.

So, you may be skeptical. You may worry. Let’s look at some of the potential paths to pharmacy school to show you how diverse the paths can be. I’ll cover the five main scenarios I’ve observed since working in this role.

“The Minimum” – Two Years of Undergrad: As the name implies, this is the minimum route to pharmacy school. We love to tell students that they are eligible to enter pharmacy school after their sophomore year of college as long as they complete our required prerequisite coursework (prerequisite coursework can be taken at any regionally accredited U.S.institution). And we share this information for good reason – it saves students and parents time and money! It also allows you to earn a professional degree in six years. It is the most efficient path to pharmacy school and a great option for students who are certain they want to go to pharmacy school and can excel in their prerequisite coursework.

Three Years of Undergrad: There are a few reasons why a student may choose to take three years to complete their undergraduate coursework. One reason may be that they are unsure pharmacy is the right career for them, so they want to take an extra semester or two to explore other career options through electives and major coursework.

Another reason why students may take three years of undergraduate classes is to strengthen their GPA. We’ve all had that difficult semester of college (Or was that just me?) and sometimes our GPA needs a little TLC. When students are struggling to meet our GPA minimums on the two-year track, I often coach them to slow their progress down a bit and spread out their classes. College can be a huge life transition, and sometimes a way to cope with this transition is intentionally scheduling your classes so that you can be the most successful while also balancing other responsibilities like work, family, and extracurricular involvement.  

Three years also offers applicants another year to study for the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT), and you’ll take the test with a little more coursework under your belt!

The Degree Before the Degree: For some students, earning a bachelor’s degree prior to starting pharmacy school is the best option. Some students want to have their bachelor’s degree because for them it is a special area of academic interest, or they decided,while getting their degree, that they really love pharmacy yet are so far along in their studies that they might as well finish their initial degree.

For others, a bachelor’s degree may be a good choice because pharmacy school is just not a viable option given their current academic or personal situation. I have met with multiple students who have a passion for pharmacy, love being a pharmacy technician, but they cannot make the grades needed in the prerequisite classes. That is not always an easy revelation to have – that pharmacy school isn’t the right thing for you right now – but sometimes you just need a little mental space to explore your passions and interests without the pressure of “I must get an “A” in this class so I get accepted into pharmacy school.”

Take it from someone who was pre-med for two years in college – sometimes there is pressure to continue on a path because you’ve told everyone “I’m going to be a (insert profession)!” It doesn’t mean that profession is right for you or will make you happy. Sometimes you just need some time to evaluate your true direction in life. Take the classes that sound exciting to you, and find what suits your strengths! If pharmacy is right for you, you can always come back to it later. Another reason I caution students to not “force” their way through prerequisite classes when they’re not succeeding is that in the School of Pharmacy we do not honor grade forgiveness. All college coursework is factored into your GPA, and if you’re continuously failing classes, this can be detrimental to pharmacy school admission.

A Career Change: It is not uncommon for someone to meet with me after being out of school for 5, 10, or 15+ years. For some people, they’ve been working in a different sector and want to make a career change, and for others, their life responsibilities have shifted and they can now prioritize their passion of becoming a pharmacist. Whatever the reason, it is always exciting to talk with people who have found their way to pharmacy after a time away from formal education. If this is you, it will be important for you to consider your grades in previous college coursework, if any previous coursework will count towards our required prerequisites, and to develop a plan for completing any missing prerequisites.

Complete the Prerequisites in One Year (Rare Option): Maybe you have completed close to 30 hours of college credit while in high school from a combination of AP, IB &/or dual credit. And you would really like to complete the prerequisites in one year while enrolled full-time at college. This is very, very rare. However if you would like to discuss this please come talk to us in person to discuss a possible plan.

Now that you’ve been able to read about the multiple tracks someone could take into pharmacy school, I hope you feel assured that no two paths need to look the same in order to become a successful pharmacist. We’d rather you take the path that is best for you,where you’re successful, than try to emulate anyone else! I promise you’ll be much happier for it!

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