How holistic review benefits you!

How holistic review benefits you! An overview of our application review process
By: Viktoria Phillips

One of the questions we most frequently get is, “Am I a competitive applicant?” To this question, there is rarely a straightforward answer, as we know that successful pharmacy students are more than grades and standardized test scores. To determine pharmacy school admission, we look at your application holistically, so emphasis is not just on one or two categories or numerical values. When we review an application, we look at a few different sections of your application. We review your GPA, transcripts, PCAT score(s), work/volunteer experience, evaluation(s), and personal statement. Read below to see what holistic review looks like at the UMKC School of Pharmacy.

The Sections of Holistic Review

GPA: When it comes to evaluating GPA, we must first ensure you’re meeting our minimums. If you don’t have a collegiate 2.75 cumulative GPA and a 2.5 math/science GPA, then you’ll be denied for not meeting GPA requirements. This is one requirement where we do not have any flexibility. If we admit someone who does not meet our published minimum requirements, we could lose our accreditation.

We can only consider grades through the fall semester of the year before you are planning to enter pharmacy school (so all college grades through Fall 2019 will be considered if you are planning to start in Fall 2020). Our average GPA for admitted students is around 3.5.

Transcripts: We like to think that every transcript tells a story. Your transcript may tell us you hit a rough patch one semester, that you pursued a major before pre-pharmacy, or that you’ve put in years of hard work and determination to achieve your dream goal. When your transcript shows strong grades and full-time enrollment, there usually isn’t much to worry about, but when you struggle for one or more semesters, your transcript has more to prove. When you hit a rough patch with your grades, we’re looking to see how the next semester(s) went – to determine how you overcame the challenge and recovered. We’re most likely going to ask about the courses where you’ve struggled, so don’t be afraid to acknowledge your challenges in your personal statement and/or in the special circumstances section (if applicable) of the PharmCAS application. We also consider your course load each semester. It is important to show that you can take a full-time course load and do well. We do understand that a full course load isn’t always doable, so be sure to discuss in your application how you are ready to handle a full and heavy load. We’ll also ask about this in the interview!

The PCAT: For many of the students we advise, the PCAT is the most anxiety-inducing aspect of the application. But we require the PCAT for very good reasons – It tells us so much about you! If you have a lower GPA/grades, the PCAT can show us that you’ve actually learned that material and have a strong innate ability (it can counteract those lower grades). If you have strong grades but a lower PCAT score, it may lead us to inquire about your test anxiety so we can assist you in overcoming this before taking tests in pharmacy school and beyond (think pharmacy licensing boards!). And if both your grades and PCAT are on the lower side, it allows us to ask questions to truly ascertain if pharmacy school is the best fit for you right now. The last thing we want is for you is to start pharmacy school and not make it past the first or second semester. So when you get anxious about the PCAT, just remember that it is one more piece of your application that tells us about who you are.

PCAT scoring notes: Students ask us all the time if their PCAT score is “good enough.” Here is a quick guide to PCAT scores:

  • Composite Score: Aim for a composite in the 40th Percentile. Our average composite score for admission ranges between 50 – 60th percentile, but 40% is still a strong score if standardized tests aren’t your thing.
  • Sub-scores (Biology, Chemistry, Reading, and Quantitative): These sub-score percentiles are averaged together to create your composite score. A higher score in one section will help balance out a lower score in another section, so be sure to focus on the subjects where you are strong in addition to your weaker areas. If any sub-score is below 16%, your application will go to a sub-committee for review.

Note: We are always happy to give feedback on PCAT scores, so send scores to if you ever want to know if your score is “good enough.”

Volunteer/Work Experience: We always make it clear to students that we do not require pharmacy experience to be eligible for admission to our program, but it is very helpful to have some type of healthcare/pharmacy experience even if it is shadowing or informational interviewing. When you’re in your interview, we’re really looking for three things: 1) Can you show us that you know what a pharmacist does? 2) Can you strongly articulate why you want to be a pharmacist? 3) Can you demonstrate an ability to communicate with diverse people and populations? If you don’t have healthcare or pharmacy experience, I strongly suggest exploring the web to look up current events in pharmacy and healthcare so you have strong talking points when it comes time for the interview. You can get started with the American Pharmacists Association Website. If you’re working or volunteering outside of the healthcare field, think about opportunities where you work with populations that are different than you (children, the elderly, etc.), positions that utilize strong communication skills, and positions that require compassion, clear decision-making, and patience in stressful situations.

Evaluation: This is kind of the easy one if you know who is going to write your letter of recommendation. An evaluator should be able to speak to your character, your ability to communicate, your reliability, your ethics, and your ability to persist when facing adversity. They should be able to show us why you’re a great candidate for pharmacy school. Choose an evaluator that knows you well and has seen you over the long haul. In our minds, one great letter is better than two mediocre ones, so plan who is going to complete your evaluation sooner rather than later!

Personal Statement: Your GPA, grades/transcript, evaluation, PCAT scores, and work/volunteer experiences all help us form a mental image of who you are. But, ultimately, the personal statement is what brings it all together and humanizes the application. The personal statement gives context to the numerical pieces of your application like GPA and PCAT score. A personal statement needs to have passion, clarity, and share a piece of yourself. A great personal statement should make us excited to meet you, tell us about your path to pharmacy school, and share your dreams for how you’ll utilize the degree after graduation. Use the personal statement to show us why you’re excited to be a pharmacist and to discuss your career trajectory up until this point in your life (even if that path is a little uneven or shaky). It’s always nice to be able to read the personal statement and feel like we know the applicant.

In Summary

At the end of the day, we use all aspects of the application to determine if pharmacy school is right for you. If you meet our qualifications, we’ll invite you in for an interview. We use the interview as an opportunity to get to know you better, ask questions to clarify any points on your application, and ultimately determine if you can handle the rigors of pharmacy school and the pharmacy profession. Should you get an interview, be sure to check out our Five Tips for UMKC’s Pharm.D. Program Interview. We look forward to seeing your application!