Choosing a Pharmacy School
For everyone who’s been through this process, they know how many factors go into this decision. Sometimes it can feel simple when you are accepted into your ‘dream’ school because you’ve already figured out all the ways that this school meets for your criteria. But for someone who doesn’t have a dream pharmacy school (or didn’t anymore- I’ll explain later) the decision can be overwhelming.
Originally, my dream school was Ohio State. I had chosen to go to Ohio State for my bachelor’s assuming I would apply to pharmacy school there and hopefully be accepted; however, life had other plans in store for me.
The first reason Ohio State wasn’t my dream pharmacy school was because of the weather. This southern girl was highly unprepared for the weather, snow boots, wind chill and everything else about Ohio weather. The second reason was that my grandmother’s cancer had gotten worse, and I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. Being eight hours from home was now a deal breaker, eliminating my dream school from a list of places I should apply. I had to begin a pharmacy school search much like my college search I had done before applying to undergraduate programs, but this time it felt like a more important decision. In undergrad there was still a chance of changing my major and choosing a different path than pharmacy. Once I was in pharmacy school it was a done deal- I was going to become a pharmacist.
So where did I start? Location. Like I said, I wanted to be close to home (Charlotte, NC). I looked up schools in the southeast focusing on Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. I wrote down all of the pharmacy schools in those areas and the driving distance from Charlotte. I eliminated all the schools more than 4 hours away because driving 5 hours one way twice a weekend would have been exhausting.
Then I looked up their relative cost of tuition and factored in the cost of in state or out of state because while thinking about student loans sucks, it is completely necessary and should factor in to your decision!
To go along with tuition, I tried to find as much information as I could online about scholarship opportunities. Did they have a lot of scholarships in place? Did they promote student scholarship a lot? Not that I assumed I would receive scholarships, but I knew that schools who gave out scholarships had faculty and alumni who were committed to supporting students financially.
Next, I looked at additional opportunities for students. Were there dual degrees offered and if so in what? What student testimonials had been published on their site about these programs? Did I know anyone who had done any of these programs and could give me personal insight? Because while I didn’t know going into pharmacy school if a dual degree, or an optional track, was something I should do, I wanted to have the option.
Other opportunities I explored were programs like business tracks, leadership opportunities, pre-residency track/residency preparedness events, and any centers or programs in the college that were unique specifically to that college like the Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center (KPIC) at the University of South Carolina. If taken advantage of, these tracks and programs can help give you exposure to various fields of pharmacy, and/or make you more competitive for a certain type of post-graduate training.
Additionally, I looked into family I had living by each school, family friends and mentors. Through shag dance I knew a professor at the University of South Carolina. She was able to give me a private tour of the campus and talk to me more in depth about the atmosphere of their campus. Every campus has a different atmosphere, and it’s hard to understand until you start visiting multiple schools (this applies to all colleges and universities- not just pharmacy). I knew if I had issues or lingering questions I could reach out to her and she would find an answer.
The most important part is realizing the impact a mentor can have! Without someone I trusted I may not have asked all the questions I did about the programs I had been accepted into, and I may not have felt as confident in my decision as I do because I had someone who had gone through what I was experiencing and could give first hand insight into what helped them make this decision. A good mentor can have such a huge impact in your life, and if you have one at a pharmacy school you’re accepted into they can contribute to your growth and much sooner since you already have a relationship with them prior to pharmacy school. Regardless of whether this mentor is affiliated to the institution you choose, don’t lose contact with them or hesitate to reach out; they will always want to help you grow, develop and succeed. It’s why they chose to be a mentor in the first place.
I wanted to evaluate the professors as well. I knew pharmacy school would be challenging and I wanted professors who supported their students and cared about their success. I’m not sure there’s a way to necessarily look it up online but when going to the campuses you could tell by the way the faculty interacted with students. It was evident at the various schools I went to, the faculty genuinely wanted to help answer students’ questions, and were friendly to the current students they would see in passing. If you go to a school and the faculty as a whole don’t seem too interested in their students succeeding or care about them then ask yourself whether that makes a difference to how you specifically learn and grow. Some people don’t want support from people, and others do. It’s helpful to know which way you lean towards and make sure your school can provide that through their current faculty. (Please note, I haven’t been to a campus yet where faculty don’t care or actively engage with their students, but wanted to point this out in case you do experience that)
Along a similar line, I wanted to know how the students viewed their classmates. I knew from previous classes that when students viewed their classmates as competition, and didn’t offer to study in groups, share study guides, or Quizlets, etc. I didn’t do as well. I’m not a very competitive person, unless I’m trying to compete with myself, so those environments prevent me from reaching my full potential. All it took was me asking current students I saw during my interview day about how students got along and their personal study habits. I was trying to discover if there was a mentality of, “we’re all in this together.” Because in my mind we are all in this together. Every one of my classmates succeeding matters to me because when we graduate and go off to be pharmacists I want to know that my classmates truly understand what we were taught and that they feel confident in their ability to be pharmacists. After all, they could end up being mine or a family member’s pharmacist. And when it comes to our loved ones, we always want the best.
Now, when I evaluated all of these things at each school, I was able to assess if I fit there. I had to decide if I could see myself attending class there, living in that city, interacting with the faculty and being happy. Trying to decide if you fit somewhere might sound silly and some people might feel like they never truly fit there or like in the one day you interviewed you can’t make your best friends and live happily ever after. You’re right. But during my one day at UofSC I saw the types of candidates who they were interviewing; I saw their faculty interact with students; I interviewed with two different faculty members who took genuine interest in me and made an interview feel like a conversation. I quickly inferred that I fit at UofSC because of the proximity to home, the support of students financially and academically, the unique programs offered, multiple dual degree options, and a mentor already in place.
Lex Be Real, while this is all specific to pharmacy school, these factors can help make decisions about any university, post graduate training like a residency or fellowship, or even a job!