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Is Pharmacy School Hard to Get Into? A Pharmacist's View

Published on: Nov 6, 2022
By: Jim Herbst, PharmD, BCPPS
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The pharmacy profession is a potentially rewarding and lucrative career and might have even more upside as major business conglomerates disrupt healthcare. Even without the industry sea change, a pharmacy career is both highly desirable and highly trusted due to the existing demand for the position. 

Pharmacists are typically considered one of the top 5 trusted professionals annually. Given their high honesty, ethical standards, and starting salaries, you would suspect that pharmacy schools are highly competitive.  This was true for many years, but recently, pharmacy schools became much easier to get into.  This makes finding the school that’s right for you even more important.

The Acceptance Rate and the Proliferation of Pharmacy Schools: Through the Years

Fifteen years ago, the acceptance rate for pharmacy schools averaged approximately 35%.  In the early 2000s, there were less than 50 pharmacy schools in the United States, and most of these programs were highly competitive.  Over the last 15-20 years, however, there has been an explosion in the number of pharmacy programs.  PharmCAS (the Pharmacy College Application Service) is a centralized application service that allows applicants to apply to multiple PharmD programs with a single application.  An overwhelming majority of pharmacy programs in the United States participate in PharmCAS. 

 In 2007, over 50 pharmacy schools participated in PharmCAS.  By 2011, this number doubled to over 100 participating programs.  The number continued to increase steadily; by 2021, there were 134 participating pharmacy school programs.  There are over 140 accredited PharmD programs in the US, so PharmCAS-participating programs account for over 90% of all PharmD programs.  While the number of pharmacy schools has steadily increased over the last 15-20 years, the total number of applicants today remains similar to 15-20 years ago.  

Given the expansion in the number of accepted applicants due to the higher volume of schools accepting, it becomes easy to see the volume for PharmD applicants (and subsequently graduates) is much higher.  Whereas it was common to see over 1,000 applications per program in the past, in 2023, there were less than 300 applications on average.  During this time, the overall acceptance rate climbed from just over 30% in the early 2000s to approximately 50% in 2008, to over 60% in 2011, to over 70% in 2013, to over 80% in 2016, and finally to over an astounding 88% in 2020. 

Pharmacy school is easier than ever to get into, but given the large number and variety of programs, choosing the right one has never been harder.

Application Trends*

The number of applicants to pharmacy schools peaked during the 2012-2013 academic year with over 17,000 applicants.  At that time, there were over 100 PharmD programs.  Several years earlier, in the 2009-2010 academic year, the total number of applications peaked at over 86,000 applications. This means that each applicant was applying to almost five pharmacy programs on average.  There were around 90 accredited pharmacy schools in 2011.  

Fast-forward to 10 years later, when the total number of PharmD programs grew by nearly 50%. In the 2020-2021 academic year, there were only slightly over 13,000 applicants submitting 36,000 applications to over 130 PharmD programs. Each applicant applied to only 2.7 programs. The total number of applicants in 2020-2021 was less than in 2003-2004, when there were less than 50 accredited programs.  

Now that the acceptance rate is the highest it has ever been, the number of applications per applicant is the lowest it has been in over 20 years. While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted PharmD admissions, this trend has been consistent for some time and certainly predates the pandemic. The number of applications, for example, fell over 20% in 2017-2018 compared to the previous academic year, even as more pharmacy schools continued to gain accreditation status.

In the 2003-2004 academic year over 1000 applications per PharmD program were submitted on average, ranging from slightly over 300 to over 2,000 per pharmacy school.  The average applications per school stayed relatively flat from 2003-2009, even as the number of accredited pharmacy schools doubled.  Starting in 2010, however, the average number of applicants to pharmacy schools steadily decreased and the 2020-2021 class averaged only just over 250 applications per school.  One pharmacy program had only 18 applicants.

Is My Undergraduate GPA Good Enough?

Today’s pharmacy school candidate boasts an average undergraduate GPA of 3.26.  Those who are accepted have a slightly higher GPA of 3.32.  Typically, pharmacy school programs will look at math GPA, science GPA, and non-science GPA.  

  • Applicants, on average, have a math GPA of 3.15, a science GPA of 3.11, and a non-science GPA of 3.42.  

  • Accepted applicants, however, have an average math GPA of 3.22, a science GPA of 3.17, and a non-science GPA of 3.48.  If your GPA falls below this average, your chances of admission could increase if, for example, you have a high-percentile PCAT score.

There weren't major differences in overall GPA between accepted male and female candidates, although female candidates had a slightly higher GPA than their male counterparts. This trend was similar to the all-important science GPA.

Over the last 15 years, the average accepted cumulative GPA slightly decreased from over 3.4 in the decade of the 2000s to slightly over 3.3 today.

What Undergraduate Degree Do I Need?

There’s no required undergraduate degree to apply for PharmD programs.  There are a variety of undergraduate degree programs that can prepare you for pharmacy school. Still, there are specific degrees that naturally attract those who ultimately choose to pursue pharmacy as a profession:

  • Over 40% of candidates will have a Bachelor of Science degree.   

  • Over 20% of pharmacy school applicants have a biology degree. 

  • Over 12% of pharmacy school applicants will have an undergraduate degree in pharmacy (or pre-pharmacy). 

  • Almost 9% of applicants will have a chemistry degree. 

  • Other popular degrees for applicants include biochemistry, pharmaceutical, biomedical, and biological sciences.  There is no requirement, however, as those with a women’s study degree have applied to pharmacy school, just as those who chose to study advertisement.

Is My PCAT Score Good Enough?

While acceptance rates on average continue to go up, average composite PCAT scores continue to decrease.  For more information about the PCAT, the standardized pharmacy college admission test, this is a good place to start.  

The PCAT is divided into four categories: Biological Processes, Chemical Processes, Quantitative Reasoning, and a Writing Sample. The Biological and Chemical Processes sections, along with the Quantitative Reasoning sections, are combined to form a Composite Score, while the Writing Sample is scored separately. Typically, the composite score is the most important number, as there is usually little variation in the writing score.

In the 2013-2014 academic year, accepted pharmacy school applicants scored, on average, in the 63rd percentile.  This means that the applicant’s composite score, on average, was better than 63 out of 100 other test takers.  From 2013, this number remained less than 58 in the 2020-2021 academic year.  

Average applicants in the 2020-2021 pharmacy school year scored, on average, in the 48th percentile in Biological Processes, in the 49th percentile for Chemical Processes, and in the 53rd percentile for Quantitative Reasoning, for an average composite score of the 49th percentile.  This can be compared to the accepted applicants, who scored, on average, in the 54th percentile for Biological Processes, in the 56th percentile for Chemical Processes, and the 60th percentile for Quantitative Reasoning, for an average composite score in the 57th percentile.  Writing samples for the applicants and accepted applicants were similar. 

If you score in the 60th percentile or greater, you are very likely to get into pharmacy school, but you still need to pay close attention to the average PCAT scores for the specific programs.  There is considerable variability in the PCAT scores among different programs.  If you have a PCAT score in the 90th percentile, you can confidently apply to most programs, but if your PCAT score is around the average for accepted applications, you need to be very strategic in which pharmacy schools you apply to.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected standardized testing across the board, and many schools dropped the PCAT requirement over the last 2 years.  In an eyebrow-raising number, PCAT test takers dropped significantly by almost 75% from pre-pandemic levels.  In fact, in the 2020-2021 academic year, only 7% of pharmacy schools required a PCAT score for admission.  Before the pandemic over 75% of all pharmacy programs required the PCAT.  It will be fascinating to see if pharmacy programs will continue to ease PCAT requirements or if the PCAT requirement will soon return to pre-pandemic levels. 

Either way, a strong PCAT score will strengthen your application, and there may be ample opportunity to stand out.  

The Average Pharmacy School Student

So, what does the average accepted pharmacy school applicant look like? 

Let’s look deeper at the application demographics.

Over 2/3 of all accepted applicants to pharmacy school programs are female.  The majority of accepted applicants are between 20-25 years of age.  Almost 14% of accepted applicants to PharmD programs are under the age of 20, while nearly 12% of accepted applicants are 26-30 years old.  Less than 10% of accepted pharmacy school students are over 30 years old when they enter pharmacy school.  

Over 40% of the incoming pharmacy school class is typically white, while almost 24% is Asian.  Nearly 14% of the class comprises those identifying as Hispanic or Latino, while almost 12% is Black or African American.  Over the past 15 years, the percentage of pharmacy students identifying as Hispanic or Latino has tripled, while the percentage of Black or African American students increased by over 50%. 

Almost 25% of accepted candidates had a parental household income, which met the criteria for being considered economically disadvantaged. Over 25% of accepted candidates reported that they are the first generation in their family to attend college. Finally, over 15% of accepted candidates indicated that English is not their primary language.

*PharmCAS-affiliated programs only

“Over 2/3 of all accepted applicants to pharmacy school programs are female.  The majority of accepted applicants are between 20-25 years of age.  Almost 14% of accepted applicants to PharmD programs are under the age of 20, while almost 12% of accepted applicants are 26-30 years old.”

How to Get into Pharmacy School?

Now that you know the acceptance rates, we'll examine how to keep the growth trajectories up for getting into pharmacy school. All professional programs that award a pharmacy degree have an admissions committee to evaluate your resume and determine if you’re a good candidate to pursue a pharmacy education at their institution. Your high school coursework or your undergraduate coursework in general chemistry, biology, health science, or pharmaceutical science will be the lion’s share of your future application success. 

Naturally, the admissions committee will look at your GPA and your score on the pharmacy college admission test (PCAT), if applicable.  They'll look at your prerequisite course GPA to gauge your potential success in their professional program.  Meeting with student affairs or student services while in high school or the first undergraduate years is a good idea if you know you’ll eventually pursue a pharmacy degree. They are often important roadmaps on how to be the best pre-pharmacy student you can be and how to shape your candidacy with focused extracurricular activities.   

Getting into pharmacy school and eventually gaining acceptance into a PharmD program takes commitment, time, planning, and help from those around you. Ask for help from those you know personally in the industry and tap the resources of PharmDDegree.com to prepare.

Source: 

https://connect.aacp.org/

portrait of Jim Herbst PharmD

Jim Herbst, PharmD, BCPPS is an advanced patient care pharmacist at a nationally ranked pediatric acute care teaching hospital.  Dr Herbst received his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Ohio State University in 2012.  He started his clinical career as an inpatient patient care pharmacist covering the neurology and complex care services, before transitioning to a pediatric neurology ambulatory care clinic in 2019. 

Dr Herbst's areas of interest in pediatric neurology include treatment-resistant pediatric epilepsy, infantile spasms, the ketogenic diet, and neuroimmunology.  He has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed pharmacy and neurology journals, including Neurology, Epilepsia, and the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association.  Dr Herbst is board certified as a pediatric pharmacy specialist.

Opinions and information published by the author here on PharmDDegree.com are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer.


Education: Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), The Ohio State University
Knowledge: Advanced Patient Care Pharmacy, Neurology, Epilepsia