Glorious Letters & Extracurriculars

Saturday, June 04, 2016

PART II. (See PART I: INTRODUCTION TO PHARM APPS HERE)

Hello again! I'm glad you stuck around for the next part - I'll be posting Pharmacy app shenanignas every Saturday! Anyways, as a college student, you're busy studying for exams, sleeping whenever you get the chance (even if it's in class, whoops!) and eating anything you can shove in your mouth. So with all of that in a constant cycle, it's hard to have time for anything else, am I right? Well, tough luck kiddos. It's like high school again for us health related majors. You've got to muster in some time for experiences that will boost up your already stellar application. A 3.8 GPA won't do you much if you don't add in some hobbies, leadership, research or volunteer (work). Oh, did I mention you need to shimmy over to office hours to lay out your charm on professors?

But, alas, like us homo sapiens, not all applications alike.



THE EXTRACURRICULARS


Ask any pharmacist or pre-pharmacy student you know, I GUARANTEE they'll say that you need to get some pharmacy experience. I'll even bet they said you should  NEED to be a certified pharmacy technician to be accepted to any pharmacy school. Well, I hate to break it to you but...

I'm living, breathing proof that you DO NOT need to be a pharm-tech or have any direct pharmacy experience! 

*GASP* Wait, what?! That's right! But hold on Speedy Gonzales, before you do anything rash, like quit your pharm-tech gig, you should know that I did a plethora of other things to compensate for my lack of experience in the field.

We all know that a pharmacist must be a competent, well-rounded, educated, and confident. These are qualities admission committees want to see! I heard through the grapevine that some schools don't really pay attention to your experiences but judge you based on your grades, letters, and interviewing ability. However, if you do not have any pharmacy experience, like myself, be ready to explain what other qualities you have that make you super awesome!

If you're wondering what my experiences were, here's a quick run through of what I did in college:

  1. RESEARCH - As of now, I have 5 years of research (was promoted twice to Assistant Specialist, Step II) under my belt along with presentations and a publication coming up. If you're going in the research direction, know the IRB process and try not to jump around too much. Get to know one or two disciplines really well so you can educate your interviewers when asked. Research came up a lot during my UCSD and USC interviews - they were really impressed with my background and I'm pretty sure it made me stand out. I didn't meet any interviewers with long, solid research experience - most only had a year.
  2. MUSIC - I was a violinist involved with the Vietnamese American Philharmonic up until my first year in college. Afterwards, I played the piano for Music to Heal. Hopefully, you guys have some hobbies and saw them through. This shows the admissions committee that you're a dedicated and patient person - qualities all good pharmacists should possess.
  3. VOLUNTEER WORK - I didn't volunteer all too much in college. However, one organization I committed myself to was the Recuperative Care Program through the Medical Initiative Against Homelessness (MIAH). I spent around 3.5 years with this club in various roles. Make sure you have some sort of tutoring under your belt - try to get at least a quarter or a semester's worth. As a pharmacist, you're often required to educate others and answer questions regarding medication and/or health related questions so tutoring definitely helps!
  4. WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK - I co-founded two side businesses and took on ALL the business shenanigans. The ball finally started rolling in the late 2015 and it's only going uphill from here. Since I loathed staying late at school, I never attended club meetings therefore, I never took a leadership position. To make up for that, I showed my interviewers how starting a business taught me responsibility, how meeting with buyers helped me with public speaking, etc.
  5. BLOGGING - Yeah, that's right. I told a lot of interviewers about my fashion blog. I think fashion blogging is a unique hobby, don't you? Actually, one of my interview questions was, "If you could have dinner with any living person in the world, who would it be?" I pondered for 5 seconds but then I said Anna Wintour. My interviewer, a male, I might add, actually knew who I was talking about since his wife is obsessed with Ms. Wintour! He said other applicants wanted to have dinner with either a superhero or president. He then went on to saying, and I quote, "You're a really unique applicant."
  6. SHADOWING - Well, it's basically stalking a medical professional around the hospital! I explored so many different specialities and learned so much from the chief resident in general surgery I followed around! He even taught me how to perform some simple procedures!

LETTERS OF RECCOMENDATIONS

These were really easy for me to obtain! Hands down the easiest part of my application. I already knew who I was going to ask so the hardest part was making sure they submitted their letters in a timely manner. PharmCAS allows you to add up to 4 REFERENCES however, you NEED to cross-check with the schools to see whether or not you have the right TYPE of evaluator. Sucks, right? This kind of information saved me a ton of time and money! For instance, take Loma Linda. The school pages part of PharmCAS, for Loma Linda, states that one of the required letters MUST BE from a spiritual advisor. Additionally, some schools like UoP state that you must have a letter from a licensed pharmacist.

All in all, make sure to read up on the required & acceptable letters for each school. 

A handy tip is to check out the PharmCAS school pages section. I created a list of the schools I applied to and noted all the deadlines and requirements! Oh, I know this should go without saying but make sure your letter writers actually know who you are. I've heard some really strange stories about desperate applicants scrambling for letters at the last minute. Don't be that person who asks a random professor to write you a generic letter. You might have aced the class with soaring colors but that doesn't mean the professor knows anything about your cool personality!

Take time to get to know your professors!

After leaving my undergraduate alma mater, I took some classes at my local community college. I actually preferred these classes to my university ones because of the smaller class size. This gave me the opportunity to chat with my professors during and after class with much more ease - no more waiting in long lines to ask questions! I took microeconomics at Coastline and only 8 people showed up to class... including myself. I participated like crazy so my professor knew my face and name. I also got a letter from my neurosurgeon turned anatomy professor and my mentor of 5 years who happens to be a heptaboilary and pancreas surgeon. Needless to say, I fulfilled my letters requirement for each school.


PREVIEW OF SUPPLEMENTALS

After turning in your application, you can breathe a slight sigh of relief. But that sigh will probably be cut short with the amount of supplemental questions you have to answer.

Most schools DO NOT send out supplementals.

It is usually up to you to hunt down the link and fill out all the required fields. Again, the easiest way for me to obtain information about the deadlines and links was through the PharmCAS SCHOOL PAGES section. For those who are applying, UCSF has a ridiculously long supplemental application! This took me the longest and I sent it in last... about a week before the deadline!

DO NOT PROCRASTINATE!

Some schools run on ROLLING ADMISSIONS otherwise known as "first come, first served." I completed the non-rolling admissions schools last (i.e. UCSD and UCSF). I focused my time on the other schools I applied to... some were very random schools, I might add. I'm the type of person who worries about everything academic related so I applied to schools in the middle of nowhere. Want to know which ones and the questions asked on supplementals? Tune into my next blog post!


TAKE-HOME MESSAGE


  1. B E   A C T I V E !
    •  Physically, always. But for your application, you need to put yourself out there to gain some sort of experience. If you have a hobby, be it something in sports, the arts, or any other thing, even if it's something like building up your stamp collection, follow it through. You'll be able to express your passion and long-term commitment which will definitely impress your interviewers.
    • Try to get some experience in the medical or health sciences field. If you read above, I didn't have any exposure to pharmacy. Instead, I got involved in research and spent a numerous amount of time in the hospital.
           2. Get to know your P R O F E S S O R S !

    • Go to O F F I C E   H O U R S! From personal experience, I chose to put off going to office hours until my final year. Why? I attempted going to office hours each quarter because I had genuine questions however, there were many people there who came just so the professor got acquainted with their face. In my final year, the classes I took were pretty specialized with very few students so it was much easier to ask questions and the likes. 
           3. Take a P U B L I C   S P E A K I N G course to ace your interviews !

    • It's critical that you present yourself as a confident and well-groomed person. What better way to practice than through a public speaking course! 
    • Most California Pharmacy Schools require it anyways so take the hard courses. The professors that get trashed the most on Rate My Professors are typically the best since they force you to speak during every class meeting. You're paying for the course so make sure you take advantage of it!
Up next will be the actual supplemental questions for all of you applying to California Pharmacy Schools.




XO,
Adrienne

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