If you’re preparing to apply for to pharmacy school, you’re probably wondering what the best extracurriculars for pharmacy school are. Students often start by preparing for pharmacy school interview questions, but it’s important to adjust your admissions strategy to involve extracurriculars specific to pharmacy school. For application materials, most programs require transcripts, personal/biographical information, completion of the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT), a resume, and application fees. In addition to these basic requirements, many other programs require personal statements or reference letters. With so much information to sort through, programs look to a student’s extracurriculars to set them apart from other candidates. If you’re wondering what extracurriculars give you the best chance to get accepted into pharmacy school, keep reading, because we’re going to discuss the importance of extracurriculars and provide a list of some of the best options.
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Why Extracurriculars for Pharmacy School are Important?
When it comes to pharmacy school applications, most students readily acknowledge the necessity of a good pharmacy school personal statement, or a good pharmacy school letter of recommendation. While these are two essential documents to include in your application, perhaps one of the most overlooked factors determining your fitness as a candidate is extracurricular activities.
When we’re talking about applications, it’s easy to immediately think of academic performance as the most important factor determining acceptance. This is an understandable assumption when you consider the fact that pharmacy school acceptance rates in Canada, and pharmacy school acceptance rates in the US show that while some acceptance rates are trending upwards, the GPA cutoffs for schools remain steadfast. Given that it’s hard to imagine a world in which GPA isn’t the most important factor, it’s helpful to take a moment to acknowledge the character-building activities that complement your grades.
Due to the underlying assumption that GPA is all that matters, some students make the mistake of disregarding extracurriculars altogether. By no fault of theirs, part of the reason for this disregard is the fact that extracurriculars aren’t currently required for applications. However, this doesn’t mean that schools won’t take non-academic factors into account. The reality is that pertinent application materials like personal statements and reference letters are based on your extracurricular activities. This means that you can leverage these non-academic experiences to make sure you stand out in your application.
Extracurriculars can showcase your professional skills, including leadership, oral communication, problem-solving, and others. In a purely practical sense, skills that are most relevant for pharmacists include the ones mentioned above, as well as organization skills, numeracy, and critical thinking. Since these aren’t necessarily things that programs can measure, they look to your extracurricular activities to see whether your professional attributes align with their program’s unique approach to preparing students for the profession.
Let’s not forget that when it comes to pharmacy school interview questions, having extracurriculars on your resume allows programs to learn more about you as a person, which is what the interview is all about. Using experiences from your extracurriculars to help guide your answers to interview questions can also make you sound more convincing and charismatic, especially when it comes to answering the “why do you want to be a pharmacist?” interview question.
Best Extracurriculars for Pharmacy Students
Optimal extracurricular choices for pre-pharm students are built around the traits you can expect to develop that will help you succeed in pharmacy school. When you’re deciding which ones to choose, you should consider what you will gain from the experience, and what that experience says about you. Your extracurriculars should show a program that you’re intrinsically motivated in more ways than one. Here are five questions that might help you decide what extracurriculars are right for you:
Once you have an idea of what to look for in an extracurricular, you can even look at some pharmacist resume examples to see how extracurriculars can enhance your credibility as a candidate. Another option is to conduct research on the schools you’re targeting to find out what they look for in candidates. Keep the above questions in mind while you consider following best extracurriculars for pharmacy school:
Student club, sometimes called a student union, is a group of either graduate or undergraduate students who advocate for the interests of the student body, organize social events or clubs, or coordinate societies with the goal of improving student life, personal development, and academic fulfillment. Some schools even offer pre-pharmacy clubs or student involvement programs specifically for pre-pharmacy students. These clubs not only provide helpful resources for pre-pharmacy students, they offer fun and informative activities that allow students to develop strong habits and skills that can benefit their development on their paths to becoming pharmacists.
Why is student council a good extracurricular for pre-pharmacy students? Joining your student council or union allows you to develop pertinent skills that prepare you for pharmacy school such as leadership, teamwork, communication, organization, and collaboration. Why are these skills in particular important for pharmacy applications? Because they show that you’ve already gotten a head start on developing the traits that will determine your effectiveness as a prospective pharmacist in a professional setting. For programs, the visibility of these important variables makes you a known quantity, and therefore, a viable candidate.
Volunteering opportunities are abundant, and you don’t have to necessarily do them as part of your university or college. Some of the best volunteering opportunities are offered by free medical clinics, where undergraduate students as well as pharmacy students can actively learn about the tasks and responsibilities of a professional pharmacist with established professionals in a real pharmacy setting. If you’re on the fence about whether volunteering is worth your time, consider a study that shows that students who participated in the study unanimously thought that their volunteering experiences were fulfilling and emboldening.
Volunteering experiences aren’t limited to free clinics. Other application-enhancing options to consider include educational volunteering such as tutoring, conservation volunteering, building projects, local fundraisers, or volunteering abroad to help developing communities. Using your free time to do something beneficial for others is a great way to show programs that you’re a compassionate person who cares about the health of a community and its constituents.
Why is volunteering a good extracurricular pathway for pre-pharmacy students? Because you can gain hands-on experience in a pharmacy setting that shows an admissions council that you can handle and thrive in a pharmacy setting. Some of the highlights of volunteering at free clinics includes experience working with underserved populations, experience administering health resources, and experience with the responsibilities of a professional pharmacists.
Preparing for your pharmacy school interview?
Shadowing allows prospective pharmacy students to observe a professional pharmacist in a pharmacy setting. The main benefit of shadowing is that students get a chance to learn the ins and outs of the duties and capabilities of a pharmacist. Having direct experience is probably one of the best ways you can learn about what you can expect in pharmacy school, because you’re witnessing professionals in action. Pre-pharm students can investigate shadowing opportunities by contacting their local pharmacy to find out if they have any availability for you to come in for a day and observe. Having a shadowing experience has the added benefit of giving you an opportunity to ask for a reference letter from one of the pharmacists you work with.
Why is shadowing a good choice for a pharmacy extracurricular? Because you’re getting direct experience in a real-world setting with professionals in your prospective field. With the approval of an established professional to attest to your potential as a student, you’re giving yourself a critical advantage on your pharmacy school application. And since direct experience can be hard to come by when you’re in pre-pharm, you’re setting yourself apart from other applicants by virtue of having it on your resume. Some schools also specify that they require one letter of recommendation from a pharmacist, supervisor, or other health care professional, and shadowing is one of the best ways to acquire one.
Find Research Opportunities
While research isn’t required to get accepted into pharmacy schools, contributing to a research project can show admissions that you’re well-versed in scientific inquiry, and that you understand the role of research in distributing health resources. Research experience in any topic is generally acceptable, as long as it demonstrates your ability to identify credible research, develop and test a viable hypothesis, perform an analysis using available resources, and draw conclusions from the results of the analysis. A research extracurricular is the best option for pre-pharmacy students who want to apply to pharmacy schools involved in research.
To find research opportunities during your undergrad, talk to one of your professors or lab instructors and ask them if they have any projects you could work on. Any of your electives or mandatory credits that are taught by professors who do their own research might have open positions. Research positions can vary. You might be writing on one project, and participating as a subject in another. Make sure you choose a project that interests you. It’ll be easier to talk about when it comes to pharmacy school interviews, and when you’re genuinely interested in a topic it can help show enthusiasm for the prospect of continuing on the research path.
How is research a beneficial extracurricular for pre-pharmacy students? Firstly, it looks good on your application resume. A research resume presents your professional qualifications specific to your research experience. If you’re involved in any research projects that get published, you can list them on your resume with your role on the project to highlight your experience. Additionally, personal accomplishments like published research papers help sell your experience and profitability as a student. Your goal as an applicant is to show that you’re one of the applicants capable of completing a successful pharmacy school campaign. Also, it never hurts to network with researchers. You can even ask some of them for a reference letter once the project is finished.
Pharmacists have an essential role to play in a community in distributing health resources to the public. Part of what makes a pharmacist effective is their ability to embody the utilitarian ethic required of a health care professional. Getting involved in community service shows that you’re living by the values that align with the profession by doing your part to improve some aspects of your community. While community service and volunteer work are both generally unpaid, community is different from volunteerism in one important way: community service is often mandatory. For instance, plenty of pharmacy schools have service-learning courses as part of their curriculum. Why is this important for an applicant to know? Because if you already have community service hours on your resume, you’re showing the program that you’re prepared for an essential component of the curriculum, and showing that you can succeed with proof.
Some examples of community service opportunities that look good on your application include charity work, tutoring, studying abroad, social media advocacy, or organizing donation drives. The best way to find community service opportunities is to join a pre-pharmacy club at your school. Pre-pharm clubs often organize charity events or other community service efforts that you can add to your resume.
So, what makes community service such a great extracurricular for pre-pharmacy students? Because you’re getting a head start on something that you will encounter in pharmacy school once you're accepted. So not only do you have the benefit of adding a skill to your resume, you’re showing that you care about your community, and that you’ve taken the initiative to do something positive with your free time. It’s also worth mentioning that for those that might be interested in doing their PhD in pharmacy, part of the graduation requirements for most schools is completion of service-learning credits. If you start collecting community service hours during pre-pharm, you’re showing that you’re well equipped to meet the graduate requirements of your program.
Wondering how to answer “why do you want to be a pharmacist?”
Working directly in hospitals or other clinical settings is a great way to learn more about your patient population and how drug treatment that affects them. Pre-pharm students can explore a variety of options as far as direct clinical experience goes, including hospice volunteering, working as a certified nursing assistant, volunteering as an EMT, or becoming a hospital scribe. If you’re interested in becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA), you can complete the training programs over the summer, which usually go from four to sixteen weeks. If you want more direct experience in a pharmacy setting specifically, you can get registered as a pharmacy technician. Generally, pharmacy technicians can either be certified or registered. Depending on your location, requirements to work as a registered pharmacist are minimal, and can include having a high school diploma and being at least 18 years of age. Other states or provinces require formal training, so make sure you research provincial/state requirements.
Why is clinical experience a great extracurricular for pharmacy students? Because you’re getting exposed to the patient population for which you will be providing care as a pharmacist. Programs are looking for evidence in your personal and professional life that shows that you’re invested in becoming a pharmacist. What better way to show that you’re driven to become a pharmacist than having direct experience working in a pharmacy or health care setting?
How Do Extracurriculars Improve Your Chances of Getting Accepted?
Many students shy away from extracurriculars because they aren’t a requirement for pharmacy school admissions. Most students choose instead to focus on other aspects of their application, such as their GPA and resume. While this is an understandable evaluation of how programs weigh different aspects of your application, you can’t underestimate the role that extracurriculars play in whether students get accepted or not.
Having a strong extracurricular profile can show programs the aspects of your candidacy that can’t be measured. These include pertinent pharmacist skills, what motivates you, and how well you will fit into the program based on your interests gleaned from non-academic pursuits. With acceptance rates on the rise for some pharmacy schools, programs are looking for ways to distinguish candidates. That’s where extracurriculars come in. According to another study, extracurricular activities during college or university were correlated with stronger academic performance in later years of the curriculum. One probable reason for this correlation is that students who take the initiative to acquire new skills and gain experiences outside of school equip themselves with learning habits that set them up for a successful academic performance.
The final reason why extracurriculars are looked at more closely than most imagine, is because programs want to know more about the person behind the application. Extracurricular activities say a lot about your interests and the kind of person you are. How you spend you free time speaks volumes about your character, and programs know this
1. What are extracurricular activities?
Extracurriculars are activities that students can choose from that fall outside of their regular school activities or academic progress. Examples include sports, clubs, and student societies.
2. Are extracurricular activities required for pharmacy school applications?
Extracurriculars are not required to submit an application to a pharmacy school, but they have the potential to distinguish you as a candidate.
3. How do I decide what extracurriculars to take?
Choose based on your interests or what you’re passionate about. If you do something you like, it’ll be easier to talk about during your pharmacy school interview, and your answers will sound more authentic.
4. What are the benefits of extracurriculars?
Besides improving the quality of your application and your chances of getting accepted, extracurriculars give you an opportunity to get a head start on some of the things you will be learning in pharmacy school.
5. Can I use some of the people I meet during extracurriculars as references?
If you make a connection with someone you meet during your extracurriculars, you can always ask them if they’d be willing to write you a reference letter. Keep in mind that some pharmacy schools require one reference letter from either a supervisor, pharmacist, or other health care professional.
6. What sort of skills can I gain from doing extracurriculars?
The most important skills you will gain from doing a variety of extracurriculars include leadership, communication, and teamwork.
7. Are extracurriculars more important than GPA?
Extracurriculars are said to complement more important acceptance factors, such as GPA or PCAT scores. In terms of priority, academic performance should be first.
8. Do my extracurriculars have to involve pharmacy in some way?
Not necessarily. The best extracurriculars for pre-pharm students tend to be research, community service, volunteering, shadowing, or student council/union.
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