Is Your Pharmacy School Community College-Friendly?


There's continued debate over the suitable pre-pharmacy schooling necessary for success in pharmacy school.

“Why aren’t you applying to the state pharmacy school that’s just a couple hours away?” I recently asked a pre-pharmacy student.

“It’s not community college-friendly,” she responded, making air quotes around the word “friendly.”

I looked at the prerequisites for the state pharmacy school, and the student hadn’t taken 1 course—a 3-credit, junior-level biochemistry class without laboratory—which pushed her application back a full year. After speaking with other pre-pharmacy students, I uncovered a discouraging trend.

There’s continued debate over the suitable pre-pharmacy schooling necessary for success in pharmacy school. Should it be 2 years, 3 years, or a full baccalaureate degree? Many pre-pharmacy students I advise have a first and second wave of applications separated by a full year.

My first professional year in the 1990s included biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology. Taking these courses in a cohort model proved to be a more comfortable experience. The mid-Atlantic college I attended had many students from the state community colleges that represented great diversity. Looking at today’s pre-pharmacy requirements, there’s still no such advanced biology course.

Many pharmacy schools have pushed junior-level classes such as genetics and cell biology onto pre-pharmacy students. Some have done it because the academic literature says students who perform well in advanced biology courses persist through the first professional year. Other schools have done it to make room for early experiential rotations.

With the current trends in application numbers, retention is an important part of admissions. Regardless, to the community college student, a 3-credit course represents a financial and logistical burden.

To earn this course credit, a community college student must enroll at a 4-year college as a guest or part-time student, likely without financial aid. A 3-credit class that might costs a few hundred dollars at a community college, some of which could be included in a financial aid package, could cost thousands of dollars out-of-pocket.

Community colleges are often more convenient geographically, while larger, residential campuses can require students to park at a satellite lot, get on a bus, and travel to campus up to 4 times weekly. It’s understandable why students put the latter colleges in a second wave.

The pre-pharmacy students I advise prefer applying to private pharmacy schools in our Midwest region for 3 main reasons:

1. Class size

The private colleges’ smaller average class sizes and campuses bear a much greater likeness to their current community college experience. Our large auditorium serves as a theater for plays. We have space for large groups, but no lecture halls.

2. Teaching focus

As students return from campus visits, those visiting state campuses share different experiences than those visiting private campuses. The state school students convey the research prowess of the university, while the private school students convey the teaching focus.

The pharmacy school I attended was a small college within a public system. It had a 60-acre urban footprint with about 6000 graduate students and 1000 undergraduates. My community college advisees often come from towns with populations of 1000 or fewer, so they want to feel comfortable “meeting others at the fencepost.”

3. Return on investment

Private colleges often cost more than in-state colleges. We’re in the Midwest and the students prefer to stay within driving distance of family and a moderate cost-of-living.

“I just don’t have any debt,” one student told me. “I’ve worked through college and I’ll keep working through college.”

Obviously, these students see pharmacy school as an investment.

So, how can pharmacy schools become community college-friendly? Ideally, they’d return junior-level courses to their first professional year curriculum. That’s unlikely unless pre-pharmacy students move applications en masse to schools without junior-level requirements.

Community college students comprise about 45% of college students nationally, and they represent a largely diverse potential applicant pool for pharmacy schools. Simply listing the prerequisites for a college doesn’t provide students with a way to overcome the biochemistry barrier or other coursework hurdles.

Providing a simple link to courses that would transfer them in would go a long way in helping these students understand next steps.

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