Should Students Complete Prepharmacy at Community College?

Prepharmacy students may choose to take community college courses to mitigate some expenses and avoid larger student loan debt.

Prepharmacy students may choose to take community college courses to mitigate some expenses and avoid larger student loan debt.

When I entered pharmacy school in the early 1990s, there were about half the number of schools that exist today. Although some schools were strongly committed to a base of community college students, others could admit greater numbers from 4-year colleges and those with bachelor’s degree programs.

The academic literature suggests students with bachelor’s degrees are more likely succeed in the first professional year, making them attractive to pharmacy schools. Now that pharmacy schools have more classroom seats nationally, are moving toward holistic admissions, and are committed to growing student pipelines, community college students may find more opportunities.

Advantages

The primary advantages of community college are cost, location, and class size.

1. Lower Cost

The first 2 years of college are often exploratory and messy. During this time, students are more likely to change majors and take extra classes. Attending community college makes it less expensive to make these mid-course corrections.

For me, pharmacy school was a welcome respite from decision-making. Although pharmacy school allows electives, most students follow in a cohort, working together through the curriculum. However, getting through preadmissions personally required repeating a few courses, which made me a high-risk admission.

The ability to pay tuition at a lower price point provides a logical incentive to attend community college. However, students may want an on-campus experience. With community colleges’ greater commitment to providing residential housing choices, students can take part in on-campus living while paying lower tuition.

2. Convenient Location

Each year, my community college holds a health care programs discovery day, where 150 students come to campus and 15 to 20 students rotate through the health programs at a time. I asked these high school juniors and seniors what they looked forward to most. They said 1) to study something they cared about and 2) the opportunity to live on their own. Still, some students preferred living at home a year or 2.

For many community college students, especially those with children, family remains the most important thing. Living nearby provides an opportunity to not only save money, but also enter college while maintaining home stability. Often, the number of community colleges matches the number of 4-year colleges in a given state, providing ready access to college courses.

3. Smaller Class Size

Community colleges don’t use teaching assistants. Difficult classes like organic chemistry that might reach 100 students at a 4-year college might have 18 to 24 students just a few feet away from a PhD-level professor at a 2-year college. These community college instructors have teaching and service commitments without research pressures that might take time away from student development.

Disadvantages

Disadvantages of community college are opinion of academic rigor, amenities, and activities.

1. Academic Rigor

Some administrators recommend students to take science courses at a 4-year college to show their ability in competing with students at a school that doesn’t have an open admissions policy. However, the PCAT verifies a student’s subject matter competency, so taking a course in a larger lecture hall with teaching assistants as the primary contact over a smaller class taught by Master’s and doctorate-trained professors makes little sense intuitively.

2. Lack of Amenities

Community colleges don’t have large national athletic presences, as a greater commuter population reduces participation in these types of activities. The lower tuition comes with a tradeoff, and prepharmacy students need to decide whether collegiate culture weighs more heavily than cost, location, and class size benefit.

3. Availability of Activities

Although community colleges have clubs, honor societies, and athletic teams, they’re a fraction of the size of many 4-year schools’. However, a student with family and work responsibilities may see this lack of distraction as positive.

Choosing a path to pharmacy school is a personal decision. If a prepharmacy student is unsure of the career path, community college may present an alternative for mitigating financial risk.