The road to becoming a qualified pharmacist can be long and rocky, unsurprising considering nothing worth doing ever came easy. The average salary for a pharmacist in the USA can see you starting on over a hundred thousand dollars a year, as well as being internally rewarding to the individual, and of great benefit to society - with all these factors, competition is high, and excellent academic achievements are required. The traditional path to entry involves fulfilling pre-pharmacy prerequisites, usually an undergraduate degree, before taking a pharmacy-specific test (the PCAT) and applying for a place at another Pharmacy school to undertake your Pharm.D (Doctor of Pharmacy). This latter course takes four years, and having obtained your Pharm.D qualification and passed the appropriate licensing exams, you can then finally practice pharmacy in the US. With this long road map ahead of you, any prospective student of pharmacy looking to pursue this as a long-term career will want to get started on their pharma-journey as quickly as possible. But this isn’t the only study path available - there are alternatives, one being the Guaranteed Acceptance or Early Assurance programs offered by many of the US Pharmacy colleges in the US.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the key questions you might have about these courses, and also provide a list of all the pharmacy colleges that offer this alternative study path, as well as further applicant details (such as minimum score requirements and key application dates) for the top 20 pharmacy schools with an early assurance option.
What Are Guaranteed Acceptance Programs?
Highly motivated and driven high school students with a history of academic excellence and interest in pharmacy might feel that carrying out a bachelor’s degree for four years before having to reapply for a PharmD program later represents the “long-way round” to a life goal they’ve wished to pursue from high school. Besides, knowing that you want to pursue your pharmacy studies but having to wait until completing undergrad before applying and seeing whether you’re good enough can represent a more stressful and inefficient way to do it. This is where Guaranteed Acceptance Programs come in.
Rather than reapplying separately to your PharmD course after your undergrad, Guaranteed Acceptance Programs allow you to make one application straight out of high school that guarantees a place on that college’s PharmD program, as well as a course that fulfills the pre-pharmacy requisites.
Duration of Programs
Every Pharmacy program will have its own prerequisites. These prerequisite requirements range from Biochemistry, Economics, and English to General Chemistry, Genetics, and Human anatomy. They are individual to each school so it is important to double check the admissions requirements each time, as they also have a minimum number of semester credit hours to complete.
The pharmacy courses that require general bachelor’s courses will tend to have their guaranteed acceptance program lasting eight years: four years for the bachelor of arts/bachelor of science degree to be completed and four years for the PharmD. Those that purely require the science prerequisites will be six years: two years for the prerequisites and four years for the PharmD. Others can be seven years, with a three-year prerequisite course and a four year PharmD.
Application Requirements and the Interview Process
These programs are always looking for high school students with exceptional academic records and a demonstrable passion for Pharmacy. When it comes to the application requirements, there are certain academic requirements specific to each school. Many schools have minimum SAT requirements or high school GPAs, but at the same time, even those without all say that the higher the score you have, the better your chances of getting a place.
The minimum high school GPA scores these programs require range from 3.0 to 3.5, while minimum SAT scores can be anywhere from 1230 to 1330.
Some programs state specific subjects from high school are necessary for admittance. Rutgers, Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, for example, requires the following:
Applicants are to complete the following courses in high school:
4 years of English
2 years of one foreign language
3 years of mathematics (algebra I, algebra II, and geometry)
1 year of biology
1 year of chemistry
5 other academic courses (physics recommended)
Others are not as specific, with the Early Assurance Program at Arizona only asking for math and science coursework and “general rigor of high school courses”. Regardless, it is advisable to pursue the most demanding math and science courses available, including biology especially.
Beyond your high school transcript, colleges will be looking for a strong interest in pharmacy as a subject and as a career. This can be displayed by volunteer work, internships, or other health-related community service, so look for the opportunities to demonstrate this.
Finally, having passed on your scores, resume, letters of recommendation, and college essays, successful candidates will move on to the interview stage. It’s here that your personality traits will be tested. Virginia Commonwealth, one of the top colleges for pharmacy lays out well most colleges will be looking for here:
“interpersonal skills, maturity, personal motivation, written and oral communication skills, letters of recommendation, evidence of commitment to healthcare, experience in related healthcare fields, compassion, and community service.”
As with all things, the sooner you can start preparing your application the better. Whether it comes to asking for letters of recommendation, getting internships, or doing some kind of community service, all of this will only be of benefit to your application. Of course, some might realize their interest in Pharmacy later than others. If this is you, don’t worry - even if you don’t have any actual internships completed before you apply, begin applying for this kind of clinical work experience or medical shadowing and include that on your resume.
Advantages of a Guaranteed Acceptance Program
For the guaranteed acceptance programs that last six years, the clear advantage is the speed in which you will be able to complete your PharmD out of high school. While others might spend eight years (or longer if they were unsuccessful applying first time round out of undergraduate school), Guaranteed Acceptance students will be done in six years.
There’s also the fact that you will have a much more defined life direction through your higher education journey, where you can focus on your goal much more effectively since you know that you won’t have to pivot your plans after your undergraduate studies just in case you don’t get a PharmD place.
Indeed while an eight-year course doesn’t necessarily have the time frame advantages of the six-year courses, it still comes with less stress at the midpoint where you won’t have to worry about “application anxiety".
The other advantage is that attaining a place on these courses sets you apart from others when it comes to applying for jobs later on. They show that not only have you had a clear, set ambition and passion for pharmacy from a fairly young age, but also that you had the talent and academic gifts to get accepted on to these courses in the first place.
Negatives Of a Guaranteed Acceptance Program
There are two main drawbacks to committing to a Guaranteed Acceptance program out of high school. The first is that for the best schools, many are six years only. This means that you will have a lot to learn in a short amount of time. You will have to make sure that you are truly motivated for the subject matter you are studying, and also that you are willing to sacrifice that certain student lifestyle that many others are used to.
In addition to this, understand that you are signing yourself up to a six, seven, eight-year commitment. While it is, of course, possible to change your mind at any point, it’s important to think about how costly a decision it could be (both in time and finances) going into this half-heartedly.
Top 20 Pharmacy Programs with Early Assurance Programs (by US News ranking)
Complete list of Pharmacy Schools with Early Assurance Programs
No one but you can say if these early assurance plans are for you or not. Pharmacy is by no means for everyone, but it can be an amazing career choice that’s richly rewarding on many levels. Think carefully about whether you are at the stage you can truly say you want to study pharmacy or not, and why you want to pursue this discipline - if you’re led to a firm answer that points to pharmacy, then Guaranteed Acceptance Programs could certainly be the way forward for you.