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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

3 or 4 Letters: The Dilemma

I'm often asked whether having four recommendation letters makes an applicant better than a applicant with only three letters.

First, stop comparing yourself to others.
Second, stop comparing yourself to others.
Third, stop comparing yourself to others.

Let's unpack this often-asked question....

The facts:
  • We require at least three recommendation letters be RECEIVED (by PharmCAS) by the application deadline.
  • We do not accept letters outside of the PharmCAS application. All letters must be submitted through PharmCAS. PharmCAS includes helpful information on their website.
  • PharmCAS allows up to four recommendation letters as part of an individual's application.
  • If four letters are included in your application by the deadline, we will include all four letters in your file.
  • We leave it up to the applicant to decide their three (or four) recommenders. This is a decision you must make.
  • We won't accept a recommendation letter from a "Friend" or "Family Member". 
  • Ultimately, it's the applicant's responsibility to make sure at least three letters are on file by the application deadline.  A complete application, including at least three letters of recommendation, is the responsibility of the applicant. Don't jeopardize your application by assuming your references will submit letters on your behalf. You must follow-up. You must constantly check your application status in PharmCAS. 
  • It would be helpful (but not required) to receive a letter from someone who could speak to your academic abilities. (After all, you are applying to an academic program.)
  • Recommendation letters are also called references. PharmCAS uses the term "Evaluators". It's all the same. I use these terms interchangeably. 

My thoughts:
  • Recommendation letters are one piece of a very large puzzle. It's a very important piece, don't get me wrong (as I discussed in a previous blog post), but it's not the deciding factor in being successful in an admissions process.
  • We don't have a system that awards points (or extra credit!) for an applicant that has four letters, instead of three.
  • If an applicant has four letters, is that automatically better than an applicant who has three? Absolutely not. Again, absolutely not. For those in the back row: ABSOLUTELY NOT!
  • The content of the letters is most important to us. What are the references saying about the applicant? How well do they know them? Are the letters consistent? Do the letters add value to the application? Do the references validate what the applicant has said about themselves?
  • I often encourage applicants to include four references with their application. Not because it gives an applicant an advantage, but because I believe in taking advantage of an opportunity. The opportunity here is the ability to submit four references. Why only take three cookies if someone is offering four? (Yes, I love cookies.)
  • Some schools require very specific references -- such as a letter from a pharmacist. Maybe you don't know a pharmacist well, but you must submit a pharmacist reference to satisfy another school's requirement. Knowing the pharmacist's letter won't add much value to your application for all schools you are applying to, it could be beneficial to get a fourth letter to help compensate for the pharmacist's letter. (Note: UCSF does not require a letter from a pharmacist.)
  • Obsessing over four letters, when you only have three, is a waste of your time. Move on. Let it go (let it goo, let it goo, let it goooo.

Closing argument:
I often use a courtroom example when explaining recommendation letters. Imagine you are a lawyer and arguing a case in a courtroom. You have the chance to call three (or four) witnesses to the stand to help support your case. Three very strong witnesses may be all you need. They provide detailed information. They are consistent in their testimony. They know the details of what happened. They add value to the case. They are credible witnesses.  On the flipside, maybe one witness (or two, or three) are "weak". They aren't very convincing. Their memory is hazy. They aren't convincing. They don't add much value to the case. They don't know you very well. In this case, calling a fourth witness to the stand could certainly help your case. 

Case dismissed!

Monday, October 4, 2021

Finishing Up Those Prereqs!

"Can students still apply to your school while having some prerequisites in progress? I still need to take some courses to meet the course requirements to apply for your school."

"I saw the deadline for UCSF pharmacy application, but if I still plan to take some of the pre requisites (during fall quarter and/or winter quarter and/or the following spring quarter) would I still be able to apply?"

"I looked at the required academic pre-requisites. I realized that I don't have some of requirements satisfied when I submit the application.  Will missing these two requirements greatly effect my eligibility for being accepted?"

We get these types of questions a LOT. So I figured it was perfect for a blog entry.

So, first, it's totally typical that applicants apply to our program with prerequisite requirements either in-progress or planned. In many cases -- both! They are currently enrolled in courses, and have future plans to enroll in courses after they submit their application. In fact, it's quite rare to receive an application and all prerequisite courses have been completed.

Let me explain....

On your PharmCAS application, you'll list classes in three different ways:

  1. ALL college-level courses in your past. (So everything you have a grade in and appears on a college transcript.)

  2. ALL college courses you are currently enrolled in when you submit your application by the deadline. (So this will likely be fall term classes)

  3. ALL future/planned college courses you expect to take after you submit your application, but before you start our PharmD program the following summer. (So this is likely winter and/or spring courses.) These courses/plans can certainly change, but you'll still want to at least list courses that you think you'll be taking --  so we can see that you have a realistic plan. Listing a tentative course lets us know you have a plan to complete the requirement before starting our program. Otherwise if you leave it completely blank, we could assume that you haven’t completed the requirement with no future plans to complete it. Does that make sense? In other words, give us something to work with. 😊  If admitted, we'll provide you with instructions on how to update us on any changes you listed on your application.
Easy-breezy, right?

We do indicate this, in very general terms on our prerequisite webpage

In a nutshell:
  • Do prerequisite requirements have to be completed before I submit the application? No.

  • Can I take prerequisite classes after I submit the application? Yes.

  • Must I finish prerequisite requirements before I start UCSF's PharmD program? Yes.

  • I got admitted! Can I roll into UCSF's PharmD program and still be working on that last prereq class when the PharmD program starts... I promise I'll finish it while also juggling the PharmD curriculum... it's only a public speaking class... huh?  Nope. No. No. No.  

In Their Own Words: Winter

(Note: I remember reading Winter's opening line from one of her admissions essays: "At birth, uniqueness was thrust upon me. With a name like "Winter" in the arid desert of Arizona, how could I not stand out?"  I've always loved and appreciated bold opening statements. It just sets the reader up for a strong essay by a confident applicant. Winter joined the Admissions Committee during the pandemic -- so much of her work has been conducted remotely. Winter's confidence, and friendliness, was key in helping convey the UCSF culture through remote interviews. As an out-of-state student, Winter brings a unique -- and much welcomed -- perspective to our admissions process.)

Name: Winter
Hometown: Queen Creek, Arizona
Previous institutions attended: Arizona State University
Undergraduate Major: Biochemistry and Psychology

Why did you apply to be a member of the Admissions Committee and what have you enjoyed the most?
Being a member of the Admissions Committee was an interest of mine ever since I went through the admissions process. One of my career interests is academia and a huge portion of higher education is admitting new students. I was interested in the entire process of admissions and even volunteered to give tours and host Interview Day Student Chat Rooms during my first year. Since becoming a member of the Admissions Committee, I have enjoyed working with other members of the committee and interviewing prospective students. This experience has given me a new perspective on the variety of students pursuing pharmacy as a career.

What surprised you most about UCSF’s admissions process?
The amount of time, and care, members of the Admissions Committee give to each applicant surprised me (in a good way!) UCSF truly values each applicant, and reviews them holistically and completely.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes applicants make?
I think applicants can try to be someone that they’re not. Applicants may have met different UCSF students at various pre-pharmacy events and perceive a specific student as the "UCSF model". There is no perfect pharmacy student and there is no perfect UCSF pharmacy student.

What stands out to you on an application?
To me, strong personal essays stand out on an application. When I can feel the emotion in these essays, an application builds in dimensionality. I no longer feel like I’m reading an application, but meeting a person.

What impresses you about an application/applicant?
I am impressed when I see growth on an application. Applicants that are willing to own up to mistakes they may have made during their undergraduate career, or in their personal lives, and discuss the steps they have taken to grow from this experience shows maturity.

What are your pet peeve(s) when interviewing an applicant or reviewing a file? (What drives you crazy?)
It drives me crazy when I feel like applicants haven’t fully prepared their application before submission -- or prepped for their interview. I don’t believe that there should be grammar and spelling mistakes in applicant’s personal essays -- there is plenty of time to prepare an application! Applicants should put their best foot forward by having many eyes on their essays before submission so these mistakes are caught. In interviews, applicants should know why they want to be a pharmacist or why they want to attend UCSF, in particular. If applicants are caught off-guard by questions like these, it makes me think they probably aren’t that passionate about being a pharmacist or attending this program.

What characteristics are necessary in order to succeed in UCSF’s PharmD program?

Some characteristics necessary to succeed in UCSF’s PharmD program are: curiosity, passion for the field, resiliency, and empathy. UCSF’s PharmD curriculum can be very challenging, at times, but with passion for pharmacy and resiliency, you can succeed in the curriculum.

What tools or resources would you recommend to prospective applicants?
For one, I used Joel’s blog (and if you’re reading this, you are too!) to get background on UCSF and the admissions process as I was applying. I also used the UCSF website and other pharmacy students at different institutions who interviewed at various pharmacy schools to get a strong background on the process before I submitted my application and attended interviews. These are all great resources! I would also suggest using your mentors at your undergraduate institution or your current workplace to review your application materials and practice interview questions. If you are in a pre-pharmacy club with an advisor or work with a pharmacist, those individuals have gone through an interview and admissions process before, so they are fantastic resources in making sure you put your best foot forward during the application process.

What single piece of advice would you give to a prospective applicant?
Be yourself. UCSF is not looking for pharmacy robots that know how to answer questions with generic responses. We want to get to know you!

What do you do for fun?
Since I’m still new to the Bay Area, I am still exploring. I find fantastic new restaurants, coffee shops, and hiking trails every week! I have a dog so my ideal free day is a morning coffee (+ a puppachino for my pup!) and hike. In the evenings, I like to unwind by streaming TV shows or movies -- my favorites are thrillers!
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