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Unlocking the Perfect Fit: Your Ultimate Guide to Selecting the Ideal Pharmacy School

Selecting the ideal pharmacy school involves weighing numerous factors, as no single institution suits everyone. By prioritizing your preferences, you can effectively streamline your list of prospective schools. 

You may ask yourself, “What are the factors I should consider when choosing a pharmacy school program?” Well, the answer to that will be different for each person. To aid in this process, Jenna Knutson, a P4 at the University of Minnesota College of Minnesota, made a list of the major factors she considered when making her decision. 

Factors to Consider

  • Program Structure 
  • Cost 
  • Class Size 
  • Curriculum 
  • Experiential Education 
  • NAPLEX Pass Rates 
  • National Rankings 
  • Career Goals 
  • Internship Opportunities 
  • Student Organizations 
  • Interprofessional Opportunities 

Program Structure 

The first factor to consider is the structure of the PharmD program, which depends on how many years you want to study, full or part-time preference, and whether you plan to first earn a bachelor’s degree. Colleges and schools of pharmacy offer the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree program in different lengths and structures. For example, there are programs that accept students straight out of high school, often referred to as 0-6 programs versus the more traditional 4 year programs that you begin after completing a minimum of 2 years of prerequisite coursework. Some programs run on an intense, year-round schedule while others have summer and fall breaks built in. To learn more about the different structures, check out the Pharm.D. Program Structures on the AACP website. Additionally, you can narrow down your program search by program structure using the “Enrollment Options” page of the PharmCAS School Directory.


Pharmacy school is not cheap. There are a lot of ways to make it more affordable. One thing to consider is in-state vs out of state tuition. Some states have the same or marginally different costs depending on if you are a resident of that state or not. It could be a large enough difference that you may want to consider becoming a resident of that state prior to attending pharmacy school, especially because some schools give preference to in-state students. 

Another way to mitigate cost is through applying to scholarships. Some schools offer more scholarships than others. There are also national scholarships you can apply for regardless of the school you select. For example, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) offers scholarships each year for current and incoming student pharmacists. Furthermore, a more expensive institution may offer enough scholarships to make the cost the same as another school. Reaching out to the financial aid department of each program you are considering can help you see the true cost of each school.  

Also, if you are planning to work for a government or not-for-profit organization after graduation, you may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The PSLF Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you’ve made the equivalent of 120 qualifying monthly payments under an accepted repayment plan, and while working full-time for an eligible employer. Many hospitals are non-profits and are eligible for this repayment program. You can learn more about the PSLF on the Federal Student Aid website.

Class Size 

Another factor to consider is whether you learn better in a smaller, more intimate class or want to be part of a larger cohort. Most pharmacy school classes have anywhere between 20 – 150 people per class. To get an idea of a school’s class size, look at the “Last Entering Class” tab under a school’s PharmCAS Directory profile . This may not be your top reason for selecting a school, but could be the deciding factor between a couple schools.  


The didactic part of the curriculum is where you’ll be spending the bulk of your time in pharmacy school. Some schools have multiple individual course running concurrently while others have a block or modular approach where the topics are more integrated throughout each lecture. Additionally, some programs have virtual opportunities while some require in-person attendance. You may learn better in one environment over another so this is a factor to consider when applying to schools. Many programs may offer a dual-degree program, meaning you could earn your MBA or MPH while earning your PharmD. Use the “Dual Degrees” tab on the PharmCAS School Directory to see which programs offer dual degree options.

Experiential Education 

As part of your curriculum considerations, you may want to think about experiential education opportunities. This includes the Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience, often referred to as IPPE (shorter and occur while in the didactic portion) and the Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience or APPE (longer rotations during the final year) experiences. Some schools offer international rotations or have the ability for you to set up a rotation you are passionate about, while some programs may restrict your experiences to the state the school is located. Another thing to consider is the rotation layout in terms of how long each rotation is (typically 4-6 weeks) and if there are days off to account for residency or job interviews. This may even change while you are in pharmacy school, so you may want to ask the program what experiential education looks like today and if they have plans to change it going forward.   

NAPLEX Pass Rates 

One thing within the curriculum to consider is how well the curriculum prepares students to practice as pharmacists and pass the required licensure exams. After graduating from pharmacy school, you are considered a pharmacist. However, to be licensed and practice pharmacy, you must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE). The NAPLEX is the national clinical examination while the MPJE is the law examination that varies by state. There are some careers in pharmacy that do not require you to be licensed (some positions in the Pharmacy Industry), but this may change. Each year, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) publishes the NAPLEX Passing Rates for each pharmacy school. While this should not be your only factor in determining a school of pharmacy, it could be the factor that narrows your search. 

National Rankings 

While rankings offer insight into a program’s reputation, they shouldn’t be the sole determinant in choosing a school. The US News and World Report publishes rankings for multiple professional schools, including pharmacy.  One thing to keep in mind is that each school’s score reflects its average rating on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding), based on a survey of academics at peer institutions. This means the ranking may be slightly biased towards programs that have been around longer. A schools ranking should be less of a determining factor, but something to consider in terms of why they are ranked above or below other schools. 

Career Goals 

Do you know what you want to do when you grow up? You might say “a pharmacist!” But, what kind of pharmacist do you you want to be? It is 100% okay if you don’t know the answer to that question, many pharmacists change their jobs over the course of their careers. Check out the 100+ Careers in Pharmacy as well as the Pharmacist Careers page to learn about some of the many options available! However, if you know you want to be a hospital pharmacist, you may want to choose a pharmacy school that has a high match rate or is nearby a lot of hospitals so you can gain experience as a hospital intern. If you are interested in research, you may want to consider a school at a large academic institution. Many institutions have research or hospital experience. However, if your interests are industry or managed care, there are schools that have a plethora of opportunities and some with no opportunities in the state. If you have no idea what you want to do, you may want to consider a program that has a variety of internships and student organizations so you can expand your search before narrowing it.  

Internship Opportunities 

While most institutions do not require you to work while in school, you may want to pursue an internship to learn about different pharmacy careers or make money. Consider where your school is located, is it in a large city or rural area? Most pharmacy schools will be close to Community Pharmacies. But, what about opportunities in Hospital, Industry, Managed Care, or Research? If you know which area of pharmacy you want to pursue, you should look into what internship opportunities are available as this could secure your future career. 

Student Organizations 

What do you want to be involved in while in pharmacy school? Some schools have a wide variety of organizations such as professional pharmacy fraternities, free clinics, and student chapters of national professional organizations. You do not have to be involved in organizations while in pharmacy school, but they may be beneficial for networking or developing leadership or interpersonal skills. If there is a specific facet of pharmacy you are interested in, you should ensure the school you chooses has student organizations in that area, or is open to letting you start up a group. 

Interprofessional Opportunities 

All pharmacy schools are required by accreditation standards to have some level of interprofessional education. However, some programs are connected with a wider variety of professional health schools. If you are passionate about being part of an interprofessional health team, you may want to consider institutions with multiple graduate health programs.  


While navigating this extensive checklist of considerations, it’s essential to acknowledge that finding an institution that perfectly aligns with all your preferences may be challenging. However, it’s crucial to weigh this list against your individual priorities. In my case, aspiring to specialize as an Ambulatory Care pharmacist, I sought out a pharmacy school renowned for its comprehensive medication management programs. While other factors were indeed considered, it was this particular aspect that drew me to the University of Minnesota. Moreover, affordability of tuition and the prospect of volunteering at a nearby free clinic were additional compelling factors. 

At the end of the day, this choice comes down to your interests and needs. While seeking guidance from mentors, friends, and family is valuable, it’s important to recognize that they won’t be the ones immersing themselves in the next 4-6 years of your academic journey; that responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders. Therefore, make it count! Research and visit your top choices, ensure the location aligns with your preferences, and verify that the support network is robust enough to propel you towards your career aspirations. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much a little extra effort can elevate your experience throughout this process. Certainly, there will always be other schools boasting appealing characteristics, but remember, the goal isn’t to find the school that’s universally ‘the best’ in every aspect. Instead, it’s about discovering the pharmacy school that’s the best fit for you.

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