Considering Pharmacy Tech School
Now that you are ready to pursue a career as a pharmacy technician, the first step is choosing the right school and program to best fit your needs.
The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists estimates there were roughly 255 fully accredited pharmacy technician programs as of April 2018. With so many options to choose from, how can you pick the right program for you?
There are several factors to consider when choosing a school, including:
- Length of Program: How long will it take you to complete the pharmacy technician program? The average completion time for a pharmacy technician program is 12 months or less, while some programs are longer and result in an Associate of Applied Science in Pharmacy Technician degree. If your goal is to begin working as quickly as possible, you'll probably want to choose an accelerated certification program you can complete in a year or less.
- School Accreditation: The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) accredits pharmacy technician programs that include at least 600 hours of instruction over a minimum of 15 weeks. In general, the programs that are accredited by the ASHP will best prepare students to pass a certification exam, offered by either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board or the National Health Career Association. While some states do not require certification for pharmacy technicians, certification will almost certainly make it easier to get a job as a pharmacy tech.
- Online Classes: Some programs may offer online coursework, which may make it easier for you to complete the program around other work and family obligations. If you work part- or full-time or have an otherwise busy schedule, finding a program with online coursework or evening/weekend classes may be a priority for you. Keep in mind most programs also require in-person laboratory work and/or in-person externship hours in addition to online classes.
- School Location: A school's location is also a top priority for most students. Is the campus easily reachable for you? Is it convenient to your home and/or workplace? Commuting costs factor into a school's overall affordability as well.
- Externship Requirement: Many programs also require students complete 200 hours or more of externship. An externship is hands on experience working alongside licensed pharmacists and patients in your community before graduation from the program. This professional experience is incredibly valuable when entering the workforce following certification, so it is a good idea to find a program that includes an externship component.
- Cost: Last, but certainly not least, the financial commitment of a pharmacy technician program can be a deciding factor when choosing the right school. Can you reasonably afford this school and program? The cost varies widely, with geographic location and type of school being the primary factors. Other factors that can influence the cost include the type of degree (certification versus Associate's degree), online versus on campus coursework and whether classes are taken full- or part-time.
The cost of a pharmacy technician program varies widely from school to school, and it is important to evaluate all associated costs. In addition to tuition, be sure to calculate additional course fees, materials, commuting costs as well as the certification exams following graduation.
Once you've selected your top school there are several ways to pay for your education. Many pharmacy technician schools have financial aid advisors who are available to discuss your options and answer your questions about paying for school. Even if you plan to pay for your program with cash from your savings or a relative, be sure to inquire about financial aid opportunities that could save you money off the total price of the program.
The basic ways to pay for your education that you should consider and/or discuss with a financial aid officer include:
- Cash: The most straight-forward way to pay for school, paying for tuition and other costs from your savings on a per-semester or yearly basis is one way to pay for pharmacy technician school.
- Loans: Often there are student loans available through the government or private banks that can be repaid following graduation. Loans may be need-based with income limits that restrict eligibility.
- Scholarships & Grants: Some schools offer scholarships to qualifying students as a way to offset some or all of the tuition cost. Inquire with your school of choice about available scholarships that might be a fit for you.
It's also a good idea to look into grant programs aimed at pharmacy technicians, both on a federal, state and local level. Federal government grants are available to all eligible citizens to help fund schooling, regardless of which career they choose. Apply for federal grants by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition, several pharmacy associations, companies and non-profit organizations offer grants and scholarships for individuals looking to start a career as a pharmacy technician. You can also search online or inquire with your school of choice about relevant state and local scholarship and grant opportunities you may qualify for.
- Work-Study Programs: Some schools offer work-study opportunities in which students can earn payment for a specific number of hours of work per week at the school, which can be used to pay for tuition or other school-related costs.
Most pharmacy technician programs will not have any college courses required before entrance to the program. However, they will require a high school education or GED equivalent, and high school classes emphasizing math and science will be particularly helpful for pharmacy technician students.
In order to be accepted into a pharmacy technician program, applicants need to have a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Many schools require passing scores on English, reading and math proficiency tests. In some cases, there may be an entrance interview with an admissions counselor, as well as high school and/or college transcripts requested. Clinical externship placements may require verification of TB clearance, medical exam clearance and a full immunization record meeting the standards of the clinical externship site. In addition, most externship placements require clearance of a criminal background check and drug screening. For specific entrance requirements for your school of choice, be sure to contact the admissions department prior to submitting your application.
The application process for pharmacy technician programs may vary from school to school, but in general students will submit an application online with their school of choice, as well as supporting documents such as high school and/or college transcripts, TB and medical clearance documentation, and background check documents. Students will also need to complete the FAFSA if they are interested in applying for federal financial aid. From there, many applicants will need to take English, reading and/or math proficiency tests and submit their scores to their school of choice. Some schools may also require an entrance interview or appointment with a guidance counselor before offering admission to a student. Remember to check with your school of choice for the application timeline and deadlines and ensure you submit all materials by the correct deadlines.