How to Become a Pharmacist: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated on January 5, 2024


A pharmacist is a healthcare professional who is an expert in medicines and their uses. They advise both patients and healthcare providers on safe and effective medication regimens. Pharmacists can work in various settings, including community pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, the pharmaceutical industry, and more. If you’re interested in a career that allows you to have a direct, positive impact on public health, becoming a pharmacist is a great choice. However, there are several steps involved in entering this in-demand field.

Steps to Become a Pharmacist

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Take the PCAT

Complete Pharmacy School

Earn State Licensure

Consider Specialization and Continuing Education

Salary and Job Outlook

Pursuing pharmacy is a wise career investment given the excellent compensation and growing demand for jobs in this field. Pharmacists earn a lucrative salary that outweighs the costs of education. According to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage for pharmacists exceeds $125,000 nationally – over twice the median salary across all occupations. Following table describes salary based on experience.

Years of ExperienceAverage Salary
Less than 1 year$107,000
1-4 years$112,000
5-9 years$121,000
10-14 years$127,000
15-19 years$133,000
20 years or more$137,000

Key Takeaways:

Costs to Consider

Funding your pharmacy education does require planning and budgeting over several years. Typical pharmacy undergraduate degrees cost $8,000-$25,000 annually while pharmacy school tuition can range from $18,000-$40,000 per year. Residency programs also involve out-of-pocket costs. Furthermore, expect expenses like housing, books, transportation and living costs over this extended education period too. That said, certain scholarships and federal student aid may help offset expenses. Ultimately this investment pays off through a lucrative pharmacy career that sustains decades of professional rewards.


Do I need to complete a residency program to become a pharmacist?

No, residency programs are additional specialized clinical training that is optional yet recommended for expanded career opportunities. You can still obtain pharmacy licensure without a residency.

Can I complete some pharmacy school prerequisites as electives during my Bachelor’s degree?

Yes, talk to your academic advisor about aligning some required math and science courses, like biochemistry, with your undergraduate electives. This helps you efficiently fulfill prerequisites prior to pharmacy school enrollment.

Besides earning a PharmD degree, are there other options to become a licensed pharmacist?

Today the most widely accepted pharmacy degree is a Doctor of Pharmacy or PharmD. However, a small number of accredited Bachelor’s in Pharmacy programs still exist which also lead to a pharmacist license. These programs are being phased out though in favor of the now standard PharmD curriculum.

What are some of the top pharmacy schools in the U.S.?

Some of the top ranked pharmacy schools are University of California–San Francisco, University of North Carolina, and University of Michigan. Pre-pharmacy students can explore rankings on sites like the US News Best Pharmacy Schools list.

How much does it cost to attend pharmacy school?

The tuition for pharmacy school ranges widely, but you can expect to pay $30,000-$50,000 per year for a total cost of $120,000-$200,000 for the 4-year PharmD program depending on whether you attend a public or private university.

What is the average pharmacist salary I can expect after graduating?

The average annual salary for a pharmacist as of 2020 is over $125,660 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those working in scientific research or specialized pharmacy fields can potentially earn higher wages.

Does the earning potential justify the costs of pharmacy programs?

Yes, with the high average pharmacist salary combined with rising healthcare job demand, pursuing pharmacy is wise investment to offset the costs of education. With good financial planning and scholarships, you can comfortably pay back student loans even just a few years into your pharmacy career.


Becoming a licensed, practicing pharmacist takes substantial commitment across roughly eight years of higher education. However, for those passionate about healthcare, pharmacy offers an essential and lucrative profession where you can positively impact lives everyday through the safe provision and instruction of life-saving medications. With excellent job prospects and above-average compensation, qualified pharmacists will continue to be highly valued in our evolving healthcare system. By thoughtfully completing each step outlined above, you will be well on your way to kickstarting a stable, rewarding career in pharmacy.