California is one of the best states in the country to study any subject, especially pharmacy. Thanks to ample resources, ongoing demand for pharmacy services, and diverse patient populations, learning and practicing pharmacy in the Golden State is an endlessly dynamic profession.
Pharmacists do more than fill prescriptions. They must also be able to educate patients on health conditions, adjust medications where required, order and interpret lab tests, administer vaccines, conduct research, and more.
Most Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) programs, like MD and DO programs, require four years of graduate study. A few can be completed in three years, where the curriculum is condensed into a shorter, more rigorous period of study. After graduation, PharmD students must then pass a few more hurdles to become licensed pharmacists officially.
In California, PharmD grads need to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and the California Practice Standards and Jurisprudence Examination for Pharmacists (CPJE). California pharmacy students rank highly in their performance on these exams as well as general academics.
California’s beautiful weather and coastlines are the cherry on top. The following list of the ten best pharmacy schools in the state is taken from the U.S. News national list on pharmacy schools. We’ll break down their rankings, special programs, research opportunities, alumni accomplishments, and more.
10. California Northstate University, College of Pharmacy (Elk Grove, CA)
The College of Pharmacy is one of the newest schools on this list, founded in 2008. The university has expanded into schools of medicine, dental medicine, psychology, health administration, and more.
For such a young program, the college is already notable for its innovative educational environment. Students pursuing a PharmD work with new team members each semester, learning to operate alongside a wider variety of interpersonal and intellectual backgrounds.
Through the Department of Experiential Education, students in their second and third years can participate in institutional and specialty practice settings to hone their skills and instincts as a future pharmacist.
CNU also offers other pathways, such as the joint PharmD-MD, the Master of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MSPS), joint MSPS-PharmD, MBA-PharmD, and BS-PharmD for undergraduates interested in a career in pharmacy.
9. Keck Graduate Institute School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (Claremont, CA)
Keck is the newest member of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of prestigious Southern California private schools that also include Pomona and Harvey Mudd College. KGI was founded as an institution to educate scientists on the practical applications of new scientific discoveries.
Today the school has five research centers: the Center for Rare Disease Therapies, Center for Biomarker Research, Science Heritage Center, Center for Training in Applied Genomics, and the Amgen Bioprocessing Center.
The School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences remains dedicated to furthering the real-world uses of medicine, whether in the corner drug store or corporate sector. The curriculum emphasizes clinical and therapeutic content for each disease state and organ system. KGI grads are prepared to enter a variety of pharmacy roles, including ambulatory care, home care, compounding, hospital, and regulatory pharmacy.
8. Touro University California College of Pharmacy (Vallejo, CA)
Touro’s pharmacy program is notable for its 2+2 format, where students receive two years of foundational knowledge followed by two years of clinical rotations. In addition to community, hospital, and ambulatory care, rotation blocks include long-term care, oncology, academia, research, informatics, and managed care.
For those who would also like to pursue public health, Touro offers a joint PharmD-MPH degree program. All programs are highly hands-on, collaborative, and technologically advanced.
Touro PharmD students get to explore options in a way few other PharmD students can. For example, Ryan Hoh ‘19 co-authored five publications as a student. Jessica Poquiz ‘09 credits Touro’s 2-year rotations as the reason she was able to choose ambulatory care as her specialty after graduation. The program allowed her and her fellow students to dip their toes in all the career possibilities of being a pharmacist before selecting their preferred field.
7. Chapman University School of Pharmacy (Irvine, CA)
Chapman offers a three-year accelerated pharmacy program comprising eight 15-week trimesters. Students get an iPad Pro to take all their exams and access textbooks, which are provided free of charge and in ebook format.
Education follows the innovative flipped classroom method; instead of going to class for lectures and doing homework independently, Chapman students view lectures and readings on their own time and come to class for discussions and interactive exercises. This format ensures that students make the most of the time they have with classmates and allows for flexibility to meet various student needs.
Chapman also emphasizes diverse experiential education, whereby students learn in teams of pharmacy professionals, nurses, physical therapists, physician assistants, and communication sciences disorder experts.
The school has also partnered with PioneerRx Pharmacy Software, the most advanced software used by independent pharmacies. The software streamlines learning, allowing students to apply clinical skills in an innovative pharmacy system. Indeed, the technology available to Chapman students is impressive.
6. Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy (Loma Linda, CA)
Loma Linda’s pharmacy program takes a combined scientific and faith-based approach. Foundational curriculum is interspersed with ethics and religious courses, such as Adventist Beliefs & Life.
The fully integrated program provides academic and clinical training with a focus on the physical, mental, social, and spiritual aspects of health, also known as “whole person care.”
Pharmacy students can take this approach abroad, where they participate in international mission service. These trips offer a broader perspective on healthcare, emphasizing tending underserved communities around the world.
Loma Linda PharmD students also can pair their degree with an MA in Bioethics, MS in Health Professions Education, or MS in Informatics.
5. Western University of Health Sciences College of Pharmacy (Pomona, CA)
WesternU’s pharmacy program features cutting-edge technology and student-centered learning. This takes the form of Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPE) every semester starting in the first year. These rotations expose students early to various clinical environments. The second half of the third year and the entire fourth year are dedicated to Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPE): six 6-week rotations and one 16-week advanced elective.
WesternU faculty is deeply involved in research. Professor David Sanchez studies the body’s immune response to viruses and recently received a $347,212 grant from the NIH National Cancer Institute for his research on Kaposi’s Sarcoma.
The school also launched the Essential Medical Spanish for Pharmacists Program, a course that trains pharmacy students in the Spanish language and cultural knowledge they need in order to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients. This program aims to bridge the gap between Hispanic and medical communities especially in Los Angeles County, which has at least a 40% Hispanic population.
4. University of the Pacific Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (Stockton, CA)
UoP is home to accelerated undergraduate pre-pharmacy programs and a highly ranked PharmD program.
Undergraduate applicants can earn their PharmD in five (two years of undergraduate study + three years in PharmD program), six (3+3), or seven years (4+3, which results in both a bachelor’s and doctoral degree).
The PharmD program itself consists of experiential learning in various clinical settings throughout California. The wide-ranging experience that students gain helps them gauge what kind of practice they want to go into: hospital, research, private practice, or anything in between.
UoP graduates consistently have had higher first-time pass rates on the NAPLEX exam than the national average. The school also ranked in the top 10% nationally in postgraduate residencies, fellowships, and academic programs.
3. UCSD Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (San Diego, CA)
UCSD pharmacy students lead the state in Phase I residency match rates and CPJE pass rates. It also leads the nation in NAPLEX first-time pass rates.
Home to 30 organized research units — such as the HIV Institute, Center for Energy Research, and Moores Cancer Center — UCSD has long been dedicated to pioneering STEM research. The establishment of the Skaggs School continues that legacy, educating the next generation of pharmacy students in emerging fields like pharmacogenomics and bioinformatics.
PharmD students take biomedical science courses alongside medical students in their second and third years. They also take advanced practice clinical experiences in their fourth year together. Such interaction between future doctors and pharmacists is designed to foster greater cooperation and understanding between the professions.
2. University of Southern California School of Pharmacy (Los Angeles, CA)
It’s no mystery why USC is so high up on this list — it created the first PharmD program in the U.S. in 1950. Since then, it has continued to pioneer the field, establishing the first clinical pharmacy program in 1968 and the first Ph.D. program in pharmaceutical economics in 1990.
Today USC is the #1 private pharmacy school in the country and offers a variety of dual degree programs combining the PharmD with biopharmaceutical marketing, gerontology, global medicine, healthcare decision analysis, or regulatory science. There are even more Ph.D. and MS programs to cover all sorts of interests in the pharmacy space.
USC PharmD grads have gone on to work at leading companies like Pfizer and Amgen as well as medical institutions like USC Verdugo Hills Hospital and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
1. UCSF School of Pharmacy (San Francisco, CA)
UCSF is a leading pharmacy school for many reasons, one of them being that it has received the most NIH funding of any U.S. pharmacy school for the 41st consecutive year.
Academically, the school’s accelerated three-year PharmD program focuses on therapeutics: medications, medical devices, and diagnostic tests. The exhaustive year-round program features world-class faculty and integrated collaborative learning.
UCSF School of Pharmacy grads go on to do meaningful work in the public and private sectors. Stuart Heard ‘72 has headed the UCSF California Poison Control System (CPCS) since 1997. Molly Steen ‘15 has dedicated her career to serving Native American communities, first through the Quentin N. Burdick Memorial Health Care Facility on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota and now as the chief pharmacist at the El Reno Indian Health Center near Oklahoma City.
Michelle Tam ‘00 transitioned from a night pharmacist to an award-winning food blogger and cookbook author. As the CEO of Nom Nom Paleo, she now applies the biomedical and nutritional knowledge she learned at UCSF to her recipes.