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Study abroad : Subject Guides

What to expect when you study pharmacology

Pharmacology remains a top choice for students studying medicine related and STEM fields. We take a look at what the subject is all about, what the entry requirements for the degree are and possible career choices.

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As a subject allied to medicine and biological sciences, pharmacology has remained a popular degree choice for international students. Studying pharmacology offers a challenging curriculum, the development of highly valued skills and a positive, sometimes multifaceted, career trajectory. If the pharmacological aspect of medicine in the treatment and management of disease is something that interests you, studying pharmacology could be perfect. We delve into what the degree involves, what you can expect to learn and what career options you could have if you study a pharmacology degree.


What is pharmacology?


Pharmacology is the study of how drugs, medicine and substances interact with the human body when being used for the management of illness, disease, pain and more mild conditions. This can be everything from drugs used in cancer treatment to the action of headache tablets. Pharmacology covers natural and industrially produced substances.


Pharmacology not only involves the analysis of existing medicine but also of researching substances, chemicals and compounds for the production of new drug treatments. It also focuses on the physiology of the body and the way in which drugs can benefit or harm human beings. Pharmacology is sometimes confused with pharmacy, and while there are parallels, it is not the same discipline, although the two may be offered as part of the same degree.


Pharmacy concentrates on an understanding of how to prepare and dispense medication that has been prescribed by a medical doctor. Pharmacy aims to safeguard patients through the effective use of medication. It is a field that combines chemical and health sciences.


Want to study pharmacology in the UK? Have a look at some of the top-rated universities offering degrees in pharmacology:



What are the entry requirements for a pharmacology degree?


To be accepted to study for a pharmacology degree you will need to be able to show a good to high level of academic achievement. This means a minimum of B-grade in A-Levels or equivalent qualification. For the most part, to guarantee your place, you would need an A grade or distinction in your subjects at school leaving level and this should also include a subject in either life sciences, biology, physical science, mathematics or chemistry.


If you are looking to study pharmacology in the United States, you will need to have a GPA score above 90, an ACT score between 25 and 30, or an SAT average score above 1180. A requisite qualification in mathematics and a science-based subject is generally also needed.


Don’t forget that as an international student your application will need to include evidence of your English language proficiency. This can be in the form of an English medium degree or qualification, however is usually an English language test score like IELTS or TOEFL.  


For a pharmacology degree, you will need a minimum IELTS score of 6.5 with no component lower than 6.0 and in some cases, for certain institutions, your IELTS score will need to be as high as 7.0. Make sure to double-check with your prospective university as to the English language requirements and if you are unsure about how it all works check out our articles on how English language test scores work and a guide to IELTS.


Thinking about going to the U.S. to study pharmacology, make sure to explore some of the institutions offering a degree in pharmacology:



How long does a degree in pharmacology take?


The length of time that it will take you to complete a degree in pharmacology may depend on the country you choose to study in and the institution you study at. In the UK and U.S., the degree is usually structured over three years for undergraduate studies in pharmacology, with the option for a one-year honour’s degree added to this.  You may also find that you will study another major subject alongside pharmacology during your BSc, like chemical biology or toxicology.


You also have the option of pursuing a postgraduate degree in pharmacology, with an MSc usually taking one year full-time and two years part-time. Often there is a taught component to the qualification, as well as a research component. For a PhD in the subject, you will need to allocate about four to five years.


Have a look at some of the top institutions offering pharmacology in Australia:



What will I study for a pharmacology degree?


You will find that there will be slight differences between the curriculum of a pharmacology degree depending on the particular university you attend. However, there are base competencies and subjects that you will have to tackle when studying pharmacology. In your first year, you will focus on areas such as:


  • Organic chemistry
  • Chemistry and physiology
  • Fundamental general chemistry
  • Cell biology and chemistry
  • Fundamentals of laboratory practice


Once you move on to your second year in pharmacology you’ll shift focus to subjects like:


  • Physical chemistry
  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Intermediate organic chemistry
  • Computational chemistry
  • Analytical chemistry
  • Physical and organic chemistry laboratory practice


In your final year of study, you can reasonably expect to have to master:


  • Medicinal compounds
  • Drug discovery
  • Biosynthesis and biotransformation
  • Advanced practical chemistry
  • Advanced organic and inorganic chemistry


If you choose to pursue a postgraduate qualification in the subject some of the areas that you could specialise in would include:


  • Biotechnology
  • Toxicology
  • Cell biology
  • Drug design and delivery
  • Physiology


What are the career options for a pharmacology graduate?


You are probably wondering at this stage what type of work you’ll be able to get with a pharmacology degree and if you’ll have good employment prospects. The good news is that most graduates of a pharmacology degree go on to find well-paid employment in a variety of sectors including industry, academia, public service and the medical sector. In fact, graduates in the UK usually have a starting salary of about GBP 25,000. Some of the roles that you could find yourself working in include:


  • Researcher
  • Pharmacologist
  • Toxicologist
  • Biomedical scientist
  • Lecturer
  • Product manager
  • Analytical chemist
  • Pharmacist


You will also have learnt many key and transferable skills during your degree that are of value in other sectors. These include proficiencies like time management, as well as analytical, decision-making, collaboration and problem-solving skills.


Having hopefully gained a better sense of what’s involved in studying a pharmacology degree you may want to explore other STEM-related fields, studying medicine, studying a professional degree and matching your study and career path. Remember you can also find your ideal course and university by using our course matcher tool.





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