Coffee and Pharmacy with Paul Ko

Written and photographed by Jeffery Lo

Hi everybody! I am Jeffery Lo and I will be one of the managers and contributors (along with Kevin Sparks) to the blog this year. I want to try something new this year and do interviews with students and faculty of the program here at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy. My first interview is with Paul Ko, a P1. He is originally from San Diego, California and went to the University of California, Berkeley for his undergraduate studies. Enjoy!

Jeff: How did you end up here in Michigan?

Paul: Well, my ideal situation would have been getting into UCSD (University of California, San Diego) because that’s where my parents are from. That didn’t work out, but my other nearby options were going to be USC (University of Southern California) or UoP (University of the Pacific), which were fine since they’re both great schools. USC is one of the oldest pharmacy schools and they have a great tradition, but ultimately what I was looking for in a school was a good combination of having a high quality of education, ample opportunities, and a reasonable cost of tuition.

It’s like $70,000 for UoP, isn’t it?

Tuition at UoP is $70,000 and around $80,000 with living costs.

Did it matter enough for you to stay in California to justify that cost?

It mattered for my parents because they would have to help me out with my living costs if I moved out of state. It was also more important to my father that the family stayed somewhat together, so it was a big problem for my family. But for me personally, I’m relatively young, so I wanted to explore and a change of scenery.

Did them pushing you to stay affect you much? For example, my parents were completely fine with me going to Michigan until I got off of the waitlist for UCSF. It was definitely one of those Asian parent guilt-trip moments.

I did consider what they would have thought, but I tried making my own decision this time. It was more of my parent’s choice for me to go to Berkeley. I wasn’t really independent back then; I heard my parents say Berkeley was a great school and decided based on their opinion. I went there and it wasn’t a right fit for me. It’s a great school, no doubt, but it’s way too competitive, way too overpopulated and didn’t have enough opportunities in my opinion.

Yea, I had similar thoughts when it came for me to decide. When I got off of the waitlist, I only had 3 days to decide and I was paralyzed by my choices. Then one of my friends just told me, “Dude, you worked so hard for this, it should be your own decision, not your parents.”

Honestly, my parents were really happy with Michigan after they learned that it was highly ranked. Another school that I considered was Colorado and it was definitely a more practical choice: it’s closer to California, I can switch to in-state-tuition after one year, and the winters are milder. It’s a well-known school and they gave me a good impression that they could put people where they wanted to be. My friend went there too, so figuring out housing would have been much smoother. But in the end I broke down what else the schools could provide me.

Colorado really pushed for residencies, but not much past that. I was talking to Jerry Li, a P3 and fellow Cal alum, and he told me that he didn’t regret coming here because he’s had so many diverse opportunities and the college had a small student body; Colorado had a class of 160.

That’s huge, that’s about double of our class size.

I mean, that’s still better than USC or UoP. I learned that Michigan had a class size of 85 and I really felt that the school wanted me here. Adding to that, I felt that the student-to-faculty ratio was amazing.

That’s what I felt too. My interview with Michigan was the first interview that really impressed me.

Mark Nelson was a huge factor too.

Definitely, he reached out all the time! Also, my girlfriend at the time was applying to big name business schools, like Harvard, University of Chicago, Northwestern, and they would offer so much help. She went to interviews and they gave her so much stuff and gave her the sense that the school will take care of you. I didn’t get that impression at any pharmacy school interview until Michigan and that definitely felt good.

I don’t know if you’ve been to training for admissions interviews, but Mark Nelson told us about how thoroughly they look over each application and it really gave me the impression that they really look at each applicant as a person, rather than just their grades. That’s what I liked about this school. After I heard that, I thought that they really make an effort to end up with 85 people that they believe will fit well with this program.


So that was all trying to get here, you’ve been here for about 8 weeks now, how do you like it so far?

I think the town is amazing; it’s very health conscious.

But San Diego is sort of like that isn’t it?

San Diego is kind of like that, but I feel like San Diego is kind of quiet and everything is so spread out. Ann Arbor is a college town and people are always out doing stuff. I didn’t really see that in San Diego.

I’m glad you like it too, but yea, when I went to UCSD I thought it was really spread out and you couldn’t just walk somewhere with friends to hang out. You always had to drive somewhere. What about school, how’s the workload? Any comments on some of our classes?

I’m involved in a lot of extracurricular activities and those keep me really busy, but if I was only taking my classes, it wouldn’t be that bad. P504 (Pharmacy Practice Skills I) might be a little overwhelming for people who have never worked in a pharmacy because while I feel like all the tips that we learn are helpful, you wouldn’t really know how to apply them if you’ve never worked in one.

Have you worked at a pharmacy?


I didn’t, I only volunteered at a hospital pharmacy so I felt overwhelmed with calculations at first. People at my table were all pharmacy technicians and they flew through some of the assignments. I was just like, “Uhhh…,” but luckily everybody here has been really nice and helped me a lot with them.

Yea, some of the content can be tweaked, but overall I think all our instructors have been great!

For sure! Anyway, I don’t have much else to ask, thanks for sitting down to interview with me!


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