So you’ve decided to apply to PA school! Great choice!
This is super exciting, but it leads to the question…Where do I apply? How do I know where I want to go to without seeing the school first? The application costs are very extensive, and you want to make sure you would actually want to go to a school before taking the time and energy (and money) to apply there. Here’s how I decided what schools to apply to.
Firstly, I looked at the Top PA schools list placed out by U.S. News. This was a way for me to figure out an extensive list of schools that was consistently producing good PAs. Obviously this list is not all inclusive, and there is some question are how accurate it is, but its a good reference guide. I didn’t want to go to a school on probational status (this probably means the program is just starting out and has a “conditional” accreditation). I had worked incredibly hard for 2 years with school and work and this was just not something I was interested in. In my mind, I deserved the best of the best. Now looking back, I am both happy and disappointed with my decision. It was very stressful at the time and every school is going to produce a competent PA. I don’t think going to a “top school” is going to make as much of a difference as I originally though.
I will say that going to a more established program has some perks. You know that the school has worked out any major kinks in the education and knows how to teach its students so that they pass the PANCE, probably has a wide range of established clinical rotation sites, and that the school is well heard of in the area (which will help when you’re looking for a job).
After I made a rough list of schools I thought I wanted to apply to, I made an excel sheet with some qualities I found important. Here’s an example:
Location: I’m from the South, I love the South. The culture, the food, a Publix on every corner, being close to home. All of that was super important to me. But…since I set my sights so high on going to a “great” program, I had to widen my horizons outside of just the South. I chose to apply in a boomerang shape from Texas to Philly. I was lucky that every place I applied to (except Pennsylvania), I had been to before. So I knew from experience what the State was like and what kind of weather happened there. I liked the idea of going to a big city, but I was also okay with going to a “college” town (spent 4 years in one, Go Gators!). Decide what kind of place you’re looking for to live in. Do you want a huge city with lots of places to go? Or do you want something smaller?
Length: Programs can anywhere from 24 to 34 months long. I chose to apply to programs that were shorter in length because the shortened time frame was a strong plus when I chose to apply to PA school. Also consider if you want to attend a dual program-for instance, GWU has a dual Master’s in Public Health (MPH) and PA program.
Tuition Cost: Some schools are going to be significantly more expensive than others. There’s private versus public, and in-state versus out-of-state cost differences to consider. However, remember most students will be taking out loans to cover this. There are also a few scholarship options such as the National Health Service Corps, Navy/Air Force, and other options that are individualized to the school (these are normally smaller in size). There are also plenty of loan repayment options, so don’t let cost stop you. Its definitely a huge factor, but you can make anything work. Every PA I have talked to about this has explained that it is very doable to pay off loans.
Cadaver Lab: This should be super important to you! Anatomy Lab is going to (probably) be one of the first classes you take, and you want to make sure you get a huge foundation to build the rest of your education on. I personally would prefer to have the bodies already prosected (this means that someone else is doing the dissection of the body and you’re just coming in to study and learn). Its a lot easier and faster, but you still learn just as much. You also want to find out the ratio of students per body. But no matter what, you want a cadaver lab! You want to be able to see body parts up close and in person.
Style of Learning: I HATE group learning. Group projects are my least favorite assignment ever in school. I did not at all want to attend a program that implemented a group-based learning style (example: Wake Forest), so if they said that on their website, I crossed them off my list. This might not be the same for you, you may actually prefer it. But its definitely something to consider. The program I go to does a systems based style of learning, so we learn everything about cardiology before moving on. Other programs will use a body part style, in which they learn all about the thorax and the different systems that interact there.
Student to Faculty Ratio: I wanted to go to a smaller program. I wanted that “family” feeling. I wanted the faculty to know me on a personal level and be people that I could turn to. Is this important to you? Or do you want to go to a bigger program with more people. I also really liked that some schools have a core faculty who teach the major classes and then rotating adjunct faculty for other smaller classes.
PANCE Pass Rate: Obviously, the goal of going to PA school is becoming board certified (passing the PANCE). If a school has a low pass rate, consider asking what things they have done to improve or why their score was that low. You want to be as well prepared as possible for this exam! THIS should be a BIG thing you look at when applying to school! The whole point of going to PA school is to pass this exam and become certified so you can pass.
Rank: I wanted to go to the best of the best, this may not be as huge of a factor for you. I have heard different things about whether or not this matters. Some people say that no matter what, you get the education you need to practice as a PA. Some people have told me that just the name of the program on your application can get you in the door and get an interview
Average GRE: The GRE, in my opinion, is one of the easiest areas to make yourself look better in. If you take a prep course, it is completely possible to do wonderful on this exam! The questions are all very straight forward, not like the SAT. If you don’t do well the first time, take it again and study more. Most schools are only going to look at your highest score, you have the option to only send this one from the GRE website. They will not add the different parts together to create a highest score for you however.
Average GPA: Every school is going to have an area of their website that is dedicated to a previous class’ profile. Take a look at this before applying and see where you are in their ranges. Obviously if your better, great! If you’re worse or on the lower end, check to see if they have a minimum GPA to apply (most of the time this would be a 3.0). If you don’t qualify, don’t apply and waste your money. But if you’re on the low end for on thing and on a higher end for others, this is still good and you should definitely not count yourself out. Also, your personal statement does have a large impact, as well as your letters of recommendation.
Average Age: Looking back, this is something I wish I had considered. When I interviewed at different schools, a lot of places actually asked me if I truly thought I was mature enough to be able to handle the strenuous curriculum. Apparently, studies have shown that students who come straight from undergraduate don’t do as well. If I had looked at the average age before hand, I don’t think it would have stopped me from applying to a certain school, but I would have been more prepared for this question.
Hours Required: If it says a minimum of 1000 hours at the time of application, you need to have those 1000 hours. Depending on the amount of hours you have is going to influence where you can apply to. Some schools only have recommendations for the amount of hours needed-these are schools that will give you wiggle room when you apply with less (or more). Other schools will prorate the amount of hours you need to the time that you matriculate. This is great if you just started working but will continue to work up until you start school. If you have questions about the amount of hours you need and whether you would even be considered, email the school. However, make sure to thoroughly read the website and requirements before that step!
Supplemental Fee: While I didn’t allow the cost of a supplemental to influence my decision to apply to a school, it is something to consider. Some schools are obviously more expensive than others; some school don’t even HAVE a supplemental or it is free (YAY).
Due Date: Literally the MOST important thing to know! If you miss a date, you can’t apply to the school. Remember that CASPA can sometimes take up to weeks to verify your application, and this can cause you to miss the application date. I would suggest applying a month early (this may seem like a lot), but that way there is almost no chance of your application not getting verified in time or your references not going through in time. It also gives you plenty of time to finish the supplemental!
Prerequisites: check to see what classes are required for application. If you don’t have them, and won’t be completing them by Summer or Fall, don’t waste your money applying to the school.
Obviously there are going to be other factors that are more important to you, but these are just some ideas to consider! I would definitely suggest reading the mission statement and thoroughly investigating the website of the program. Also google pictures! This could possibly be your home for two years (or more)! You want to be happy living there, and if you don’t think that you’ll be happy, strongly consider not applying.
Comment below on your thoughts about choosing a PA school, and your own experience with applying.
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