So you’ve decided to apply to PA school! Great choice!
This is super exciting decision to have come to, 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.
So there is a couple of different options when you’re looking for schools to apply to. I went off of the TOP PA SCHOOLS LIST put out by U.S. News. I’ve since found out that this list isn’t as valid as I originally thought – it’s pretty much based on word of mouth, and so the older a program typically the more highly ranked it is, just because everyone has heard of it. At the time, I felt like this was a good way for me to figure out an extensive list of schools that were consistently producing good PAs. This list is definitely not all inclusive – it was collected from data back in 2015 and only went off of programs that had accredited status. My recommendation would be to purchaseTHE APPLICANT’S MANUAL OF PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT PROGRAMS. This book is seriously a god-send, and does a ton of the leg work for you. They also just put out the new edition of 2018 schools. (I’m not affiliated with this book, I just think its an awesome resource). If you don’t want to spend the money on the book, you can also obviously do the research yourself!
So let’s talk about the different accreditation statuses a school can have. Maybe I’m “snobby” but I think that this is a seriously important part of choosing a school. There are EIGHT accreditation statuses put out by the ARC-PA – provisional, continued, clinical postgraduate program, probation, administrative probation, withheld, withdrawn, and voluntary inactive status. THIS PAGE EXPLAINS WHAT EACH STATUS MEANS. At the end of the day, the best kind of status (in my mind) is Accreditation – Continued. These are the programs that have been accredited more than once – aka are established. If you’re looking for a simple way to tell what a school’s accreditation is, HERE IS A LIST.
Keep in mind that provisional accreditation is just that, provisional. I have heard horror stories about students being accepted to these programs and then finding out that the school lost its accreditation status and they no longer are able to matriculate. Going to a more established program can have it’s 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).
You now what to figure out what kind of school you want to apply to.
Here are some of the things that were important to me. I put them together in a spread sheet and it allowed me to be able to visualize everything better. **This is where I think the Applicant’s Manual of Physician Assistant Programs is really helpful, because everything you need to know is all together in one place.
This is a simple piece of information that I think is really important. Are you actually going to be able to attend the school when it starts? For instance if you’re applying for schools during your junior year of undergrad (so no gap year), applying to schools that start in Spring may not be feasible.
This is a no brainer. You need to decide what kind of place you’re willing to live. Even though PA school is only 2-3 years, and realistically you can do anything for that short of a time, location still needs to be considered. Do you want a huge city with lots of places to go? Or do you want something smaller? One thing I get asked a lot is if you can go to a program in a different state than you want to end up practicing in. The answer is absolutely! I chose to go to school in DC, but I’m applying for jobs back in FL. I can definitely say that it might be easier to find a job in the same state that you did your rotations in (because you can use them as networking opportunities) but its definitely still possible even if you don’t!
Programs can anywhere from 24 to 34 months long. Longer programs can tend to have more breaks or more clinical rotations. Realistically, I don’t think that there is much difference between a 2-year program and a 3-year program – the education we get is very regulated and all programs will cover the same kinds of topics. For me, 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.
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. HERE IS A COMPARISON OF SCHOOL TUITIONS.
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 practice.
There are two different things to consider here – What kind of exams are taken during the clinical year and How many rotations you have. Most schools tend to have seven core rotations – Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Surgery, Women’s Health, Behavioral Medicine, Pediatrics, and Emergency Medicine. The bigger differences between schools tend to be how many elective rotations you get and how long the rotations last for.
My thoughts on rotations – longer rotations are better learning opportunities and taking the PAEA EOR exams are great opportunities to prepare for the PANCE.
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.
I think its good to have a list of prerequisites in a bunch of different places so you can be absolutely sure you’re not missing one. If you’re working on this list of schools a few years before you’re actually going to apply, this can be helpful for making your plan when deciding what classes to continue to take.
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).
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!
There are some other things to consider that I talked about in my AM I READY TO APPLY post, such as comparing yourself to the “average” student profile. You can include them on this spreadsheet, or you can keep this information separate – whatever works best for you!
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!
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. I’m always super interested to hear what you guys think about my tips, so don’t be shy!
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