So I’m going to preface this by saying that while I did get into Physician Assistant school my first round, until I heard from GWU in January, I had only been rejected or waitlisted from programs. I had accepted that I wasn’t going to be attending school the next year and had made plans on how to best improve my application. I do understand how devestating it can feel to think that you excelled at an interview, only to find out later you got rejected. And I do understand how challanging it can be to find the motivation to start working on your application early.
Here are some tips on how to handle the rejection and make the most of it!
- Take a moment to remember how hard it is to get into PA school. It is not, as some people are under the mis-impression, a way for students who did not get into medical school to still enter the medicinal field. It has its own very real and very challenging set of requirements-from having patient contact hours to a high GPA to letters of recommendation and shadowing hours-and it is incredibly difficult to get accepted! Remind yourself that applying means you are one step closer to achieving your dream, and that setbacks allow you to grow as a person and improve. Don’t let yourself get discouraged. If you got an interview, that’s amazing, and you need to remember that the fact that you got an interview means that they saw something and they wanted you! If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
- Give yourself a moment to wallow, and then get started on the dream again. I’m not going to even pretend rejection doesn’t hurt, because it does. It’s going to be healthier in the long run if you give yourself that moment of wallow before getting started again, than if you tried to burry your feelings.
- Consider contacting the program to ask how you could improve your application. I know that both Baylor and UF offer applicants the opportunity to get feedback on their application. Sometimes you will have to wait until after the application cycle to recieve it, but it will still help you to improve your application for the next year. Other schools won’t give you this opportunity, so check out their website or any emails you get to see whether it is an option. If you can’t any indication of whether they do this, just email and ask.
- Evaluate yourself. This is hard, I know. We all want to think that we are great applicants and deserve a spot. But sometimes we need to look at the past class’ profiles to see what the program is interested in and compare ourselves to that. If you look great on paper (their average or higher for all the stats), consider your personal statement. Was it unique and interesting? Did it offer an insight of who you were as a person? Did it clearly answer why being a PA was your dream? You need to be confident about your personal statement because it is what is going to set you apart from others. Check out some of my tips here for statements and consider working on your new statement early this year. Depending on how you feel about it, and what you do during your reapplying period, is going to determine whether you need to write a new one or just edit the original. If there is something about your stats that was less than average, I’m going to go through each individually below.
- Low GRE scores. Obviously you should retake the GRE if your score is that much lower that the average of the school. I have always heard that shooting for a combined score of at least 300 will put you in a good area. I have a couple of suggestions for improving your score. Firstly, consider buying a set of flashcards. You can do 10 or however many a day and just work on improving your vocabulary-which will really help for the literature/english section of the GRE. It’s also pretty cheap and painless. There are a bunch of free options out there that will let you do questions like the GRE app, magoosh, and the big dogs like Kaplan or Princeton review. Force yourself to do so many questions a day. Now, I know my learning style, and I knew that just doing questions would not be the most beneficial for my learning style. So I bought an online, at your own pace Kaplan review. It was pretty hefty in price, but the way that they broke down the questions was very helpful for me and really made me get in the right mindset to do the questions. No matter what you do, block out at least a month for studying and force yourself to do 30-60 minutes of work a day, whether its doing those flashcards, practice questions, or reading a review book. You can also pay to review the GRE, which would give you a good idea of what area you need to do the most work on.
- Not enough patient contact hours. This is a simple fix. More time is going to give you more hours. So if you need to reapply the following cycle, you would have ample time to increase those hours. Try to stick to the same job, you want to show that you are a good worker and that you dont give up. I can also say from experience, the longer you work at a job, the more perks you get which is always nice. But, if you absolutely HATE your job, find a new one. You’re not going to learn as much from the experience if you are so miserable. And of course, wait until you have a new job lined up before quitting the old one. Make sure your experience is actually hands on and helpful- I can’t even tell you how much my patient care hours have helped me through PA school. I broke down different ideas on patient care hours here.
- Lacking volunteer hours. I personally think that this is a neglected portion of a PA school application, and something that schools should look more at. Not only is volunteering good for the community, it is good for your soul (cheesy I know but so TRUE). I talked to a Duke applicant reviewer, and was told that volunteering doesn’t even need to be of the medical form. They want you to find something that you’re passionate about and stick to it. I personally did all of my volunteering with children, because ideally I want (maybe) to go into pediatrics and kids make me happy. No matter what you do, volunteering can never hurt your application!
- Age. I applied really young (21) and was a lot lower in age than the average student at most of the schools I applied to. But I thought it was to my advantage since I had known what my dream was since high school and worked my ass off to achieve it. At the same time, there was a question of my maturity and if I could handle the program. At the other end of the spectrum, older applicants have often had other careers and this is going to be a change for them. They might get asked about whether they really want to start over at their age. I think the best advice no matter your age is to rock it and believe in yourself! You chose to be a PA for a reason, and you know why it is the best career choice for you. Stay confident and believ in yourself. If you’re that worried about your age, consider addressing it in your personal statement or a supplemental application.
- Lower GPA. This is hard and there’s not really one right way of “fixing” this. A downside of CASPA is that it averages your two grades if you retake a class instead of replacing with the higher (newer) grade. Also, at the point when you’re finishing your degree, its hard to change your GPA by a whole lot because of how many credit hours are already in there. You can consider doing some post-bac classes or maybe getting an additional Master’s degree before reapplying. I would definitely make sure that your prerequisite classes have the highest grades you can make because these do really matter. Also, it always looks good when you take upper level classes and succeed in them. Schools want to see a trend upwards in difficulty and grade received! My advice would be to maybe consider continueing to take classes during that reapplication time period and doing your best to succeed in them. I talk a little more about this here.
- Get some AMAZING letters of recommendation. I cannot even begin to stress how important this is. Make sure the writer truly knows you and your strengths because this is how you’re going to get a good letter out of them. This can really help an admissions member make the decision about whether to give you an interview spot or not. Check out details on how to ask for them here.
- Find a PA to shadow. An admissions member wants to know that you understand what the role of a PA is and how it is different than that of an MD or a NP. Try to find a person you can shadow for an extended period of time. Some schools will give you the option to do this in a class, some work environments will give you the opportunity to find someone, and sometimes you just have to spend a lot of time and energy contacting people and getting shot down before something happens.
- Pracive interviews! Practice talking to people and networking! Stick yourself out there so that you get used to interacting with others and dealing with being nervous.
- Make your support system strong. Spend time with family and friends now, because once you get in, it is so much harder to see them.
- Take time to yourself and to do what makes you happy. PA school, from the start of the application period to the day you graduate, is stressful as hell! Taking time for you during the entire period is so very, very important. Stress relief will also make it easier to keep going without getting discouraged.
- No matter what, don’t give up!
Hopefully, this helps. Keep the faith, you will be a PA.