At this point, the acceptances from schools should be coming in (woo!), and while this is SUCH an exciting time, it can also be incredibly stressful. How are you supposed to make the decision on where you want to spend the next 2-3 years of your life? What happens if you make the wrong decision? What should factor into your decision on where to go? I’m going to talk about the factors that helped influence my decision on where to attend PA school, and landed me at my school
Early on in my interview trail, there was one thing I was told that really stuck out to me.
I had a program director who stood up in front of all the interviewees and gave a speech on the “fit” of a program. She told us that while that day was about determining whether we were the right “fit” for school; it was as much about determining if the program was the right “fit” for us. This statement stuck with me through the rest of my interviews at different programs, and is still something that resonants with me today.
Bottom line: You want to choose a school that fits YOU
So how do you go about doing this?
First things first, take a step back and ignore the “ranking” of a school. Honestly, this is very arbitrary and is gathered based on opinions given by all the PA school. In the end, longer standing programs end up being ranked more highly. And in the end, it doesn’t matter as much as any of the other things on this list
Look at the PANCE pass rate. This is the MOST important thing to consider when picking a school. The PANCE determines whether or not you become a certified PA (PA-C), and you NEED that certification – its the entire point of going to PA school. So you want to make sure that the education that you’re getting is going to adequately prepare you for that, and one way of judging this is based off of the PANCE pass rates for past classes. Higher first time PANCE pass rates means a program understands what kind of educational standards they should adhere to and how to best prepare their students.
Think about the drop-out rate. I was told at one school by newly graduated student that his class had lost like 15 people. Uh, what?! This terrified me. You want to know that the faculty has your back and wants you to be there. You want a school that is just as invested in its students as you are in the school. What processes are in place to prevent students failing? What is the algorithm for determining what happens to a student who’s struggling? You never want to hear about more than 5 people leaving a class – this is a huge red flag.
Consider the faculty. Faculty will make or break a program, and they will make or break your experience at the school. If this is a new program, how much of the faculty has worked at PA school before? Do they actually know what they’re doing and how to be a good advisor? And if this is an established school, how many of the faculty stay for long periods of time? A high turn-over rate of faculty at a school (and thus a high rate of “brand new” faculty) is very concerning.
How did the current students seem? Almost every interview is going to give you the option of talking to current students and you really want to take advantage of this! Did the students seem genuinely happy? Or did it seem like an act was being put on? How did they interact with the faculty. You can learn a lot just by observing current students during the interview. And if you’re still really on the fence, reach out to a student. Ask them if their happy with their decision. Ask them their thoughts on the program and faculty. What would they change about it? What do they absolutely love about the program? Do they think that they’re getting a good education? Are they confident in what they’re learning? Just be polite and respectful (as with everything in life).
Reflect on your interview experience with your fellow interviewees. Did you feel comfortable talking to them? Did you have things in common? Did you make a “friend” that day? These are possibly the people that you’re spending the next two-three years of your life with, and you want to make sure you mesh well! Granted an interview is a high-stress occasion, so you can’t be sure of someone’s personality based on that. But at the same time, if you felt really, really uncomfortable all day, that would be a red flag.
Decide if you’re okay with the cost of living and tuition for that school. Some schools are going to be a lot more economical than others, and some cities are a lot cheaper to live in. I personally debated the price tag of my school for a long time, but I ultimately decided that the education I was going to get here, and the experience of living in the city, was worth the price tag. You need to take a long hard look at the finances and decide if you’re okay with the amount of loans you will have. There are some great repayment opportunity, as well as some scholarships, out there but they can be hard to get. Realistically, you’re going to be taking out loans for tuition + cost of living and you need to make sure you’re comfortable with that.
How do you learn best? Does that fit with the teaching style of the school? Some schools are lecture-based learning, which means you sit in a classroom for the first year looking at slides. Others are going to be small group learning (or problem-based learning). These are a lot more interactive but can and will be a totally new style of teaching for most of you. Think about how you learn best. Did you do well in big lectures, or did you grasp the material better in small classes? Can you handle sitting in a classroom from 8-5 looking at slides?
Where do you want to end up practicing? This is something that I honestly didn’t think about much when deciding what school I wanted to go to, but wish I would have. I went to school in DC and ended up back in Florida to practice. I didn’t have any rotations in Florida, and it was probably a little harder for me to find a job when compared to someone who did rotations in the area. Networking is very important, and its really something to consider. Also consider if the program allows you to do out-of-state rotations. Its not impossible to find a job from other state, but it definitely is a little more challenging.
These are just a few things to consider when picking out a PA school.
Like I said before, bottom line is how happy you’re going to be at a program! Think about YOU.
Think about the “vibe” you got at the school. This sound weird I know, but there were some schools during the interview process that I walked about thinking “Damn, I could definitely see myself at home here” and there were some schools that I did not feel that way at all at. THIS MATTERS. Don’t try to push it in the back of your mind. If you just were not feeling a place, chances are you’re just not going to suddenly start “feeling it” for the 2 years you’ll spend there.
If you’re worried you made the wrong decision, I can give you this piece of advice. Its only two (or three) years. What you make of PA school is going to determine what you get out of it. A positive attitude can make all the difference.
Comment below on your thoughts about choosing the right PA school. Share what made you chose the school you did! I would love to hear your thoughts.
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