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 my school 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.
So, here are some of the things that I found most helpful to do as I got ready to apply for a second cycle.
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. 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. Its devastating, especially when you think of all the hard work and effort you put into the entire process. It’s going to be healthier in the long run if you give yourself that moment to wallow before getting started again than if you tried to bury 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.
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. Consider working on your new statement early for next year. Depending on how you feel about it and what you do during your reapplying period, will 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, but you also need to consider the percentile your ranked at.
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.
Next, do as many practice problems as you possibly can. I really truly feel like this is the best way to prepare for the GRE (and the PANCE!). There are also a bunch of free options out there that will let you do questions like the GRE app, Magoosh, and the paid options like Kaplan or Princeton review. Force yourself to do a certain number of questions a day.
Lastly, get a strategy book. This is going to break down the style of questions that the GRE will use and give you the best method for approaching and conquering them. I found it so helpful to learn the correct strategy for approaching the problems. It helped me cut down the amount of time I was spending on each question, giving me the ability to be able to double check my work.
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.
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.
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.
Also, please 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. Plus, I can’t even imagine how stressful it would be to do all of these hours only to later find out that schools do not accept them.
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’s good for your soul (cheesy I know but so TRUE). I talked to a member of Duke’s application committee, 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!
I applied really young (21) and was a lot younger 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. Needless to say I was in for a shock when I realized there was a question of my maturity and if I could handle the program. It left me flabbergasted at my interview and I didn’t answer the question well.
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 believe in yourself. Remember all of the steps that you took to get to where you are in the application process – no matter what your age might be. Remind yourself of the life experiences that you’ve had and what you’ve learned from them. Be proud of your age.
This is hard and there’s not one right way of “fixing” this. A downside of CASPA is that it averages your two grades of a repeated class instead of replacing with the higher (newer) grade. It can also be hard to change your GPA by a whole lot due to the number of credit hours are already in there.
So, some things to think about. You can consider doing some post-bac classes or maybe getting an additional Master’s degree before reapplying. Look into programs that only consider the last 60 credits or your highest degree’s GPA. Even if a program looks at all of your classes, it always looks good when you take upper level classes and succeed in them. Schools want to see a upwards trend in both difficulty and grade received! I would also definitely make sure that your prerequisite classes have the highest grades possible. These are the most important classes on your transcript.
My advice would be to continuing to take classes during that reapplication time period and doing your best to succeed in them. Remember not to overload yourself with classes. Take the amount that you can handle.
Some other things to do
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. There is so much hype about getting the “right” kind of person to write your letter, but it’s no where near as important as making sure the person can write you a good letter. This can really help an admissions member make the decision about whether to give you an interview spot or not. When I applied, CASPA had a requirement that the letter written needed to have known you for at least 6 months. Though its no longer required, I still think it is a very good rule of thumb to go by.
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/DO or a NP. And, not every PA-C has the same role. So, make sure to shadow as many people as possible and in a wide variety of careers. You also want to try to find a person you can shadow for an extended period of time (this is how you get that great letter of recommendation). 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.
Practice interviews! Apply for every sort of club leadership/volunteer position you come across. Stick yourself out there so that you get used to interacting with others and dealing with being nervous. Run through interview questions in the car while you’re driving. Just don’t memorize your answers because you don’t want to sound rehearsed during your interview. If you got rejected after interviews last cycle, book a mock interview. This could be at your school or through a service (personally I love Savanna at the PA Platform and you can use the code StethoscopeandSparkle to get 15% off). Even consider forcing your friends and family to do mock interviews with you.
Network. Consider joining a pre-pa club in your area. Join the AAPA and your state chapter. Get out there and talk to people. Making these connections now can help you while you apply to school, while you’re in school, and when you start looking for your first job post-graduation.
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. Nurture those relationships. Cut out the negative people in your life. They’re not going to be helpful while you’re in PA school, and you don’t need the added stress.
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 – so I recommend starting now to get in the habit. Stress relief will also make it easier to keep going without getting discouraged.
finally, No matter what, don’t give up!
Hopefully, this helps. Keep the faith, you will be a PA. There are also some great reapplicants you should consider following. Two of my favorites are Hannah and Jazmine – both are sweet, genuine individuals who share what its like to have to reapply to follow your dreams.