This can be one of the hardest questions any pre-PA student has to answer. Applying is a HUGE undertaking, both in the time / energy it takes and the amount of money! It’s super important to have some method to try and gauge whether or not you’re actually ready to apply and hopefully be successful.
Since I applied during my junior year of undergrad – which meant I was trying to go into PA school without a gap year – I really want to make sure I actually had a chance of getting in! So I developed some steps that helped me figure out what kind of candidate I actually was, and I wanted to share them with you guys!
Okay, the very first thing you need to do when deciding if you want to apply this cycle is to make a profile for yourself.
Start out with the objective facts: what your GPA is, GRE scores, how many patient contact hours you have and what you did, what classes you have taken (stick to listing the “main” prerequisite classes most schools require – you can see a list of them of the FAQs page – and other science classes) and the grade, and what certifications you have.
Next move on to the changeable parts of your application: who you think will write your letters of recommendation, what you’re planning on writing your personal statement on, what some of your plans are – like what classes you’re hoping on taking.
Step 2: look at the schools you’re interested in.
I cannot stress how important this step is! One of the harder things about the application process for PA schools is that so many schools require different things, and since most people apply to more than one school it can get kind of confusing. I found it really helpful to compile all of the information regarding a school in one place so I was more prepared and less likely to overlook something. I know a lot of people make a spreadsheet of this information, personally I used a spiral notebook and each program got their own page. That way I wasn’t looking at this super long spreadsheet, and I just felt like it was more organized in my mind. I’m also the kind of person who just genuinely enjoys the act of writing versus typing. Whatever you do, come up with a system and mark it down in a way you’ll be able to understand when you look back later.
Things to look at are:
- CASPA due date
- Supplemental due date and cost
- Prerequisite Classes required
- GPA requirements (science and general)
- GRE – is it required? What score is needed?
- also write down the GRE code for the school. They can be different than the general school’s code and you don’t want to scramble for this later
- Patient contact hours
- Letters of Recommendation (i.e. who needs to write them)
- What the profile of their current class looks like
Which leads me to….
Hard cutoffs versus “Recommended”
Some schools have a hard cutoff in regards to a part of the application, this could be number of hours you have at the time of application, the GRE score, or your GPA. These cutoffs mean that if you are below the required, your application will NOT be looked at. You’ll often see the word “must” or “required” on the school’s website – that’s how you’ll know its a hard cutoff.
1,000 hours of direct patient care experience is required. These hours must be completed at the time the application is submitted.
Applicants must have a minimum score of 153 on the verbal, 144 on the quantitative, and 3.5 on the analytical writing components of the GRE.
Recommended cutoffs are a little more pliable. For instance, you all should know by now to shoot for at least the 50th percentile for the verbal and quantitative sections and over a 300 total score on the GRE. Another common recommendation is patient contact hours or volunteer work. GPA tends to more commonly be a hard cutoff for schools.
Here is an example of a recommended cutoff:
Although there is no minimum direct patient care requirement, applicants are encouraged to complete one year (2000 hours) Direct Patient Care(DPC) experience before their intended matriculation.*
Best thing to do to figure this out is to check the website of the schools you want to apply to so that you can determine what is a hard cutoff and what is just a recommended. With that being said, I made the decision during my application process to view recommended requirements as hard cutoffs. I really wanted to make sure that I was actually a qualified candidate and I felt like this was the best way to do that. There are always going to be scenarios of people getting in with less than the recommended requirements, but there are far more scenarios of those kinds of applicants not getting in. I’m not encouraging you not to take chances and applying, I’m just reminding you to be realistic during this process!
Step 3: Now that you’ve gotten all of this information done, mark how you match up to what’s needed to apply.
This is SO IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO DO!! The very best way for you to decide if you’re ready to apply is to look and see if you have all of the requirements. Start with the “must haves” first, before moving on to the suggested requirements of the program. Look at where you fall in the current class’ profile (normally this is a range or an average, so look to see if you are above or below). Be honest and don’t try to make yourself out to look better than you are – you want to be able to make the best decision about whether you should apply, and the only way to do this is to be honest. You’re going to do this for every single school you are considering applying to.
Consider having someone else look at your stats versus the school’s requirements. This second opinion (which you should try to find a non-biased person), will be kind of like an admissions member looking at you.
Step 4: Consider your finances.
Applying to PA school is EXPENSIVE. Going to PA school is expensive. THIS POST has a breakdown of my costs during applying. Look at it before you make the decision on whether you want to apply. If it’s not feasible for you to spend $500- $1000, consider taking an additional year to save money and strengthen your application before applying. Completing an application is not a guarantee that you will get into a school – and you don’t want applying to PA school to hurt your life in a monetary way that may prevent you from reapplying.
If you still are on the fence about whether you should apply after reading this, let me know what you’re concerned about and I would be happy to help! I just ask that you’ve completed steps 1-3 for me so I can better form an opinion. Or that you have a specific question (like is it bad I still have prerequisite classes to complete).
After a ton of requests, I’ve decided to start sharing some of my files with you guys! So you can follow the links below to download and start using them!
Hopefully, this gave you some steps in the right direction for making a decision on whether or not you should apply.
Comment below to let me know where you’ll be applying to, and how you came to the decision that this CASPA cycle was the right one for you! I would love to be there to cheer you on during this experience.
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