How To Choose A PA School

Friday, April 1, 2016

Happy Friday you guys! Today I wanted to share a few tips on how to narrow down your choices of which schools to apply to. Applying to PA schools is an exciting time! You've been working hard towards this goal for years (or maybe you recently decided you wanted to become a PA) and you're about to take the initial step towards the rest of your career. Either way, choosing which schools to apply to can be a little daunting. I went into my geek mode and actually made an excel spreadsheet so I can keep every school's information in one place and can compare them easily. Once I narrowed down my choices, I added another sheet and copy pasted the ones I was applying to so I can have them on their own separate place. Here are some of the things I considered, in no particular order:

1) PANCE Pass Rate

Like I've already mentioned, the PANCE is the board exam PA graduates take to get certified and start practicing medicine. You want to do your research on the school and see what the average pass rate is for their first time PANCE takers. After all, your ultimate goal is to graduate and pass your boards. How well a school prepares their students reflects on the PANCE pass rate for each class. Every school should have this listed on their website, but in case it isn't, you can call and ask them.

2) Accreditation 

Don't ignore the accreditation status! Every PA school has to earn accreditation from the Accreditation and Review Commission on Physician Assistant Education. That means that the PA school, including the instructors, clinical sites, curriculum, etc. gets reviewed every few years and has met a certain standard set by the accrediting organization. Accreditation is important because in order to be eligible to take the PANCE, you have to graduate from an accredited program.

3) Pre-Requisites

Every program has different pre-reqs that you need to complete before applying to their program. You can have one or two pre-reqs outstanding when you apply as long as you will complete them before starting the program. You can narrow down your choices based on whether you have already taken those required courses or if you'll have the time to take them before you apply / matriculate. If you haven't taken a lot of the classes they require and you don't have the chance to get them out of the way before applying, you may want to look into other programs. If you don't meet the minimum requirements, your application may not make it past the preliminary check.

4) GPA/GRE Requirements

While the minimum GPA requirements are sort of similar for a lot of programs, there are different GRE score requirements for each program. There are a handful of programs that don't require the GRE or have a lower GRE score set as their minimum. However, most programs consider a score in the 50th percentile competitive. You want your GPA and your GRE scores to be higher than the accepted average to boost your chances of getting accepted.

5) Health-Care Experience

Almost every program I looked at had some sort of healthcare experience requirement. This is a little tricky because while some programs count volunteering and shadowing as healthcare experience, others don't. If you are a traditional applicant like I was, you may not have prior paid, direct hands-on experience as a medical assistant, EMT, phlebotomist, etc. This helps you determine whether you would qualify to apply at a certain program. I called every program that I was thinking of applying to, told them what HCE I had, and asked them if I was eligible to apply to their program. They're usually very helpful and even suggest what you can do to get more experience if what you have right now is not accepted by their school. Make a round of calls and see what you're working with.

5) Program Start Date & Duration

This isn't the most important factor but it does make a difference in some people's lives. Most programs start in the summer or fall but there are a few programs that start in January. Depending on your current situation in life, one time of the year may work better than the other. However, keep in mind that you'll need to submit one application for the current cycle regardless of what the program's start date it. Try to be flexible with this as you don't want to put all of your eggs in one basket. The duration of the program is also important. I was more receptive towards programs that were a little longer, because that means we'll have more time to cover the same amount of material. But this doesn't mean I didn't apply to programs that were a little shorter. Again, a little flexibility goes a long way.

6) Location

I applied to all the schools in my state even though I thought I was way out of league for one of them. Turns out, I was wrong. I got invited for an interview and also got an acceptance from that program! I also applied to a bunch of programs that were far away from home. Don't limit yourself when it comes to location. Even though a program may be far from home, you may want to consider applying to a certain geographic area if you plan on working there in the future. A lot of PA students get job offers from their preceptors they had during their clinical rotations. Therefore, where you go to school does matter in the long run if you think about it from the future job perspective.

7) Clinical Rotations

The clinical rotations (variety and the sites) offered by a program should be a crucial part of your decision of which schools to apply to. This is one thing I didn't consider when I was applying but learned during the interview process, so I thought I'd add it on here. Variety of rotations is important if a school doesn't offer elective rotations and you're looking to explore a field that is not a part of the standard rotation list such as primary care or emergency medicine. Again, the rotation sites matter because the connections you make during your rotations play a role in the job offers you get in the future. Also, some newer hospitals may have advanced technology and offer different ways to carry out complex treatments that may not be available at a smaller facility.

8) Cost

PA school is expensive guys! Of course, it's not as expensive as med school or other schools, but the cost of tuition does matter. Unless you're paying out of pocket or your parents are helping you pay for PA school, you're going to have to take out student loans to cover your tuition, book purchases, medical instruments, and personal expenses. While the cost is not a deal breaker, it's definitely something to think about based on how long the program is, how much you will have to pay every year, and your living expenses.

9) Class Size

Some people may not care about this but it was a factor that played a role in my decision.  I do better in smaller groups so I was pulled more towards programs that would give me the opportunity to excel in an environment I knew I was comfortable with.

10) New vs. Established Programs

I applied to a program that was 2 years old and the first class hadn't graduated yet. This meant I had no access to their PANCE rates and couldn't utilize one of the major factors to decide if I should go there. Also, new programs will most likely have a few bumps to along the way that they will need to work out and you'll be along for the ride. I have nothing against new programs, but I felt more secure and comfortable applying to programs that were established, had a sound faculty and administration staff, and had any hiccups at their clinical sites sorted out. Consider these things and if you still believe that a new program is the best fit for you, by all means, go ahead and apply.

After going through these steps, I narrowed down my list and picked out the schools that I thought were the best fit for me. Once I knew which programs I wanted to apply to, I made a list of any extra documents (including supplemental applications) each program required me to turn in apart from what's required on CASPA (which deserves its post for another day).

I hope this helps! Ask me any questions or what you considered while choosing which school to apply to in the comments. Have a great weekend :)

1 comment :

  1. I do agree with all the ideas you have presented in your post. They’re really convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are very short for newbies. Could you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post..

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