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Becoming a Competitive Applicant for PA School

To become a competitive applicant for PA school, it is important to know why you would like to be a PA. This “why” is formed and strengthened through experiences such as volunteering, clinical experiences, and shadowing, to name a few. As you prepare, you need to become the kind of person that would be an excellent physician assistant. Excellent PAs know and understand important biological and scientific processes, can learn and understand vast amounts of information, understand what medicine is and have a strong motivation for the field, interact well with others and are compassionate and service-oriented. Physician assistant schools and their admission committees utilize the following experiences to determine if you possess the attributes and characteristics necessary to become an excellent PA and, as a result, whether or not you should be admitted to their PA program.

PA programs evaluate applicants in the following areas: GPA, Clinical Experience, and other non-academic factors. Because each school places different weight on each area, be sure to research specific schools. Here are some ideas of how you can research a specific school: consult individual school websites, participate when schools visit campus, attend a school’s online information session, and use the PA Program directory. Additionally, utilize the services available at the Preprofessional Advisement Center, open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  • 1) Do well in your courses, especially science courses, obtaining a relatively high GPA. See the 'Statistics' tab below for average GPAs and statistics of those admitted to PA programs.

    2) Have strong direct patient-care hours. The national average falls between 2500-4000 hours. While students have been accepted to programs with less hours, it is more common for students to be admitted with strong clinical experience. The more hands-on your experience is and the more responsibility you have for the patient, the better. Please refer to “Direct Patient Contact/Clinical Work
    for more information.

    3) Take full course loads (about 14+ credit hours) each semester, while working hard to perform as well as possible. Spacing out more difficult classes while continuing to take a full course load may work, but consistent light loads raise questions about an applicant’s ability to handle the heavy loads required in PA school. Generally, working toward your patient care or volunteer hours may not be a satisfying justification for taking fewer hours each semester.

    4) Shadow multiple PAs, including primary care, to determine if you really are committed to medicine and pursuing this profession.

    5) Serve regularly in meaningful ways in your community.

    6) Get involved in extra-curricular activities that match your interests and passions. Think about what you want PA schools to know about you and match those ideas with your extra-curricular activities.

    7) Find leadership opportunities in experiences you are already involved with.

    8) Develop strong relationships with PAs, professors, supervisors, and other mentors in order to have positive letters of recommendation in the future. Each of these areas is described in further detail via the links below.