How to Choose Where to Apply
Currently, there are about 300 PA programs in the United States. As a result, it can feel overwhelming trying to figure out how to choose which schools you want to apply to. There are many factors to consider when selecting what PA schools you may want to attend. Outside of your personal preparation (academic, clinical, volunteer, shadowing, exams) here are some aspects to give thought to when making your decision.
- Location: Are you okay moving across the country? Would you like to stay near family? Do you want to live in a rural area? A more urban area? What does cost of living look like? Do you have any family, friends, or other supports that live near? These are all common questions students have asked themselves when considering a location. While this does not need to be the most important factor in your decision process, it is always good to reflect on some of these questions when trying to decide where to apply.
- Length of program: Generally, the duration of PA school is between 2-3 years. This time is comprised of your didactic (classroom learning) and clinical education. For clinical education, all programs are required to have 7 core rotations: emergency medicine, general surgery, behavioral medicine, primary care, women’s health, pediatrics, and internal medicine. Schools can have different emphasis on their clinical rotations. For example, some programs may have 4-week primary care rotations while others have 12. These can be helpful to look at and compare, especially if there is a specialty you are hoping to get more exposure to. Overall, when doing your research, look at how long the program is, the length of the didactic education, and the length and number of the clinical rotations. Consider what is important to you and what kinds of experiences you want while you are in PA school.
- Cost of program: When considering cost for PA school, there are several things to think about. Where do you have residency? It may be good to have a public school or two on your list that matches with where you have residency, as you can receive in-state tuition. Many times these schools also give extra consideration to those in-state residents. Regardless of where you attend, however, PA school is expensive! There are many ways to address the cost of PA school. Student loans, investments, and other outside help are common ways to fund PA school. While cost can be limiting factors for some students when choosing a school, do not be discouraged. Consider talking with PAs through shadowing or clinical opportunities, if appropriate, to see how they addressed the cost of PA school.
- Attrition rate: When researching programs, it is good to pay attention to their attrition rate. You want to see how many students started the program and how many ended up graduating. An attrition rate should be small. A small attrition rate demonstrates that the faculty and staff are invested in you and your success. If a program has many students not completing the program, that is something to ask them about. As you are investing much in your education, you want to make sure you will be successful.
- Learning Style: Is the program a lecture based or case-based? It is good to think about you learn best. If you learn best with lectures, you may lean more toward programs that have a greater emphasis on lecture learning. Most programs have a healthy mix of the two types of learning, but something to look into when researching schools.
- Hospital Association: When selecting a program, it is good to consider what clinical opportunities you may have in the area. When it comes to hospitals, it may be good to see if the
PA program you are interested have more opportunities to do rotations at teaching hospitals or community hospitals. Which do you prefer? How does it relate to your future goals?
When researching PA schools, you will quickly recognize that schools have varied entry requirements. This includes requirements for coursework, tests, clinical experience, shadowing, volunteering, letters of recommendation, and GPA (overall and science).Here are some things to consider in each of these areas in relation to selecting schools.
- Pre-requisite classes
- How many courses can you have in progress?
- Do they require labs?
- Is there a minimum grade requirement in each course?
- Is there an expiration date on a course? (Ex: Anatomy)
- Do they allow online coursework?
- What are the minimums for the overall, science, and prerequisite GPAs?
- Tests: Required or not?
- Patient Care Experience
- What is considered patient care for the school? Will they also consider health care experience in those hours?o
- What is the school’s minimum for PCE? Is it required or recommended? What is the school’s average PCE for accepted students? (this is often found on the program website)
- Is the minimum requirement required at the time of application submission or at the time of matriculation?
- What is the school’s emphasis on volunteering?o
- Are there preferred experiences?
- Is it required or preferred?o
- Does the school have an emphasis on a certain specialty? If so, have you gotten shadowing experiences that match?
- Letters of Recommendation
- Who do they require letters from?
- How many?