How to Conquer the Beast: Preparing Yourself for Applying to PA School

You took the plunge…you’ve decided to embark on your journey to become a physician assistant. Congrats!! That is an awesome (and big) first step to take!

So now what? It is very easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information that comes up when you Google “how to apply to PA school”. So much that you may have to shut your computer, take a deep breath, grab yourself a beer, and try again (at least that was my method)


I’m going to make this as super easy peasy as I can for you! This is my super condensed, simplified, happy list of how to get you going in the right direction towards your PA career.

Step 1: Research PA Schools That You Want to Apply to:

A really good resource that I used to do my preliminary program search was: 2017 PA Programs

Here I was able to compare important things like:

  1. How much will my school cost? (aka how much debt will I be digging myself out of)
  2. What is there PANCE pass rate? After you work your tail off in want to be sure that you’re going to be fully prepared to do well!
  3. Does this school have qualities that I’m going to mesh well with? (some schools emphasize research, others community service…if a school has an emphasis on something you’d rather die than do, I’d recommend not applying)
  4. How long is the program? I feel that many schools are lengthening the amount of time their program runs. My program is 2 years, but I’ve found many schools are moving toward a 3-year year track.
  5. What kind of degree do I need to have in order to apply to PA school? Most PA programs are considered a Master’s program, so it rare (if possible at all) to be able to apply without having your Bachelor’s degree. The only exception to this rule is “internal programs” which pull qualified undergraduate students up to finish their junior and senior year in the PA program. There is only a handful of schools in the United States that still have this program in place, as many other schools have phased this option out of their program entirely.

Make this list as broad as you can! Options are never ever a bad thing when it comes to applying for schools.

Step 2: Are You a Good Fit for the Program? 

Once you have a list of programs that catch your attention, I would go through the next selection phase with a few more points to check out, such as:

  1. GPA– every school is different with what they expect out of their candidates and their GPA. The one big point I will make on this topic is: if you are just borderline with the GPA requirement but are very strong in other categories such as patient care, community service, etc…APPLY. I can’t guarantee it’ll work out in your favor, but I have heard countless stories of people who just squeaked by GPA-wise and made it into a program!
  2. Course Prerequisites– This is the big thing that drove me absolutely NUTS when applying. Every school is very different with what they expect. The way I went about keeping each school’s prerequisites straight was on a dry-erase board and on an excel spreadsheet (I am a little bit of an organize freak). Thankfully, most schools only have 1-2 differences in coursework (for example some schools require medical terminology while other schools like you to have extra courses in the humanities). Yes, at moments this can get a tad frustrating, but it is a relief that the majority of schools have the same core curriculum that is required.
  3. Patient Contact Hours– this is another factor that is extremely variable from school to school. I believe it is safe to say you should have at least 1000-1500 hours minimum of contact hours to be competitive. Even if a particular school has less than this amount for their requirement, the more you have the better off you will be. PA school is becoming more and more competitive, which means more often than not, most applicants have exceeded the minimum hour requirement. Plus, patient care hours are truly the best way to see if you are going to enjoy working in the healthcare field. Sure, it may not be the most “glamorous” of jobs depending on what you do for health care hours, but it is a really good way to see if your heart is in the right place when going into a patient-driven career.
  4. Shadowing– some schools require it, others recommend it…and I highly suggest in all cases you should do it. PA school is a lot of work and you don’t want to find out halfway through that it is a bad fit for you. Plus, PAs are awesome…why wouldn’t you want to spend time with one?! 🙂

Step 3: Get in Contact with Some of Your Top School Choices

  1. This is something I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH. Now, I’m not saying bully your way into a program, or annoy them…but it IS ok to set up an appointment with the program to get some logistics settled. For example, when I visited University of Utah’s program the admissions coordinator made it very clear that it was rare out-of-state candidates were admitted into the program. This was not something listed on their website, but it is good to know little tidbits that may help you save your money so that you can apply to another school that you have a higher chance of being admitted to.
  2. In addition, if you are anything like me, sometimes things on certain websites can get confusing or hard to find. For example, you want to know what areas your clinical rotations can be, or what is the faculty-to-student ratio, or any other detail that may make you feel a little more comfortable with picking the right school for you…shoot them an e-mail or even better..go visit them and ask them personally!!
  3. Lastly, go and visit a program’s campus you are interested in, as it gives you a better feel of how you’d mesh with it. When I visited University of Wisconsin-Madison’s program building and met their staff, I fell in love instantly. PA school is going to be a huge investment of both your time and money, so you want to be absolutely sure you are picking the right program for you!

Step 4: Take a Moment and Think About How Great You Are, and How You’re Going To Make One Heck of a PA

Now that you’ve done all your research and gathered up a compiled list of schools you may be interested in applying to…take a moment to embrace how awesome you are. You are setting out into a career where you are devoting your life to helping others…GO YOU! I’m not going to lie, it is going to be a lot of work…but PA school is soo do-able! At PA school, you are going to meet some of the absolute best people in your life which will become your best of friends. PA school will push you to your academic limits, but it will also teach you about how capable you are as a human being.

The application process is hard and at times it can feel like you’re never going to get that acceptance letter…but when you get that call or e-mail telling you that you have been accepted…it truly is one of the best feelings in the world.





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