How to Choose the PA Programs Right for You

 

With hundreds of available PA programs, it can be a bit intimidating to start your search for programs that are a good fit. 

 

But, time and time again I see prospective PA students choose where to apply based on a process of elimination where they narrow down their options too soon. 

 

Yes, it's tempting to look only for programs where you meet or nearly meet all of the admission requirements. But, trying to retrofit your experience to program requirements can give you tunnel vision. 

 

You might miss out on opportunities that are within reach when you're searching with the wrong parameters. 

 

Instead, approaching your PA program search with an open mind will allow you not just to take what you can get, but to find schools that are a good match for you. 

 

Here's how to start your PA program search for better quality results. 

 

1. Start wide

Starting the search for PA schools is the hardest part for most people. 

 

In the face of 200+ available programs, the default for most future PAs is to begin excluding programs based on their requirements. However, this approach can send you into an early spiral. 

 

 How to Choose PA ProgramslBe a Physician Assistant

Instead, start by deciding what the most important factors in a PA program are to you. 

 

Is it school location? Cost? Program culture? Available clinical rotations? 

 

These are all program characteristics that have nothing to do with admissions requirements or your qualifications. Identify what you want in a PA program as a first step. It's an active exercise that helps frame the rest of your search. 

 

Filtering out programs where you don't meet the requirements is reactive, and it will mess with your confidence. 

 

If your instinct is to start with elimination, I encourage you to fight this urge. Starting with an active rather than reactive approach will shift your mindset from one of scarcity to abundance. 

 

Instead of scrambling for any program that will take you, you can decide which programs are worthy of an application because they are each a place where you'd love to train for your future career.

 

By first identifying what's most important to you in a PA program, you'll find more opportunities down the road.

 

So, decide what your motivating program factors will be, then you can start homing in on your target programs. 

 

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2. Eliminate programs with intention

Once you've decided on the most important program factors, you can start eliminating PA programs with intention. 

 

This means carefully looking at the admission requirements of schools that meet the threshold of your "most important" program characteristics. 

 

Keep an open mind here as well. Retrofitting your experience to available PA programs is a mistake. 

 

You may not want to take the GRE, but what if doing so meant you had more cost-efficient program choices in your geographic target area? 

 

Maybe a few programs would be good matches if only they didn't require that chemistry course. But if you took the class, would you have more ideal programs as options? 

 

Is your GPA borderline for a program that is an otherwise good fit? Would it be worth taking a few extra classes? 

 

You certainly don't have to take every possible prerequisite or take on an extra patient care job, but you might consider doing a little extra if it grants you the ability to apply to a few of your ideal programs. 

 

3. Don't be ruled by application deadlines

Less than one in three applicants get into PA school every cycle. So it's important to look into programs that seem like a good match, regardless of their application deadlines. 

 

You may be willing to take that extra prereq or gain more hours to meet the program criteria in a second round if you won't meet them during this one. 

 

Also, if you are submitting your application a little later in the cycle and will miss some deadlines, you can keep these programs on your list for next time. 


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When searching for PA programs, it's crucial to remember where you apply is your choice. You might choose not to complete certain prereqs or to eliminate PA schools from your list, but starting your search by focusing on what you want (rather than what you can get) is key to being in control of the process. 

 

Starting your search wide and deciding what's most important to you will help you make thoughtful decisions in preparing for PA school and find programs that are the right fit.

 

When you take the time to choose programs that are a good match for you, they will see that you, in turn, are a good match for them, which greatly increases the odds of receiving interview invites and acceptance offers.