Being rejected from PA school is a tough blow. After waiting many months for news, the letdown to all of your hard work can feel particularly harsh.
If you want to wallow for a bit, it's perfectly reasonable to take a little time to do so. But if you're determined to become a PA, you can't let yourself be dragged down for much longer than a day or two.
Because here's the thing: at the root of why most applicants don't get into PA school has nothing to do with the potential of an individual. Rejection is most often the result of applying prematurely—entering the contest before you've built yourself into a competitive applicant.
With some time and focused effort, anyone can develop into a more compelling candidate for PA programs.
If you've been rejected from a PA school but remain dedicated to achieving your goal of becoming a PA, here's what you can do post-denial to prepare for a successful next attempt.
Gather all available feedback
When a PA program rejects you, you usually are notified by a standard "you aren't a good match for the program at this time" email or, possibly, by no response to your application at all.
What you won't receive is a detailed breakdown of your specific application weaknesses and the steps you can take to improve for the next cycle, should you choose to apply again.
Programs are typically rejecting thousands of applicants each cycle, and, consequently, it's not feasible to provide detailed feedback to each person who applies.
However, programs are much more inclined to help those who want to help themselves. And, there's often a direct correlation between the amount of effort you expend and the level of help you receive.
When possible, call rather than email. The human connection of hearing your voice makes the person on the other end more likely to help. An email request is just one of many in their overflowing inbox. They can send the same templated email response to everyone who requests feedback.
But, when you call and make a connection, the chances of someone pulling up your application and offering personalized advice go way up. Plus, you can gather much more information in a short phone call than in a detailed email, and you're more likely to catch a few pointers that would ordinarily be left out of a written response.
If a program is generous enough to offer in-person counseling sessions for prospective applicants, take advantage of the opportunity. When you increase your level of effort and meet someone face-to-face, you expand the likelihood of receiving in-depth advice for your specific situation.
While not all programs offer counseling sessions for prospective applicants, most do have informational sessions. Asserting your interest in a program by showing up at one can be your window to ask some questions that can help you build your plan for the next application cycle.
There are two things to note at this point.
First, be sure that any request you make for feedback does not violate the boundaries put in place by a program. If they requested that you not seek feedback until a particular date or make it clear that they do not offer counseling sessions, don't ask to be the exception. Don't show up in the program office unannounced. Interest and effort might be rewarded, but aggression is not.
Second, you should understand going in that you may get no feedback at all. Or you might get general feedback that doesn't give you much direction. That's possible.
But it's also possible you'll get information that's quite useful. And you'll never know which it might be if you don't ask.
When you're rejected from a PA program, it's usually not because you're incapable of studying medicine or functioning in the future as an excellent provider, it's because you haven't yet proved that you can to a PA program.
PA educators carry the responsibility of delivering a ton of content and knowledge to PA students and training them into the next generation of providers. They need to believe that you're primed and ready for that intensive work.
Showing that you're "ready" means that you have demonstrated your academic ability to study medicine, understanding of the PA role, and vision for how you'd contribute to the profession as well as gained enough skills in the world, in healthcare or otherwise, to be able to navigate patient care maturely.
When you apply prematurely, you've missed the mark in one or some of these areas.
Maybe you have too many outstanding prerequisites or lack sufficient experience to prove you have a strong enough foundation to prosper as a PA student.
If you received no interview invitations, the lack of interest in your application could also be a consequence of not choosing target programs wisely or rushing the application process.
If you interviewed for programs but didn't get in, the lack of success may stem from a combination of application factors and interview performance. While an application may show your academic ability and clinical experience, articulating how your experiences have impacted you and demonstrating that you're ready to be a PA in an interview are also essential.
Whatever the cause, it's totally fixable. But improving will take some time and effort.
The advantage of going through an application cycle without success is that you can more clearly see the mistakes you might have made in the first go-around.
Taking a holistic look at your application and your approach is key.
And if you want to dive into the details of how much weight to give each aspect of your application to create your specific game plan for your next cycle, my mini-course, Application Reboot, can help show you the way.
Decide on your reapplication timeline
Once you have the opportunity to gather feedback and assess your application weaknesses, you'll have a good sense of how much you need to do to become a more competitive PA school application.
But when it comes to build out your plan for the future, be very cautious about feeling as if everything needs to be done in time for the next application cycle.
Prospective PA students who submit non-competitive applications often do so because they are rushing to meet some deadline, whether actual or self-imposed. They don't quite have enough patient care hours to be competitive, but the program has rolling admissions, so they go for it anyway.
Because the CASPA application cycle spans nearly a full year, many months can pass between submitting your application and learning that you won't be getting into PA school.
If you haven't been working to become a stronger applicant during the wait, you might find yourself with an application that hasn't substantially grown from your previous one.
So, it's vital to step back, consider everything you need to do to be a strong candidate for your target programs, and see if it makes sense to apply in the next round or to wait until a future cycle.
To create more opportunities for success and potentially have your choice of program offers, your approach should be more offensive than defensive.
Instead of seeing how much experience or which prerequisite courses you could squeeze in before a deadline, consider how long it might take to become a solid applicant.
There's tremendous variety in when programs start even when they're within the same application cycle, so pausing your next application by a cycle or two to gain experience does not necessarily equate to starting PA school a year or two later.
Not getting into PA school isn't personal, and it's not a reflection of your future ability. Rejection is almost always the result of failing to prove your readiness for PA training, not proof that you can never get there.
What you're willing to do to demonstrate that you're ready to become PA is entirely up to you.
And if you're determined to make the most out of your next application cycle, getting feedback, assessing your competitiveness, and taking a realistic look at your target timeline will help you create a plan that can help you to achieve the outcome you're hoping for.