Finally submitting your PA school application is a huge accomplishment. It takes a ton of dedication and effort to gather the experience needed to be a competitive candidate for PA school, and more time and patience to assemble all of that pre-PA work into an application.
And though you can breathe a sigh of relief after getting over the hurdle of submitting your application, you can't let your foot off the gas just yet.
Less than one in three PA school applicants is accepted each cycle, and, as the popularity of the PA profession grows and the number of applicants increases, this ratio gets a touch more unfavorable each year.
If this isn’t your first time applying to PA school, you might be all too familiar with these odds. Or you may have strongly considered waiting an extra year to build a stronger foundation before applying but decided to give it a go anyway. Or, maybe you did patiently and consistently develop the experience needed to have a robust application before your first submission.
But, regardless of whether you're in the upper echelons of PA school applicants or you're hanging out somewhere in the middle, once you finally hit “submit” in your CASPA portal, you’re in for a wait.
It may be months before you're invited to a PA school interview, and even longer to know whether that might turn into a seat offer or if you’ll be granted additional interviews with other programs. If you do receive an offer to attend a PA program, there's likely to be at least a year between the day you submit your application and the first day of classes.
So, no matter how competitive you might be for a given cycle, there's gonna be some time between your application submission and your outcome.
How you use that time is up to you. But, if you want to spend it taking actions that will have the most significant impact on helping you to reach your goals, deliberate steps are needed.
Step 1: Meet the eligibility criteria of your target schools
After ensuring that your CASPA application is moving along as expected, double back through the eligibility criteria of the programs you've applied to and verify that you meet all of the requirements or that you have a plan in place to do so.
Many programs allow you to apply with one or two outstanding prerequisite courses. Some will ask you to show proof of enrollment in these courses before they'll consider you for an interview, but many will not.
PA schools that provide this grace period will stipulate that any outstanding courses need to be completed before starting the program.
However, if there's a long lag between when you apply and when you'd, in theory, start a PA program, you don't necessarily need to dive headlong into completing the remaining prereqs ASAP.
You can research and see when a course is offered in relation to a potential matriculation date for a particular PA school.
If you know you'd have time to complete the course between landing an interview or receiving an offer and actually starting a program, you might strategize to hold off and spend this time on other activities.
If you have many outstanding prereq courses at the time you apply to PA school, you may be applying prematurely, and, likely, this won't be your last application cycle. So, if you have more than a couple of required courses to complete, you should get to work sooner so that you're that much further along for the next application cycle.
If, after submission, you realize you have other outstanding admission requirements, like being below a program's required minimum patient care experience, shadowing, or volunteer hours, concentrate your time on gaining that experience as quickly as you can and update programs immediately once you meet the threshold.
For this first step, remember that we're talking about eligibility here — just meeting the program requirements so that your application will be considered.
If you have additional courses or experience hours beyond those that qualify you for a program, check to see how each school prefers to receive these updates after your initial submission.
Step 2: Circle back to the programs you ruled out due to requirements
When considering your target programs for this cycle, think back to those that you ruled out because their requirements or accepted student averages seemed like a stretch.
Now that your application is submitted and you have a stretch of time in front of you, are any of those formerly ruled-out programs worth revisiting for a potential future cycle?
The tricky part here is that you're waiting to hear back from the programs you did apply to. So, it may feel like a gamble to start fulfilling prereqs that you might never need for a program that could be a target for the next cycle.
But, there's a middle ground. You don't have to commit to every prereq possible, but you could create a plan based on timing and course availability and start acting on that plan if you don't have other interview offers before November or December.
Perhaps the requirements that deterred you from applying to a program would also be an asset or help you to qualify for many other PA schools.
If you didn’t have time to study and take the GRE this cycle, maybe planning to take it in the spring so that you qualify for more programs would make sense for the next round.
If you eliminated a program because you didn't meet the required hours for shadowing, volunteer work, or patient care, gaining experience in these areas would help strengthen your competitiveness for ANY PA school. You can add these new activities to your current CASPA application, even post submission, and update programs as well, depending on their preferences.
Insights you gain through these activities can help you to provide excellent responses to interview questions. And the extra experience may tally into a higher overall rating when you're being considered for a seat in a class after your interview.
Step 3: Strategically strengthen for your current target programs
While keeping track of and working to meet the different program requirements before applying to PA school can feel like herding cats, in the post-submission phase, you can more easily focus on your targets.
After confirming that you've, indeed, met all of the requirements of your target schools for this current cycle and decided on any potentials for the future, you can begin to concentrate your efforts.
Start by carefully looking back at the attributes and values of each program. If you went wild and applied to 27 programs, chose a handful that is a mix of your top picks and where you believe you have the strongest chance.
Now, based on what those programs seem to value, take an honest look at how you measure up as a candidate. If it's a program that is community focused or looking to serve a disadvantaged population, do you have service work that aligns with that value?
If you've already logged bunch of shadowing hours, blindly piling on more isn't a strategy. But, if one of your top programs is focused on recruiting students interested in leadership, it might be worthwhile to seek out shadowing opportunities with PAs who have administrative roles within their hospital or who hold positions in state or national PA organizations.
Look at the program requirements, dig through the curriculum design, and keep an eye out for program features, like the incorporation of international rotations, student-run free clinics, or outreach programs to local high schools, that might help to demonstrate a program’s values. If you can, go to a program information session and get a feel for what matters to them.
Get as much information about your target programs as you can so you can work to create the experience that will help them to see you as a great fit for the next class.
The benefit of having your first application submission behind you is that you can move past that desperate scramble to check all of the boxes that help you simply qualify for a PA program.
In this post-submission space, you have the opportunity to better align yourself with particular PA programs. And this deliberate approach is likely to amplify your results significantly, whether for the current cycle or a future one.
Step 4: Start gathering experience for future scholarship opportunities
If you're like most prospective PA students, your concentration is focused on efforts that will help you get into PA school. How to pay for PA school may be a topic that's rattling around in the back of your brain somewhere, but it might seem like a problem for the future version of you rather than something to worry about now.
But, take it from someone who's made huge mistakes financing for her PA training, ignorance is not a strategy.
As we've established, the expanse of time between applying to PA school and starting a program can be substantial, and you can cover a lot of ground in that time.
So, once you've designed how to meet any outstanding requirements, checked out potential future target programs, and outlined your plan to strengthen your competitiveness for your favorite PA schools, you can (and should) consider building your foundation for scholarship opportunities.
(Or, you can decide that you're definitely not going to apply for scholarships. But, whichever you choose, do it with intention rather than by default.)
The full-ride scholarships sponsored by the National Health Service Corps and the Veterans Administration both focus on candidates likely to continue to work to fulfill the mission of their organizations. Each scholarship requires a commitment period where a PA school graduate would work for a set amount of service time, usually 2-3 years, depending on how many years of scholarship support they receive.
Anyone granted the scholarship will need to pledge to work in a medically underserved area (for NHSC) or VA hospitals in need of providers (for the VA scholarship).
However, the mission of these programs is to recruit providers dedicated to serving in these areas of need. As such, if you can prove your interest not just by a pledge about what you’ll do in the future but through the actions you’ve already taken, you're more likely to be the kind of future provider they’re looking for.
The good news is that there's probably a fair amount of overlap between the experiences that can help to strengthen your PA school application and those that can help you to be more competitive for scholarship awards. But, it will require some advanced planning to ensure that you're getting the most out of your efforts.
The scholarship programs through the NHSC and the VA, as well as many of the specialty and state PA organizations that have smaller scholarships for current PA students, favor applicants with community involvement. If you hope to prove your dedication to serving your community, you must build a track record of engagement.
Five hundred hours of volunteer work is great, but if you cram it into two months, it won't appear to be a long-term priority for you. Instead, it will look like something you were trying to knock out for an application.
Healthcare-related community service is also beneficial. But, it does more for your overall PA application than something outside of the medical world, like working in a food pantry or tutoring elementary-age students.
As a result, non-healthcare activities can seem more genuine (i.e., more altruistic) than those more closely related to your future career.
Once you're in PA school, you won’t have a lot of time to work on creating this service-centered foundation. So, if you hope to be competitive for scholarships leading up to or during PA school, you need to start building your track record and proving your interest in community engagement as early as you can.
You have the chance to do this after submitting your PA school application. But, only if you take the time to carve out a plan to make it happen.
After submitting your PA school application and making sure everything is moving along, take a short breather, and then get ready to dive into your post-submission plan.
Because if you want to spend the months after your submission optimizing your chances of getting into PA school this cycle or the next or you hope to have at least a portion of your education funded by something other than student loans, you need to take deliberate, intentional steps to reach your goals.
The natural gap of months between applying to and starting PA school will mean that you have the time, but how you decide to use it is entirely up to you.