Not everyone who applies to PA school is accepted. During the last CASPA cycle, 26,953 people applied to PA school. Less than one in three of those candidates was accepted.
I say that not to frighten you about the competitiveness of PA school, but to show you that if you don't get in on your first try, you are in the majority.
I know more than a few highly intelligent PAs who were not accepted to PA school in their first application cycle. Most can tell you what they think made the difference between their first and second attempts.
Typically, this boils down to one of two reasons: lack of strategy or lack of experience.
In this post, you'll learn how to evaluate your last application objectively. More importantly, you'll clarify your strategy for second round success.
Don't judge - reflect.
It's easy to get down on yourself when you don't get into PA school on your first try. It's a huge undertaking to apply, not to mention all the work leading up to the application.
To do all that work for what feels like no payoff, frankly, sucks. Why didn't anyone want me? Maybe my GPA just isn't good enough? How did she get in and not me? Maybe I should consider another career.
Some questions are helpful to ask. These are not them. Judging yourself for your perceived failures and shortcomings will not get you far.
But, reflecting on your prior experience will. Did I rush my application? Did I select my references well? Did I choose the programs I applied to with intention or did I pick a random assortment?
Asking better questions will allow you to focus your efforts where they are most needed. They will help you to see if you need to work on improving your strategy, improving your experience, or both.
When did you apply during the cycle?
One of the most frequent adjustments future PA students make between their first and second application is to apply earlier in the cycle. Many PA programs have rolling admissions, which means that at least some of the advantage goes to early applicants.
Applying earlier can also allow you not to rush the process. Sometimes, this is the biggest change that candidates make in their second round to be successful.
Another way that timing may impact your competitiveness is if you appear to be ready for PA school when you apply. If you had a bunch of "planned/in-progress" prerequisites and just started gaining health care experience during your first cycle, you may have appeared underprepared.
If another month or two will allow you to have a stronger, more complete application, it may be worth waiting.
How did you choose your target programs?
School choice may play a role in whether you are accepted in your first or second cycle. If you are geographically bound to an area, your school choice may be limited. But otherwise, examine why you chose your first cycle programs.
Were you focusing only on PA programs with a particular accreditation status? Do you truly understand what the different statuses mean? You might want to use accreditation status to your advantage in your next cycle. Focusing on provisional, probationary, and even developing programs may have you competing with fewer people.
Did you search for programs where you met the minimal requirements? Most applicants do, so that's understandable. But, there is a difference between meeting the minimum and blowing it away.
If you barely eked out the minimums in the last cycle, what about looking at programs that "prefer" experience or require fewer hours? Others applying to those programs will likely have experience on the lower end, and you might be more competitive in that pool.
Who did you ask to provide references?
Did you ask professionals who knew you well and had experience in writing letters of recommendation? If not, your references may have fallen short.
Letters of recommendation for PA school should not be about the prestige of the person writing them. They should be about the qualities you possess that would make you a great PA. If someone cannot speak to that, you should not ask them to be a reference.
This subject can be a little touchy because some applicants feel they don't have enough people who meet these criteria to ask. But, the benefit of having extra months before your next PA school application is that you have time to cultivate these relationships.
Start volunteering, become a superstar at work, or begin speaking up and asking questions in class. Get noticed for your interest and your dedication. Everyone can get great letters of recommendation, but it takes planning. Now you have time to develop your plan.
Do you have the right experience?
Nearly every applicant can benefit from gaining additional health care experience. So, spending the extra months between your first and second application cycle racking up more hours is generally a good thing.
However, before you dive head first, you should look at your stats objectively. If you have 3000 hours accumulated, your "lack of" experience is likely not an issue. But, your type of experience may be. If you haven't had much responsibility in direct patient care, it may help your application to explore other roles.
If you are targeting PA programs with an underserved mission but don't have much community service, you might look into volunteering.
Whatever experience you might be considering, think about how it can contribute to you being a stronger, more well-rounded candidate. Spending more time in the same role is not always the road to success. Make your choice deliberately and with the big picture in mind.
Is your GPA really too low?
A low GPA is rarely the single culprit preventing applicants from getting into PA school. It may contribute to not being accepted, but rarely is someone who is stellar in every other area rejected simply due to their GPA.
There is so much that can make up for a below average GPA. PA schools almost universally prefer well-rounded candidates over those with 4.0s. Usually, the rest of your application can bolster a low GPA.
It's important to look for weaknesses in other areas of your application (which are easier to improve) before attributing your lack of success to your GPA.
If you have a GPA on the lower side and already have many college credits, it can be hard to budge. But, another academic pursuit, like taking a few higher level science courses might demonstrate your ability to handle a PA school course load.
A number of PA program also place greater weigh on the most recent 50-60 credit hours. So, if the classes bringing down your GPA are in the distant past, you might target these types of programs.
Did you focus on your experience in your personal statement?
A great personal statement can elevate an application. One that misses the mark can plummet your chances of an interview.
Reread your personal statement. Were there dramatic moments that were unnecessary? Did you do a decent job of focusing on the efforts you've made toward PA school? Or did you spend two-thirds of it talking about your childhood?
You'll be writing a new personal statement for the next cycle, so it's okay if the last one was bad. [Even if you are applying to all new programs AND you are sure your statement is fantastic, you still need to write a new one. A great essay can boost an application. So, if it didn't do the job in the first round, it's time to start fresh.]
Luckily, you have time to make your next personal statement better. Before you begin writing, make an outline focused on your most important ideas. If you gain new experience that is personal-statement-worthy in the next few months, incorporate this into your new and improved essay.
Did you have a PA school interview?
If you interviewed at a PA program but didn't get in, you are in a different boat.
If you had an interview, it wasn't your GPA or lack of experience that held you back.
Your application was good enough to warrant an interview. So, the program was aware of all of your stats and considered you a contender for their program.
Therefore, what you were doing before applying was sufficient. You should keep going with that experience, whether it's working, gaining patient care experience, or volunteering.
You may also want to expand on what you have. Think back to your interview. What would you love to talk about if given the opportunity? Is there a hobby or activity that you've wanted to try? Have you been thinking about volunteering somewhere new?
What could you spend some time doing in the next few months that you'd enjoy and would make for a great interview answer?
There's something out there that would allow you to grow as a person and, therefore, make a better PA school candidate.
It's okay to be disappointed if you don't get into PA school on your first try. But, don't spend precious time wallowing. You can have a second (or third) shot, and you need to spend your time getting to work making yourself a better candidate.
It's natural to feel momentarily hopeless when you've been rejected. But, the world would be without some pretty great PAs if they gave up after their first application cycle.
Now, it's your turn to reflect on your prior application and experiences and evaluate how to grow yourself into an even better PA school candidate.
Want to do everything you can to improve for your second application cycle? My Reapplication Success Package includes everything you need to get prepared and be more competitive for your next cycle.
I called PAEA, Danielle told me how many students applied during the 2016-2017 CASPA cycle.