Nearly two-thirds of PA programs require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for admission. It's hard to find another entry requirement (health care experience, GPA, prerequisite courses) that has this sharp of a divide.
This split can make it tempting to start narrowing down your school options by whether or not the GRE is required.
But, before you start crossing programs off your list, let's flush out the primary considerations behind taking or not taking the GRE.
1. Why is the GRE even necessary?
First, we should start by looking at why the GRE may be required by a PA program. A program can gain more information about your long-term performance and commitment by looking at your GPA and experience, so why would they also need a standardized test?
The truth is PA programs are often not behind this requirement. In many cases, the GRE is a requirement of the graduate school (think "School of Health Sciences") and mandatory for all programs under its umbrella.
Other times, programs use the GRE as a small peek into how you perform while testing under pressure, which will be a part of your PA school experience. However, even programs more interested in your results will not put as much weight on the GRE score as other admission requirements.
2. School choice & cost
Spending the extra time and money to take the GRE deters some applicants from looking at schools with this requirement.
The GRE will currently run you $205. Throw in a few extra schools to receive your results (after the first four included with the registration fee) and a review book, and we'll call it $350.
That might be enough to have you filtering out schools that require the GRE. But, to make the best choice in PA programs, you should zoom out a little further.
While forking over $350 might not be ideal at the moment, it is a trivial amount in the overall cost of PA school. If you filter out programs that require the GRE, you may be sacrificing schools with lower overall tuition or in areas with a lower cost of living.
By excluding GRE-requiring programs from your search, you are also focusing on a relatively minor aspect of a program. If you consider what is most important to you, the geographic location, program culture, and quality of the school will likely come out far ahead of a standardized test.
Let the big, immovable factors guide your initial search for target PA programs. Whether or not the GRE is an admission requirement can be much further down your list.
3. Helping out a shaky GPA
Performing well on the GRE will not negate a low GPA, but it can show your academic ability and capacity to operate under pressure. Most PA school applicants who struggle with a GPA on the lower side made mistakes early in their college career.
If you've turned things around later in college or have done well in your post-baccalaureate classes, solid GRE scores can help to highlight your continued improvement.
Programs may not place a whole lot of weight on the GRE, but good scores can certainly bolster your application.
In general, you don't need to sweat your GRE performance. Taking the exam is usually just a condition for acceptance to PA programs and overall less important than other requirements.
Your willingness to take it, however, may increase your choice in programs and potential interview offers and, as a result, decrease your overall cost of PA school.
Approach the GRE as a minor factor in your PA program choice. You will find your best fit by focusing your search on PA program attributes more significant than a GRE requirement.