The temptation to hit the ground running can be strong when preparing for PA school. Between completing prerequisites and gaining experience hours, it takes most students months or even years to be ready to apply to PA school.
With so much to do, it can feel like you are behind before you even start.
Because of this, most students jump into PA school prep with a vague, general direction. Many PA programs have similar admissions requirements, so working towards the general requirements can seem like the obvious approach - get some tasks out of the way now, and worry about where to apply later.
However, if you fail identify target PA programs, you will continually second guess if you are focusing on the right things.
As Zig Zigler famously said, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
Being specific is important. It helps you to set tangible goals and exponentially increases your chance of success.
In this post, you will learn the main advantages of identifying PA programs early in your PA school prep and will see how having target programs can provide you clarity in understanding how and where to spend your time.
1. Find what you want in a PA program, rather than taking what you can get
There are important factors to consider when choosing which PA programs to target. Some of the most important factors (for most students) include cost, location, and program culture.
As application deadlines approach, PA school applicants tend to place more focus than usual on less important factors in an effort to narrow down where to apply. They may not have the time to take a prerequisite course or obtain enough patient contact experience hours to meet the admission requirements of a program, or perhaps they do not want to study or pay for the GRE.
However, this approach of trying to find programs with admission criteria that match your application (rather than developing your PA school plan around program criteria) will significantly limit your choices.
Instead of retrofitting your experience with programs at application time, consider finding 5-6 target schools now.
You do not have to comb through all 200+ accredited PA programs, but consider what the most important factors in a PA program are to you and find a handful to use as a rough guide for planning your schedule and setting goals.
2. Save time on PCE & prerequisite courses
More PA schools are requiring 2000 hours of direct patient care experience (PCE), which translates to one year of full-time work in a PCE position. There is a lot of hype out there on pre-PA forums about this, but it is a little overblown.
Among the programs that require PCE as a prerequisite, over 70% require 500 hours or less. Additionally, 81 programs either do not require PCE or state that it is “preferred, but not required”.
It may be your strategy to gain more than the required PCE hours in order to be more competitive, but this should be your deliberate choice. Do not let it happen to you by keeping your head down and failing to come up for air until you have as many PCE hours as possible.
Target schools are key here in helping you to choose the best use of your time. Using specific program requirements will help you clearly outline what you need and want to accomplish within a defined time period.
Evaluating actual program requirements will also help you to avoid overlooking elements of PA school prep. Some prerequisite courses may be more widely required than you expected, and knowing this early on helps you to plan accordingly.
By using target programs to change your approach from vague to specific, you may also create time that you thought you did not have. Maybe you can fit in prerequisite courses that allow you meet the admission requirements of additional programs. You might bolster your application by having the time to participate in regular community service activities.
Taking the time to identify programs that are a good fit for you will also help you see when you will be ready to apply to PA school, which may be earlier than you expected.
3. Save money when applying (& beyond)
In recent PAEA annual PA student surveys, the likelihood of getting into PA school capped out somewhere between 8 to 12 applications.
So, if you kept to this range, your CASPA application fee would cost around $525-725. Some schools also have a secondary application fee, which may add another $25-100 per application. Given the expense of adding additional programs to your application, it is wise to know exactly what you are looking for in a PA school.
Having target programs will help you avoid the urge to fire off 25 applications in the hope that someone, anyone, will accept you. This will cost you more not only in applications fees, but potentially in interview costs and tuition.
If you are willing to go to any PA school, could you turn down the chance of an interview even across the country? What about 5 out of town interviews? What if you were accepted at a program that cost $60,000 more than you were planning? You’d have to take it, right?
Being selective may mean that you apply to less than 8 programs, but if you choose well, the number should not matter much.
Having target programs will help you save money by making decisions based on a solid plan, rather than fear and desperation.
With 200+ accredited PA programs, narrowing down schools based on your GPA, previously taken prerequisite courses, and required PCE can seem like the easiest approach.
However, rather than ruling out programs as your first step, I encourage you to consider what is most important to you in a program and to seek out schools that are in line with what you want.
Your target programs may change over time, but having specific requirements in mind will help you set goals while saving time and money. Identifying target programs will help you structure your PA school prep and increase your confidence when it comes time to apply.
Wherever you are in your pre-PA journey, take the time now to find a few ideal programs to use as your inspiration.
Need a hand finding your target programs? Download your FREE PA Program Planner - 7 Important Characteristics of PA Programs to help you start your search.