It’s almost application time!
Now that you have all of your prerequisites, health care and patient care hours, extracurricular activities, standardized tests in order, you are finally ready to apply to PA school. This is a monumental moment. Take it in.
The next step is to determine which schools you want to apply to. Deciding where to apply to PA school is a very personal decision that is dependent on your values, goals and interests. There is certainly a lot to consider and plenty of information to help you deduce your choices. However, it all begins with introspection. This is a 2-3 year commitment on your future life and should be chosen carefully in order to avoid future troubles.
Here are some ideas that will help you decide.
Before you choose your schools, you should know yourself. Understand the person you are and what makes you different and similar to others. Understand what makes you thrive, understand what makes you motivated, understand why you want to practice medicine.
For example how do you like to study? Do you like to skim subjects over and over again or do you like to read one topic until you understand it completely before moving on? Do you learn better from books or do you learn better from being out in the real world? These introspective questions can help you determine whether you’d benefit from a 2 year program or a 3 year program. They can help you determine whether you want more time on your rotations or more time in the didactic period. Continue this trend. What do you want from yourself in the future? What matters most in your life? What is your life purpose? When was the last time you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone?
Being introspective will make you focused as you will know exactly what you want. This will certainly make your application cycle less stressful. I understand this is a difficult (even scary) thing to do. But ultimately, knowing yourself will help you decide which schools are the best for you and what will ultimately make you the best clinician YOU can be.
Does PA School cost a ton of money? Yes, yes it does. But, this information is well known to those applying. And I know this very well because I went to the 2nd most expensive PA school in the country at that time. Average cost of PA school in 2018 was $79,941 for public programs and $90,659 for private programs. Keep in mind, these are averages! When you take undergraduate loans into account, expect your total loan burden to crush you like a tortilla.
On the other hand, average annual pay for PAs in 2018 is $106,873. And keep in mind, our profession is very young, which means disparities between individuals and programs are next to none. The point being, whether you graduated from the #1 ranked PA school or #100 ranked PA school, the likelihood that both those graduates would be paid around the same figure in year 1 are going to be similar (given all other variables are similar: same location, same specialty etc.) So, the end point being, would you pay $100 for a T-shirt when others are getting the exact same for $50.
Do not choose by generic metrics
One of the most useless things that is being utilized by students are PA school rankings. These are vague, generic metrics organized by people who know nothing about the profession or the programs. In fact, this is a direct quote on the methodology of how PA schools are ranked by US News and World Report.
“ALL THE HEALTH RANKINGS are based solely on the results of peer assessment surveys sent to deans, other administrators and/or faculty at accredited degree programs or schools in each discipline. All schools surveyed in a discipline were sent the same number of surveys.
Respondents rated the academic quality of programs on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding). They were instructed to select "don't know" if they did not have enough knowledge to rate a program. Only fully accredited programs in good standing during the survey period are ranked. Those schools with the highest average scores appear in the rankings sorted in descending order.”
This methodology speaks for itself. If you’ve ever taken statistics or conducted research in your life, you can deduce that this list is completely bogus. The #1 statistic to use to determine whether or not a PA school is worthy of attending is its PANCE Board pass rates. This is a direct measure of how well the students were prepared by their programs in order to pass the boards and be a competent clinician.
Here is an example of a strong program with 100% pass rate for the last 3 years.
There have been plenty of people who have gone through this process. They know the trials and tribulations of everything that is PA school. From past applicants to re-applicants to PA-S’s to PA-C’s, reach out to them and ask them questions. Hindsight is 20/20 for them but will be prospective for you!
Stick to a reasonable number
Average number of schools an applicant applies to is 12. The number of average schools applied to increases every year and that’s due to increased competition. Shoot to apply to between 10-15 schools. If you apply to fewer schools, you risk diminishing your chances of interviews and acceptances. If you apply to more, you risk going bankrupt. The cost to apply to the 1st program on CASPA is $179 and $52 for subsequent programs. This does not account in to the cost of secondary applications. Pick the schools where you can truly foresee yourself at. This means if you are in Texas and are applying to a program in NYC, understand that you will have to live in the middle of a city of 8 million people with no car, small kitchens and pizza for lunch and dinner. It goes back to knowing who you are and where you will thrive.
For you and you only
Ultimately, this is your decision and I cannot emphasize this point enough. You are deciding to go to PA school for yourself. YOU will be paying for PA school. YOU will have to go through the ups and downs of PA school. YOU know what works for you and doesn't work for you. At the end of the day, it’s your decision and yours only.