Going to PA school was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I felt very uninformed when I was applying to PA school so I thought writing about my experience may be helpful to those considering PA school. The following list contains my top 8 tips in preparing to apply for PA school as well getting into the school of your dreams!
1. Clinical experience. This is not a coincidence that this is listed first. Physician Assistant is one of the leading jobs in the U.S. currently so getting into PA school is getting more and more competitive. Schools look very highly at your clinical care experience hours. Some schools may not even look at your application if you do not have a certain number of hours. Start early by obtaining a job with direct patient care such as a nursing assistant. Even if you can only work 1-2 shifts weekly, if you start this early in your undergraduate career the number of hours can add up fast. Pick up more shifts during Christmas break/Spring break. This not only will help meet the application requirement but it also reinforces your decision to go into medicine.
2. Job shadow. Reach out to local clinics/hospitals and ask to job shadow a variety of PAs. You need to know what your life will be like as a PA. I would recommend shadowing some PAs in primary care, specialties, as well as Urgent Care/ER.
3. Volunteer. Having a wide variety of experiences is key to setting yourself apart from other candidates. I would highly recommend having not only a large number of patient care hours but also a large number of volunteer hours.
4. GRE preparation. Most PA schools require you to sit for the GRE. You want to study efficiently. Since time is always the essence, I would recommend purchasing some prep books which summarize things better and allow you to find your weakness. I used a Princeton Review prep course and then also purchased the following additional verbal books as I was weaker in verbal.
5. Research schools. Decide what schools you want to apply to and make a list of requirements for each school. Make sure you have met these requirements otherwise you will be wasting money applying to these schools. The cost of applying does add up quickly between paying for CASPA, secondary applications, as well as gas/lodging when going to interviews. I made an Excel document containing a list of schools, requirements (such as patient care hours, GPA, GRE scores, etc.), cost of application, and ratio of acceptances. For example, one of the schools I applied to accepted mostly in-state applicants and only 5-6 out-of-state applicants/year. I knew I did not have a great chance of getting accepted there (I was considered an out-of-state applicant) and if it wasn’t close to home, I would have passed on that application.
6. Apply early! Take your time getting all of your information put together on CASPA but apply early. You want PA schools to review your application with a fresh mind, not when they have reviewed 100s of applications already. If you can apply early, I think you have a greater chance of getting accepted. I submitted my CASPA just a few days after it opened and was offered interviews at almost all the schools I applied to.
7. Writing your personal statement. I read hundreds of personal statements before writing my own. Ultimately, you have to make it your own but I did find these books helpful in writing one.
8. Preparing for interviews. Once invited to an interview, it is important to remember why you want to be a PA. What makes you different? This is where your clinical experience will again benefit you as questions will come up in interviews to elaborate on your experience. I practiced (as much as you can actually practice) interviewing with my husband using the following book as a guide. Some interviews will be in groups and others will be individual. It is important to prepare for both. I also had an interview in which I had to write a short 30 minute essay on a clinical article that was included in my interview packet. Make sure you read everything thoroughly so you know what to expect!