Choosing the right PA school is crucial to your success at getting into a program. There are currently 218 programs that are accredited by ARC-PA, as well as dozens applying for accreditation each year. So the question is, which schools should I apply to?
Luckily, there are many sites that provide lists of accredited programs as well as their requirements for admission. You can match up your GPA, health care experience hours, prerequisite course work, etc. with the requirements of the programs. A few of the sites I used when selecting the PA schools I applied to are:
Personally, I preferred using the PAEA online directory as you could also filter out a list of schools by state, because for me, location was an important factor. CASPA also allowed you to filter by state. CASPA stands for Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants. This is the online website used to send one centralized application to all of the schools you choose to apply to. This is another reason I liked using CASPA; you could search and apply to schools on your list all in one site.
Once you find a list of schools from one of the above sites, go to each schools’ website and first double check that you meet the criteria. Some of the schools have not updated their information on these sites listed above, so they may require an additional prerequisite course or more patient care hours. Next, you want to choose a school that you not only meet, but exceed the minimum requirements for admission. Most schools have published stats of their accepted students from past years. The accepted student profile or statistics page will give you a guide for what you should compare yourself to. For example, a school may have a minimum GPA requirement of 3.00, however the average GPA of their accepted students is 3.50. You want to be sure you are only applying to schools that you will be competitive at, so be sure to align yourself with not only the minimums, but the averages as well.
Once you have identified schools in which you are competitive both academically and with your patient care hours, it is important to find a program that you truly fit. It sounds very cliche, but feeling at home in a PA program is vital to your success in the program. If you do not get along well with your classmates and do not like the faculty, you will not be happy in the program. During my application cycles, I interviewed at several different programs. After leaving one interview, I remember thinking to myself that I would never be happy there; the faculty seemed standoffish and cold, and the other students there were not of a similar personality to myself. I knew instantly I would not click there. However, when I was at my interview at Touro University Nevada (the program I will be matriculating to in the Summer 2017), I instantly felt at home. The program director reminded me of my father, the faculty was so welcoming, and I meshed so well with the other students I met there that day.
There are many important factors to consider when choosing a PA school. It is important to remember to stop and truly consider the other social and personal aspects of PA school as well. I was born and raised in the state of Arizona. I would have been miserable in a program in Wisconsin, that is far too cold for me! You want to choose somewhere you realistically could be happy for 2 years and somewhere you will become the midlevel provider you have always wanted to be.
A little PSA for ya…
So you may also be wondering what I meant earlier by accredited programs. ARC-PA is the Accreditation Review Commission. They set strict educational standards on what PA programs must teach as well as requirements regarding the clinical rotations. A PA school must submit their curriculum and clinical sites to ARC-PA for approval in order to start an accredited program.
Why an accredited program you ask? If the program you attend is not accredited by ARC-PA then you are not eligible to sit for the PANCE exam (Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam). Without passing the PANCE exam, you will not be able to license and practice as a physician assistant.