15 Tips to Get into Top Physician Assistant Schools
Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Do you like learning about health, wellness, illness, and disease? Are you interested in a career as a healthcare provider but do not want to go to nursing or medical school? If so, becoming a physician assistant could be a great option. Maybe you have thought of becoming a physician assistant but wonder, "Can someone tell me how to get into a top physician assistant school?" In this article, I will share 15 tips to get into top physician assistant schools with you and offer some insight into what schools look for in candidates and common mistakes to avoid.
HOW HARD IS IT TO GET INTO TOP PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT SCHOOLS?
It can be challenging to get into a top physician assistant school. According to the Physician Assistant Education Association
(PAEA), the average acceptance rate for most Physician Assistant schools is 20%. However, there are some things you can do to make yourself an appealing candidate and increase your chances of admission.
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5 MAIN THINGS TOP PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT SCHOOLS LOOK FOR IN POTENTIAL APPLICANTS
If getting into a top physician assistant school is important to you, preparation is key. While each school has admission requirements, it takes more than meeting minimum admission criteria to get the attention of those responsible for inviting you to the program. The following are five things top physician assistant schools look for in potential candidates.
1. Relevant Healthcare Experience:
To get into a top physician assistant school, you need to gain healthcare experience. Although specific admission criteria vary from one school to the next, most physician assistant schools require candidates to have about three years of healthcare experience before applying. The more hands-on experience you have caring for patients, the better. A few ways to gain healthcare experience include becoming a medical assistant, EMT, or LPN. Each of these jobs requires at least a technical diploma and can give you clinical experience. You can also keep these jobs while earning the required bachelor's degree to get into top physician assistant schools, continuing to gain healthcare-related experience.
2. Academic History:
Physician assistant school can be challenging. Admissions faculty want to know you can handle the stress and course load effectively. You can demonstrate this by making the most of your academic pursuits before applying. For instance, if you take a full course load every semester of your bachelor's degree program instead of light loads, you show faculty you are committed to working hard and getting things done. You do not have to take several difficult classes each semester. Instead, space out difficult courses by taking one or two challenging classes along with some easier courses. Remember, consistency is key!
3. Volunteer Experience:
One of the great things about the physician assistant role is that it opens opportunities for healthcare providers to provide cost-effective care to people in underserved communities and populations. An excellent way to prepare for this role is to get volunteer experience. Volunteering can help broaden your life experiences, build your communication skills, and help you learn to develop relationships with others, which are essential for success in physician assistant school and your career following graduation.
4. Leadership Abilities:
As a physician assistant, you will be responsible for direct patient care. You will assess, diagnose, and treat patients under the supervision of a licensed physician. The ability to demonstrate effective leadership abilities is a quality physician assistant schools look for in candidates. If you do not work in a job where you manage or supervise others, that does not disqualify you. Find ways to head up projects or committees related to some of your volunteer experience or extracurricular activities.
5. Good Communication Skills & the Ability to Remain Calm Under Pressure:
The ability to demonstrate effective communication and remain calm, even in stressful situations is something all physician assistant schools look for in candidates. One way admissions teams determine suitable candidates for their programs is to conduct an admissions interview. During the interview, committees look for someone who can understandably articulate their thoughts and who remains calm under pressure.
Be prepared to answer questions
about why you chose the school, how you feel it can help you reach your academic and professional roles, and why you are a good candidate for their program.
Take the time to research the school and program to ensure your values and goals align with the program's goals and projected student outcomes. At the end of the interview, it is common for the committee to ask if you have questions. Prepare for this by thinking of two or three questions related to the program. Doing this shows the admissions faculty you are genuinely interested in their program.
HOW TO GET INTO TOP PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT SCHOOLS?
(The following 15 tips will help you in your pursuit of getting into one of the top Physician Assistant Schools in the nation.)
TIP #1: Make Your Undergraduate GPA a Priority
Getting into a top physician assistant school is competitive. It would be best if you did more than meet the minimum criteria. If the admission requirement is an undergraduate GPA of 3.0, shoot for something higher so your application will stand out. If you get your cumulative undergraduate grade point average to at least a 3.5 on a 4.0 grading scale, your chances of acceptance increase significantly.
TIP #2: Complete ALL Prerequisites
Competitive admission means you must take whatever measures possible to make yourself an excellent candidate. An easy way to do that and help get into a top physician assistant school is to make sure you take all required prerequisites. If you have a bachelor's degree in a health-related field, you will probably have most, if not all, of the needed prerequisites. Most entry-level physician assistant programs require applicants to take prerequisites, including Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology, Biology, Chemistry, Medical Terminology, and General Psychology. Still, it is important to verify the prerequisite course requirements for each school where you plan to apply.
Tip #3: Take the Right Undergraduate Elective Classes
Prerequisites and electives are different. While taking prerequisite courses is essential, you can increase your chances of getting into a top physician assistant school by taking the right electives. In the first year of your physician assistant program, you will take some challenging classes like Pharmacology, Human Anatomy, Human Physiology, and Pathophysiology. Consider taking elective classes such as Statistics, Microbiology, Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry.
TIP #4: Get Experience Working in Healthcare
One common admission criterion for getting into top physician assistant schools is healthcare-related work experience. Although some schools admit students with less experience, strong candidates have three years of work experience in a setting where there is some clinical role. For instance, working as a medical assistant, licensed practical nurse or registered nurse, or respiratory or physical therapy assistant are good options. These jobs involve one-on-one interaction with patients and interdisciplinary collaboration with other healthcare team members, which you will do as a physician assistant.
TIP #5: Apply Early
The application process to get into a top physician assistant school can take up to a year to complete. With an average acceptance rate of 20%, you must apply early to get into a top physician assistant school. Make sure your application is complete before submitting it for review. Ideally, because admission is so competitive, the school should receive your application at least six months before the scheduled start date.
TIP #6: Do Not Limit Yourself to Applying to Only One School
While applying to just one school is not the best way to increase your likelihood of acceptance, applying to too many can leave you feeling stretched thin, especially if each school requires application fees and admission interviews. Ideally, candidates who apply to at least six schools increase their chances of getting into top physician assistant schools. Do your research and find physician assistant schools that interest you, have student outcomes aligned with your professional goals, and where you meet the admission criteria.
TIP #7: Take the CASPer Exam
CASPer is a situational judgment test many physician assistant schools require applicants to complete. The test poses hypothetical scenarios based on potential real-life situations and asks you to explain what you would do in that situation and why. The test gives insight into a candidate's behavioral tendencies and knowledge/instruction skills. The test evaluates behavioral tendencies and skills, including self-awareness, collaboration, communication, professionalism, empathy, ethics, motivation, resilience, and problem-solving.
TIP #8: Get Excellent Letters of Recommendation
Most physician assistant schools require you to submit at least three letters of professional or academic recommendation. These recommendations should come from an employer, supervisor, or physician assistant who has worked with you or a college professor, not professional peers with the same job title as you. The person preparing the letter of recommendation should speak to your qualities, why they feel you are a good candidate for the program, why you will be a good physician assistant and your likelihood of success in the program. Be sure all recommendations have the writer's correct contact information, as some schools verify the information.
TIP #9: Practice Interview Questions
You can submit dozens of applications to get into a top physician assistant school, but if your interview does not go well, it can hinder your chances. Talk to physician assistants or students in physician assistant programs and ask them what questions they answered in their interviews. Look up scenarios for your school admissions interview and then practice answering questions with a friend or family member. Remember to make eye contact when speaking to the interviewer, and do not rush.
TIP #10: Get Certified in a Health-Related Role
Top candidates applying to physician assistant schools have certifications in medical assisting, surgical technology, phlebotomy, and emergency technician. While these may not be admission criteria for your selected programs, taking the initiative to earn certifications shows your dedication to learning. It also gives you an edge against candidates without certifications.
TIP #11: Learn a Second Language
Physician assistants often work with underserved, culturally diverse populations. You can have a competitive edge over other applicants and increase your chance of getting into a good physician assistant school if you speak a second language. In addition to English, Spanish and French are spoken on all continents. So, learning one of those languages is a great place to start.
TIP #12: Write A “Stand-Out” Personal Statement
Your Personal Statement is your opportunity to introduce yourself to the admission selection committee. How you present yourself in your Personal Statement could determine whether you are invited to an admission interview and ultimately get into a top physician assistant school.
A few tips to help make your personal statement stand out is to answer a few questions. For example, "Why did you choose to become a Physician Assistant”
and “Why do you prefer being a PA instead of a doctor or nurse?”
Additionally, remember that physician assistant schools get thousands of applications. You need to say more than, "I want to serve others." Instead, write about a few experiences where you truly helped people, how those experiences helped you decide on this career path, and why you feel like your experiences make you a good physician assistant candidate.
TIP #13: Shadow Certified Physician Assistants
Get to know physicians and physician assistants near you and ask to shadow the PAs. Try to get shadowing experiences in a variety of settings. For example, you may visit a physician's office, a long-term care facility, a hospital, or an outpatient surgery center. Your experience shadowing physician assistants shows admissions teams you are genuinely interested in learning about this role and preparing for your education, which makes you a favorable candidate.
TIP #14: Research PA Schools to Find Those with Missions Aligned with Your Personal and Professional Goals
There are approximately 300 accredited physician assistant schools in the United States. Take the time to find programs near you or within a comfortable traveling distance and see how their missions and projected student outcomes align with what you hope to accomplish. This tip is especially important because when you write your admission essay or Statement of Intent, the people reviewing it look to see if your goals align with theirs. Suppose you choose schools where the program's mission is similar to your professional goals. In that case, you become an attractive candidate and have a better chance of getting into a top physician assistant school.
TIP #15: Follow Up on Every Application
You may apply to five or six programs, write a good Statement of Intent, have excellent recommendations, and have a great GPA, but if your application gets lost in the shuffle, you could be wait-listed. Keep in mind that physician assistant schools receive thousands of applications. One way to prevent this from happening and improve your odds of getting into a top physician assistant school is to follow up.
If you submit your application months ahead of the deadline, call at least four to six weeks before the program's scheduled start date and ask to speak to someone in the department who handles admissions. Ask that person when admissions interviews will be conducted and if you can expect a call. If you have been called for and completed an interview, make a call to thank the interviewer for their time.
BONUS! 5 MUST AVOID COMMON MISTAKES THAT MIGHT RUIN YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING INTO TOP PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT SCHOOLS
You can follow all the best tips to get into top physician assistant schools, but one mistake can hinder your chances of acceptance. The following are five of the most common mistakes you could make that may ruin your chances of getting into top physician assistant schools.
MISTAKE #1: Turning in an Incomplete Application
One of the fastest ways to get your application rejected by top PA schools is for it to be submitted incomplete. Make sure to print off a checklist of required documents and double-check everything for accuracy. Most PA schools have online portals where students now upload and submit any required documents. However, if you are required to send paper copies of anything, keep copies for future reference.
MISTAKE #2: Selling Yourself Short in the “Personal Experiences” Category
When you apply to a physician assistant school, you will probably write an Admissions Essay or Statement of Intent. You will also submit a resume with your required documents. While having volunteer experience and extracurricular activities are important, do not underestimate the weight of your personal experiences. You may not have experience working in a nursing home or hospital. However, if you have elderly parents or grandparents for whom you are a caregiver, this experience can be a big plus to the people reviewing your application.
MISTAKE #3: Writing a Generic or One-Sided Personal Statement
Imagine being the person reading admissions applications and trying to filter through hundreds of essays. You can probably see how personal statements that lack the “wow” factor can begin to blur.
A personal statement should do more than tell why you think the school is a great choice or why their program is one of the best. The purpose of a personal statement is to allow the admissions faculty to learn more about you. Your personal statement should demonstrate your skills, values, and qualities. It should reflect why you are a good candidate for the program and what you bring to the table as a student.
Colleges and universities get a lot of their funding based on student performance and graduate success. So, they want to choose candidates with a likelihood of success who can positively impact the school and the program. Writing an excellent Personal Statement that reflects the qualities the school wants in a student is an excellent way to increase your chances of getting into top physician assistant schools.
MISTAKE #4: Not Preparing for Your Admissions Interview
There is more to a physician assistant school interview than showing up. In addition to anticipating common questions, think of a few questions that show your genuine interest in the school. If your interview is conducted in person, plan to arrive a few minutes early to ensure you get a parking space and make it inside on time. Dress professionally and avoid wearing strong cologne or perfume.
MISTAKE #5: Getting Mediocre Undergraduate Grades
The coursework for accredited physician assistant programs is challenging, and you need to be up for that challenge. Your undergraduate grade point average speaks volumes to admissions faculty about your academic work ethic and chances of success in the program. Work hard in your undergraduate program and earn the highest grade point average possible. The higher your GPA, the more appealing your application will be. Remember, just because the school's website says conditional admission may be offered to applicants with a lower GPA, that does not mean you will get a spot in the class.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Throughout this article, we addressed the question, “Can someone tell me how to get into a top physician assistant school?” If you truly desire to become a physician assistant, I encourage you to research the best physician assistant schools in the nation
and use the 15 tips to get into top physician assistant schools featured in this article and begin the process today!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR EXPERT
1. When Is The Application Deadline For Top Physician Assistant Schools?
The deadline for admission to top physician assistant schools varies. However, because admission is competitive, I recommend applying as early as possible.
2. What Are The Admission Requirements For Top Physician Assistant Schools?
Although each top physician assistant school determines admission criteria for its program, some of the most common requirements include the following. Candidates should have a minimum college GPA of 3.0, two to three years of healthcare-related experience, a bachelor's degree from an accredited school, and complete all prerequisite coursework.
3. What Is The Average GPA Of Students Who Get Into Top Physician Assistant Schools?
The average GPA of students who get into top physician assistant schools is 3.5. Remember, the school may require a minimum GPA lower than a 3.5, but the higher your average, the better your chances of admission.
4. Can I Get Into A Top Physician Assistant School With A Low GPA?
Some PA schools offer conditional admission to students with lower GPAs. However, securing these spots is difficult because admission is so competitive. I suggest increasing your GPA as high above a 3.0 as possible.
5. How Important Is Experience When Trying To Get Into A Top Physician Assistant School?
Experience is crucial when getting into a top physician assistant school. Most schools prefer candidates with at least two years of healthcare-related experience. Healthcare-relevant experience in a clinical setting is favorable.
6. Can I Get Into A Top Physician Assistant School Without Extracurriculars?
No minimum number of extracurricular activities is needed to get into physician assistant schools. However, some extracurriculars are preferred.
7. Is There An Interview For Admission Into Top Physician Assistant Schools?
Most schools require candidates trying to get into top physician assistant schools to participate in an admissions interview.
8. What Is The Admission Rate For Top Physician Assistant Schools?
According to the PAEA, the admission rate for the top physician assistant schools is 20%.
9. Is There A Waiting List For Top Physician Assistant Schools?
Because admission to the top physician assistant schools is so competitive, many schools do have a waiting list. If you are wait-listed but have yet to be called for the school's next start date, be sure and verify whether you must reapply.
10. Will Applying Early Increase My Chances Of Admission Into Top Physician Assistant Schools?
Applying early can increase your chance of getting into top physician assistant schools. Follow up with the school about your application status and promptly reply to emails or phone calls requesting information or additional documentation.
Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).