A HELPFUL ARTICLE
Prepping for your PA School Application
It was not until a few years after I graduated college that I decided to become a Physician Assistant & just like anyone else, it was hard to get in so I am here to tell you how I rocked my PA school application in hopes that you can learn something from me!! I was working as a technician in a lung cancer research laboratory for about 2 years when I decided to apply. After contaminating two incubators full of growing cell lines, forgetting to put the lid on the centrifuge (a machine that spins at high force to separate liquids from solids) resulting in bodily fluids all over the room, and dropping radioactive material on my shoes, I figured working in a lab might not be my calling. I also hated spending hours upon hours alone in a lab and I knew this was not ultimately the right fit for me. I asked to spend time in the clinic seeing patients with the doctor I worked with and it was like a light bulb went on. Having friends who were PAs and loved it, I started looking into what it would take to not only apply to PA school, but actually get in.
The list of requirements almost seemed insurmountable, even for a girl who graduated with a BS in Genetics and Minor in Molecular Biology from a respected college. I had no patient contact hours, no GRE score, no psychology courses, no anatomy or physiology and I thought there was no way I could do this and continue to work full time. I had a decision to make. GO ALL IN and figure it out, or abort mission.
Long story short I enrolled in courses at a local college that I took on the weekends or at night. I took a course at the red cross to become a certified nurse assistant (CNA) and took the GRE..TWICE. I got a part time job taking vitals and wiping asses, and I started logging my hours. Most schools wanted thousands of hours of patient contact hours, but when it was time for me to apply, I only had a few hundred. My GRE score was average at best. There was no way I could maintain this crazy schedule and my sanity for another year, so I went for it. I would make my application stronger in other areas and focus on how my experience led me to that moment. A year later I entered my first day at the Yale University PA program. And NO it wasn’t luck, it was damn hard work.
My point..YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT. You have to be YOU and put in the effort. Decide that being a PA is your dream, then go out and CRUSH IT.
Here are a few tips that will help you ROCK your PA school application if you are having doubts.
It’s Not All GPA
Yes, GPA is an important component of the application because all schools want to make sure you’ve got the smarts to endure the intensity of the program. The average GPA for those who get ACCEPTED to PA school is around 3.4. So your GPA is 3.0, think about why it is that way and don’t make excuses. For example, if you hit up too many parties your first 2 years of college, but then got your act together in the last 2 years but your GPA is still less than 3, that is actually NORMAL and okay. Schools will look at the trend of your GPA and what you have done most recently. If you have taken post-graduate courses and done well, that is also a positive as it shows your initiative. If there is a specific reason why your GPA may not be as high as it should, think about adding that into your personal statement, not as an excuse but as a building block on your journey to where you are NOW.
The GRE is as bad as a DRE (digital rectal exam)
Well for me it was. I suck at standardized testing. Scores that are around 300 are noted to be competitive, however, if you are above the 50% percentile, then the number itself holds less weight. So don’t freak out if you get your score back at 285. Check the percentile that you have scored and if its above the 50th and the rest of your application is strong, no need to take it again.
Patient Care Experience
About 75% of people that apply to PA school have worked in healthcare prior, but that leaves 25% who had less than 1 year of experience or none. Some of these people, about 35% have had less than 1 year of experience but did have some direct patient contact. What does all of this mean? You HAVE to have some type of patient contact experience to be considered for PA school and even more if you want to get in. There are a lot of ways to get these hours, I chose CNA as it was the most economical and the fastest (only a 12 week course) and I knew hours would be flexible with my full time job. As I said above, I may not have had thousands of hours, but I turned the QUALITY of those hours into a strength. Being a CNA on a bone marrow transplant inpatient unit was a humbling and life changing experience. It even helped me prepare for a career in oncology that, at that time, never knew I would have. I described how this impacted my life and desire to become a PA in my personal statement, and in my interviews.
This is your place to SHINE. It is the one area of the application where you have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd so think about what has led you to this moment. Some people spend a lot of time talking about their experience and credentials, but not enough on how it shaped their journey to becoming a PA. If I am reading a personal statement amongst thousands that apply, I want to hear WHY all of your experiences will make you an outstanding PA. I know it can be hard for some people to talk about themselves, I know it is for me. BUT programs want to hear about YOU, not the experience itself. It is also a place to shine a light on the weaker portions of your application. For me it was the hours and GRE so I made sure to highlight how these experiences affected my personal growth.
Statistically, the chances of you getting into PA school are higher when you apply to more programs. Those that apply to 12 or more have about a 50% chance of being accepted. I will get on my soapbox for a minute though and say try to apply to programs that offer a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree. I say this because I worry certificate programs will eventually be required to have a degree as they have done with nursing in the last few years, but that is only my opinion and not fact.
Bottom line, do not be intimidated and NEVER underestimate yourself. It may seem impossible, but the best things in life are NEVER easy.