Pre-PA FAQ

I’ve realized I’ve done lots of posts about PA school and post-PA school, but not much about the process applying. So here goes!

  • When should I submit my applications? 

I submitted mine right when the application cycle opened. I don’t think it necessarily matters, but I mostly just wanted to get it over with / get it off my plate!

  • How do I decide where to apply? 

I think a lot goes into this question. If you know you want to live in a certain area, I would definitely apply and aim to go to school in that area. If you have rotations near where you want to work, there’s a better chance you’ll be hired in that area given the connections made on rotations / in school.

If you know you want to do a residency after school (increasingly more popular), I’d recommend going to a school near/with that residency program. Similarly, some programs have dual degrees (PA/MPH), which is another facet to consider.

Finances are another huge thing to consider, as some cities are (obviously) more affordable to live in than others.

I personally looked for program where there was an emphasis on preventive medicine or something beyond traditional western medicine. Tufts and Northeastern offer a class in Nutrition, BU offers a class in preventive medicine, PCOM is a PA program in a DO school, which focuses on osteopathy and a more holistic view of healthcare, OHSU offers classes called Gut and Metabolism and Hormonal Regulation and Reproduction, and Duke is associated with an Integrative medicine facility. These were some of the schools I applied to. I also looked for more than one elective, as this allows a broader and more personalized rotation experience. And in an area with integrative medicine offices so I could potentially do a rotation there.

***update (2020): I went to Northeastern, which has one elective. And I ended up with the job of my DREAMS!

  • GRE tips?

I got a few workbooks from a local store and worked my way through them. My GRE score was overwhelmingly average, though wasn’t something I was hugely stressed about. I truthfully think it weighed the least in my application, and in fact many program no longer require it.

  • Tips for writing personal statements? 

I can only speak for myself, but I wanted something that really spoke to what I hoped to bring to the field of PAs. I also highlighted specifically what was so appealing to me about being a PA, because I really wanted to be a PA. I used a specific patient experience as the overarching metaphor, while weaving in the core tenets of being a PA (teamwork, empathy, warmth, collaboration, curiosity, passion, purpose). I saw my application as an opportunity to tell a rich and robust story about myself, with each piece providing a slightly different shape or color and creating the ~mosaic of me~.

  • How many volunteering hours do I need? 

Every school differs! The best thing to do is look at the specific school you’re applying to and compare.

My statistics: I had 2200-2500 hands on patient care hours. I worked as a PCA in the float pool at a nearby hospital. I also had about 200 hours volunteer work (through Cooking Matters as a nutrition instructor / classroom assistant). My overall GPA was a 3.79 and my science GPA was a 3.85. At the time of my application I was about half way through my Master’s in Nutrition and Functional Medicine. I was offered seats at Tufts University and Northeastern University, and received interviews at 5 schools, though didn’t take all of them after gaining acceptance to programs I liked.

  • Does it matter where you go to PA school to get a job? 

This is a big “it depends.” I would recommend reading this post about how / where my classmates ended up getting jobs.

  • In your opinion, what PCE role(s) gain the most experience? 

I was a PCA in the float pool, meaning I went to one of 7 floors in the hospital. While it was amazing experience and allowed me to see lots of different specialities, the pinnacle of my procedures / skills were vital signs, EKGs, and blood sugars. I wouldn’t change my experience, though would consider taking on another role per diem in either emergency or EMT to become more comfortable with things like blood draws, medications, splints/braces, etc. Or something like ophthalmology or dermatology / orthopedics to gain experience in injections or eye things.

  • What do you wish you knew before starting PA school? 

Ugh so many. Let’s start with 5.

1. Imposter syndrome is real and thriving, especially when you’re feeling vulnerable and insecure.

2. My medical director once said to me (after I failed my first exam) that, “the hardest part is getting in, the rest is just maintenance.” Aka you don’t need straight A’s to get through and no employer considers your GPA when you’re applying to jobs. You are not a single grade on an exam!!

3. Lean in to ASKING for help. because you will need it, oh (wo)man will you need it.

4. Remember your why – write it down and have it to come back to when things get hard and you forget why you wanted to begin this journey in the first place.

5. Even when you’re confused and unsure if this was the right step, you’re exactly where you need to be. And you can find your dream job even though you thought it may never happen!

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