7 Things to Consider When Choosing Physician Assistant Programs

One of the most daunting parts of the PA school application process is weeding through all of the programs to find the ones that fit your needs. You should be on the lookout for schools that fit your checklist of “must-haves” while simultaneously compiling a list of schools where you’d be a good candidate.

When searching for programs, ask yourself the following questions about each school.  By doing this, you’ll know exactly what each program has to offer and if it’s worth your time to apply.

How long has the program existed?

New PA programs are created every year. Every school boasts about their PANCE pass rates, so you’ll but these figures could be based off of 1 or 2 classes of students. You’ll want to do some fact-checking on a program’s long-term results to see if there’s an upward or downward trend of PANCE pass rates and placements.  In addition, programs that have been around for over 10 years are more likely to have worked out any administrative or logistical kinks.  They’re also more likely to have established clinical sites and you won’t be treated as a test subject for a still-developing program.

How much does it cost?

It’s no secret- PA programs can be an expensive investment. That being said, the cost of a program doesn’t always correlate to the quality of the program. For example, state schools are frequently less expensive that private institutions, yet the quality of training can be the same.  Consider how much you’re comfortable taking out in loans, figure out if there are any programs in the state where you already have residency, and do some research to see what scholarship opportunities are offered through each program.

Where is it located and (more importantly) where do you want to be?

Going along with the previous point, residents of a state typically pay a lower tuition rate than out of state students. You might also find school much more difficult if you’re in a location you don’t like or are unprepared for. Think about it- if you grew up in Florida, you might not have the best time going to school in Maine once winter hits. Consider if you want to move and, if you have a family, how the move will impact your family life.

What is the PANCE pass rate?

The PANCE pass rate is an excellent indicator of the quality of a program. If a program has a consistently high PANCE pass rate and few of the students transferred or dropped from the program, it’s easy to infer that the program is successful in preparing its students. If a program has a low PANCE pass rate or has a large number of students transfer out of the program, it can be an indicator that the program is lacking in certain areas.

How long do you want to commit to school?

As more PA programs are created, varying lengths of programs are becoming available for students, but the length of a program typically varies from 2-3 years.   This may be a crucial factor once you’ve narrowed down your search to a handful of schools.

What is your learning style?

Each school has its own curriculum style and program structure. In addition, factors like class size, teacher to student ratio, and how competitive a program are great things to consider. If you know you need extra attention or would prefer to problem solve with your class rather than being pitted against each other, you can find programs that best fir your learning style.

Are you a strong candidate?

You may find your dream program only to find you don’t meet their minimum requirements. When this happens, you may want to consider if starting a different program now makes more sense than waiting a year and working on whatever aspects you’re lacking. Is it worth it personally and financially to wait longer and invest more time or should you pick a program that will allow you to start your education now?