Do you know what the top PA programs are looking for?

You’ve completed your personal narrative, submitted your application, and may have even completed your interview. You know that, based on your experiences, grades, and demeanor that you’d be a great pick for any PA program. You may think you’ve got this in the bag – but do you really know what PA programs look for when judging their potential students? 

Knowing what each program looks for in their applicants and how they’ll be assessing both your interview performance and application materials is crucial for determining your success.  Think of it this way- it’s much easier to do well on a test if you know how you’re being scored.  The same concept rings true for your acceptance into a PA program.

There are three main scoring criteria all programs use when judging their candidates:

  1. Cognitive and verbal abilities
  2. Motivations
  3. Interpersonal skills

It’s important to note that each of these criteria are equally important. If you graduated magna cum laude from your university with a 4.2 GPA and have 2,000 hours of health care experience, but you have poor communication or interpersonal skills, you may not be the “ideal” candidate you think you are. By keeping all of these three scoring criteria in balance, you’ll have an easier time choosing what to include in your personal narrative or knowing which attributes to highlight at your interview. It’ll also help you learn which areas might need some improvement before you’re ready to start a PA program.

Cognitive and Verbal Abilities
It shouldn’t surprise you that PAs are expected to have relatively high cognitive and verbal abilities.  You’re pursuing a demanding field that requires a unique blend of intelligence, empathy, problem solving, and communication, so this component can make or break your acceptance.  Examples of cognitive and verbal abilities include but are not limited to your thought processes, your organizational skills, your articulation and communication skills, and time management.  Don’t rely on your GPA to cover your cognitive abilities. A stellar GPA is great, but you’ll need to show that you can think critically and objectively while having the ability to adapt to any situation.

No matter how qualified you appear on paper, the wrong motivations can stop you from pursuing a career as a PA.  As one of the top growing careers in the US, programs will do their best to pinpoint your motives for becoming a PA. Doing this effectively weeds out the applicants that are only in it to make a comfortable living or to gain notoriety. If you have little to no medical experience, no knowledge of the history of the PA profession, or just want to “help people”, chances are a program will question your motivations for applying. Even if your motivations are clear in your written personal statement, you’ll be asked why you’d like to become a PA during your interview because your interview panel wants to see if you actually believe your own motivations or if you’re telling them “what they want to hear.” Make sure you can clearly explain your motivations and career goals before you step foot into the interview room, otherwise you may raise some red flags.

Interpersonal Skills
PAs need to have great interpersonal skills to truly be effective at their job.  You truly have to be a “people person” as well as a cooperative and receptive team player to succeed in this profession.  On top of that, you need to be empathetic and compassionate towards your patients.  If you lack the ability to handle stressful situations, have no sense of humor, or have difficulty thinking on your feet, your outstanding GPA will not save you. Interpersonal skills can make or break even the most qualified candidates, so make sure you appear relaxed and warm during all interviews and interactions with the program’s faculty and staff.  The more open and natural you appear, the better you’ll be received.

Keep in mind that anything you say during your interview should be consistent with your written application materials. Make sure that you’re portraying an honest picture of yourself and that you don’t embellish too much, otherwise you could pay dearly when the topic comes up during your interview.