Creating Your List of PA Schools


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After taking rigorous science courses, accruing countless hours of patient care experience, and shadowing PAs, you’re ready to create your list of Physician Assistant programs. But how many should you apply to? And which ones? With over 280 accredited P.A. schools in the U.S., it can be hard to know where to start. However, a strategic list of schools is essential as it will give you the best chance of admission and help to ensure that you end up attending a program that is a good fit.

Below are some tips to help make the process of creating a school list organized and effective:

Determine the Length of Your List

For many applicants, 6 or 7 programs is a good number, but for those who are less competitive, want to include more “reach” schools, or who simply want to have more options to choose from will be better off with a longer list, such as 10 or more schools. The list should be a mix of reach, target, and safety programs.

Keep in mind that in addition to the cost of applications, applying to a large number of schools can make it difficult to complete all the supplemental essays early and with high quality. Make sure the list is thoughtfully crafted so that you meet the minimum qualifications for every school you’re applying to.  And select schools that you would be excited to attend!

Verify Accreditation Status

Physician assistant programs in the U.S. are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).

  • Programs with “Accreditation – Continued” status are accredited programs in compliance with ARC-PA standards.
  • New programs are granted “Accreditation – Provisional” accreditation status.
  • Programs with either of the above statuses may be also be placed on temporary “Probation” status if they are not in compliance with ARC-PA standards.

Some applicants prefer to focus on more established schools with “Continued” accreditation, while others are open to newer schools. If a school has Probation status and you are interested in it, try to find out what specific issues the program is facing and the plan they have to rectify those before making a decision on whether to include the school in your list.

Check for Required Coursework

PA schools can differ greatly in the prerequisite coursework they require. While you may find yourself all set in terms of the requirements with certain schools, for others you may be missing multiple courses. Some schools allow a certain number of pending requirements, but others don’t, so as compile your school list, check to make sure you have taken the courses you need, or that you’ll be able to complete those after you’ve submitted your application. If not, then cross them off the list.

Make Sure you Meet the Minimum GPA

Many programs have minimum GPA requirements. Most commonly, the minimum is a 3.0 overall  GPA and a 3.0 minimum science GPA. Some programs don’t have a minimum, however. In addition to the minimum, check the average GPA of accepted students (if the school provides that information) to see how competitive you are for the school so you can determine if it is a “reach” “target” or “safety” school for you.

According to the 2020 PAEA Program Report (the latest report available), the average overall GPA of a first-year matriculant for 2020 was 3.58 and the average science GPA was 3.52, but averages for particular schools vary depending on how competitive they are.

Add up the Hours

Schools vary in their requirements for patient care experience. Some programs don’t require any patient care experience at all (although even those strongly recommend it) while others require as much as 2,000 hours. Again, making sure you’re a match for the minimum qualifications is key, so you don’t waste your time and money applying if you don’t meet those criteria.


Scout the School’s Location

The quality of your experience as a PA student will depend not only on the school itself but also on where you’re living, whether that means staying close to home or venturing to a new city or state. And no matter how busy you’ll be in PA school, you’ll have some time off, and when you do it really helps to be somewhere you enjoy. For some applicants that may mean having a vibrant urban area with a variety of restaurants to try, and for others, a local mountain range for hiking. Location can also affect the type of patient care experience you have. For example, a program located in a major metropolitan area will expose to a different patient demographic and needs than one in a rural area.

Seek out the School’s Mission

Some programs have a particular emphasis on primary care, rural medicine, or another area. Others offer dual degree programs that lead to a Master of Public Health or MBA in addition to a Master of Physician Assistant Studies. If you have a particular career goal in mind that could be fostered by a specific program focus or second degree, then add schools that offer those.

Weigh the Cost

PA school is a major investment. According to the PAEA 2020 Program Report, the average total in-state tuition for a PA program at a public school is $52,585. At a private school that number is $95,058. Therefore, costs can be a key factor when selecting schools. Keep in mind, though, that tuition is only one part of the total cost of attendance equation, and check for additional fees that the schools charge. In addition, note that higher tuition can be offset by a lower cost of living, so when comparing programs take into account the rent, transportation, food, and other costs in the area where a program is located in.

Making the school list isn’t all work. Once you dive in, you may find you enjoy reading about the programs and starting to imagine yourself as a P.A. student. So enjoy the break from studying and application essay writing!

Looking for a tool to help you search schools?

Our new website, PreHealthAdmit, has extensive PA school data, along with powerful search tools, to help you to find programs that are the best fit for you.

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