Which PA School is For You? 5 Factors to Consider

Research Programs and Understand Your Personal Goals

March 20, 2019

By Brian Palm

There are many factors that play a part in deciding which PA program is right for you, especially if you applied to a wide-range of programs all over the country.  While it’s a great problem to have, sometimes it’s difficult to decide which program is right for YOU!  Even if you’ve been accepted to one program and are waiting to hear back from others, it’s important that you understand what aspects of each program benefit you and your goals the most.  Below, five important factors to consider.

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  1. Cost. PA program tuition ranges from less than $30,000 to over $120,000. Of course, PA school applicants are most focused on getting accepted, but, long term, cost is something all future PA students should consider. How much debt can you handle? What do you want your student loan payments to be? What is a realistic budget for you? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you when you’re looking at PA schools as well as when it comes to deciding where to go.
  1. Mission. Each PA program has a mission statement. Consider reviewing any prospective program’s mission statement before you interview with them. You want a mission statement that reflects your own educational and practice goals. Every program’s mission varies, but most revolve around wanting to educate compassionate, diverse students to serve those in need. Some programs have a more global outlook, while others focus on more rural areas. If you’re particularly interested in a certain type of practice, you can find a PA school that aligns with your vision.
  1. Class size. Just like undergrad, the smaller the class size, the more one-on-one attention you’re likely to get from your professor. The average PA school class size is just over 40 students, but there are smaller PA programs that only take about 20 students per year. While the student-to-faculty ratio may be similar across the board, consider whether or not you’d prefer to have a larger class or a smaller one.
  1. Access to cadaver lab. Many programs are moving away from hands-on cadaver labs, primarily due to cost and ease of access. Those PA programs associated with a medical school may be more likely to let their PA students use cadavers, especially when learning anatomy and physiology.  If this is important to you, make sure you ask this question of all the PA schools that are in contention. Keep in mind that all PA schools will provide access to this type of education and experience, but it may be virtual.
  1. PANCE pass rates. One of the most important predictors of success for any PA program are their first-time PANCE pass rates. Programs whose board pass rates are 100% (or close) are generally very attractive to applicants, and should be to you! Passing the PANCE is imperative to becoming a PA. Be wary of any program whose first-time PANCE pass rates dip below 90%.

Cost is a big factor for a lot of PA students, there are so many factors that play into a big decision like this. In the end, where do you feel most comfortable? Where do you feel like you’ll excel? There aren’t easy answers to those questions, but hopefully these five tips will help you with your decision. Regardless of where you get accepted, I have no doubt that you’ll make a great PA one day and I look forward to calling you a colleague.

Additional Resources
Pre-PA Membership
Student Central

Brian Palm, PA-C, practices emergency medicine in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He manages www.myparesource.com.