If you’re thinking there is some hack that I can tell you, in order to bypass the prerequisites and requirements for PA school, then you are already mistaken. The national requirements for course prerequisites and healthcare and patient care experiences are what they are, with some minor discrepancies between PA programs. So, like most of you, I did what I had to do in order to become eligible to apply for PA school, including going back to basic Chemistry class, with lab, 10 years after I had first taken it in undergrad!
Also like you, I had to work through the CASPA application, which is a beast in and of itself. But, unlike many who will read this, I defied conventional advice and only applied to one PA program: The University of New England (UNE) in Portland, Maine. I saw my putting all of my PA school application eggs in one basket not as risky, but as giving me leverage, which I would then use to my advantage in getting accepted. My mission: Convince UNE that I was an excellent candidate and that my admission to their program was a great thing for both parties.
So, what were the secrets for me getting into PA school? Well, there were actually multiple, and here they are:
- Connect with the faculty and students prior to applying. I drove to UNE on two separate occasions and audited classes as a potential-applicant, all after having exchanged messages with the medical director of the program. My thought was that if I was thinking about committing all of the time and energy to do PA school, I should have a decent idea of whether I was truly interested in this investment. I mean, we wouldn’t buy a $300k house sight-unseen, would we? In addition to auditing the classes, I got to meet multiple students and faculty members, which gave me the opportunity to ask some questions and get some candid answers. Within these meetings, I actually had 30-60 minutes alone with the medical director of the program, which was my opportunity to showcase my previous experiences, express my intentions to attend UNE, ask questions and genuinely connect with someone that had a huge influence over admission decisions.
- Hand deliver materials to the PA program staff. As you realize once you’re in a PA program, the staff members are often behind the scenes, yet absolutely critical to running a PA program. I only saw up-side to personalizing my application process, giving them a face to the name on the paperwork. This was part of my goal to become unforgettable to as many faculty and staff members as possible, because I did not truly know who held influence over the acceptance decisions.
- TURN MY GAMBLE INTO INTERVIEW LEVERAGE. I knew that I was a strong candidate, as I checked all of the prerequisite boxes, was a local, could interview well and had already met with some of the faculty, staff and students. Fortunately for me, one of the interview questions was a softball that I had prepared to knock out of the park: “Why do you want to come to UNE?” This is where I spoke about how I already knew that UNE was the one-and-only school I wanted to attend, how my previous experience auditing classes and speaking with faculty only solidified this further for me, and how they had a guaranteed spot filled should they accept me. I was committed, and I made sure that they knew it. This is where the risk of only applying to one program actually worked to my advantage.
So, how do I know that these steps were crucial to me getting into PA school? For one, I know that they didn’t hurt. Secondly, after being accepted into PA school and speaking with my peers, I know that I was one of the first people to be offered an interview, as well as being one of the first to be accepted, based on the timeline of when we received our letters. I always ask myself whether the medical director or other staff members played a crucial role with my acceptance, and I still don’t know the answer to that, but I’m pretty sure that my efforts did not hurt in influencing their decision to welcome me into the Class of 2012.
The moral of the story here is, although my story may be somewhat unique by only having applied to one program, a basic principle of applying to PA schools is that you need to stand out from the crowd. PA schools are even more competitive than when I applied back in 2009-2010, but that doesn’t mean that certain time-tested methods of influencing the decision-makers don’t still work. You need to put the efforts in to shine both on and off the paper, and one of those ways is to add personal touches that make you unforgettable.
DISCLAIMERS: 1) The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer. 2) I don’t know what I don’t know, so feel free to message me if you don’t agree with something that you read. 3) By clicking any links from Efficient Clinician to their helpful website and purchasing any of their products, I will receive a percentage of the purchase. But, as I said previously, I will never commit to any agreement that will sacrifice my integrity.
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