So you decided to apply to PA school? Congratulations on this big decision. The pathway to PA is highly competitive (and getting worse), but do not be discouraged! As someone who has been there, done that, here are some of my top tips for getting into your dream PA Program.
By the time you begin the application process you have most likely finished all of your classes (or almost finishing up) and have done most of your clinical hours and volunteer work. You should take a moment before even beginning your application and realize how far you have come. Most people (including myself) are so tough on ourselves that we rarely give ourselves credit for how far and how much we have accomplished and achieved at this point. Before beginning this process, reflect and realize that so many people have wanted to take this path and were not able to achieve it for whatever reason that may be. Give yourself a pat on the back that you have made it to at least this finish line.
Tip #1: Do not stress out, try to enjoy the process.
Beginning the application process can be very overwhelming because once you register via CASPA, everything hits you all at once and it's completely normal to feel anxiety about it. Do not worry or stress out, you should try to enjoy this process too. Every chapter in life has its own beauty and rewards, do not forget that you are in the process and will make it to where you want to be, just be patient and trust the timing of your life.
Every aspect of beginning PA school and applying has its own growth factor and time so take it all in. It's a marathon, not a sprint - you are not going to finish the application process in a day or a week, so take your time and try to be efficient and as effective as you can throughout this cycle. Do not forget that this is not a competition; so do not compare yourself to other people’s path and timing around you.
Tip #2: Make a to-do list and plot out your goals for your application.
Do not rush through it, try your best and start to slowly plan/map what you want to get done everyday or every week. Doing this will make it easier for you to stay on track with your schedule and not get overwhelmed or fall behind.
I started off by making a weekly to-do list so whatever I was working on would be productive. I would put my energy and mind to whatever section of the CASPA application I chose for that week. Some people are different, some people like to do a little bit of every section of the application everyday and that is completely fine if that is what works better for you. I just found it to be more efficient and less mentally draining to work on a whole section and then move on to the next once I felt ready.
Tip #3: Prioritize which parts of the application process should be done first.
One of the first things you should take care of as you start the PA School application process is to get your transcripts from your college or colleges that you have attended. It takes some time for schools to process transcripts and for CASPA to receive it.
The next thing I would start working on is thinking of which PAs, doctors, mentors, professors, etc. to get letters of recommendations from. Having a letter of rec from where you have done your clinical hours probably looks best on your application too. I would also recommend getting letters or recs from places that you volunteered or did medical missions with (if you did any).
My advice? Take care of these 2 easy steps first before continuing the rest of the application. Begin inputting any of your shadow, volunteer, clinical experience and etc after these 2 steps.
Tip #4: Tips for your personal statement.
While working on my statement I found myself asking myself: what could make me stand out the most? I did not want to sound boring, generic, or similar to many other statements. I realized that maybe incorporating some of my personality (while staying professional and academic) was not a bad idea. Any experience that you have had, anything that you have learned, grown from or gained medical insight from your experiences is also great to incorporate into your statement. Do not be afraid to be yourself in your personal statement, after all these schools are looking for people that stand out from the crowd.
Tip #5: Do not get intimidated.
Many people will try to scare you or will try to take your motivation away from you throughout this whole process. They will tell you things like “PA school is so hard”, “the application process is so hard”, or that “maybe you should think of another career path”. Let this all be outside noise to you.
You are not them and they are not you. Do not lose sight of your future and goals ,and stay motivated in the path that you chose. If you have decided that this is the career you feel that you will thrive the most in, don’t forget why you began in the first place. While you are working hard and pushing throughout this journey, don’t forget that this will all be worth it in the end because nobody did this for you, you did it all yourself.
Once you begin to plot and start the application process you will see your stress begin to fade away and all of your hard work begin to flourish and work itself out. Stay persistent, consistent and motivated when beginning and completing the application.Do not forget to believe in yourself, because at the end of the day you are your own number 1 fan! Nobody else is going to be a better support system for you then yourself throughout this all. Good luck!
About the author:
Melissa Lilian Elist is a first year Physician Assistant student at University of California, Davis. She holds a B.A. in Sociology and an emphasis in Disability Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. She is a preventative care advocate and is very proactive in mindfulness, consciousness, and self-love.