The Physician Assistant Life

Who Gets Into PA School? Here’s What You Need to Know

What Does it Take to Get Into PA School? Here's What You Need to KnowLeslie Mean is a 26 year old single white female who presents to the PA school admissions committee on her first attempt to get into PA school.

She has a 3.5 overall GPA and a 3.47 science GPA. She is holding a bachelors of science degree in biochemistry, had an SAT score in the 1000-1100 range and above average GRE scores.

She has 2 years of hands-on clinical experience working as a CNA and a long history of volunteer work which exemplifies her desire to help her fellow man.

She is kind and considerate and has reference letters which demonstrate her maturity and strong interpersonal skills.

She was accepted into PA school on her first attempt.

Who is Leslie and Why did she get into PA School?

When asking the question: What do I need to do to get into PA school? You would be smart to talk to Leslie.

Leslie is a hypothetical PA school applicant who went on to become a PA school student, a perfectly average PA school student.

She also embodies what PA school's all across the country are looking for at this very moment.

How do I know this?

Because the most recent data from the PAEA semi annual report, representing responses from over 85% of PA programs detailing characteristics of applicants and students enrolled in PA school, show that they are filling their seats with Leslie.

As much as I like to talk about not being average and differentiating yourself from the pack it is good to know what average is. Average provides a baseline by which you can measure your own progress, set goals and develop an application timeline.

Does this mean you have to be just like Leslie to get into PA school?

Absolutely not, first of all, factors such as race, age, ethnicity, etc. are of no importance and you certainly don't have to be female to get into PA school  (I myself am living proof).

But, it is safe to assume that most schools are looking to keep their graduation and certifying exam pass rates high. They have an incentive to take less risks and because of this, anything below average is considered a risk.

Thus, take a good look at Leslie and focus on factors that you can control to differentiate yourself, like your academic standing, your experience, your volunteer activities, your references and your essay.

If you set the bar at Leslie, and end up being a Mother Theresa, I am pretty sure you will be accepted into PA School, although I have no data on religious preference and PA school acceptance rates. 🙂

So what does an average PA school applicant who is admitted to PA school (i.e student) look like?

Let's take a look:

→ The average PA school students age is 27 years old

  • The average age of first-year students ranged between 25 and 28 for all categories
  • The average age at application is 26 years old

Average age of Physician Assistant School Applicant

→ The average PA school student is female

The gender distribution of first-year students has started to stabilize after nearly a 20-year trend of a gradually increasing proportion of females:

  • Female: 72.4%
  • Male: 27.6% (mean)

First Year Enrollment in PA School by Gender

→ The Average PA school applicant has a bachelor’s degree

The majority of PA school applicants hold a baccalaureate degree.

  • No academic degree: 8.1%
  • Certificate: 0.2%
  • Associates Degree: 2.6%
  • Baccalaureate Degree: 70.5%
  • Master’s Degree: 6.6%
  • Doctoral Degree: 0.9%

→ Most students had four years of hands-on clinical experience prior to applying*

PA school applicants come to the table with a variety of medical experience, especially if they are strong applicants. On average, four years of prior experience in one of the following areas is common:

  • Nursing
    • Registered Nurse (RN)
    • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
    • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  • Allied Health
    • Physical Therapist
    • Occupational Therapist
    • Registered Radiologic Technologist
    • Athletic Trainer
  • Emergency Services
    • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
    • Paramedic
    • Emergency Room Technician
  • Miscellaneous
    • Phlebotomist (that was me!)
    • Medical Researcher
    • Medical Volunteer


Average healthcare experience years and hours of PA School Student or Applicant

* 2015-2016 update: Some recent data suggests HCE hours are significantly declining with a new average of 1.88 years of health care experience among matriculating (accepted) students.

→ SAT/GRE scores of those accepted tend to be in the above-average range

  • GRE Percentile Math: 50%
  • GRE Percentile Verbal: 42%
  • GRE Percentile Analytical: 48%
  • SAT scores are in the 1000-1100 range.

→ The average PA school student has between a 3.36 and 3.47 overall GPA and an undergraduate science GPA between 3.36 and 3.47

  • The average undergraduate overall GPA for PA school applicants who WERE ACCEPTED into PA school was 3.49, undergraduate science GPA was 3.36 and non science GPA was 3.56.
  • The average GPA for students who WERE NOT ACCEPTED into PA school was 3.16

Interesting factoid: As the age of applicants increases, GPA tends to be lower.

Average GPA for PA School Student Undergraduate and Science

→ Most PA school students are White

Skin color has nothing to do with acceptance rates, but it is interesting (and maybe a bit sad) to know that the vast majority of first year students were White (86.5%) followed by Asian (11.1%) and Black or African American 4.1%.

First Year Student PA School By Race and Ethnicity

→ What are your chances of being accepted into PA school?

  1. If you apply to one PA program - you have a 25% chance of getting in
  2. If you apply to 12 programs (or more) - you have a 49% chance of getting acceptance
  3. Average number of PA programs applied to is 8

Interesting factoid: There is no additional benefit for applying to 12 programs or more!

→ Pucker up baby, most PA students are single!

Most students are single (67.7%), though just over a quarter were married (26.4%). A little over two percent were divorced and over one percent were in a domestic partnership/civil union. Most students (85.1%) have no legal dependents. For the nearly 15% of students that reported having legal dependents other than themselves, the average number of dependents was 2.02, with a range of 1 to 7 dependents. Over 30% of respondents said they were considered a dependent of their parents.

→ Most PA students are from "The Burbs"

Half of students reported spending most of their time in a suburban setting. One quarter of respondents reported spending most of their time in a rural environment, followed by 15% in an inner-city setting.

Where do PA School Students Come From

→ PA school students don't smoke pot and are not drug dealers or part of the Italian Mafia

Over three-quarters (82.8%) of programs reported that students were required to have a background check upon matriculation to the program, while 78.7% of responding programs now mandate drug testing.

Some Important Points

It's not Rocket Science: It is important that a candidate demonstrates reasonable aptitude in the hard sciences such as anatomy and physiology, chemistry and biology. It is more likely that the committee may overlook a grade of C in U.S History or Spanish I. They will be less tolerant of a marginal grade in the sciences.

Show compassion: Your GPA is stellar and you've amassed an impressive amount of medical work experience in the little spare time you have while keeping your grades pristine, but you still get that dreaded rejection letter. Why? You didn't do enough volunteer work. Volunteering exemplifies your desire to help your fellow man—the attribute identified by schools as one of the most integral to becoming a successful PA. "Students who have had experience in working with underserved populations, rural or diverse populations, performing volunteer service or disaster relief, or other experiences that illustrate a drive and compassion for others often stand out to the admissions committee,"

Quote Run of a Ladder Thomas Henry HuxleyIt's an easy race to the bottom, so set your sights at the top: Many people will be set aback when they read that only 25% of applicants will be accepted into PA school on any given year, but this should actually be good news. Being in the top 25% in any field is not nearly as hard as it sounds, simply because the majority of the competition is in the bottom 75% and has bottom 75% qualifications. For example, you have read this entire post so you now know what the average PA school applicant who has had some success looks like. You understand what a top 75 percent applicant looks like. Your goal now is to be better than the average 75% and exceed the top 25%.  If you aim high, you will be competing with a much smaller minority, and your odds of getting an acceptance letter will increase dramatically. It also helps if you apply to 12 programs.  😉

Tables and data were sourced from:

The 28'th and 29'th PAEA Annual Report

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