Leslie 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 3.6 overall GPA and a 3.5 science GPA. She is holding a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry, had an SAT score in the 1000-1100 range, and a GRE score of 300.
She has two years of hands-on clinical experience working as a CNA and a long history of volunteer work which exemplifies her desire to help her community.
She is kind and considerate and has reference letters that 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, an entirely average PA school student.
She also embodies what PA schools 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 the 27,283 PA school applicants and 8,802 students accepted 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's nice to know what average is. Average provides a baseline by which you can measure your 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, 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 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 fewer 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 fairly sure you will be accepted into PA school, although I have no data on religious preference and PA school acceptance rates. 🙂
What are your chances of getting into PA school?
- 27,283 people applied to PA school in 2021
- 8,802 of those applicants were accepted into PA school (32% of all PA school applicants were accepted into a PA program)
- Of the PA students accepted more than two out of three (65.3%) (a.k.a. the majority) had applied to PA school previously
- The average PA program's acceptance rate is 7%
So, what does an average PA school applicant who is admitted to PA school (i.e., student) look like?
Let's take a look:In studies, the five most influential noncognitive factors known to have an effect on PA school admissions are faculty interactions, career motivation, knowledge of the PA profession, maturity, and professionalism. - Journal of Physician Assistant EducationClick To Tweet
→ The average PA school student is 25 years old
- The average age of first-year students ranged between 25 and 28 for all categories
- The median age at application is 25 years old
- The median age of recently certified PAs is 27
- For the past six years, the median age of all certified PAs is 38
|First-Year Class: Age||M||SD||Mdn|
|Age of first-year PA student||25.1||4.2||25|
|Age of youngest first-year PA student||21.0||3||21|
|Age of oldest first-year PA student||40.4||10||44|
|Source: PAEA program report (2019-2020)|
→ The average PA school student is female
The gender distribution of first-year students has started to stabilize after a 20-year trend of a gradually increasing proportion of women. In 1980, 36 percent of PAs were female. Today, 71.9 percent of all certified PAs are female.
- Female: 71.9%
- Male: 28.5% (mean)
→ 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%
→ The Average PA school applicant graduated with a degree in Natural Sciences
Most PA school applicants hold a degree in natural sciences (biology, chemistry, etc.) but this doesn't mean you have to!
- 46.9% Natural Sciences (biology, chemistry, etc.)
- 18.4% Applied Sciences (nursing, radiology, etc.)
- 13.6% Health Science (pre-med, etc.)
- 10.5% Social Science (psychology, political science, etc.)
- 3.4% Business
- 2.0% Humanities
- 1.3% Public Health
- 1.1% Math, engineering, technology
Here are some tips on how to choose the best undergraduate major for PA school.
→ Most applicants had three years of hands-on clinical experience before applying
PA school applicants come to the table with a variety of medical experiences, especially if they are strong applicants.
- Accepted PA students have, on average, 4,631 hours of paid direct patient contact (PCE) (e.g., nursing aid) earned over an average of 132 weeks.
- Accepted PA students have on average 2,424 hours of paid healthcare experience (HCE) in the medical world without direct patient care responsibility (e.g., medical secretary) earned over an average of 88 weeks.
To be a successful PA candidate, you should aim to have at least 2,000 (preferably 3,000+) hours of hands-on patient experience at the time of application. This is 20-30 times more than the number of hours needed for medical school!
Experience in one of the following areas is common:
- 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)
- Emergency Room Technician
- Phlebotomist (that was me!)
- Medical Researcher
- Medical Volunteer
Medical Experience Statistics for PA School Applicants
Of applicants admitted to PA school, 90.5% worked in healthcare before applying to PA school. The most common healthcare experience is a certified nursing assistant (CNA) 30.4% and medical assistant (MA) 26.5%. Among those accepted, 23.3% worked as a scribe, 19.3% had experience as an EMT/paramedic, and 8.9% had experience as an emergency room technician. In addition to paid healthcare experience, 55.2% of matriculating PA students participated in volunteer community service work, such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, service-learning activities, and mission work.
|Health Care Employment Prior to PA School||Percent|
|Emergency room technician||8.9%|
|Home health aid||8.7%|
|Clinical research coordinator/assistant||7.3%|
|Physical therapist/Physical therapy assistant||5.7%|
|Medic or medical corpsman||1.7%|
|Source: 2020 PAEA student report|
Average Health Care Experience Hours of Matriculating Students
According to the latest PAEA program survey and report, for those applicants accepted to PA school, the average student had 2,664 patient contact experience hours. Accepted students had, on average, 756 hours of “other healthcare experience”, 338 hours of community service, 2,155 hours of other work experience, and 94 hours of healthcare shadowing.
|Health Care Experience||M||SD||Mdn|
|Patient contact experience||3,020||2,042||2,664|
|Other health care experience||1,023||1,074||756|
|Other work experience||2,096||1,119||2,155|
|Source: PAEA program report (2019-2020)|
* 2022 Update: Some recent data suggests HCE hours are significantly declining with a new average of 1.88 years of healthcare experience among matriculating (accepted) students.
Admissions directors Q&A: What are some of the points that are extremely impressive to you in the application?Commitment to community, overcoming adversity, a WELL written narrative, great letters of reference from someone that REALLY knows you, ability to juggle many responsibilities simultaneously, and activities that show a particular passion for something are what we look for in a PA school applicant - Penn State University PA ProgramClick To Tweet
→ GRE scores of those accepted into PA school tend to be in the above-average range
According to the latest PAEA program survey and report, for those applicants accepted to PA school, the average verbal reasoning score was 152.2, and the average quantitative reasoning score was 152.0. The average analytical writing score was 3.9.
Competitive GRE scores average around a composite score of 300 and scores above 310 are extremely competitive. This averages to about 150 on verbal reasoning, 150 on quantitative reasoning, and a 3.5 in writing.
Please note that these scores are averages of past GRE examinations and you should consider your score competitive if they are above the 50th percentile.
Percentiles are more important than actual GRE scores. Every GRE differs in difficulty, which is why none of them can be considered equivalent, thus, necessitating the need to use a standardized ranking method.
→ The average PA school student has between a 3.5 and 3.6 overall GPA and an undergraduate science GPA of 3.5
- According to the latest PAEA program report, the average undergraduate overall GPA for PA school applicants who were accepted into PA school was 3.6. Accepted students had, on average, a science GPA of 3.5, a non-science GPA of 3.6, and a CASPA BCP (biology, chemistry, and physics) GPA of 3.5
- The average overall GPA for students who were not accepted into PA school was 3.28. Non-matriculant science GPA was 3.17.
Interesting factoid: As the age of applicants increases, GPA tends to be lower.
→ Most PA school students are Caucasian
We can all agree that one's skin color should have nothing to do with your chances of getting into PA school but like many medical professions, the percentages of minorities accepted into PA programs do not mirror the national averages. As it stands in 2022 the majority of PA school students are white (77.7%) followed by Asian (10.9%). Black or African Americans comprised 5.9% of matriculating PA students and 12% were of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.
|Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish in origin||12%|
|Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander||6.4%|
|Black or African American||5.9%|
|American Indian or Alaskan Native||2.5%|
→ What are your chances of being accepted into PA school?
- If you apply to one PA program - you have a 25% chance of getting in
- If you apply to 12 programs (or more) - you have a 49% chance of getting in
- The 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 (72.2%), though about a quarter are married (23.9%). A little under two percent were divorced, and 0.7% 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 dependent of their parents.
- 72.2% single
- 23.9% married
- 1.7% divorced
- 0.7% domestic partnership/civil union
- 0.4% separated, but still legally married
- 0.6% other
→ Most PA students are from "The Burbs"
Half of the 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.
→ Most PA students don't come from extreme riches
Over half of PA students report a family gross income of less than $50,000.
- 37.4% Less than $25,000
- 21.8% $25,000 to $49,999
- 14.7% $50,000 to $74,999
- 6.8% $75,000 to $99,999
- 6.0% $100,000 to $149,999
- 2.4% $150,000 to $199,999
- 1.5% $200,000 or greater
- 9.6% other
Admissions directors Q&A: Who is the perfect PA school applicant?Our program will look to utilize a holistic approach to admissions. We look at academic success, life experiences, and community activities to evaluate all candidates. There is no one mold to fit the PA profession. However, PAs need strong communication skills, leadership, grit, and a willingness to support the community - Michigan State University PA ProgramClick To Tweet Students need to be well organized, know how to manage their time and outside influences, and have a genuine desire to help and care for people. PA school is rigorous, so we recommend honest conversations with family and friends ahead of your start. - CWRU PA ProgramClick To Tweet
→ 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, 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!
The view from the top isn't that crowded
It's an easy race to the bottom, so set your sights on the top.
Many people will be set back when they read that only 25% of applicants will be accepted into PA school in any given year, but this should 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 candidate 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 latest PAEA Semi-Annual Report.
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I graduated Undergrad in 2018 and since then I’ve held jobs in clinical research laboratories. Currently, I am set on switching to a job that will allow me to work with patients. I’d like to know if having experience in the research field is beneficial when applying to PA school, does it make a candidate stand out?
Patrick S Grabbe says
I am trying to figure out a confusing thing. I see you listed the acceptance rate as 32%. This cycle University of Utah had 3000 applications….x32% is 960 peeps………another school had 4000 plus apps for much less than 100 seats. I realize with all the schools together. the percent is different….But I see on all the PA sites Utah has a high acceptance rate…..I know they interviewed less than 200….if they took 90 thats a 3% acceptance rate….
Can you enlighten me??
Lia P says
Hi Stephen – thanks so much for writing this comprehensive and stellar article! It was helpful!
I’m hoping you can give me some advice. I am a certified Birth Doula, have worked as a PCNA (unlicensed CNA with plans to become state certified this summer) for a world class healthcare system on an Oncology unit for the past two years, volunteer my spare time as a Doula at a nonprofit crisis pregnancy shelter, and am working on prerequisites for PA school at a community college where I hold A’s in both of my classes this semester. I am chairwoman of the PCNA Practice Council, and am currently working on an empathy initiative for my unit through the committee. I also recently became certified as a PCNA geriatrics specialist.
I hold a BA in English, but switched careers to medicine two and a half years after graduation. My first career was in journalism and editing. I am highly interested in Bioethics and find that my degree comes in handy in this field. My experiences on the Oncology unit has turned my interest from OB/GYN to palliative medicine, and I have had the honor to shadow the Pallmed team at work for a week. I plan to shadow again soon.
I’m finishing up Chem I and Bioethics this semester, and have quite a ways to go for finishing prerequisites. However, I’m wondering if it would be advantageous to obtain an Associate’s in Biology rather than take individual prerequisites. I have a meeting with a PCOM board member and a DO alumni in a few weeks to discuss my options for admissions, but would like to present multiple paths and ideas to them. PCOM is high on my list, and I plan on sending multiple applications to other universities as suggested.
What would you recommend as a path for my prerequisite studies? How can I make myself a more appealing applicant academically given my undergrad degree?
Thanks so much!
Sheila Keating says
How does a full-time college student have an average of three years of clinical experience before applying to PA school? Does this mean I should get my college degree and then work in healthcare for three years and then apply to PA school? I am a sophomore getting a BS in biochemistry and do not have any job or volunteer experience in the healthcare field yet. Not sure how I would get this experience other than the summers. Or would it be better for me to postpone my college degree, work towards getting a medical assistant or phlebotomist certification, work for a couple of years, and THEN come back and finish my degree?
Stephen Pasquini PA-C says
Hi Sheila! This is a great question!
Speaking from experience, college is a full-time job and deserving of your full attention. As a freshman at the University of Washington, I was able to find a very part-time job working as a student intern at the campus health center. I started by working a few hours a week after classes as part of the medical records department and then transitioned to the lab where I was trained as a phlebotomist. I spent my summers working a variety of jobs. I was lucky to find a position through Seattle Parks and Recreation my Junior year working at a kid’s summer camp for children with disabilities. After graduation, I remained in Seattle and worked for the University Hospital as a phlebotomist, then transitioned into a job through the Puget Sound Blood Center as a mobile technician. I got to travel all over the State with the blood center and had some really awesome experiences. I completed my college prerequisites and still garnered quite a bit of HCE/PCE hours along with invaluable life/work/volunteer experience. After graduation, I also took a night class and trained as an EMT, and volunteered for both the hospital and various organizations around Seattle. The pay I received working as a student was as close as one can get to slave labor, but the experiences and the letters of recommendation I received from these jobs were priceless. It took a lot of asking around, a bit of hustling, and offering to work whenever and however I could and busting my butt! I am sure this is why I had any fighting chance of getting into PA school, and the lessons I learned and the skills and people I worked with at that time have made me who I am today as a PA. If I can give you a piece of advice, it is to seek out opportunities and be generous with your time, talents, and gifts… time comes to that make it not to those who try to find it.
So, make the time, put in the effort today, and I know you will find your way.
Sheila Keating says
Thank you for your very detailed response!
Any idea what percentage of applicants are paramedics? Why does PAEA lump EMTs and Paramedics in the same group for data on medical experience? It’s like asking CNA/RN on a survey, they have very different levels of education and responsibility. Thanks
Stephen Pasquini PA-C says
Hi Kyle, I agree with you 100%. Even if the PAEA “lumps” these two professions together I am sure PA programs and the admission committee members that hold seats for these programs do not.
Elena De Loizaga says
I am going into my sophmore year of universty studying Biologcial Sciences. However, I am very unsure whether a B.S or an B.A will affect my acceptance rate. I am more intrested in a B.A with a minor but I have read from mutiple sources that a B.S is more competitive and increses chances. Can you advice me?
Stephen Pasquini PA-C says
Hi Elena, great question.
PA programs do not require (or even prefer) an undergraduate degree in science in general, or biological science in particular, BS or BA. Diverse and well-rounded applicants go on to becomes diverse and well-rounded PAs, and everyone wins. Choose a major you will do well in — something that you are passionate about and that your undergraduate school can teach well.
If you are financially constrained, an undergraduate degree that can lead to a job while you are working towards PA school applications is an excellent idea.
No matter what degree you are getting, if you are currently enrolled in a 4-year degree program and planning to apply for PA school after you finish, you will save yourself time and money if you work on your prerequisites during your undergrad years. Do research on your favorite PA programs, read the list of requirements above, and try to use your electives to reduce the amount of post-bacc work you have to do.
Your undergraduate degree can come from a small no-name school or from an Ivy League school. The effect of your undergraduate institution on admissions is minimal.
Yes, PA programs know GPAs differ between schools, but there aren’t many times that’s going to make a difference in your life. If you did well in school, it doesn’t matter which school you went to. If you did badly in school, it doesn’t matter which school you went to. If you did okay in school, then you are one of many, many, many candidates in the same position, and what will set you apart from other candidates — more so than a small difference in GPA, or which undergrad institution your degree comes from — are other aspects of your application (like your essay and your interview).
Elena De Loizaga says
This was extreamly helpful! Thank you so much for your time.
Stephen Pasquini PA-C says
Thank you Elena for taking the time to read the article and leave such a thoughtful comment. Have a blessed day!
Stephen Pasquini PA-C
Jagdish Rathod says
I am a Master’s Degree holder as Surgeon from India. I practiced as a Doctor for more than 20 years. I am an USA citizens. I do not have license to practice in USA as a Doctor. I want to join PA and want to work as PA. Can you guide ?
Stephen Pasquini PA-C says
Hi Jagdish, are you living and working here in the US now?
From the standpoint of the ARC-PA, individuals educated as health care providers (MDs, PAs, nurses, etc.) outside of the United States are not treated any differently than any other prospective PA student regardless of degree. To practice as a PA in the United States, one must graduate from an ARC-PA accredited program and be certified by the NCCPA. If interested in applying to a PA program, such individuals should contact the PAEA for information on specific programs.
Here is a wonderful resource on the topic from the ARC-PA (they accredit US PA programs and determine who may sit for the PANCE exam): http://www.arc-pa.org/frequently-asked-questions/non-us-health-care-professionals/
Before you can work in the US, you must contact the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS International) to complete a visa screening program which, in part, will determine if your education was equivalent to that from a US PA Program. If your education is comparable, you are eligible for a certificate that you can submit with your visa application to the US State Department. The State Department’s approval of your occupational visa may help you enter the U.S., but you are still not eligible to work as a PA in the U.S.
To become a PA in the United States, individuals must also attend and graduate from an ARC-PA–accredited entry-level PA program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certifying of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
For information on PA programs, contact the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA): https://paeaonline.org/ and the directory of PA programs here: http://directory.paeaonline.org/.
Eligibility criteria for taking the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) are available on the NCCPA web site: http://www.nccpa.net/.
Additional information on practicing as a PA in the US can be found at the American Academy of Physician Assistants’ (AAPA) website: https://www.aapa.org/.
To determine if an individual state allows non-US educated physicians to practice as PAs without additional education and national certification, you would have to contact the licensing bodies of the specific states.
To find PA programs that accept international students:
I would start by searching the PAEA directory website and click the box “Accept int’l applicants.” Currently, 138 programs accept international students. From there, you need to narrow down further based on requirements. I would then use my PA program picker table. You can narrow your search even further using all your variables: https://www.thepalife.com/pa-program-picker/.
Then, follow the links to the PA program websites and reach out to them personally. They will be able to guide you better than me since every program is a bit different. If you have any questions afterward, just shoot me a reply.
You can also browse my website at http://www.thepalife.com or visit our knowledge base, where I am growing a list of guides intended to cover a broad range of topics.
Stephen Pasquini PA-C