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 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 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 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 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 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: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 gender distribution of first-year students has started to stabilize after nearly 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
The majority of 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% Humanities
- 1.3% Public Health
- 1.1% Math, engineering, technology
→ 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. On average applicants had 3 years (161 weeks) of healthcare experience. Accepted students had, on average, one year of patient contact experience. 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)|
* 2020 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 have been considered to be very competitive. This averages to about 150 on the verbal reasoning, 150 on the 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.
→ Most PA school students are caucasian
Skin color should have nothing to do with your chances of PA school acceptance, but it is interesting (and maybe a bit sad) to know that the vast majority of first-year PA students were white (77.7%) followed by Asian (10.9%). Black or African Americans comprised 5.9% of matriculating PA students and 12% were 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
→ Pucker up baby, most PA students are single!
Most students are single (72.2%), though just 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
→ 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."
The view from the top isn't that crowded
It's an easy race to the bottom, so set your sights at 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.