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Best PA Schools

What PA Schools Make Your List?

Some sources have ranked PA programs based on a set of criteria they have established.  If you are reading this you are likely a competitive person, that’s what has driven you to consider the PA profession.  So, it only natural that a ranking of PA schools would appeal to you.  But consider this.  If you target the top 20 PA schools because that aligns with your competitive spirit, and half those schools have nuances to their admission requirements that rule you out, you are down to 10 PA schools.  And it is likely that a lot of other people are also pursuing those same 10 PA schools.  There are a lot of great, well respected PA schools and if your goal is to get into PA school this cycle you may want to consider a strategy that separates you from the masses and increases your odds of getting accepted this cycle.

In a short four-year period, the total number of PA schools will have nearly doubled, to almost 300 PA schools.  Half of these schools will have Provisional accreditation, a status they will have for several years.  So, what makes a PA school a contender for your list of Best PA schools?  The simple answer is that one person’s list of best PA schools is not going to be the same as another person’s list.

The reality is that your best PA school might not even be on your radar screen.

Compiling the list of best PA schools should start by matching your profile with all of the schools.  If you do not satisfy the admission requirements of a PA school, that school is not a contender for your list of best PA schools.

Tuition:  There are a few PA schools that are genuine bargains, i.e., their total tuition is around the $50,000 – $60,000 mark.  There are also schools that charge north of $150,000 for tuition.  The math has to work for you.  Consider that travel and living expenses will add $20,000 to $40,000 to your overall educational investment, depending on the school’s location.

Tuition Matters

How much you pay for your PA education matters.  Consider what it will cost you in student loans over the next 10 years to pay for your education.  Assume that you make $100,000 a year.  This is how much of your disposal monthly income would go towards paying off your student loans over the next ten years.

Current class stats:  How do you compare to the current class that was just admitted.  Do you match up well from an academic and experience point of view?  While this may sound a little ridiculous, are you too good a match for a program?   PA schools have subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways of communicating the kind of student they are looking for.  We came across one school that is going to impose a reverse currency requirement starting next year.  What this means is that if you haven’t been out of school for at least 7 years, they won’t consider your application.  It’s the opposite of a traditional currency requirement that imposes a currency limit on how old your coursework can be, i.e., no more than 7 years old.

Completed Coursework:  Should you consider applying to a school if you are still completing your prerequisite coursework, and current classes will help fulfill the prerequisite coursework requirement?  You may want to consider the following as you make that decision.

Not required, but strongly recommended:  We are in a new era of admission requirements where PA schools add all kinds of modifiers to their admission requirements.  These requirements most often impact the prerequisite coursework requirements and take the form of “recommended courses”, or “lab not required, but strongly recommended”.  Sometimes they are expressed as “competitive candidates have multiple upper-division biology courses”.  How should you interpret this information?  Generally, schools are trying to communicate their preferences, and if all things are equal, these “soft requirements” can become the tiebreaker.

Other academic factors

Interdisciplinary focus

This is a cornerstone component for some programs.  If you are not sold on the way a particular program has implemented this care model, it will come across when you interview.

Underserved market focus

This is an important factor for some programs.  They want to know that you are going to be committed to serving underserved target markets.  Ask yourself, is this you?  Can you point to verifiable evidence that supports your desire to work in underserved markets?  Do you have experience doing this?  Do you have a letter of recommendation from someone that will attest to the fact that this is an integral part of your DNA?

Primary care focus

Primary care is not the only market where PA will work, but it is an important market segment, and PA’s are being described as the new primary care provider of the future.  If your aspirations lie elsewhere, that fine, but make sure that programs you are applying to line up with your ambitions.  If there is a specialty that you want to pursue make sure the PA program you are considering can make a compelling case for training PA’s that go on to work in that specialty.

Clinical rotations – required verses electives

Remember the Accreditation Standards for Physician Assistant Education, require that all PA programs provide clinical rotations sites for their students.  Know what elective clinical rotations are available outside of the ones mandated by Accreditation Standards (family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, pediatrics, ob/gyn, behavioral and mental health care.).  Do the electives align with your aspirations?

Other variables in determining the best PA school

PANCE Results

Are the first-time test taker PANCE pass rates for the last year and the previous five years important?  Yes, to a point.  Do the math.  The national first-time test taker pass rate is 97%.  Which means that nationally, 1 person fails to pass the exam in an average class of 44 students.   The odds are overwhelmingly in your favor to pass the PANCE exam the first time if your program’s first-time test taker PANCE pass rates are more than 93%.  The chances of passing the first time become significant once you drop below the 90% threshold.  At an 88% pass rate, 5 people will fail to pass the first time.  If the program you are considering has a PANCE pass rate at this level, it merits further investigation before you put it on your best PA school target list.

Accreditation Status

A substantial number of PA schools have Provisional Accreditation.  There is no escaping the fact that every new PA program, regardless of its pedigree, starts with a Provisional Accreditation status.  If a PA program you are considering has graduated a class, check their PANCE scores.  If the school hasn’t graduated a class, you need to dig into who founded the PA program you are considering.  Consider these questions.

  • Have they done this before?
  • Where did they come from?
  • How successful were they?
  • Check them out on LinkedIn.
  • Where will clinical rotations be conducted?
  • Have the preceptors committed to the incoming class?
  • Who are the preceptors?
  • Who is teaching the didactic phase of the program?
  • What are their credentials?
  • Have the instructors taught in a PA program before?
  • Does the program have a cadaver lab?
  • Do PA students get to do actual dissections on cadavers?
  • Are cadavers shared with other medical disciplines?
  • Does the program make use of simulation cadavers?
  • What are their plans to ensure you pass the PANCE exam the first time?

This one can be tricky.  You may have legitimate reasons for wanting to attend PA school in a particular geographic area, and depending on where you live, you may be drastically limiting your chances of getting into PA school.  If you are a solid PA candidate, but you are only applying to programs that get 2,000 – 3,000 applicants per application cycle, the law of odds, is not in your favor.  If on the other hand if you have more geographic flexibility and are open to applying to some schools that only get only 500-1,000 applicants, and they meet all of your other best PA school criteria, your odds are obviously better.


The best PA Programs for you to consider should start with an overall list of PA schools that you know are a match based on your academic credentials, your experience and your preferences.

Be intentional about the PA programs you add to your Best PA School list.  Add PA schools to your list after you have done your due diligence.

  1. Take charge – equip yourself with the best possible information to create a personalized list of PA schools that are an optimal fit.
  2. Be honest & open to considering all PA schools – you may have your heart set on some schools, but if you consider the entire landscape of PA schools you may find some gems you hadn’t considered. Stay focused on getting in this admission cycle.
  3. Be thorough – we have highlighted a number of things you should consider as you evaluate schools, make sure you spend your time evaluating only schools where you know you are a good fit.
  4. Be committed – this is a significant investment of time and resources. If you are not prepared to invest time in the interview process for a particular school, consider whether that school should be on your best PA school list.
  5. Make this your #1 priority – Be organized, plan and prioritize the time you are going to commit to this process.
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