Hey guys, My name is Logan and I am a new first year at the University of Florida. It wasn't long ago at all that I was sitting where you are sitting, knee deep in the application journey for PA school. I have compiled a list of things which opened my eyes to the application process after having been through it twice, as well as things I wish I had known going into the process which I think would've helped me be better prepared.
A little background on me-- I got my degree in Athletic Training at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, where I was SUPER involved in extracurriculars and leadership positions (multiple leadership positions in my fraternity, ATSO, Order of Omega, Up 'Til Dawn, research, etc) plus employed on campus. Because I was so involved, my grades suffered and I ended up graduating with a 3.4 cumulative GPA and a 3.28 science GPA... Not great. Through my undergrad being in a medical field, I also had a bunch of rotation hours to list on my resume. Immediately after graduation I had a bit of an identity crisis not knowing fully yet what I wanted to do "when I grew up", I went straight into paramedic school to gain added experience and buy time to figure out my future. I applied to the CASPA for the first time in 2015 straight out of medic school and, as you probably picked up, didn't get in. As a matter of fact, I didn't even get an interview... anywhere. Devastated, I decided to get a change of pace and uprooted my life to transplant somewhere else and busted ass working. I also identified that a couple of my science classes were a weak spot on my application, so I re-took them. I took a year off from applying and in 2017 I applied to 12 schools, was extended an interview at 9, and accepted at 6. Here is my list of things I have picked up along the way, and tips for you moving forward.
I know everyone says this but trust me, if you can beat the crowd, even if your application is meh, you may still be a shining star out of the small percentage to take this advice. Your chances of getting an interview is significantly higher the earlier you apply, especially if the program has rolling admissions. Get your application busted out literally as soon as possible, spend a short time reviewing everything, and start submitting them quick. If you are reading this now (posted at the end of June) and you haven't started submitting (or are close to submitting save for some last minute tweaking) yet, you are behind the ball. Get on it!!
Make a list of literally every school (in the WHOLE US) you qualify for by the minimum standards (GPA, GRE scores, Class Prereqs). Yes, this is time intensive but there are books that can help you outline each program and their requirements. Once you have the expansive list of programs which you could theoretically get in to, cross out the ones which you would not accept even if you were given an acceptance. For me, it was anywhere with too cold of a winter (true southerner and have been in Florida for the last 9 years... 60 is chilly for me, lol). Keep narrowing your list till you get to between 10 and 15 schools. Obviously if you are a perfect applicant with a 4.0 GPA, incredible GRE scores, tons of patient contact, and a resume a mile long with achievements; you can have a shorter list... but since most people reading this don't have the "perfect" application, it is better to cast the net wide.
Also- Just because a school says it will accept outstanding prereqs, doesn't mean in reality it will. Why should they take 1 incomplete package when they have thousands of others who offer the total package. Save your money and keep looking.
Once you decide what schools you are applying to, make a folder on your computer dedicated to just that school. ex- "PA School Applications" > "University of Florida". Inside that folder, have every document pertaining to that school you can get. Any pertinent research you stumble across, all your essays, a copy of your supplemental application, etc.... You will be happy you did that when it is time to research for your interview.
Save Up Money
It is incredible how expensive the application process is, and not something I expected when I initially applied. The CASPA applications are expensive, especially for as many schools as you should be applying to. Then you have to worry about Secondary applications. Then when you start getting interview invites you need to pay for travel and the hotel, plus food, etc. It all adds up quick, especially if you have multiple interviews back to back in different states. Plan for it financially and it will be a HUGE weight off your shoulders when the time comes.
Assuming you get in somewhere, then you have the seat deposit which is usually between $500 and $1000 - some more, some less.
Make Sure Your Application is "Perfect" Before Submitting
Every applicant gets the same baseline question... "Why Do You Want to be a PA". Every applicant is going to have a lot of (boring) similarities in their answer which the AdComm is going to read THOUSANDS of times before the cycle closes. Don't waste your one shot at giving them a glimpse into your personality and a reason to admit you. Show your passion for the profession without being cliche and highlight your achievements without sounding cocky or pretentious. PEER REVIEW THE HELL OUT OF IT. Like literally send it to all your friends who can write well. Send it to your high school or college lit professors. Send it to your career services department. Legitimately send it to anyone who will read it and give you honest feedback. Tell them to rip it apart grammatically, and offer them the option to tell you it sucks or put them to sleep. Kick your feelings and pride out the door for this one, if your essay sucks, you will not get an interview anywhere. Period.
Once you have your essay as perfect as you think you can get it, hire a service to review it. I used myPAresource.com for my personal statement which was an incredible resource for the personal statement only. The give you line by line suggestions and edits and are ridiculously thorough. Once I got that back and had the rest of my application completed (all the other tabs on CASPA) I used www.mypatraining.com/applying-pa-school-coaching/ to have Paul rip apart the rest of my application to tweak the other parts (the little details you may have overlooked which could damage the overall application). Both services cost money, but were 10,000,000,000,000% worth it in my opinion. It is an investment in your future -- can you really afford to re-apply (again), and also miss out on another year of PA-C pay?
Be Smart About Your References!!!
A phenomenal recommendation from a PA-C in a small clinic in a town no one has ever heard of, who you have known for 8 years, ALWAYS trumps a mediocre recommendation from a big name in medicine who doesn't really know you well at all. The recommendation letters are a MAJOR factor in the AdComm's decision making process, and I had my letters mentioned in almost every interview I went to. Pick your people wisely, it really does make all the difference in the world. Pick people who know you well, have history working with you, and who think highly of you.
Get lots of it. Everywhere you can. Volunteering is YUUUGGEEEE in applications. if you have a lot of it, you will stand out.
Do something where you are actually putting hands on patients. Looks better on paper and also helps build your bedside manor. EMT / CNA / Surgical Tech, etc are all great experiences (and extremely easy / short classes). Being a scribe is ookkkkkaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyy... but doesn't actually place any responsibility on you except being the provider's lap dog.
Once Your Applications Are Submitted:
Take a breath, but don't stop being great!
The most labor intensive part of applying is done. Now it is just the waiting game which is killer. Use this time to keep bettering your application. Put in OT at work, Volunteer regularly, Re-take classes, etc.
Most programs predict your future hour calculations based on the numbers you provide in your applications. You can go back in and add new experiences to your CASPA applications which some programs care about, others don't. When you do major things, shoot the point of contact for the program an e-mail or call the program to update them.
Each program gets several thousands of applicants each cycle and although they wish they had a warehouse of people working around the clock to filter through applications and answer questions, most of the time it is just a few people doing everything. DON'T BUG THEM. Imagine if you had 3,000 people constantly e-mailing you and calling you at work... you'd never get anything done... don't be "that guy". Only update for the major things, and save the rest for the interview.
DON'T BASE YOUR TIMELINE OFF ANYONE ELSE!!!! This forum is great for getting information... and also for causing anxiety attacks. I applied to UF within the first few weeks of the application being open and interviewed in one of the last groups and was almost immediately accepted following the interview. Don't lose hope till you get that e-mail or letter saying "thank you for applying but kick rocks". Time doesn't always equate to standing in their system.
Make sure your contact information on CASPA is correct ***AND PROFESSIONAL****. Should go without saying but having inappropriate e-mails or voicemails may be funny in high school, the person trying to contact you for an interview may not find them as funny.
You Get Called for an Interview!!
It seems like a dream at first and that euphoric feeling proves all your hard work to that point is worth it. Do your happy dance then get back to business, this is where the intensive work begins.
RESEARCH THE SCHOOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I can't put enough emphasis on this. Research the school so well that you and the Dean over the medical programs are practically on a first name basis. Every program has a website where they usually list their achievements, their scores, their faculty / staff, etc. Commit it all to memory. Make a Microsoft Word document dedicated to facts about the school and save it in the folder I mentioned earlier. Include pictures of the faculty and a short bio or things to take notice of. It is okay to creep a little bit (not like looking in their windows, etc)-- but like google their names, get on their Linked-In accounts. Get on the program's Social Media account and creep on that. Look for pictures and clues about the program, its goals and culture, and also about the students and what they are into.
What is the mission statement? Does the program do medical missions? To where? Is the program big in the community? Do the students seem like a close knit bunch having a blast or are they indifferent to being there? How involved outside of the classroom are the professors? etc... You can gain a TON of insight by doing a google search of the program and by looking on the program's social media.
Use this site and others to figure out what style of interview you are walking into. MMI / Panel / 1 on 1 / Group are all vastly interview styles and require a different preparation.
Most of them have a group interview where you are tasked with solving a problem or working as a team on an exercise. Do yourself a favor and stand in the middle of the extremes on this one. This is an exercise to see if you can work and blend in a group setting... Be too aggressive (not knowing when to shut up / interrupting people) and you will be rated as bad as the person who doesn't really contribute anything to the group.
Intimately know what is on your application and what is on your resume.
You are going to get questions drawn directly from your application and resume... be able to recite the major numbers and have the important details readily available. One of the things I goofed pretty bad on in one of my interviews was not reviewing the independent research I had done Freshman and Sophomore year of undergrad... so like 5 years prior to the interview. It was on my application so it was fair game, and when asked about the more intricacies of the study, I blanked... not a good thing to do when sitting in front of the medical director for the program.
Re-read your essay and supplemental apps. You may think you know your application pretty well but if you are not fresh on how you phrase things, etc, you may contradict yourself to the person with your essay literally in front of them.
Make Smart Travel Plans
Murphy's Law is a real thing and is no fun to try to come back from. I suggest always travelling a day in advanced to avoid any last-minute headaches. I was scheduled for an afternoon group on one of my interviews so I figured I would just fly in on the morning of and have like 6 hours to kill before my interview. Save money and time, right?... nope. My 6am flight was delayed due to mechanical failure until 1pm, putting me in the city at 3:30, 30 minutes after my interview was supposed to be. #Stress. It ended up working out okay, the program was understanding and that was one of the programs I ended up getting into... but if you can avoid that situation, save yourself the grey hairs.
Go to bed early the night before and try to get good rest. Eat a balanced meal for dinner -- nothing too heavy or greasy.
Day of the interview:
The Motto of the Day is Calm / Cool / Collected
If you let your anxiety get the better of you, you are 100% guaranteed to fail. Breathe... your preparation has done you well.
The Morning of the Interview
Wake up EARLY... like whatever time you need to get ready and get to the interview site on time (15 - 30 minutes early), wake up an hour before that. Remove any possibility of having to be rushed and your day will start off on the right foot.
Eat a [LIGHT] breakfast. This is the food which will be keeping you awake and happy when meeting people, but should not have you in the bathroom every 20 minutes. My usual breakfast was a small amount of scrambled eggs, a small piece of protein (bacon or sausage), toast, and fruit, with water or juice to drink. Avoid dairy or anything too acidic (coffee or orange juice) if you think that will mess up your already anxious stomach.
Leave Your Phone in the Car!!!
Even checking your phone during the day can indicate boredom or that you are uninterested... appearances are EVERYTHING. If you rest your head, close your eyes, or even glance at your phone you can rest assured that you are on someone's radar for the wrong reasons.
When You Get to Campus
Everything, I mean EVERYTHING is scrutinized from the moment you get on campus. Your driving through campus to your destination should be impeccable and the second you're out of your vehicle pretend you're on youtube to be watched by the faculty later. Smile and and be literally as friendly as possible without appearing fake. Every interaction is fair game for scrutiny- from the "Good Morning" to the janitor to the conversations with "random" students on campus or your peers... it is all being watched. I know some programs plant people (like cleaning staff, and "random" students) in your path to see how you react around them. I know of other schools who have hidden cameras set up to watch applicants when they are mingling on campus. From the moment you get on campus till the moment you are at home, assume you are being watched and judged.
Any "down time" should be spent talking and networking. Get to know your competition, they may soon be your classmates; plus it shows that you are comfortable within a group setting. Also usually helps ease your nerves to be social within a group experiencing the same anxiety you are.
During the Interview
Have fun with it. You have worked hard to get where you are and this is your chance to shine!
Any interview blog you read (and I'm sure you have read most of them to this point) will tell you that body language is BIG... If you are having fun and are relaxed, your body language will show it.
Confident but Humble is the name of the game. Own your past mistakes with dignity and be ready to give reasons why they should look past them and see you in a better light
Enter the room and greet everyone individually. Firm handshake, eye contact, and a smile. If you know everyone's name that is a big win and can work in your advantage... but if you don't know EVERYONE by name or think you may call someone the wrong name, don't attempt.
Make sure to have a couple copies of your resume readily available with you. Most schools wont need or even request it, but it shows you are prepared if you can offer it or produce it on demand.
DON'T GET FLUSTERED!!! Some interviewers will ask you questions to try to get under your skin or try to throw you off your game to see how you will react. It is okay to take a moment and think and breathe... they are looking to see you under pressure. Focus on what they are asking and move forward.
I once had an interviewer straight up say " I don't think you belong in this program, nothing about you impresses me" as the first thing when I got in the room... She was looking to see how I responded. Don't let anyone get under your skin and maintain your composure... you can breakdown and analyze once the interview is over and you're at home.
When You Leave the Interview
Make a mental note about your overall impression of the program, staff, and school... if you didn't get a positive vibe, that will come in to play if you get in to multiple programs. You need to go where feels like "home" because for the next 2- 2.5 years, it will be.
Realistically speaking, most people don't get into the first school they interview at because they are walking into it not knowing what to expect and are visibly anxious. Prepare for that ahead of time by doing practice interviews and by getting comfortable talking to strangers and you will be ahead of the curve.
Everyone says to send "thank you" e-mails... I disagree with their logic... If there are 200 people who interview at a program, every faculty member who interviews will have 200+ emails all saying the same thing "Thank you for taking the time ...............". I personally would get tired of even opening all those emails, so I didn't send them for the most part. The few that I did send I never got a response back from, which just reaffirmed my theory. Better practice would be (if you have time) to stop by their office at some point either later that day or in the following couple days and thank them in person. That opens the door for a more casual conversation and is more genuine, plus in my experience it went over better in general.
Last Words of Advice:
If you get in to a school early but it isn't your #1... please dear god put the seat deposit down anyway. That means you can breathe a little easier and are for sure going SOMEWHERE for the following year. Don't hold out for your #1 because you are optimistic and not wanting to possibly eat the money. Again... investment in your future.
If you are rejected from a program before the interview, it is okay to ask why and try to get them to reconsider their reason if it is bogus. That shows balls, and also commitment to their program.
One of the schools I was accepted to initially rejected me saying they wanted all of the anatomy classes from the same university ( I had 1 formal course from Nova along with a ton of other anatomy-based courses, plus 1 formal course from medic school, and another formal course from a community college from the year after I moved). I popped an e-mail back explaining my situation, the program director sided with me and I was immediately granted an interview.
If you get rejected after the interview, some schools will offer advice (if asked) on how to improve for the following year... take them up on that offer!!!
Programs LOVE repeat applicants, ESPECIALLY if they see significant improvement from the previous application.
Lastly, if you get totally rejected and have to reapply, welcome to the club. The majority of successful applicants have that sobering experience and are accepted the next time around. Don't get discouraged, become inspired.
Hopefully at least some of you found this list helpful, I know I could've used some of that when I was applying and stressing out. Don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions! Good Luck and Go Gators!! :)