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Helpful Tips for Upcoming Application Cycle

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A few things I learned last application cycle that might help you with your applications…


tl;dr: do these things/don’t do these things and maybe you will get the thing. ;-)


I decided to create this post to help others that are out there applying to schools and waiting for potential interviews. These are my observations, but if others would like to offer their own insight then please feel free to add to the thread. Prost.


Before Applying…

Spend time perusing the programs’ websites. Make sure the schools you are applying to value individuals like yourself. Why waste more money through application fees if your odds of even getting an interview are slim to none? 

Moreover, by incorporating some of their mission statement into your supplemental application answers you’ll increase your odds in landing that coveted interview. Out of the 10 schools I applied to I was offered 6 interviews. Preparation makes all the difference.


Ask yourself the question: what is this school’s ideal candidate? If you can’t answer it then you need to dig deeper. If you can and you don’t fit the bill that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t apply there, but you should find ways to bring up your deficiencies. 


Look at what the schools say about their deadlines and review periods. If a school has rolling admissions then do your best to get you application submitted early in the cycle. Conversely, if the school doesn’t review applications until after the end of the deadline then it might be a good idea to wait until later in the cycle. No point in wasting more money on additional fees early in the cycle if they don’t review until the end. I learned this lesson the hard way since I was accepted to two schools before a few of them even started looking at my applications. $50 adds up quickly when you’re already spending hundreds of dollars on all the other parts of the process. Side note: just as I’m about to submit this post I finally heard back from the last of the 10 schools I applied to stating they are now ready to review my material. That’s nearly nine months from my submission date.


Always remember: YOU are responsible for ensuring that your application is right. Don’t blindly trust CASPA for their GPA calculations. This was my second year applying after receiving zero interview invites my first time. I came to realize too late in the first cycle that nearly all of my GPAs were miscalculated by CASPA due to their failure to convert one of my college’s transcript quarter grades into semesters (despite their assurance over the phone). Consequently, my GPAs were below all of the schools’ minimums. Prior to submitting my applications this past cycle I sent CASPA an extensive email with all of my calculations while specifically listing what they had done wrong the first time. 


Additionally, it would be a good idea to make sure CASPA fits your classes into the right sections. For example, I took a class in undergrad in the Exercise Science Department that was really just Statistics. CASPA initially counted it as Other Science when it should have counted toward Math. 


What makes you unique?

Some of the best advice I received while I was prepping my application was to really think about what makes me different/standout. If you’ve ever seen “The Breakfast Club” then you’ll better understand this concept. Knowing a few people that served on admissions committees —for other types of programs— they pointed out that committee members are often trying to find a nice blend of students. If everyone came from the exact same background it would likely be to the detriment of the class. Take away: don’t be afraid to show your true colors; your uniqueness might very well be the reason you get accepted to a program. Further, own who you are and don’t stress what you perceive as lacking. Read: stop comparing yourself to others with all of these stats. Comparison is the thief of joy.


Your Personal Statement. Paint a picture through a single story if you can. I truly thought I had written a great essay for CASPA during my first application cycle, but when I asked some friends for constructive criticism it came down to my picture having too many focal points and the overall theme being drowned. When CASPA only allows 5,000 characters it makes it hard to say all that you want in such a limited space. So, do yourself a favor and tell a story about yourself that exhibits all of the qualities you’d like to display for your potential schools. It could be something as simple as an interaction with a patient or even as extensive as the key things in life that led you down this path (just be sure to keep a narrow focus). Also, if you come from a background that might appear to be divergent on the surface then it might be a good idea to show how it is similar to practicing as a PA (this was a decent portion of my essay).


Regarding the interview…


Be patient. After talking to several other interviewees at various schools many of them had received only one or two interview offers and they took quite a bit of time for their first contact. However, the one common theme that I did notice is the earlier you submit your application the more likely it is that you will land an interview (as stated above: some exceptions when schools wait until the deadline to review applications). Additionally, many of my interview requests came with little notice. That is, three out of the six interview requests I received came with ten days or fewer notice.


Preparation is key (Repeating myself here). Start reading up on common questions and composing your responses as soon as you can. I was fortunate in that I received my first interview request with about a month’s notice and was preparing for it when I got another interview with only eight days notice. Those 46 most common questions for the PA School interview really do come in handy. What’s more, plan for some follow up questions to all of your answers. It’s also a good idea to practice answering the questions out loud; you don’t want to sound like you’re reading the answers straight from your notes, Mr. Roboto. ;-) Plus, no one speaks the way they write. The goal should be to sound as conversational as possible.


Answer the question and shut up. After my first interview I realized the folly in my ways. I’d guess nerves had something to do with it, but I found myself rambling on quite a bit. I would answer all potential follow up questions before they were even asked which — I’m sure— was annoying to the interviewers. Remember: if they really want to know something they will ask about it, don’t attempt to play mindreader. 


Know your application back and forth. This should be a given, but I’m still pointing it out since every interview I attended asked something about either my CASPA or supplemental application.


Be consistent in your answers. While I felt like I was frequently repeating myself during my interview days, it’s always a good idea to remain unchanging in your responses between interviewers. There’s a good chance the admissions committees look for consistency.


Act like you want to be there. Once I had been accepted to two schools I stopped caring so much. By the time I made it to my fifth interview I’m convinced I came off as disinterested in my responses and ultimately got rejected. Just like any successful relationship, mutual interest is an absolute must. Be attentive, talk to other candidates, ask pertinent questions, etc.


Every interview is different, but the same. All of the interviews I attended had designs that were slightly different, but still roughly the same. Every once in a while there will be one that follows a completely different format (I canceled my last interview that would have been MMI), but your preparation should be the same for all of them. Consistency is key when it comes to preparation. 


Odd ball questions seem to be pretty common. Some interviewers specifically said they would be asking odd ball questions while others just came right out of the gate with them. Either way, all of my interviews had some form of them present. It could be something as simple as: “Tell me something about yourself that’s not in your application.” to “What’s something that most people wouldn’t guess about you when they meet you?” to “If you were a piece of fruit, what would you be and why?”.


Lifestyle questions, yeah those things… are really, really (really) common. “What do you like to do for fun?” “Where will you fit in time to study?” “How do you handle stress?” It’s probably a good idea to have some answers prepared for these type of topics. In a fortunate twist I actually found my answer to one of these questions from a current student during my first interview for my subsequent interviews. Sure enough, things worked out well.


Try to have some fun. So many people act too serious throughout. Humor is a big part of who I am, but still, it’s okay to show your less pensive side. In a group portion of one of my interviews I had the whole class —including the program director— cracking up. I have no doubt that left a positive impression.


After the interview/follow up…


Say thank you and do it quickly. My first interview was on a Friday afternoon and despite being told the admissions committee would not meet for a couple of weeks I received my first rejection the following Wednesday. The ironic part is that I had just stuck my thank you letters in the mail that afternoon so they were likely postmarked the day after I got rejected. That said, if you’re going to send a thank you note, do it the second you get home.


Rejection happens, but it doesn’t define you. I’ve yet to meet a single person that hasn’t been rejected from a school. It is inevitable, so don’t let it get you down. Think of it like baseball; batting one for three would be considered a great average. The same is true for applications. Using myself as an example, out of ten applications I received six interview requests. Out of the five interviews I attended I was rejected from two, waitlisted in one and accepted to two. Overall, I was satisfied with the outcome. Just remember, all it takes is one school to have faith in you for you to take the next big step toward becoming a PA. 


Also, as far as the rejection goes I’ve found it to be quite useful to write down the things that I think I could have improved on from the interviews rather than dwelling on it. After my first rejection I lost a lot of sleep the following nights just thinking what exactly I did wrong. Eventually I wrote out the things I thought I could refine and used them in my prep for my following interviews. Sure enough I was accepted to the next two schools where I interviewed.


If you don’t get in… Find out why. Every piece of information you gather will help you at other schools. All of us could stand to improve in some way or another as long as we’re open to constructive criticism. Along the same line some introspection can go a long way. One thing I regularly remind myself is in every failed situation I’ve experienced I am the one common denominator. Think about what you could’ve done better and come up with a plan to make changes.


If you do get in… Congratulations! Every single applicant works hard to get to this point. When I got my first phone call of acceptance I was overcome with emotion —so much for stoicism. It’s a great feeling of relief to know you will soon be taking the next big step with PA school.


Again, I’m sure there are plenty of other things others might like to add. Please feel free to do so as these are simply my thoughts and observations. Good luck to everyone with their upcoming applications. :-)

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Just wanted to add a personal experience from applying the previous cycle that sending a thank-you letter post interview did not break my chances of acceptance to many of the PA programs I applied to. I applied to around 14 programs, interviewed to 12 and got accepted to around 10. Am I saying to not waste your time in writing one out? No. All I'm saying is to not feel too stressed out if you forgot to write one or you feel like not writing one is a big reason you got rejected (if and hopefully not).


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I found the biggest part of your application is your personal statement. This is your only opportunity to let admission committees know who you are and what your about. Don't be cliche with this statement, make sure it is heartfelt and engaging. After all the adcoms read hundreds if not thousands of these essays.

I applied at 12 schools and was offered interviews at 8 and accepted to all the schools I interviewed at. So, on interview day be yourself. Don't pretend to be something you are not, you are picking your school as much as they are picking you.

Good luck

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