Hey everyone, I wanted to get some advice and input from people that have applied/been accepted/are already in PA school. So over the course of the past two months I was invited to interview at three different schools and recently have found out that I was rejected at all of them. I have about 1,500 hours as a CNA at an assisted living facility, 1,500 hours doing direct care with mentally/physically disabled adults, and just started working at a hospital as a nurses aide about two months ago. My GPAs are:
-Last 60 credits: 4.0
-science GPA: 3.97
-I also have a 4.0 in every pre-requisite that each school required.
My GRE scores for both sections were a little bit above average, and I got a 4.5 on the writing portion. Not going to lie, I thought I would get into at least two of the three with my GPA, or even waitlisted. I honestly didn't expect to be straight up rejected from all three. I do feel that each of the interviews went fairly well and I answered all of my questions thoroughly. I even had some conversation with the interviewers and felt very comfortable after all of them were complete. I honestly do not know what went wrong and what I can improve at this point. If anyone can give me any advice I would greatly appreciate it.
Last week I got my first official application decision of the cycle. Opening the email, I scanned the words frantically until I found the sentence I was fearing the most. It read, “I regret to inform you of the program’s decision not to pursue your application further.” These words translate much more simply to “rejection.”
For a moment I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I knew that I would be receiving rejections throughout the cycle, but had hoped and prayed it wouldn’t be from this school. Not only was this program one of my top choices, but it is also the only school in my home city. The realization that I would not have the opportunity to interview hit me like a ton of bricks. With GPAs well above the program’s average and my state residency giving me a leg up over other applicants, I felt that I would likely secure an interview. I was wrong.
After the news, I began to question my application strategy entirely. I chose to apply more intentionally to a handful of carefully selected programs landing on the lower side of things - 6. As the September 1st deadline for many programs was only a few days away I sent my GRE scores off to an additional school that I was going back and forth on, hoping that they would arrive on time. I was relieved to have everything complete with one other program, but I still questioned if 7 would be enough to land me an acceptance or even an interview.
At this point I was doubting myself, my personal statement, my clinical experiences… everything. I wondered if there were red flags in my application or if I said the wrong things in the answers to the supplemental questions. I tried to stay optimistic, but I was disappointed and feeling insecure. My first rejection was certainly humbling, planting seeds of doubt that were becoming overwhelming.
And then I saw it. I was eating my lunch and scanning my email when I suddenly read “Invitation to Interview” in the subject line of an email from my top choice. My heart started racing and my palms were sweating. After seeing the date provided, only 3.5 weeks away, I could barely focus enough to read about the interview details. I was ecstatic. Their initial email contained a typo and in a follow up email with a correction the admissions director revealed that I was the very first applicant to be offered an interview. I couldn’t believe it. This school was my reach, and I certainly wasn’t counting on being offered an interview, let alone the first one. I was over the moon.
Here I am now, in the midst of the cycle with one interview scheduled and one rejection. Things are still up in the air, but I feel that I am at least back in the game. The ups and downs of this roller coaster ride will continue, and I couldn't be happier. Thus far, this process has been unpredictable. Although I have heard this repeated many times here by those wiser than myself, this experience has definitely shown me that there is no such thing as a sure thing when applying to PA school. Don’t be so quick to count yourself in, but also don’t count yourself out.
How to Prepare for PA School Interviews
Each leg of the PA application process comes with its own unique kind of stress. First, there’s the chaos of preparing and submitting your CASPA. You have to round up letters of recommendation, order and input all of your transcripts, send out GRE scores, perfect your personal statement and keep track of supplementals for each program. After submitting, there’s an eerie quiet that settles over. You patiently wait to hear back from schools… or you check your email repeatedly hoping for news. Same thing, right?
Some schools will get back to you in days, others may take weeks or months. Eventually the madness culminates in an interview invitation, which brings on a new kind of stress. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, but how exactly do you prepare for the next step in the process?
Research interview questions. There are many lists of PA school interview questions that you can find with a quick google search. Some major categories to focus on are behavioral, ethical, situational and standard PA interview questions. There are also books about the interview process with commonly asked questions. A good starting point is “How to Ace the PA School Interview” by Andrew Rodican.
Brainstorm and practice! It was helpful for me to create a working document with a list of the questions I found. I brainstormed with each question in mind and made bullet points of things I could touch on in my answers. Often times these points were in reference to specific situations I found myself in or relevant experiences that I had. I was careful not to write out word for word answers. It’s important to maintain authenticity and some degree of spontaneity in your answers - you want to avoid sounding too rehearsed.
I then made it a point to review my list and practice answering each question out loud. I would do this with friends or colleagues, but oftentimes I would just practice by myself when I was driving in the car.
Research the program. When walking into an interview, you should be well informed about the program and faculty. Scour the website, reach out to alumni or current students and try to become as educated as possible.
There are many things to keep in mind when researching a program, but here are a few things to consider:
Is there anything unique about the curriculum format?
How long is the program?
Is the program well established?
Is there a cadaver lab? If so, are cadavers prosected or are they dissected by students?
What kind of opportunities are there for early clinical exposure?
When researching, keep a list of questions that come up. Make notes of interesting aspects about the curriculum and clinical rotations. This will prepare you to ask thoughtful questions on your interview day and will ensure you don’t forget to ask about something that is important to you.
If possible, arrange a mock interview! This is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for the interview process. It’s an excellent way to work through the nerves associated with interviewing and it can help you understand your weak spots. Mock interviews can be done with colleagues, peers, friends, family, professors and even through paid services online. My undergraduate institution offered free mock interviews for students, so be sure to check with your university to see if this is an option.
Stay up to date about the PA profession. Be informed about issues facing the profession. Understand the role that PAs play in healthcare - be sure that you can articulate exactly what a PA does and how that can differ from NPs and physicians. Understand any state specific laws about practice.
Know your application. This is a big one that can easily be overlooked. Know your application inside and out! The details should always be fresh in your mind. Maybe you worked on a research project sophomore year and the details are now long forgotten. You may have written your personal statement months ago, and it’s easy to forget what you chose to emphasize when talking about yourself. Anything you put on your application is free game, and you should be ready to answer questions accordingly.