In addition to identifying students with academic promise, physician assistant programs are looking for students who have a wide range of specific personal characteristics. Based on the criteria for the most competitive PA programs, there are five general areas in which students are evaluated:
1. Academic potential
This area includes the strength of your foundation in scientific knowledge, the level of your curiosity, your study skills, and critical thinking skills. It could also include your commitment to excellence, which may be reflected in your grades, GRE or MCAT scores, or other areas of your life.
2. Personal strengths
The admissions committee will be evaluating your maturity, emotional stability, and ability to use good judgment in high-stress environments. The level of your communication skills and confidence in interpersonal interactions will also factor into their decision. Discussing distinctive experiences that reveal your personality as well as how you demonstrate these crucial attributes will help you set yourself apart from other applicants.
Since there is a lack of diversity in PA programs, as revealed in the CASPA applicant data, programs are trying to improve in this area by selecting students from culturally diverse backgrounds and underrepresented ethnicities. They are also looking for students from medically underserved areas. Diversity can be represented by ethnicity, age, sexuality, socio-economic status, academic interests, and life experience, among others.
4. Commitment to service
Since PA programs are committed to training and graduating students who will become community leaders and healthcare providers, they will be looking for students who demonstrate a strong sense of responsibility to helping others and serving the community. Be honest in representing the depth of your commitment to helping others and the impact you have had through your activities and community service.
5. Potential for professional development
In addition to evaluating your knowledge of the healthcare field and the PA profession, PA program selection committees want to see your potential in the areas of collaboration, mentorship, and lifelong learning. Demonstrating your characteristics in these areas in your application essays would be strategic.
You can learn more about applying to PA programs from their websites. Some schools outline in specific terms what they value most in applicants, like Duke University, while other schools are less transparent. You can learn a lot more about the different programs by following them on social media, attending any events they offer on their campus, and networking with students and admissions staff or faculty. Be honest and accurate in representing yourself so that you are consistent in the message you are conveying to all of the programs about your level of preparation, unique characteristics, and potential.
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• From Example to Exemplary, a guide to writing outstanding application essays
• Different Dimensions of Diversity, a podcast episode
• “I’m Smart, Really I Am!” Proving Character Traits in Your Essays