Today’s article, Choosing the Best Physician Assistant School for You, is by our active IPAT reader and Forum contributor, “Buffchic.”  Her article tackles an important topic, and she’s done a great job with it.  So enjoy, and show her some comment love!      -P

Choosing the Best Physician Assistant School for You

When you decide you want to become a physician assistant, each school may seem as good as the next, but choosing the best physician assistant school for you is key.   After all, when you finish you are a PA!  Your excitement and eagerness about getting in may cloud your vision of how to focus on selecting the right school for your needs.  The best physician assistant school for you will match your learning style, your personality, and will lead to a professional education that better suits you and prevents frustration.

Establishing some criteria that you define for your individual needs is an essential first step in finding the best physician assistant school for you.  Focus on criteria that meet your specific needs and situation.   Look at each factor critically and examine its importance to you in finding the right program.

Here are some criteria to help you focus your search:

Geographic location

  • This is a big one for many, especially if family obligations anchor you to a particular area.   But commuting or relocating to the best physician assistant school for you can sometimes be worth the sacrifice.
  • Keep in mind that some regions or states have fewer schools than others and thus are swamped with a higher volume of applications than others.
  • Would you have to relocate, and are you willing and ready to do so if necessary?


  • All physician assistant programs are costly, but your professional education will be invaluable.  Choosing the best physician assistant program for you will pay off in the end.  But some programs are more costly than others.
  • State schools are frequently less expensive than their private counterparts.
  • Consider how much money you will have to borrow and your debt comfort level.

How established is the program?

  • A PA program that has been in operation for 10+ years will likely have many of the logistical hiccups worked out.  Their administration should be soundly in place.  Their clinical sites and preceptors will be vetted and solid.
  • A fledgling program may still be working out some of the bumps in the road.  If you choose a new program, you will be along for the ride as the school finds its path.  So consider: is this the best physician assistant school  for you, and is it a ride you are ready for?


  •  The length of a program may vary from 24 to 36 months.  Though you may not choose a program by this criterion alone, it could be a deciding factor if you are torn between two similar schools.

Fit of the prerequisites

  • If you have already completed your degree and the PA school prerequisites, it may be helpful to choose the program with a curriculum that is similar to the work you have done.  If not, you should look at the schools that you think would be the best fit for you and tailor your coursework to the program you desire to attend.

Curriculum “style”

  • Do they use Problem-Based Learning, or a more “traditional” lecture format?
  • Is it a pass/fail format that encourages team work among students, or is it a competitive “medical school” model where students are pitted against one another and ranked by grades?

First-time PANCE passage rate

  • While this information is frequently available on a school’s web site, keep in mind that there may be a “back story.”  For example, what is the school’s retention rate?  If they have a 99% PANCE pass rate for the last five years, that may be terrific — particularly if they retained all or nearly all of the original class.  That same pass rate means less if they had a large cohort of students who were cut from the program for lackluster performance.
  • This is good to ask about when you interview.  Most program directors are eager to discuss their PANCE passage rates and welcome intelligent questions that give them the chance to explain what is behind the numbers.

Is there a thesis requirement?

  • A thesis is a paper that is tied to a major research project.  If you like doing research and writing, this could be a boon for you.  If not, it could be a nightmare.

When you look at the CASPA application and the list of programs, it seems like a long list of schools all around the country.   One program may appear just like another, but they are not—all are different and unique.  Finding the best physician assistant school for you will be easier once you start interacting with other applicants and interviewing.  Reading and participating in forums to connect with other PA-wannabes around the country offers you a look into some of the issues and choices.  So define your list of criteria, and gather information for your best physician assistant school choice.

Buffchic currently resides in Buffalo, NY with her husband, where she teaches clinical lab science at Canisius College.  She will be attending Daemen College’s physician assistant program this fall.  To read her Pre-PA Blog,
Diary of a PA Wannabe, visit her at