PA school applicants almost universally dread group interviews.  Intuitively, it might seem that the only thing more stressful than being interviewed is being interviewed right alongside your competition.   But if you’re ready and you know what to expect, a group interview can become a great way to show your strengths and stand out from the crowd. 

Why PA Programs Like Group Interviews

Group interviews for graduate school are increasingly common for three reasons:

  1. They are faster.  By interviewing 5 or more candidates at one time, the burden of sifting through large numbers of applicants is greatly reduced.  Candidates can be interviewed in a weeks, as opposed to a months.
  2. They are cheaper.  Time, as we know, is money, so making the interview process quicker also makes it much less expensive.  With increasing pressures for programs to maximize their budget dollars, group interviews just make sense.
  3. They allow easy comparison.  By having applicants side-by-side, they can be evaluated relative to one another.


Group Interview Formats

There two most common formats for group interviews are small group discussions, and small group activities.

group interviewSmall Group Discussions

In small group discussions, applicants are gathered 3-7 at a time and given the chance to respond to the same questions in turn.  For example, an interviewer might sit with a table of 5 applicants and begin by asking: “What about your background will make you a good physician assistant?”  The first student answers as the interviewer takes notes, then the next student, and so on, until all members of the small group have answered.  The questions may be straightforward, like “Tell me about how you became interested in becoming a physician assistant.” or more pointed, as with “Tell me about a time when you had to communicate effectively when under pressure.”  (If you get that question, hope that you’re the first person to joke that “This interview is a great example!”

Tips for small group discussions:

  1. Wait patiently for your turn
  2. Don’t interrupt or criticize other applicants
  3. Listen to what others say and refer to it when possible.  This shows you are listening and can integrate what you hear.
  4. Be memorable, either by taking a different approach to the question than the other applicants have, by sharing an opinion that is different from others, or by making an appropriate joke.
  5. Assume that you and everyone in your small group is worthy and will be admitted.  This will help you project yourself respectfully, positively, avoid the temptation to be overly competitive.
Group interviews offer you an opportunity to stand out

Small Group Activities

In group activities, a small group of students (usually 5 or fewer) is told to work together to solve a problem or accomplish a goal.  The task usually requires teamwork, such as building a bridge between two tables that will hold a pile of books, or a tower of a certain height – using only the materials that the interviewers provide you.  The group must first figure out how to accomplish the task (a measure of problem solving), and then execute the task (a measure of each member’s leadership ability and communication skill).

Tips for group activities

  1. Be polite and respectful of the other members.
  2. Show your leadership ability by helping to come up with a plan for your group.  For example, “I think it would be best if we [share your plan for solving the problem here.]”
  3. Show your ability to lead by delegating tasks to others.  For example, “Jim, it would help if someone would [share a task that needs to be done by someone].  Would you be responsible for that?”
  4. Give praise and appreciation to team members for helping carry out your plan.
  5. If the group chooses someone else’s plan over yours, be ready to demonstrate your leadership and communication skills by helping to effectively carry it out.
  6. DON’T HANG BACK – BE BOLD!  Many candidates take a passive, agreeable stance, being only too glad for someone else to stick their neck out and call the shots.  They think that only their ability to get along with others is being evaluated and they fear taking any chances.  Unfortunately for those who think this way, interviewers usually want to see who will arise as the group’s leader(s).  For this reason, it’s to your advantage to be among the first to step forward with a plan.  Other group members will probably support your plan since they don’t want to seem uncooperative.


Yes, group interviews can seem stressful and unnatural.  But if you are prepared, and approach them confidently, you will show what an asset you can be as a PA.[subscribe2]