The PA essay is the ace in your pocket if you do it right.  If offers the chance to momentarily step into the limelight to tell admissions committees what you think they need to know about you.  A good PA essay can vault your application to the top of the “Definitely Interview” pile, even if some of your numbers are a weak.  Unfortunately, most people miss this unbeatable opportunity to impress the admissions committee members by falling prey to one of several common pitfalls.  Don’t let that be you!

PA Essay Pitfalls

We’ve read trunks full of PA essays, and consistently see PA essays with very avoidable pitfalls.  Here are our top 5 avoidable PA essay pitfalls.

PA Essay Pitfall #5: Clichés

A cliché is a phrase or expression that is tired and overused.  The rule is: AVOID CLICHÉS LIKE THE PLAGUE!  (That’s one, if you hadn’t noticed – it helps me remember the importance of this rule).  If you aren’t sure if something you write is a cliché, ask yourself, “If I only wrote part of this, could the reader finish it??

Examples of cliché – you can probably complete them, right?

  • Give ’em an inch, and they’ll take —————-> a mile
  • I’m so clumsy that I’m all  —————-> thumbs
  • On a wing and —————-> a prayer
  • Out of the frying pan and —————-> into the fire

Clichés are amateurish and predictable, which makes your essay (wait for it…) predictable, something you don’t want to be.  Hunt for them, and reword them using an original, unpredictable turn of phrase – “I’m so clumsy I can trip while I’m lying in bed!”

PA Essay Pitfall #4: Lack of Specificity

It’s far too easy to be vague when writing an essay.  You know what you mean, and it usually seems like it should be pretty straightforward to everyone else.  Right?  Wrong.  BE SPECIFIC. We see this in many areas of PA essays, but most commonly in descriptions of experiences and people, including applicants themselves.


My son sees a wonderful pediatric physician assistant at our family medical clinic.  He exemplifies the profession, and it’s these qualities that I hope to emulate as a PA.

That’s nice.  But what qualities is the writer speaking of?  Wonderful?  Talk about vague!  Instead, fill in the blanks for them.


My son sees a wonderful pediatric physician assistant.  He is quick with a smile, puts my son at ease, and has the integrity to tell me when he makes a mistake.  For this, I trust him, and hope that I can one day follow his example as a physician assistant who is kind, engaging, and honest about my abilities.

PA Essay Pitfall #3: Weak Conclusion

Your conclusion (your last paragraph) is the place to take the information you have shared elsewhere in your essay and sum it up, get poetic about it, or give the reader an idea what is next for you.  The best conclusions leave the reader thinking about your essay long after they finish reading it.  There should be no new information about you here!  Give the last paragraph a hopeful feeling, and end with a powerful, even unforgettable sentence.  The conclusion is like paying the reader for reading your pa essay.

PA Essay Pitfall #2: No Theme

A theme is a common thread that runs through your essay, binding it together so that no matter what you have shared, it all feels related in some way.  Themes are subtle, but not so hard to use.  You just pick one idea about you or your experiences that you really want to stand out above all others.  Then weave little references to it into your essay.  Make sure to start you theme in the first paragraph.  You don’t need to state it specifically in every paragraph, but in the end (your conclusion) you should find a way to return to it for emphasis.  For example, the theme I used in my own PA essay was about how I wished I could do more.  It allowed me to talk about my experiences and explain why I wanted to become a PA – so that I could play a bigger, more important role in patient care.  Because I wished I could do more.

Without a theme, your PA essay can easily become a blob of unrelated information, like a jumbled list.  A theme gives it focus, purpose, and art.

PA Essay Pitfall #1: Boring Introduction

This is the biggest one we see, by far.  Starting an essay is like seducing a lover.  You want to entice them to “go all the way” with you.

*Cough*  Sorry – I couldn’t resist writing that.

But seriously, who wants to read an essay that begins with “I have always wanted to become a physician assistant because…”?


Instead, use a fact, quote, or anecdote to kick things off and pull the reader in. You can even try something unexpected.

Example: “Her face was dusty with pulverized concrete, and she was in a daze.  I was blocks from ground zero on 9/11/01, and the experience became my baptism into the trying, sometimes painful, and always rewarding world of medicine.”  [Goes on to explain the scene some more…]

Avoid the PA essay pitfalls, and you’ll be well on your way to crafting a winning PA school application essay.[subscribe2]