physician assistant school essay: three things you must communicateLet’s talk about the BIG PICTURE of your PA school application essay.  Students struggle when it comes time to write their essay because most of the their application is pretty much fill-in-the-blanks.  Then they get to the essay section and see a giant empty page/screen.  For CASPA, the question is (intentionally) vague:

In the space provided write a brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a physician assistant.

But this is much bigger than why you want to be a PA.  It’s about who you are and why this career matters to you.  That’s a lot of territory to cover in 5000 characters.  Where do you even begin?  I usually remind the students I coach that their essay has three things that they need to prove to the admissions committee.

Three Things You Must Convey In Your Essay

1.  You are adequately motivated

That you really really want to become a PA does not make you adequately motivated. They read way too much of that, and when they get to interviews, they hear even more of it.  Most students don’t share their less admirable reasons for wanting to become a PA, which can include good pay, prestige, because they didn’t get into medical school, because they hope eventually to go to medical school, and boredom, among other things.  These are things you should definitely leave out.

But often they don’t spend much energy sharing the good reasons in any detail.  Good reasons tend to be admirable, ambitious, and above all, believable.  Tell them a story or two about yourself that illustrates your good reasons.  Have you taken any actions in this process which show how serious you are about it?  Did you join your state’s chapter of the AAPA?  Did you interview elelven PAs?  Did you move so you could be closer to school?  Rather than telling them how badly you want this, share a story that shows actions you have taken that prove your desire.

2.  You are adequately prepared

Being prepared for PA school includes having the prerequisites under your belt, having enough healthcare experience in your background that you know something about medicine already (they can’t teach you everything), and that you have realistic expectations about what you’re getting yourself into.  Will you be able to handle the coursework?  The many hours of studying?  If you have a partner and/or kids, does your situation permit you to complete the program, or are you likely to drop out?  If you have a major medical disability or medical condition, have you had it long enough to deal with it effectively?  Have you gotten good at managing it?  Give them evidence that you are ready for this.

3.  You are adequately deserving

This one is perhaps the hardest because it’s so subjective.  Admissions committees know that an offer of admission is a blessing.  It’s a gift, and they want to give that gift to the right person, not the person who didn’t earn it or may squander it.  Signs that you are deserving might include that: you have suffered at least a little, you have put in the time, aren’t entitled or cocky, that you plan to use if for the greater good.  Admissions committees love “big thinkers.”  Big thinkers don’t have the goal of just getting into school; their goals are MUCH bigger.   Without being arrogant, they want to become PAs to change medicine and the world!  They want to BE THE CHANGE as the bumper sticker goes.  It’s hard to see someone with goals like that as undeserving.

PA school essay thumbs upThis one is particularly difficult if you are the son or daughter of a doctor or PA, and even worse if that other person practices at the institution you hope to attend.  People will assume that you are there on that person’s coattails, and not because you are deserving.  If you’re in that situation, you might need a coach to help you plan an essay that convincingly says “Hey, I’m lucky to be connected to medicine AND I’m deserving!”

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If you accomplish these three goals, you will be offered an interview.  The interview itself is another opportunity to highlight those same three things, although you will do so in a much more personal way.  As always, if you feel hung up on your essay, you can find insights in our ebook, “Crafting a Winning PA School Essay: A Step-by-step Guide to Tipping the Odds in Your Favor.”  Need a little more guidance in the application process?  Then check out our coaching page and learn how you can get just the help you need.