Paying for PA School, Part 1: Costs

Paying for PA school is a challenge.  So do yourself a favor and start thinking about how you will fund your schooling from early on in the process. 

Is this really important at this point?  Won’t I figure it all out when I get there? Let me answer you by telling you the most common trait of compulsive debtors and spenders: a vagueness around money.  With this in mind, hold my hand, and we’ll look at the sweaty-palm reality of it together.  Because forewarned is forearmed.

The Cost

The cost of paying for PA school depends on the program you choose.  According to the Physician Assistant Programs Directory put out by the AAPA (a great resource, but it will cost you $35 per year to access), programs can range from around $10,000 for the duration of a typical 27-month program to $99,950!  A few programs fall below this scale, but they are definitely exceptions.  15k to 30k per year is not unusual.  What this means for you is if you are lucky enough to get into more than one program, you’d do well to consider the tuition and associated costs before you make your decision.  Aside from tuition, you need to factor in the estimated costs of medical supplies (lab coat, stethoscope, reflex hammer, otoscope/ophthalmoscope, notebook computer, etc.), books (they run about $600 a year for me, some pay as much as $2000), and housing, food,  and transportation, should you plan to attend a school out of your area. In the case that you attend a state school in a state where you aren’t a legal resident, your out-of-state tuition will be quite a bit more than the in-state kind.

Cost Does Not Equal Quality

It’s tempting to assume that the higher-priced schools are better in some way, but this isn’t necessarily true.  Consider the following:

  1. You’re only going to be in school for 2, or at most, 3 years.  Paying for PA school shouldn’t cause you decades of debt.  The less you need to borrow, the sooner you’ll be out of debt.
  2. Every accredited school will prepare you to practice.  As long as you pass the national certifying exam (the PANCE), it doesn’t matter much where you did you time*.  For this reason, the PANCE pass rates may be more important than many other factors.

PA program tuition is based on a myriad of factors, including each school’s geographic location, local labor rates, supply and demand, state support (or lack of it), medical center affiliations, and the financial fitness of the institution.  For this reason, their tuition costs vary wildly.

Paying for PA School by Working As You Train

Paying for PA school

Tuition, books, supplies - it all adds up.

Some schools will let you work, but most won’t; some will even boot you if you do.  On a more practical note, the idea of working while in school is (to me, at least) little crazy, and indicates that you might fully grasp what you’re getting yourself into.  We’ve said it many times: PA school is demanding–more so than you realize.  If you actually have any time outside of class, you’ll probably find that you really really need that time to study.  We find that there is rarely enough time to study.  For this reason, I highly discourage you from working while in PA school unless one or more of the following is true for you:

  1. There is absolutely no other way for you to afford it unless you work (I’m not a big believer in this, because there are always loans.  More on this in Part 2)
  2. You’ve been working in the medical profession for some time as a nurse, medic, or international medical graduate, etc., and you have a high degree of comfort with the type of material you will be learning.  (I’m not a big believer in this because it’s a gamble.  Even if you’re medically knowledgeable, you still need plenty of time to complete assignments and see patients in a preceptorship).
  3. Your work is very flexible (number of hours you work, and when you work them).

In Part 2 of Paying for PA School, we’ll look at some of the solutions – places to actually find the money you’ll need to make it all happen.  -P

* Of course you can argue that you want to get great training so you’ll be a great clinician.  Fine.  Just remember that the lion’s share of your true learning will occur during the first few years after you get out of school – when you practice.  Sad but true.  Also, where you go might be relevant if you have your heart set on a particular specialty, and you can only do it or do it well at a certain school.  But that’s getting pretty far away from where you sit right now.
  • Sarah G March 21, 2011, 10:43 pm

    Looking forward to the next post – are you going to explain FAFSA?

    BTW, I have placed a link to your blog on mine. Keep up the solid work gentlemen!

    • Paul March 22, 2011, 2:55 pm

      Yes. I’m thinking the FAFSA will show up in Part 3 (of 3).

      • Sarah G March 22, 2011, 3:46 pm

        Excellent. I have found several people aren’t familiar with it (especially if they didn’t do it for undergrad).

  • Get_the_fever March 22, 2011, 4:20 am

    Hi there, love this blog, thanks so much!

    2 things:

    I recently got engaged and my fiance’ makes about twice what I make, I have not been elligible for need based loans or grants ever so is there any imediately obvious way that getting married before school could adversely affect me getting loans?

    Also, here is a link to a very informative page posted on OHSU’s website regarding various loan types. I found it very helpful.

    • Sarah G March 22, 2011, 3:46 pm

      You will be considered as independent. Once you marry, your wife’s income is considered because the information on FAFSA is based off of your[joint] taxes. I was able to receive full aid even though my spouse works. Also I was able to note on the FAFSA that some of the numbers are not really reflective of my student status since half of the joint income would not exist during my school years.

      • Paul March 23, 2011, 10:04 am

        Thanks, Sara. This isn’t an area that I know much about. I wonder if (since you are not yet married) if you filed as “married, filing separately” instead of jointly, if it would make a difference. Sadly, I know someone who actually had to divorce (on paper) so that their kids would be considered for student loans, since the new spouse made good money. Crazy.

    • Paul March 23, 2011, 10:05 am

      That’s a good link. Thanks for sharing it!


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