The question we are asked most frequently by pre-pa students is: “Which pre-physician assistant major should I choose?”
We love hearing this question because it tells us that these pre-physician assistant students are thinking ahead. If you’re planning to attend a PA school far enough in advance of actually applying that you can consider which major is ideal, then you’re giving things plenty of thought. We’re going to tell you what we think, but first…
Our Friendly Opinion Disclaimer
As we say in almost every article, each PA program is different. So before we weigh in on this issue, here’s our disclaimer: make sure you contact schools that interest you and ask them specifically: “Does your program prefer any particular major or types of majors?” They may may or may not give a helpful answer, but if don’t ask, you could miss out on a crucial piece of information.
First, The Wrong Pre-Physician Assistant Major
A poor choice for pre-pa majors is one that:
You choose to impress PA schools. Majoring in microneurobioanatomical physiology to impress others with your overly technical or medical major education is a mistake. To PA programs, how and how well you have learned trumps what you have learned every time.
- Bores you. If you end up bored, you’ll probably blow off your studies to play beer pong or repaint your fingernails instead of studying, and bad grades will follow. If you don’t know what interests you, take the Holland Code Test.
- Has little or no application to medicine. Examples: Photography, Dance, English Literature, Mayan History. Sure you could become a PA with these pre-physician assistant majors, but it’s hard to prove your interest in medicine after spending four years studying the oboe.
- You believe you might not excel in. If you really struggle with math or chemistry, obtaining good grades in either of these will be tough.
Now, Your Best Pre-Physician Assistant Major
After reading what we consider the wrong choices, the right choice should be a snap. Pick something that you know excites you, that may apply to medicine, that you believe you can do well in. Why? Because PA schools look for the following things when they decide who to interview (and admit):
- Good grades. This is a no brainer. PA school is tough. It comes at you fast. And although they will be there to help you, they can’t hold you hand through it all. They want a strong indication that you will be successful in your studies, and the best indicator of future performance is past performance.
- A believable reason that you want to work in medicine. Some majors that might demonstrate your believable reason include:
- Foreign languages – they show an interest in other cultures, something you’ll be dealing with as a PA
- Nutrition – PA s educate their patients about diet all the time.
- Sports physiology (AKA kinesiology) – a “lighter” biological science
- Psychology again, you’ll be dealing with this a lot as a PA
- Sociology – the study of the habits and behaviors of groups of people
- Traditional biological science majors – chemistry, biology, anatomy, microbiology, etc.
- Real, well-rounded people. They don’t want cookie-cutter, 4.0 GPA Biology majors who look boring on paper. Would you want to interview someone who seemed boring on paper? What about if you read an application of a student who had volunteered building shelters in Haiti, or bicycled across Turkey, led a squad of marines through a war zone, started a unique business? Much different, eh? They want real people — people with many and varied experiences.
What About Sciences?
No matter what you majored in, you will need to take the Pre-PA science prerequisites (anatomy, physiology, microbiology, etc.) If you major in French or Psychology, these can always be taken later. If you’re in a hurry (something we don’t recommend but people always seem to be in) you can pick a major that requires these, and you’ll kill two birds with one stone. But remember, you’re committing to 4 years of a major. If you think you’d have more fun majoring in physics or philosophy, then do it. Prereqs can be completed after. A well-rounded candidate is a strong candidate.
A Word About The Actual “Pre-Physician Assistant” Major
As physician assistant careers become more popular, more colleges are responding by offering Pre-Physician Assistant Science as a major, much like Pre-Med is a major for those who intend to go to medical school. We can’t be sure it’s a bad idea, but we don’t think it’s a good one, for two reasons.
- You could fall prey to the “cookie-cutter” mentality from #3, above. A pre-physician assistant major could make your application look a little one-dimensional, and that’s bad.
- It won’t set you up well if you decide to go another direction. Four years is a long time, and it’s possible that by the time you finish college you’ll have lost interest in becoming a PA. What then?