How to Make PA School Applications Cheaper and More Affordable

We are like snowflakes, all different in our own beautiful way..png

Applying to physician assistant school is expensive. There’s no denying that. It takes many sacrifices of time and money to fulfill the requirements and steps necessary to become a PA. Jamie (@jamienicole_pa on Instagram) previously wrote a guest post on the unexpected expenses of applying to PA school, but today we’ll get into ways to make the process cheaper.

First of all, there are reasons the process is set up the way it is. The requirement of a bachelor’s degree and the hours of patient care experience, shadowing, and volunteering are what separates becoming a PA from nursing and medical school. You have to put in the time and money up front to get the benefit of a shorter training program. Being married to a medical resident, the amount of money required for medical school and the time and lack of adequate salary for residency is a huge sacrifice as well. For nursing, you would finish sooner, but not make the salary or have the responsibilities of a PA. If the time and requirements were all the same, there wouldn’t be as much differentiation between the various career paths.

For some background on myself, I don’t come from a medical family. My parents were both teachers. They worked extremely hard to give me great experiences growing up and encouraged my education. I’m very thankful for that. I worked hard in high school to earn a state scholarship that paid for the majority of my undergrad education at a public school and my parents helped me with living expenses. When it came time for PA school, there was no way they could afford to pay for it. I took out loans like the majority of my classmates. I come from a financially stable background (at least, that’s what my parents portrayed, but now that I know how much things cost in the real world, I know they made huge sacrifices), but it wasn’t always easy. To complete all of the requirements during undergrad, I sacrificed my time. During undergrad, I went to a CNA program every Saturday for 3 months that was an hour away and did my clinicals during spring break. I actually never went downtown to party, I was too busy studying. I worked full time in the summer while taking classes to graduate early and save my parents the expenses of an extra semester. Looking back, I might would change some of those things, but I achieved my goals and I’m happy with where I ended up.

PAs are known for being resourceful and go-getters. You must have a good amount of self-motivation as a PA because there’s a lot of learning to be done on the job. When it comes to finding time to shadow and volunteer, you’ve got to make it happen. This can be tough as an undergrad having to work multiple jobs or as someone with a family to support. Sometimes the answer may be taking a little bit longer and spreading things out to reach your goals. There tends to be a rat race with pressure to get to the finish line as soon as possible, and while sacrifices will certainly be required, it’s okay if it takes you longer than you would prefer. Make sure you meet all of the requirements of a program before you apply so you don’t waste your time or money. I’ve seen way too many applicants applying with GPAs or grades below the requirements, and the schools will never see your application with that method.

Even if you have small chunks of time, use them wisely. Find something you enjoy doing as volunteer work so it doesn’t just feel like you’re checking a box. Finding shadowing hours is difficult, but eventually someone will say yes if you keep trying. Ask your neighbor’s cousin who works with a nurse if they have any connections and you may be surprised. You’ll never know until you ask. Cold call offices like I did, and even if only one calls you back, it’s a start. Instead of getting bogged down by the many requirements and your lack of time, take it one step at a time and realize that if you’re doing the best you can, that’s all you can do!

Sometimes becoming a PA may mean taking a pay cut to get patient care hours. Many entry level jobs don’t pay that well or even much more than minimum wage. Being frugal for a few years may have benefits in the end. Put the numbers down on paper. Look at everything you spend money on, and see if you can make it happen. Most of us have a good bit of stuff, and I know I’ve personally raided my closet and put things on eBay to reach financial goals at times.

Look for waivers and scholarships. One of my biggest regrets from undergrad was not applying for more scholarships. A simple Google search will bring up many options, and a lot of them are geared toward healthcare students. You never know if you don’t apply, and it doesn’t take that long to fill out a form and write a short essay. Go to your financial aid office and see what’s available from your school. The GRE and CASPA both offer income based waivers to help cover the costs associated with applying. CASPA’s fee waiver covers the first application fee of $179, and is given on a first come, first serve basis so you need to have everything organized before it’s time to apply. The GRE costs $205 and the waiver covers 50% of one testing. On test day, you can send your score to 4 programs for free. Make sure you have a CASPA account set up to take advantage of this. Plan ahead and know the expenses that are to come so you can start saving even if it’s just a little bit along the way.

When it comes time to interview, start thinking about it ahead of time. Pay for everything possible with a credit card that will earn you points for travel, and try to pay it off in time. My bills, tithe, and everything go on my card and those points add up. The Southwest card by Chase is a popular option that helps with flights. Look for cheaper hotels or find someone else to share a room or Airbnb with. Start looking for your suit early so you can get in on a deal. Check out the thrift stores nearby, or ask a friend to borrow theirs. Mine came from the Banana Republic Factory Store clearance rack.

Put in an effort to look for resources because they are out there. If you go back and read through the blog posts on The PA Platform, listen to The Pre-PA Club podcast, watch the videos on YouTube, join the Facebook group, and read previous Instagram posts, I can guarantee you’ll find most of the answers you’re looking for and get great advice. And it will all be free. If you don’t find the answer you’re looking for, go to Google, And if you STILL don’t find the answer, email me and I’ll get you one. You’d be amazed at the number of messages and emails The PA Platform receives daily. While we can’t evaluate everyone’s individual application completely, we can point you in the right direction. We continue to put out content in an effort to make this entire process easier for everyone. And I’ll be honest, it takes a ton of time.

Instead of just complaining about the issues, let’s try to figure out ways to do something about it. That’s the point of The PA Platform being a resource offering information to make the application process easier.


Guest Post from Jamie - The Unexpected Expenses of Interviewing and Attending PA School

This post was originally posted by Jamie on Reddit, but has been published here with her permission.  I'm really excited to introduce you guys to Jamie.  If you haven't ever heard of Reddit, you're missing out!  The prephysicianassistant sub-Reddit is awesome and a great place to get questions answered.  And FYI, some of the links in this post are affiliate links with Amazon, which means Jamie gets a couple of cents if you buy something, you don't pay more, and we can keep giving you awesome information for free! 


The Hidden Costs for Physician Assistant School

I wanted to write a post about expenses because a lot of this stuff caught me by surprise. Please keep in mind while reading this that these are expenses specific to my experience and my university. I imagine many of them will be pretty universal, but some may differ by school.

A few that are universal about interviewing:

  • Purchasing your interview outfit. You need to dress professional – that means a full suit for men, and either a business dress (sheath dress, or something similar) with a blazer (think Claire Underwood from House of Cards), pencil skirt with a matching blazer, or pantsuit for women. If your interview is over the course of two days, inquire to your program about the attire. Your actual interview day will always be professional, but you may be able to get away with business casual, or even casual on the meet and greet day. Regardless, you can’t wear the same professional outfit both days, so you need at least two nice shirts.
  • Cleaning up before the interview. For example, I got my hair cut because my hair was kind of crazy looking. Looking clean and put together will give a good first impression. I’d love to live in a society where we aren’t judged by our appearance, but we don’t, and you have to look nice. You just need to look somewhat put together, but even a $12 haircut will add a bit to your interview costs!
  • Potential hotels or transportations: maybe you need to fly to the schools you applied for, maybe you need to stay in a hotel.
  • Days off work: if the interview falls on a day you usually work, you will have to miss a day of pay. While that doesn’t literally cost you any money, it does take away a day from your paycheck. Consider switching shifts with someone if that makes a big difference in your budget for the week or month.

A few that are universal (probably) regarding school itself, once you’re accepted:

Vaccinations: Hep B is the only one you can decline at UDM. Others are required: rubella, measles, mumps, varicella. For UDM, you must have titers done to prove that you are immune to each. It’s probably smart for them to do that because I had vaccination records of Hep B and rubella/MMR, but my titers came back negative. I had to re-do those.

Physical: Typical physical + Tdap and TB test (If your TB test is positive, you then have to follow up with a chest x-ray or you can ask your primary care provider for a blood-based TB test instead)

Dress code: Some programs require a specific scrub color or require only professional attire - if you have to buy either of those, that will cost you a decent amount, especially for nice dress clothes. Definitely check out Marshall's or TJMaxx if you're on a budget. My favorite dress clothes come from Express, but I wait until there are sales and I have a coupon. Thankfully I'm able to wear any color scrubs, and I have a ton from being a CNA!

Equipment: (Do not buy these based on this post, but wait until you get a list of requirements from your program! Yours may differ or they may require specific brands or something. Just gives you an idea of what to expect.)

  • You will absolutely need a stethoscope. A nice Littmann Cardiology III runs about $150, a little more if you engrave it or something, a little less if Amazon has some sort of sale or you pick an ugly color that no one buys.  You can absolutely buy a cheaper one or a more expensive brands, but this is the most recommended by the MDs and PAs that I have spoken to, both in real life and online. I love mine, it’s my favorite color and it was engraved with “Jamie Nicole”.
  • Diagnostic kit: Otoscope/ophthalmoscope set. Welch Allyn comes highly recommended and is VERY expensive. Somewhere between $300-$1000 depending on the handle material and used/new condition. You could definitely buy a cheaper one from Amazon or something, but you won’t be able to see as well and may need to borrow a friend’s for exams (I’m on the fence about buying one).
  • Lab coat, probably. Sometimes 2. Usually embroidered with program name, your name, and PA-S or sometimes just student.
  • Pen light (okay, you can buy this one if it makes you happy, it costs like $2 – some other cheaper things are latex-free gloves if you have an allergy, tongue depressors, gauze pads, alcohol wipes)
  • Sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff) – these aren’t too expensive and a lot of you probably already have one for some reason or another.

Some that might be unique to UDM, but may happen to you:

  • Fingerprinting (Michigan legislature changed RIGHT after I paid to be fingerprinted, and the State will no longer release finger print information with criminal records, so UDM dropped this requirement and half of us had already paid for it and had it done, so that sucked. Way to go to the procrastinators! Your program may not make you do this, or they may pay for it, or you may not have to do it at all).
  • Drug testing (You will absolutely have a drug test, but your program may pay to have it done instead of making you pay for it).
  • Criminal Background Check (same as drug testing, it varies by program who pays for it).


  • MOVING: If you get into a program away from home and need to move, you may need a wide variety of things! You might live with your mom now and need furniture for your first solo place. You might have a place already but need to rent a moving truck. You might have to buy all your friends pizza or beer or both for helping you assemble Ikea furniture.

Feel free to comment with anything I may have missed or things required for other programs!

Hi all. Thanks for reading! I'm Jamie Murawski, a physician assistant student at the University of Detroit Mercy. I have a Bachelor of Science from Grand Valley State University. I'm a Michigan girl through and through. 

I'm growing my online presence in the PA community through Reddit, where I moderate /r/prephysicianassistant along with some other pretty cool PA students. I also have an Instagram where I pseudo-blog about my journey (@jamienicole_pa.s). Please feel free to follow me or message me with any questions, I'm happy to help!