How to Make PA School Applications Cheaper and More Affordable

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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 PA Cents: What is the 2017 Salary of a PA?

PA Cents is an awesome new blog about all of the financial stuff that comes along with being a physician assistant: salary, loans, debt, negotiations, and so much more. I'm reposting one of my favorite articles from the site today, which goes over everything you need to know about the current status of PA salaries.  And one of my posts was republished over there as well, so if you want to read about how I was able to pay off my PA school debt, check it out! 

A Breakdown of 2017 Physician Assistant Salary Reports

It’s a common question that everyone wants to know, whether you’re thinking about PA school, currently in a PA program or a practicing PA. How much do PAs Make? There are a few different sources for this information and each has it’s own benefits and drawbacks.

BLS Employment Statistics

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics is one source for salary information for all types of careers. They use data collected from employers on salary and benefits information. The data is collected over 2-3 years and is averaged. The salary includes incentive pay and production bonuses.

Per the Occupational Employment Statistics the mean annual wage for Physician Assistants from 2016 is $102,090; with the bottom 10% making $65,620 and the top 90% making $142,210.

The Good
As these surveys go out nationally and is done by the employer the information covers most PAs, which makes for a good sample size. The survey was for 104,050 PAs which would be almost all certified PAs. Not sure it is good or bad but the BLS reports is collected from employers and is not a self-report survey.

The Bad
Their is some delay in the data due to the time it takes to collect it. The data is averaged over a couple of years so it might not be the most up to date. Also, the salary is based on gross compensation so it combines both the base salary and bonus.

NCCPA Annual Report

The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants is the certifying body for PAs and collects data through PA profiles. Of the 115,547 certified PAs, 109,592 provided responses for at least a portion of the profile. How this works is that if you are a certified PA and you log in to your profile on the website they ask you a number of questions about who you are and they collect this data to make the report. Some people probably have not answered all the questions or have only partially completed their profiles at the time the data was collected, however overall this a large sample size as it covers 94.8% of certified PAs. The data is collected by a rolling collection and is reported based on total gross income from all PA positions.

According to the NCCPA Annual Report the average salary for certified PAs was $104,131. With the highest median salary going to those in emergency medicine and dermatology with $115,000. The lowest median salary of $85,000 goes to those working in adolescent medicine, gynecology, ob/gyn and pediatrics.

The Good
If you’re a certified PA you most likely filled out the profile so this report covers most PAs, which provides for a very large sample size. It also provides data for the breakdown of salaries in different specialties.

The Bad
This report is not as comprehensive as other reports as far as salary goes. It does look at things like practice setting and specialty but as far as the break down of base salary, bonus and benefits it does not go in depth. Also, the data is collected in a rolling cycle so it might not be based on the most recent year’s salaries.

AAPA Salary Survey

The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) is the national professional society for PAs. The AAPA advocates for  PAs and provides educational opportunities. It sends out an annual salary survey to all the members who have not opted out of communication from the AAPA. For the 2016 survey, it was sent out to 89,228 PAs and PA students with a total number of respondents of 15,999. The data is collected from the previous calendar year.

The median salary for the 2016 AAPA annual salary report was $97,000. Highest pay awarded to surgical sub-specialties and PAs working out west. The lowest going to PAs working in primary care and those in the Midwest. The 50th percentile for bonus amount was $5,000 for full-time PAs.

The Good
Of all the salary reports the AAPA salary survey is the most comprehensive. It breaks the data down by state and even shows data for the breakdown of benefits including time off, insurance, retirement, etc, so you can really see what other people are receiving and how others are getting paid. The data collected is from the prior year so it should be the most up to date. Also, it breaks it down from base salary and bonus and for full-time compared to part-time employment.

The Bad
The sample size is small and quite possibly the 75,000+ PAs who did not respond to the survey are the ones that are making so much money they don’t have time to respond to the survey. The survey is only available to AAPA members for free, non-members can purchase a copy. is another self-reporting survey. It has only 5,479 individuals who have reported on Physician Assistant salary. The data is collected through creating a personal report. When you go to the website you can get an individual salary report and in order to do this you must answer all the questions that pertain to yourself, including your salary and bonus.  The salary amount does not include bonus.

The median salary as of May 2017 was $91,402, with bonus ranging from $1,012 – $17,588.

The Good
Its the first thing that comes up when you google “physician assistant salary” (not sure that is a good thing or not). It breaks down salary to base salary and bonus.

The Bad
Very small sample size. Who knows when the data is from. They collect data from individual profiles so although it might be updated recently, the individual profiles are probably reflecting old salaries as I doubt most people are updating their salaries annually.

The Bottom Line

From the 2017 salary reports we looked at, the average salary for 2017 is in the low $100,000 with a couple thousand difference (The reports are actually from the prior year but released in the current year, so 2017 data is collected in 2016 then the report is compiled and released in 2017). The AAPA and looked at base salary and bonus separately, where as the NCCPA and BLS reports looked at combined base salary and bonus.

The AAPA salary survey is by far the most comprehensive with that data that it provides but it is a smaller sample size. (Here’s my plug for doing the AAPA salary survey. If more members responded to the survey we would have better data. It does take some time but if you want help with negotiating its best if everyone takes part in it. Also, you need to be a member in order to participate so it is worth keeping up with your AAPA membership). To look at the survey it is free to members or you must pay a fee.

The report is the least valid as it has the smallest sample size and probably not very current. I wouldn’t recommend using the number for anything more than a general idea of what PAs make.

Overall, PA salaries have been increasing over time and the outlook looks good for increased salaries in the future. I know compared to 5 years ago and after a job change my base salary has increased almost $20,000.

Salary Reports are helpful for anyone interested in the Physician Assistant Career. If you’re looking at becoming a PA you might be interested to know how much PAs make and above are some resources to look at.

If you’re a practicing PA or graduating soon you can use the salary information to help you negotiate a fare wage and you can use these salary reports to help you see what others are getting paid.

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