When should you apply to physician assistant school? This is a very personal question that comes up very often. The first step to deciding if you’re ready to apply is understanding the application cycle for PA school.
When you decide to apply, you essentially will need to submit your application approximately a year before you start school. A few programs with January starts are the exceptions to this rule because you would apply in April and potentially begin the program less than six months after receiving your acceptance. For most schools with a May or August start, submitting in April would give you a full year to interview and plenty of time before starting your program. You have to take this into account when choosing which year to submit your application.
I’ll use my application as an example. I started working on my application in April 2011 and submitted in June of 2011. I was scheduled to graduate in December 2011 (I took an extra online class to finish in 3.5 years), and I knew that I would prefer to NOT have to take a gap year, so that meant applying at the end of my junior year.
If you want to avoid a gap year, you’ll need to apply at the end of your junior year or beginning/during your senior year.
I had my first interview at the beginning of September with 2 weeks notice. Soon after, I received a second interview invite for the beginning of October. I actually got my acceptance call from the first interview there! And 2 weeks later, my 2nd acceptance came in. That sounds confusing, but basically I received my acceptances in the fall of 2011. One program started in May 2012 and one started in January 2012, and I chose the one that started in May. To put it in terms of cycles, I applied in the 2011-2012 cycle for a 2012 start.
You won’t apply in April for an August start of the same year. It will be the NEXT year that you are applying for. This confuses a lot of applicants.
Taking a gap year isn’t a bad thing, it just wasn’t my preference. Once you’ve figured out when you would ideally like to start, the next step in deciding when to apply is making sure you meet the requirements of the program. As confirmed in Episode 55 of The Pre-PA Club Podcast with PA Professor, Wes Johnson, if you don’t meet all of the school’s requirements, your application will never be evaluated. They probably won’t even see it!
As a general rule of thumb, if you meet the minimum requirements of a program and can check all of the boxes, go for it.
When it comes down to it, you could always take more time to improve your application, and you shouldn’t stop doing that, but you also shouldn’t delay applying for too long. Eventually, you just have to go for it!
Once you’ve decided this is your cycle, you’ll increase your chances if you apply earlier to programs with rolling admissions. In the past, July-August was considered early, but with the competitiveness of PA school, May-June is now more ideal. Does that mean if you submit later than that you won’t get any interviews? No way! But it can help you out more just by submitting earlier. Rolling admissions means as soon as an application is marked as “complete” it is evaluated, and if they like what they see, you’ll get an interview, which hopefully results in an acceptance.
Comment below with any questions about the application timeline!