It is important to know what the best extracurriculars for PA school are before you start preparing your applications for Physician Assistant (PA) programs. Whether applying to PA programs in the US or Canada, your extracurricular activities are among the essential because they tell the admissions committee how you choose to spend your free time and if you have built the experience and skills required to become a good PA. This blog will elaborate on the importance of having the best extracurriculars for PA school. It will also give you some strategies and information to help you choose the best ones for you and increase your chances of getting into your chosen program.
As important as your test scores and GPA are, they only tell PA program admission committees about your academic abilities, which is one aspect of the PA admissions process. PA programs want to make sure that they are training individuals who not only have the scientific knowledge to do the job, but also the non-cognitive skills, emotional intelligence, and dedication to handle the rigorous nature of PA school and become great PAs in the future. Your Clinical experience and other extracurricular activities play a significant role in helping them determine if you have those required soft skills.
Furthermore, you have to remember that are highly competitive. In fact, the numbers suggest that the PA school admission rates are more competitive than - with an average acceptance rate of approximately 41% for medical schools and only 31% for . This means that future PAs need a strong, well-rounded application that stands out to get into the PA program of their choice. Selecting the best extracurriculars for PA school can significantly improve your application, especially if you use your descriptions and personal statement to clearly show the admissions committee how these experiences have prepared you for PA school and a career in the medical field.
PA programs average acceptance rate:
Physician assistants have an enormous amount of responsibility, and as the burden on the healthcare system continues to grow, so does the scope of their duties. To ensure that the admitted students have what it takes to take on these responsibilities and duties, most PA programs require students to have a specific number of paid clinical hours. Additionally, there are other activities that are not formally required by PA programs but are highly recommended. We will be discussing both types of activities:
Patient Care Experience & Shadowing
Most PA programs require a specific number of paid clinical hours or Patient Care Experience (PCE). These are roles in which you interact directly with patients and are responsible for their care. For example, paid work as a medical assistant, dietician, athletic trainer, paramedic, EMT, nurse, or another setting where you are assisting patients directly can be used to fulfill this clinical experience requirement. Many roles that count as clinical experience require formal training (such as becoming an Emergency Medical Technician -EMT), so it is important to keep that in mind when planning for PA school. Consider doing this training as early as possible - for example, during the summer semester of your first year in college.
It is worth noting that the specific requirements for clinical experience hours vary widely from one school to another. Some PA programs require 2,000 hours of PCE, others ask for 1000 hours or more of direct patient-contact hours, while others don't have a strict requirement. For example, The University of Iowa requires a minimum of 1,000 hours of direct patient health care experience, and the school specifies that this experience can come from traditional paid employment, volunteer, or research experiences. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you verify your chosen school's individual requirements.
That said, keep in mind that PA programs are highly competitive, so even if a particular school requires a minimum of 1000 PCE hours to be considered for admission, they do not necessarily expect applicants to stop at that minimum number of hours. Furthermore, the other applicants won't be stopping at that number either. The ability to interact well with patients is one of the key indicators of a successful future PA, so programs want to see candidates with experience. You should aim to have at least 2000 paid PCE hours if you want to be a competitive applicant.
Furthermore, some PA schools also require students to have some shadowing experience. Whether your chosen PA program requires this or not, we recommend getting some shadowing experience to make your application competitive. Not only is it a great activity to show the admissions committee that you are dedicated to the field of medicine, but it is also a great opportunity to see other PAs in action and learn about the field you wish to pursue. To get more experience in less time and in a more convenient manner, consider looking for
In addition to clinical hours, the CASPA application gives applicants the option of including various other extracurriculars. The application categorizes these experiences in the following way:
Overall, your non-PCE experiences are also significant for your PA school application because they help demonstrate that you've developed the personal traits and qualities necessary to provide comprehensive patient care as a PA, thus making you a more competitive applicant. An applicant with 3000 patient care hours but no other experiences outside of healthcare would actually be at a disadvantage if a different candidate had met the required number of hours and also had a wider range of relevant activities. This is because the second candidate would appear more well-rounded and be able to contribute a different perspective.
You do not need to have an activity for each of the different categories in the CASPA experience section, but we do recommend having at least two or three activities in addition to your PCE. You should especially look for activities that touch upon your interpersonal since, after all, being a PA is about treating people.
It is important to be selective and think strategically about the extracurriculars you choose to include in your application to PA school. Remember that these activities are supposed to tell the admissions committee more about your suitability for their program and a career as a PA. In other words, you should only include extracurricular activities that will contribute something to your application.
Check out this infographic to learn about the other PA school requirements:
We recommend keeping a detailed record of your experiences - write down all hours, role descriptions, and reflections about your experience. This information will give you something to refer to when you are deciding which experiences should be included in your application. No two students are the same, meaning that the same experience that strengthens one candidate's application could potentially weaken another's. This means that there is no general checklist that you can use to determine what the best extracurriculars for PA school applications are, but there are a few rules of thumb that we recommend you follow:
Quality Over Quantity
When selecting additional extracurricular activities, it is important to keep in mind that a few quality extracurriculars will be more impactful than a large number of activities that do not add anything to your overall profile as an applicant. There is a common assumption that students need to enroll in as many extracurricular activities as possible in order to appear well-rounded and impress the PA program's admissions committee, but this can actually end up being counterproductive. The admissions committee might think you have trouble committing or that you are flaky. Or even worse, they can deduce that you only participated in these activities to increase your chances of admission.
Furthermore, your level of commitment and participation efforts in a particular activity tell the admissions committee something about who you are as a person and how dedicated you are. A student can't possibly be passionate about 20 different things and show the same level of commitment to all of them. While you do not need to be completely devoted to every activity that you choose, you should be able to stick with it long enough to grow, learn and maybe even take on a leadership role.
We recommend that you look for activities you can do for a minimum of six months and put your best foot forward to show progress and growth. This is not only the best way for you to build on your transferable skills, but also get enough concrete examples that you can refer back to when discussing your experiences in your PA personal statement and PA interview. Remember that the admissions committee wants to know what you learned and how it helped you prepare to become a PA, and how you can contribute to the depth and breadth of their student body.
So, before you decide to apply for or enroll in a specific activity, ask yourself the following questions:
This list of questions is not exhaustive, but it should give you some idea of what you need to consider before you actually decide to pursue a specific extracurricular for PA school. Except for clinical hours, the specific activity you chose does not matter as much as what you learn from it and how you can express that. Consider the fact that you will not only have to list these activities in your CASPA application and briefly describe them in 600 characters (around 100 words) or less, but also mention what you learned from them in your admission essays and potentially answer questions about them in your PA interview. So, focus on choosing activities you like and can learn and grow from.
The Under-10-year/at-least-collegiate Level Threshold
CASPA suggests that applicants focus on experiences within the last ten years and at the collegiate level or above. This is an excellent general rule to use in guiding what to exclude from your application rather than what to include.
It would be best to omit everything from your high-school resume and pre-college years or beyond ten years old. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, such as long-running activities that are currently ongoing. For example, if you've been volunteering for an annual event every summer since your senior year of high school, it would make sense to include those early years along with your recent ones.
Additionally, non-traditional applicants, such as mature students with more work experience, may list activities older than ten years old. However, they need to be very careful with this and stick to listing the most relevant and impactful ones. Often, in an attempt to have an activity for each category, students include old activities with no recent connection, but that can be unproductive. For example, by including something like volunteer work from your high school years, you may only be pointing out your lack of more recent volunteer work as an adult.
Still trying to decide between PA and MD? This video can help:
Indirectly Relevant Activities
One of the best ways to recognize a quality extracurricular for PA school is to consider how relevant it is to your application. Seeing how roles that qualify as patient care experience, healthcare experience, leadership, or volunteer work directly prepare you for PA school and work as a PA is relatively easy since these types of activities are directly tied to what you'd be doing as a PA. However, that doesn't make other extracurricular activities irrelevant. The key is selecting the right ones! Consider the qualities that make a good PA, and compare them to the skills and experiences you have picked up from various experiences.
Generally, experiences requiring a substantial time commitment help you build one skill or another, but the key decision point should be whether that skill will help you in PA school or as a PA in the future, and add value to your overall application. For example, let's say that you were a student-athlete throughout college or worked full-time as a waitress while completing your degree. You should include those experiences in your application because they likely helped you to build communication and time management skills that will serve you as a provider.
1. Are extracurriculars an important part of the admissions process for PA schools?
Yes, they are. Your extracurricular activities tell the admissions committee how you choose to spend your free time and if you have the necessary skills to handle PA school and become a good PA.
2. What are the PA school admission requirements?
PA programs require students to have an average of 2000 paid clinical hours; some schools may also ask for 10 to 50 hours of shadowing experience. It is also highly recommended that you have additional work or volunteer experience in the field of healthcare.
3. How many clinical hours do I need to get into PA school?
The exact number depends on the PA program you are applying to, but you may need to have up to 2000 hours of clinical hours.
4. What is the difference between clinical and healthcare activities?
To put it simply, Clinical activities involve direct patient care, while healthcare activities must be related to the industry. For example, if you volunteered as a scribe in an emergency room, that would be a healthcare experience, but if you were an emergency room technician, then you were responsible for patient care, and that would count towards your clinical hours.
5. Does clinical research count toward the required number of clinical hours?
That depends on the type of research and your specific role. PA programs want you to fulfill this requirement with experiences requiring direct patient interaction - such as emergency room technicians, EMTs or paramedics.
6. Can I get into PA school if I only have clinical experience?
It is possible, but that highly depends on your chosen school. Some programs also require a specific number of shadowing hours, and others may not have additional requirements, but it may be hard to stand out as the strongest candidate when you do not have other work or volunteer experiences to boost your application.
7. How many extracurriculars do I need to get into PA school?
There is no minimum number of activities required to get into a PA program, but there are expectations when it comes to the time commitment for your patient care activities. So, focus on quality instead of quantity.
8. How competitive is admission to PA programs?
Very! On average, only 31% of applicants get admitted to PA programs every year.