Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 3: Common Questions

Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 3: Common Questions

ISSUE 14

Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 3: Common Questions

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner. Last time, you evaluated your admissions staff to ensure that you have the right people in the right place at the right time to make the most of your admissions cycle. Today we’ll conclude this three-Issue series on Managing PA Admissions Personnel by responding to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding admissions personnel.

Every PA program has unique approaches to personal mission and vision, faculty involvement with students, and student recognition for achieving certain milestones and graduation. On the other hand, many of the specific challenges and problems that your PA program might face within your admissions department are not very different from the PA program located across town or the PA program located 1000 miles away. But don’t worry! We’ve conducted enough seminars on PA program management to hear them all, and we want to share the answers with you.

 

Question: How can we modify our admission processes to better select the right students?

Conduct a quality assurance process focusing on who is involved with the admissions process from the first moment that prospective applicants reach out to your program all the way to matriculation.

Perception can significantly impact an applicant’s decision to select your program over your competition. Providing focused and caring customer service throughout the admissions process will pay significant dividends, but it will require allocating specific workload and staff time. Rather than a team approach with multiple individuals working with each applicant, it’s best to split up your applicant pool and assign a specific individual from your admissions personnel to each group. Each applicant will be able to build a relationship with someone who has taken the time to listen, care, and get to know their individual situation. That specific admissions personnel can keep an ear to the ground for applicants who are particularly excited about your program.

Dividing up the applicants and establishing a consistent personnel member each segment of the pool allows for careful review of which applicants are the best fit. Shepherding prospective applicants all the way through the admissions process with a familiar face gives all applicants the opportunity to develop an affinity for your program, including the yet-to-be-determined ideal applicants. That affinity will result in matriculation for more of your ideal applicants than if they were passed back and forth between multiple personnel.

When you have properly focused applicant admission data, your admissions personnel will be much better equipped to make decisions, which facilitates appropriate selection for interviews. And as we all know, the selection process for interviews is crucial to provide your PA program with the highest conversion rate from interview to matriculation.

 

Question: How can we modify our admission processes to better screen and process our applicant pool for ideal applicants?

PA programs receive hundreds or thousands of applicants per year. Sorting through that many applications and deciding which applicants to invite for interviews is daunting. You need a workable strategy starting with specific guidelines and qualifications for your applicants to be eligible for consideration. Here are some suggestions to begin the process:

  1. Minimum GPA – Screen for minimum GPA levels. Applicants who do not meet your minimum levels can be eliminated from the pool. The designated staff member who manages the CASPA portal can begin the sorting process using these predetermined criteria. If applicants do not meet your minimum GPA, but they meet the other requirements related to your program’s mission, you may reconsider case-by-case whether to interview them.
  2. Basic Metrics – Compile basic metrics on students who meet your criteria. Using a standardized screening form for the pre-interview process, your staff member can compile some basic statistics on each applicant, enabling you to rank remaining applicants who qualify for interviews.
  3. Demographic Screening – Conduct a screening process for demographics, backgrounds, and other characteristics that you desire for your program. This crucial step in the process ensures that you are enhancing diversity within your program. In some programs this step never occurs because of the prescreening process. You can capture applicants who may not be as highly competitive using the basic metrics described.
  4. Interview Pool – Pare down the numbers and select applicants for interviews. The number of applicants you interview is directly proportional to your class size. Considering the typical conversion rate from interview to matriculation, interview a minimum of three applicants per seat. This density of interviewees ensures that you have competitive waitlist of applicants beyond initially filling your seats.

Once you have the basic steps established as described above, you can establish protocols to keep the process running smoothly and effectively:

  1. Screening Rubrics – Develop your screening rubrics with the end goal in mind. Ensure that your rubrics clearly state the minimum academic requirements and the ideal student characteristics you seek. Remember that dedicating labor to applicants unlikely to ultimately convert decreases your efficiency. This first step can eliminate applicants that you decide are not worth pursuing despite their highly competitive academic records.
  2. Mathematical Point System – Establish an appropriate mathematical point system for your desired characteristics. For example, determine the number of points applicants receive for stratification of GPA, admissions exam, disadvantaged population status, special considerations, and articulations that exist with your program. Some programs have admission agreements with specific institutions that will necessitate identifying these applicants early in the process.

You need to evaluate your current personnel’s skill sets to ensure you are only assigning skilled personnel to each key admissions duty. You will also need to evaluate your personnel’s ongoing duties to ensure you are not overloading them with too much additional work, which will lead to subpar outcomes.

 

Question: How can we establish sufficient labor to achieve our goals?

Here are some possible solutions to the problem of a small overworked staff.

  1. University Support from Parent University – Negotiate staff time from your university/college admissions office. This will require training to ensure that this individual is following the protocols that you have set forth and will require budgetary allocation for a staff member outside of your cost center.
  2. Multiple Roles – Hire a staff member within the program to assume multiple roles within the admissions process. Many programs now have dedicated admissions staff personnel. This individual can ensure that quality assurance is maintained throughout the process.
  3. Part-Time Support – Hire a seasonal staff member to assume this role during specific points during the year. Remember that graduate assistants can be an option, but FERPA would likely prohibit them from reviewing prospective students.
  4. Lay Down the Law. ARC-PA, the organization in charge of protecting the interests of the public and the PAs-in-training, sets labor standards . Standards A1.06 and A1.07 require your program’s sponsoring institution to provide you with sufficient staff and resources to keep your program ARC-PA-compliant. If you are struggling with the lack of labor to achieve your admissions goals, these standards can provide important leverage when addressing senior administration.

Summary

As we conclude this series on Managing PA Admissions Personnel, let’s summarize with a few key points and considerations.

  • The structure of your admissions cycle, the realignment of your admissions workflow, and the reassignment of your admissions duties to your admissions personnel will have a significant impact on the overall success of your PA program’s admissions outcomes.
  • 50% of all PA program applicants are seated before September. Is your current admissions cycle in line with the national trends and with your competition?
  • Ensuring that your admissions personnel are aligned properly with their skill sets in their current roles will enable them to better screen, evaluate, and select ideal applicants for your program.

 

NEXT TIME…
In the next Issue of PA Admissions Corner, we begin a two-part installment on meeting your enrollment goals by improving conversation rates with our 72-Hour Rule and 80/20 Rule.

 

To your admissions and program success,

Jim Pearson, CEO
Exam Master

Dr. Scott Massey Ph.D., PA-C
Scott Massey LLC

If you are in need of admissions support and services for your PA program, we can help.

Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey have helped hundreds of educational institutions and programs improve their admissions outcomes.

Exam Master supports Physician Assistant Educational Institutions with the following services:

  • Admissions Support Services
  • Student Progression Services
  • Data Services
  • Accreditation Services
  • Board Services

Learn more about Exam Master’s products and services and how we support PA education by reaching out to [email protected]

Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 3: Common Questions

Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 2: Key Admissions Personnel and Skill Set Rating

ISSUE 13

Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 2: Key Admissions Personnel and Skill Set Rating

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner, as we continue our series on Managing PA Admissions Personnel. In the previous Issue, you compared your program’s admission duties timeline to the national average, and we suggested what can be done to stay competitive and focus your staff on the areas that need the most effort.

Now that you know when your program’s admissions duties should take place, let’s talk about getting that work done. Opening interviews two months earlier is a great idea, but it won’t happen if you don’t have the staff necessary to review the applications, make the contacts, send the letters, and set up the appointments. How you assign your admissions department’s key duties is extremely important, but first, you need a clear understanding of who your key admission personnel are— of their duties and skill sets.

 

The Roles of Admissions Personnel

Each member of an efficient admissions team knows their role in the process. Adopt simple descriptions of process roles to cut right to the chase.

  1. Public Relations (PR)—Makes prospective students feel welcome and fosters excitement about your program. Appoint one person as the face of your program: phone inquiries, town halls, and communications through CASPA once an applicant has applied to the program.
  2. CASPA Monitoring—Monitors CASPA to facilitate frequent communication with applicants.
  3. Application Data Analysis—Reviews the data on the application and transfers it to the appropriate rubrics.
  4. Pre-Interview Outreach—Reaches out with invitations for interviews and ensures that applicants have the right information at the right time.
  5. Interview Logistics—Facilitating logistics for the interview process can be highly complex with multiple moving parts. You don’t want applicants to suspect any chaos or disorganization within your program; a department that scrambles to organize interviews probably isn’t a great choice for an education.
  6. Post-Interview Follow-up—Reaches out after interviews and offers applicants seats.
  7. Post-Acceptance Letter Management—Communicates with applicants between the time of deposit and the date of matriculation, providing updates about the program and keeping them excited about their career choice.
  8. Troubleshooting Management—Monitors last-minute melt in the system. We have seen applicants withdraw their seats on the day of orientation, usually after receiving an offer at their most preferred program. Communicating with applicants high on the waitlist and facilitating their rapid enrollment is essential to avoid empty seats.

Your personnel handling key admission duties will have a significant impact on how successfully your program reaches its goals. A self-assessment on key personnel skill sets will provide a snapshot of areas needing further evaluation or adjustments.

You will need to list all key admissions personnel in relation to the key admission duties listed in the Key Admissions Duty Timelines table and rate their skill set (competency).

 

Key Admissions Personnel and Skill Set Rating

List and rate your current admissions staff (download & print table below) in relation to your PA program’s key admissions workflow duties:

  • All data requested in this table is only for your PA program’s current application cycle and your current admissions staff.
  • Some PA programs have revolving non-staff who help with admissions interviews from other graduate medical programs. For those non-staff, list who currently is helping your program from other graduate medical programs and rate their competency.
  • When rating individual competency, the rating should only reflect the single duty/task being evaluated. If you have an assistant admissions director who is extremely competent in their overall tasks, rate that skill set highly; if they are not very competent in data management, however, rate that skill set lower.
  • Employees often fall into responsibilities for certain duties (including important admissions tasks) regardless of their individual competence.
  • Later, you will use these ratings to help determine adjustments in your admissions staffing duties to boost the outcomes of your admissions department.

 

It’s not always easy to evaluate and rate colleagues’ abilities, especially when they are not as skilled in certain areas as we’d like. Be as fair and honest in your evaluations as possible; when appropriate, have someone else rate your colleagues with you and compare the results. The more honest you are in these evaluations, the easier it will be to make the necessary changes to strengthen your personnel, which will improve admissions outcomes.

After reviewing the evaluations and ratings of key admissions duties personnel, do you have the right employee(s) assigned to each key task? If not, how can you better align your employees in their admissions duties? What additional training might be needed?

 

NEXT TIME…
In the third and final installment on Managing PA Admissions Personnel, we’ll outline and answer questions commonly asked by PA admissions programs. How can you handle large applicant pools? Or supplement your staff? Are there ways to streamline your admissions process to select the best applicants for your program?

 

To your admissions and program success,

Jim Pearson, CEO
Exam Master

Dr. Scott Massey Ph.D., PA-C
Scott Massey LLC

If you are in need of admissions support and services for your PA program, we can help.

Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey have helped hundreds of educational institutions and programs improve their admissions outcomes.

Exam Master supports Physician Assistant Educational Institutions with the following services:

  • Admissions Support Services
  • Student Progression Services
  • Data Services
  • Accreditation Services
  • Board Services

Learn more about Exam Master’s products and services and how we support PA education by reaching out to [email protected]

Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 3: Common Questions

Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 1: Creating the Key Admissions Duty Timeline

ISSUE 12

Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 1: Creating the Key Admissions Duty Timeline

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner. In our last issue, we covered the basics of helping your applicants to get to know, like, and trust your program through a transactional lens with the applicant as a customer. But the troubling truth is that even if applicants are clamoring for admission, without a good staff to organize, review, and manage admissions data, meeting goals and filling seats will be challenging.

The next few Issues of PA Admissions Corner will revolve around your personnel and how to manage and develop their workflow. Can they handle the duties within your admissions cycle that have the highest impact on your admissions outcome?

Many PA programs understandably feel that they do not have enough time to review, evaluate, process, and properly select interview applicants from their total applicant pool, whether it’s 400 or 1400 applicants. They often end up choosing the wrong applicants for interviews and acceptance offers; many of whom back out and enroll elsewhere. The program then scrolls further down the waitlist to fill the incoming cohort with applicants who may not be fully qualified.

The first task is to restructure your admissions department’s workflow to overcome the logistical issues with the greatest potential to affect your admissions outcomes.

 

List Your PA Program Key Admissions Duties

All admissions departments develop patterns for their duties, timelines, and procedures. Many patterns are necessary and beneficial to your admissions department’s outcomes, but others ultimately become counterproductive to ongoing admissions goals.

A key self-discovery question we’ve asked hundreds of admissions directors while working with them to strengthen their program’s outcomes is, “Why are you doing this specific task or duty this way?” As the director,  answer this question for all practices and procedures, then determine if adjustments are needed.

The Key Admissions Duty Timelines table we put together will help you with this task. Read the instructions below, then complete the exercises in the table.

  1. All data requested in this table is only for your PA program’s current application cycle and does not have any connection to when CASPA opens and closes if you are using that application processing portal.
  2. If specific duties are performed during the year before your cycle opens, list the previous year’s month ( “previous Nov”). If specific duties are performed during the year after your cycle opens, list the following year’s month ( “following Jan”).
  3. Some admissions duties will vary by a few days or weeks each calendar year, so list these dates in a 15-day range (for example, “CASPA opens April 15-30,” or “First Interview scheduled July 15-30”).

Key Admissions Duty Timeline
In the table below (download & print), list your PA program’s dates for the following key admissions workflow duties:

 

What Dates Do You Control?

As you review your PA program’s Key Admissions Duty Timeline, you will notice certain dates that you have limited or no control over; ARC-PA controls your matriculation date, and you must follow CASPA’s due dates, for example.

Many key admissions duty dates you can control, however, like the start and end of your admissions cycle, your interview cycle, and when acceptance letters are sent.

Why is this control important? Timelines used by most PA programs have changed drastically over the last five to seven years. PA program application cycles generally used to open in April and close in October. They would screen all their applicants, run two to four interview sessions in October and November, then select the students to fill the next matriculation’s cohort. There was no concern about diving deep into the wait list or having open seats on the start date.

Today, that kind of schedule will leave you far behind the competition; you may be inadvertently denying yourself access to 50% or more of your total applicant pool.

 

How Do Your Admission Duty Dates Compare?

Based on extensive discussions with over 150 PA programs about their admissions processes, here are some admissions trends we have observed:

  1. Over 80% of all PA programs start their admissions cycle to mirror the opening of CASPA each spring (late April, early May) and end it by October.
  2. Over 70% of all PA programs now use a rolling admissions process, leading most PA Programs to front-load their student selection decision-making. Everyone is moving to the front and condensing their decision-making timeline.
  3. Most PA programs who start their admissions cycle with the opening of CASPA and use a rolling admissions process start their initial interviews in June or no later than July.
  4. By the end of August each year, most PA programs using a rolling process have filled close to 90% of their next cohort’s seats.
  5. By the end of August, over 50% of the nationally available seats have been filled. Within certain competitive geographical areas, that percentage can be much higher.
  6. Many PA programs now fill all upcoming cohort seats before closing their current admissions cycle.
  7. Most of the higher-qualified applicants will have been selected by another PA program before those applicants would even have a chance to speak with programs that wait until early fall to start interviewing.

If your current admissions duty timelines aren’t keeping up with your main competitors, your program is at a distinct disadvantage. Consider what adjustments can realign your admissions processes to be more competitive.

 

Further Uses for Admissions Duty Timelines

The data you entered in your chart can also be helpful to—

  • have a good snapshot of your whole admissions cycle from start to finish.
  • determine specific times during the calendar year when certain stresses will be placed on faculty and staff; you can modify duties and responsibilities to facilitate better performance.
  • determine how some of your key admissions cycle duties compare to your competition and to national trends, urging other potential adjustments.

 

NEXT TIME…
As we continue this series on Managing PA Admissions Personnel in Issue 13, we’ll help you conduct an employee ranking survey to determine if you have the right people in the right roles.

 

To your admissions and program success,

Jim Pearson, CEO
Exam Master

Dr. Scott Massey Ph.D., PA-C
Scott Massey LLC

If you are in need of admissions support and services for your PA program, we can help.

Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey have helped hundreds of educational institutions and programs improve their admissions outcomes.

Exam Master supports Physician Assistant Educational Institutions with the following services:

  • Admissions Support Services
  • Student Progression Services
  • Data Services
  • Accreditation Services
  • Board Services

Learn more about Exam Master’s products and services and how we support PA education by reaching out to [email protected]

Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 3: Common Questions

Applicants Must Know, Like, and Trust You

ISSUE 11

Applicants Must Know, Like, and Trust You

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner. In our last Issue, we finished up our four-part series on common Struggles in Admissions for PA programs. Now, let’s discuss how your applicants perceive your PA admissions program, and how to use their perceptions to bolster your outcomes.

 

As educators, it is troubling to think of students as customers. But like it or not, we’re in the business of selling ourselves. Our applicants aren’t just buying an opportunity to become a physician assistant; they’re in the market for a solution to a problem. As the number of PA programs grows nationally, applicants will have more options for solving that problem.

Customers buy from organizations they know, like, and trust.

Your ideal applicants cannot get to know you if an authority figure from your institution does not take the time to speak to them.

Your ideal applicants cannot learn to like you if no one at your institution spends any time getting to know them personally.

Your ideal applicants cannot trust you if you or your admissions team does not show that you care about applicants as individuals by guiding them with specific information to help them, regardless of whether they enroll at your institution.

 

Getting Prospects to Know You: Enhancing the Applicant’s Affinity for Your Program

Cultivating applicant affinity for your program depends on a few critical baseline factors in help your program succeed. These factors must be acknowledged first.

  • You cannot build personal relationships with all of your applicants.
  • The applicants you choose to build personal relationships with are imperative to your program’s overall success.
  • Developing an ideal applicant profile and score model will greatly benefit your program’s admissions outcomes.
  • Knowing who to spend the most of your and your admissions staff’s limited time with is key to the overall success of your PA program’s admissions initiatives.

Implementing a procedure to reach out to applicants once they have applied through CASPA will keep them “warm” as prospective customers. Develop a procedure to reach out on a regular basis with helpful information other than their application status and to keep the applicants updated about further developments.

How can applicants get to know you?

  • Practice responsiveness to information requests. Applicants call your PA program daily. Our busy schedules sometimes cause us to miss these opportunities to connect with the applicant. Taking five minutes with the applicant and providing some personal perspective can have far-reaching effects on selecting your program. We have heard from many students that a brief conversation with the program director was an important factor in their choosing that PA program. Consider taking communication opportunities whenever possible; it may pay more dividends than you expect.
  • Conduct virtual open house events. Virtual open houses have become a mainstay during COVID-19, and it will continue as an approach to attract applicants. We have attended in-person and virtual open houses hundreds of times and seen the connections they can establish. A positive first impression on prospective students can make a huge difference down the road, so hold these events early and often.

 

Getting Prospects to Like You: Putting the Applicant First

Prospective students want to feel like they are joining a caring and understanding organization, like a family, not just enrolling in a school. Undergraduate universities and colleges have such strong alumni associations because they help build financial endowments for their institutions. There are other similar methods that are not difficult to implement.

  • Improved customer service. PA faculty members are very busy. Adopting a customer service approach toward applicants can seem unnecessary or burdensome. Unfortunately, a faculty indifferent to prospective students has a ripple effect of harming your ideal applicant’s esteem for your school. Their private ranking among their options can shift based on the slightest factors. The first contact with the program can be among the most essential touch points. Keeping the applicant in the loop about upcoming selections for interviews will maintain their attraction to your program. Assigning and training a staff member to facilitate this conversation with applicants can mean the difference between meeting your class size or leaving empty seats.
  • Involve current students. Consider incentivizing current students to assist with open houses, information sessions, and the interview process. Prospective students want to hear the opinions of current students, and current students don’t need to avoid tough questions. PA school is difficult everywhere, so don’t worry if one of your students describes the difficulty of your program. If your current students describe the faculty as fair and supportive, that could seal the deal. Feature your students as ambassadors whenever possible.

 

Getting Prospects to Trust You: Show the Applicant Care and Honesty

One strategy for building a trusting relationship with your ideal applicants is to provide information and direct communication on specific topics, even if those topics don’t relate directly to your program. You can continue to move your ideal applicants through your admissions process in the meantime while providing them with helpful information that can benefit their decision-making.

Let’s say you were to hold an open house designed to answer general PA admissions questions. At the end of the Q&A, you could give a 15-minute overview of your PA educational institution. During the general non-program-specific presentation, provide a handout on specific topics with FAQs. Specific insights like FAQs are informative and helpful in leading prospects to open up and ask more personal questions, which builds trust.

Here are some topics you can include to help answer some of your prospect’s questions:

  • Graduate housing. Graduate students are often an afterthought for housing opportunities through the university. Relocating hundreds of miles away from your home is already a dreadful degree of uncertainty. In many cases, students are not aware of their options and how to compare them. Consider working with your institution to explore how graduate housing can be secured for future PA students. We helped implement this step with a PA program in New England. The university secured housing at a nearby apartment complex, which then became a recruiting tool, eliminating that stress for incoming students.
  • Scholarship opportunities. Many graduate students get no scholarship opportunities. What if you can secure funds from an endowment or a donor to provide a small scholarship for incoming PA students? Even a few hundred dollars might enhance their perception that they’re getting something more significant from your program than others. Never underestimate the impact of a small scholarship.

Above all, transparency will greatly facilitate earning a prospective student’s trust. During the interview, students will usually ask what the strengths and weaknesses of your program might be. Don’t fear being honest about challenges. For programs that are on probation or provisional status, you have to sell even more vigorously. If there are questions about accreditation status, it’s better to readily provide this information. You have nothing to hide. Being open and honest about challenges can have the opposite effect of applicants selecting your program. There is no reason that you cannot fill your class with top-notch students even if you are on probation.

 

Become Your Applicants’ First Choice

By applying these strategies, you will have the opportunity to convert more prospects and ideal applicants to consider your program as first choice. You don’t want to leave anything on the table that could help secure a full class and a healthy waitlist if there’s any melt at the last minute. Diligently guiding your ideal applicants toward selecting your PA program over your competition should be a no-brainer, so make your program the no-brainer choice for them.

An endless supply of applicants flocking to your program may not always be the reality of the situation. You can mitigate the risk of having insufficient students in your class on the first day by incorporating these methods. In the minds of the students, you are opening doors and solving their problems, building affinity, mutual knowledge, and trust.

 

NEXT TIME…
In the next Issue of PA Admissions Corner, we begin a series of articles on managing your PA program’s personnel to make your program as efficient, effective, and stress-free as it can be.

 

To your admissions and program success,

Jim Pearson, CEO
Exam Master

Dr. Scott Massey Ph.D., PA-C
Scott Massey LLC

If you are in need of admissions support and services for your PA program, we can help.

Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey have helped hundreds of educational institutions and programs improve their admissions outcomes.

Exam Master supports Physician Assistant Educational Institutions with the following services:

  • Admissions Support Services
  • Student Progression Services
  • Data Services
  • Accreditation Services
  • Board Services

Learn more about Exam Master’s products and services and how we support PA education by reaching out to [email protected]

Managing PA Admissions Personnel Part 3: Common Questions

Struggles in Admissions Practices Part 4: Competitive Analysis Exercise

ISSUE 10

Struggles in Admissions Practices Part 4: Competitive Analysis Exercise

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner. In the past three Issues, we have discussed problems that affect all PA programs: grade inflation, lack of didactic preparedness, and competition with other programs. The fourth and final installment on Struggles in Admissions Practices, we’re going to provide a list of questions to ask yourself about how you stack up to the other programs in your geographic area.

One caveat—only look at competing PA Programs within a 150- to 250-mile radius of your PA educational institution. Some areas like Philadelphia or New York City usually have a smaller competitive radius, where areas in the Midwest like Iowa, Kansas, or Nebraska have a larger competitive radius and may need to expand the 250-mile radius.

Why limit the radius to 250 miles when most PA programs receive applicants from sometimes dozens of states. If we’re looking at why candidates would choose another PA program over yours, who are your direct competitors for a good percentage of your applicants? A PA program halfway across the United States will only enroll a few students every few years from your region.

11 Questions: Analysis

Step 1: Determine the mile radius that fits your PA educational institution. Step 2: List all of your competing PA programs within that radius. Add any outliers needed. Step 3: Assess these 11 important factors about your competition.
  1. How does your reputation compare to your competition?
    1. Better
    2. On par
    3. Worse
  2. How does your in-state tuition compare to your competition?
    1. Significantly higher (More than $20,000 more expensive)
    2. Moderately higher ($8000 to $20,000 more expensive)
    3. Competitive (Within $8000 of competition)
    4. Moderately lower ($8000 to $25,000 less expensive)
    5. Significantly lower (More than $25,000 less expensive)
  3. How does your out-of-state tuition compare to your competition?
    1. Significantly higher (More than $20,000 more expensive)
    2. Moderately higher ($8000 to $15,000 more expensive)
    3. Competitive (Within $8000 of competition)
    4. Moderately lower ($8000 to $15,000 less expensive)
    5. Significantly lower (More than $25,000 less expensive)
  4. How does the start of your admissions cycle compare to your competition?
    1. Earlier (Start date 60 or more days earlier)
    2. On par (Start date between 60 days earlier and 45 days later)
    3. Later (Start date 45 or more days later)
  5. How does the end of your admissions cycle compare to your competition?
    1. Earlier (End date 30 or more days earlier)
    2. On par (End date less than 30 days earlier or later)
    3. Later (End date 30 or more days later)
  6. How does your initial (first) interview cycle date compare to your competition?
    1. Earlier (Start date 45 or more days earlier)
    2. On par (Start date less than 45 days earlier or later)
    3. Later (Start date 45or more days later)
  7. How does your initial acceptance letter date compare to your competition?
    1. Earlier (Letter date 30 or more days earlier)
    2. On par (Letter date less than 30 days earlier or later)
    3. Later (Letter date 30 or more days later)
  8. How does your admission cycle’s next matriculation date compare to your competition?
    1. Earlier (Start date 60 or more days earlier)
    2. On par (Start date less than 60 days earlier and less than 75 days later)
    3. Later (Start date 75 or more days later)
  9. How does your cost of living compare to your competition?
    1. Higher
    2. On par
    3. Lower
  10. How does your PA program’s location as a destination for young people compare to your competition? For example, Philadelphia, New York City, or Miami would have more to offer young people than a city in Maine or Iowa.
    1. Significantly more appeal to young people
    2. On par
    3. Significantly less appeal to young people
  11. How does your PA program’s location as a healthcare destination for your graduates compare to your competition? For example, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, or New York City would have more healthcare employment options than Kansas City, MO, or Akron, OH.
    1. Significantly more healthcare employment options
    2. On par
    3. Significantly fewer healthcare employment options
Step 4: Tabulate your above data using the accompanying templates. Step 5: Use the tabulated data on your competition to self-assess your weakest areas and determine what adjustments your admissions processes and procedures can benefit from.  

Self-Assessment

One of the main focuses we want to drive home to PA programs is the importance of admissions practices and procedures for self-assessment. There are a few questions for you and your team to consider for self-assessment:
  1. Is your price point high? Can you compete on price? If your overall cost is on the high side, consider how you can make your program attractive to candidates in other ways, like attempting to place out-of-state candidates in the clinical phase near their point of origin or facilitating relocation for students outside of the community.
  2. Have you considered the importance of customer service? A customer service approach to the admissions process will increase prospective student opinion about your program, improving the odds of matriculating if accepted.
  3. What is unique about your brand that attracts applicants to your program?
  4. Does your website accurately depict the tangible and appealing resources of your program?
  5. Does your admissions cycle need improvement in applicant outreach and public relations?
 

Why Do Candidates Apply to Your Program?

Besides the assumed goal of becoming a physician assistant, why do candidates apply to a particular program? Don’t make the error of dismissing this consideration as unimportant. Having worked with the recruiting, admissions, and financial aid departments of hundreds of higher educational institutions there are many pressing problems that applicants consider above and beyond being trained for a new career. For example, applicants are thinking:
  • If I don’t get accepted this year, who can guide me in strengthening my application?
  • How do I know if this PA program is right for me? Will I fit in?
  • Will they support me if I have trouble with my studies? Money is tight. Do they have any scholarships, and who do I ask about that?
  • Where are safe places to live? I’d rather room with another PA or medical student, but how do I find them?
  • Will they help me apply for graduate loans?
  • I don’t know anyone here. Can I talk to a current student to learn more about the community?
  • Most PA programs I reached out to didn’t return my call, or I just talked to an assistant. I really want to speak one-on-one, not just in a group or virtual open house. This way, I can see if they really care about their students.
  • Who can help me brush up on my prerequisite course knowledge to be better prepared?
We all want to connect with people of authority and be confident about the decisions we make. The more you and your admissions team can have personal one-on-one conversations with your ideal applicants and answer their most pressing questions, the more these ideal applicants will be drawn to your PA institution as a place they want to attend.  

Competition Affects All PA Programs

Using a careful self-assessment and a data-driven approach to evaluating applicants, you can refocus your admission practices and processes. You can identify qualified candidates who fit your program’s competitive strengths and who are willing to accept your program’s weaknesses. Your program can better align with its applicant pool to enroll and matriculate more ideal candidates. You are going to need to accept that you cannot change some of the competitive issues facing your program. Always prioritize having something to offer distinct from your competition. Don’t become exactly like the other programs; focus on where your program stands out (your brand). In what ways is it exceptional? There are applicants out there who will understand that your program is the best one for them. You just need to find them and let them know.   NEXT TIME… In Issue 11 of PA Admissions Corner, we’ll begin a new series of articles on strengthening your program’s outcomes, like lowering attrition rates and directing your admissions department’s energies toward the applicants who matter most.   To your admissions and program success, Jim Pearson, CEO Exam Master Dr. Scott Massey Ph.D., PA-C Scott Massey LLC  

If you are in need of admissions support and services for your PA program, we can help.

Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey have helped hundreds of educational institutions and programs improve their admissions outcomes.

Exam Master supports Physician Assistant Educational Institutions with the following services:

  • Admissions Support Services
  • Student Progression Services
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Learn more about Exam Master’s products and services and how we support PA education by reaching out to [email protected]