Controlling Applicant Ranking/Rubric

Mar 3, 2023 | PA Admissions Corner

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

We’re glad to welcome you back to another edition of PA Admissions Corner. In Issue 4, we tackled the ways you can make the most of your applicants’ interviews while keeping a competitive edge. The final step in the process is consistently ranking applicants so you can decide, with the most efficiency and the least bias which are the ideal fit for your program. The control and evaluation of your admissions data determine your admissions department’s long-term outcomes.

Ready to Choose?

Though this is our “final” piece about program control, it is by no means the “final” step in choosing ideal applicants. In fact, this aspect takes place during the entire Admissions Cycle. The process of ranking applicants begins as soon as candidates applications arrive, when you must decide the most important information to track to meet your enrollment goals. Today we’ll look at three different areas where you can maintain control of the ranking rubric to ensure that the best applicants are selected for your program:

  1. Initial screening process
  2. Post-interview evaluations
  3. Overall applicant ranking rubric


Control the Initial Screening Process

As PA Admissions Director, you want to know from the outset who is reviewing initial applications, what qualities they should look for, and why. There are applicants out there who are closely aligned with your mission statement and mission goals, and you want to ensure these applicants are never overlooked. There should be an across-the-board process for how applications are reviewed, with specific data transferred to an appropriate rubric scoresheet. This not only includes applicants who meet the general requirements for program admission, but also those who fit into specific diversity groups, have particular experiences (e.g., military service), or any other special categories that you feel will contribute to the ideal student for your PA program.

Here is an example from an actual program we helped in the past that had complicating factors affecting their admissions program’s outcomes. One major issue they suffered from was a weak, inefficient, and frankly mysterious rubric for selecting their interview candidates. In discussions with the admissions director and staff, we identified the following:

  • They did not know why they were using their current rubric to select interview candidates; it was inherited from the previous administration.
  • They could not identify the analytical data reasoning for their interview selection rubric’s design.
  • They could not describe how their interview rubric was originally created.
  • They could not justify with analytical data why they selected one student over another for admittance.

This was a difficult case. It serves as a good example of how educators can fall into traps of using past processes and procedures within their educational institution— specifically within their admissions departments, that are not fully understood and which have not been fully structured on proper data analysis.

When you gain control of how your candidates are reviewed and selected for interviews, you can determine your own destiny in terms of the students that you select. Establishing preselected rubrics…

a) gives your screeners the ability to focus on the most important criteria.
b) ensures that applicants meet your expectations.
c) ensures consistent screening.


Control the Post-Interview Evaluation

In Issue 4, we discussed in detail how to leverage group interviewing and behavioral interview questions to better understand who your applicants are. We highly recommend at least two interviewers for each student so that these scores can be averaged; this helps to curb any interview bias, which can sometimes skew the scores, resulting in admitting applicants who look good on paper, but not necessarily in practice. Such applicants may not have adequate academics and other attributes. Behavioral and group interviewing are excellent ways to gain useful insights about your candidates and to spot red-flag behaviors warning that a particular applicant is not right for your program.

The value of consistency is clear. If each interviewer fills out the same ranking form (we’ll provide examples of these in future issues) and applies the same ranking system to each interviewed applicant, the results are immediately useable and compatible. Now you can efficiently incorporate those scores to each applicant’s overall ranking, adding a vital dimension in deciding which applicants will receive an offer to matriculate.

When you control the post-interview evaluation process, you can be certain that decisions are made based on all of the information in the application. A good rubric system will ensure that the final selections are made based on the composite information from each candidate’s application and interview process, and you will eliminate faulty decision-making based on incomplete information.


Control the Overall Applicant Ranking (Rubric)

Now you have a harmonious score sheet for every interviewed applicant. You know their important application statistics and how they performed in their interviews. Rather than the admissions committee wading through multiple files, reading reports, and somehow compiling this information into a working understanding that can easily be the victim of bias, they (and you!) have a clear and concise list of the applicants who fit into your program’s mission and values. There’s no need to wait at this point; you can offer seats immediately to those students who clearly made the cut.

Aggregate the entirety of applicant scores and then review for the most appropriate selections. Then, welcome these highly desirable candidates into your program before other programs can snatch them away. Remember that in a Rolling Admissions Cycle, there is no need to wait to extend offers of enrollment.

What about those applicants who came close? If you decide to waitlist an applicant, there is no need to ignore or discourage them. Make contact and let them know they are still under consideration. We recommend appointing a specific person to prioritize the waitlist and keep these applicants in the loop. A strong waitlist is an excellent way to ensure that you’re not leaving empty seats on the first day of class.


Controlling the Rubric: Summary

Allowing admissions teams to make decisions or offers without an appropriate rubric can result in flawed decision-making based on specific data points while possibly ignoring red flags or other key admission factors that are important to your program’s mission and values. When you control the overall applicant ranking, you can ensure that the correct candidate attributes are considered before final selections.

By exercising this control, your PA admissions program will…

  • eliminate faulty selections based on incomplete information.
  • ensure that final matriculants reflect your program’s mission statement.
  • ensure that underrepresented populations are offered seats.



In Issues 2 through 5 of PA Admissions Corner, we have focused on controlling your admissions process from beginning to end. Now you know the importance of…

  • understanding the players in the process, along with their roles and expectations.
  • taking the initiative of a Rolling Admissions Cycle that reaches out early to great applicants.
  • making the most of the interview process by asking the right questions and ranking the answers consistently and without bias.
  • keeping a consistent and consistently understood rubric to apply to admissions so that ideal applicants are never missed.

Want to know more? Don’t worry! We’re only at the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We’ll build on each of these lessons in future issues as we continue to share proven practices you can use to make your PA admissions program the best it can be.


In the next Issue of PA Admissions Corner, we’ll examine PA Educational Industry Statistics, and we’ll talk about some surprising trends in the field of physician assistant education. How well do you know your competition? Where does your program fit in or stand out?


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
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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]

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