Controlling the Admissions Cycle

Feb 28, 2023 | PA Admissions Corner

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner. In Issue 2, we identified the major players in the admissions process. Now, as promised, we’ll begin dividing the aspects of admissions and illustrating how to take control and make the most of your program’s resources.

In evaluating your Admissions Cycle and processes, the key factor is control. You cannot improve your admissions department’s outcomes until you can take control of these four aspects of admissions:

  1. Personnel
  2. Cycle
  3. Process
  4. Data

In this Issue of PA Admissions Corner, we will look at controlling the cycle of admissions.

The Admissions Cycle is the annual timespan when applications may be submitted, which is followed by the selection of your cohort as applications are evaluated, interviews are conducted, and enrollment is selectively offered. The timing here can make a surprising difference in the quality of applicants your program attracts and the amount or lack of control you have over the entire process.

Through hundreds of interviews and observations of dozens of PA programs, we have found that the following measures are highly effective for keeping the control of the Admissions Cycle where it belongs: in your hands.


1. Run your Admissions Cycle from April to October 
Opening your program to applications beginning in April puts you first in line to accept applications and allows you to interview the most candidates. In fact, the pool of applicants can be as much as 40% larger when your admissions cycle opens early. It should come as no surprise that PA programs on a fixed cycle—that wait until August or later to start interviewing—can lose as much as 43% of their top applicants to competing programs.

Over 70% of all PA programs start their admissions cycle in April (when CASPA opens) and close their admissions cycle between August and October of the same year.


2. Maintain a Rolling Admissions Cycle
There are three major types of admissions cycles: Fixed, Rolling, and Hybrid (a combination of fixed and rolling cycles).

The Fixed Admissions Cycle reviews and selects applicants for interviews and enrollment at distinct intervals( for example in Oct after all of the applicants have been received and the application cycle is closed). Applications are reviewed only after a specific date. Interviews are conducted over a number of contiguous days. Then, applicants are selected. For some time, this was how things were done in PA schools, and those schools had the power to be controlling of their application process, candidates and exclusive in their decision-making.

Things are done differently now. With the onset of electronic communications, a sharp increase in the number of competing PA programs, and an increase in a candidate’s ability to choose where they matriculate, a fixed cycle is no longer the best option. Unless your PA program is highly ranked or in a famously desired destination, you’ll need to be competitive in your Admission Cycle.

Here is a breakdown of the type of admissions cycle PA programs use:

Type of Cycle Percentage
Rolling Cycle 68%
Fixed Cycle 26%
Hybrid Cycle 65


The Rolling Admissions Cycle reviews and selects applicants for interview on multiple occasions during the entire admissions cycle. The advantage of a Rolling Admissions Cycle is not needing to wait for all the applications to arrive before selecting applicants for interview. Qualified applicants can be interviewed right away and can be offered immediate seats for matriculation. Less qualified students can be put on a waitlist. This process can be repeated several times during the admissions cycle. The benefits are clear: a Rolling Admissions Cycle lets you open your program to top-qualified applicants much sooner than a Fixed Admissions Cycle.


3. Interview early in the Admissions Cycle
Following from our second point, the sooner in the Admissions Cycle you interview, the sooner you can offer seats to top-qualified applicants and the sooner they can accept. Don’t wait around while another program snatches them away from you. Those top-qualified applicants are motivated to select your program’s offer instead of waiting around to see what else is out there. PA programs with Fixed Admission Cycles and late interview start dates must go deeper into their waitlists, which inevitably leads to enrolling more students who may have academic concerns.


4. Send acceptance letters early in the Admissions Cycle
You have interviewed a top-qualified applicant and everything looks great.  Why wait to send an acceptance letter? Applicants who don’t get a quick response tend to interpret this as rejection and will look to your competitors for a better outcome. If those competitors are quick to offer acceptance letters, you’ve lost a valuable applicant. Regardless of whether you eventually send an acceptance letter, that applicant is likely to have established trust with the program that cared enough to invite them early – even if they have not already accepted, made plans to attend, and paid the tuition.

We have found that 72 hours is the time frame you can expect a student to retain the highest amount of interest in your PA program after the exposure to the environment (the interview). Waiting longer than that incurs a much greater risk of losing that student. We generally recommend that a PA program wait no more than seven days to respond. By expediting this communication process, you have a much higher likelihood of closing the candidate to joining your school and getting the student to deposit.


Keep Control of the Admissions Cycle in Your Hands

Your PA program will succeed or fail on enrollment and retention of your applicants, it sounds harsh, but running a PA program is a business. By following these four guidelines, you retain more control over the admissions process. Consider the trouble caused by waiting too long to act during any of the four steps: the top-qualified applicants will be prioritized by competitors, and your program will be scouring further and further down the waitlist. Just to fill the cohort, you may need to comb through far less-qualified applicants who will hopefully be able to handle the rigors of a PA program, but they may not. Just like that, the control of your admissions process is in the hands of the applicants and the competition.

Top-qualified applicants will not be ignored by your competition, and unless those top-qualified applicants specifically want your program and only yours, they will have applied to multiple PA programs. According to CASPA, each applicant will apply to approximately seven programs each year. This means you have about six other programs ready to invite every top-qualified applicant into their cohorts.

The good news is that by creating a flexible Rolling Admissions Cycle, your program improves its odds of bringing those top-qualified applicants eagerly to your doorstep. Your PA program has shown itself to be expedient, communicative, and desirable. Applicants will respond by chasing your program; the control is in your hands.


Key Points:

  • The pool of applicants can be as much as 40% larger when your Admissions Cycle opens early.
  • A Rolling Admissions Cycle lets you open your program to top-qualified applicants much sooner than a Fixed Admissions Cycle.
  • The sooner in the Admissions Cycle you interview, the sooner you can offer seats to top-qualified applicants, and the sooner they can accept.
  • 72 hours is the time frame you can expect a student to retain the highest amount of interest in your PA program after exposure to the environment.
  • According to CASPA, each PA applicant applies to approximately seven programs each year. Those other six programs are your competition. Don’t give them an early-bird advantage when you can offer the same.


In the next Issue of PA Admissions Corner, we’ll turn our attention to keeping control of the interview process. By using the right kinds of questions, interview styles, and examining both sides of the interview coin, we’ll show you how to make the most of your time meeting and getting to know prospective students.


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]

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