Meeting Enrollment Goals Part 1: The 72-Hour Rule and the 80/20 Rule

Mar 28, 2023 | PA Admissions Corner

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner. Let’s continue making the most of your PA program’s admissions with time-tested and proven knowledge on meeting enrollment goals.

Your Conversion Ratio and the Funnel

When a completed application reaches your PA program, it joins many others. Then they enter a funneling system en masse where the numbers steadily decrease as selections are made. It would be great if all the funneling were done by your program, but your applicants are funneling, too. Both ends of the funnel have a say in who’s going where.

The steps of the funnel and who is in control of them goes something like this:

  1. How many applications your program receives (applicant’s choice)
  2. How many individual interviews are offered (program’s choice)
  3. How many of those offered interviews are accepted (applicant’s choice)
  4. How many acceptance letters are sent (program’s choice)
  5. How many acceptance letters are accepted (applicant’s choice)
  6. How many accepted acceptance letters result in a seated student (applicant’s choice)

Two-thirds of those funneling steps are not in your control. It turns out that what you do with the applications isn’t as important as what you do with the applicants. Applicants seeking a PA education apply to an average of seven programs besides yours. Going strictly by the numbers, those odds aren’t in your favor. We want to make sure that you spend time on the students who truly want to be a part of your PA program, not the ones who have other goals in mind. Once you find the truly interested applicants, you can’t let yourself lose them to a program that moved faster or made a better impression.


Two Rules for Improving Your Conversion Ratio

PA program admissions directors and faculty play a key role in whether students decide to deposit after being selected for a seat in the program. The way communication occurs and the timing of that communication can make the difference between converting those applicants best aligned to your PA program’s mission and vision or losing them to other programs due to ineffective and inefficient communication.

Keeping these excellent applicants “warm” is essential. This requires thoughtful and ongoing communication with your ideal applicants throughout the admissions process. Most applicants report that their most preferred PA program to attend is based on the perception of responsiveness and excellent communications from the PA program’s key personnel, not just support staff.

Here are a couple of vital rules to follow to ensure you will enroll a higher proportion of the ideal applicants that fit your PA program’s mission and vision.


The 72-Hour Close

Coffee is for closers. You’ve done interviews, and some of those applicants were impressive. Everything clicked. They love the program, and the program loves them. Send an acceptance letter within 72 hours! Failing to keep applicants interested in your PA program after the interview is why so many PA programs lose those applicants to competing programs. Prospective applicants will not spend the money and time to come to an interview if they are not at least somewhat interested in attending your institution. A lack of communication from your program will be interpreted as a rejection or non-caring attitude, however, and that applicant’s interest might drift away.

Have a backup plan. Sometimes it’s just not possible to offer applicants seats after the interview and final selection within 72 hours. This may be due to holidays, weekends, and other workflow that can all place burdens on timing and proper follow-up. If this happens, make sure that you reach out to the applicant to tell them that the decision is coming very soon. Continue to show to the applicant your program’s commitment. Keep in touch with them and keep them informed that they are still in strong consideration.

Don’t forget the waitlist. It is also wise to foster a strong and consistent positive relationship with applicants on your waitlist to ensure that they are poised and ready to enter your program, even at the last minute. As statistics have shown, many programs experience last-minute withdrawals, and without a strong waitlist, those programs cannot fill their seats—revenue loss that must be avoided.

Your relationships with your qualified applicants and waitlist throughout the applicant and interview process is a reliable insurance policy that your class will be full on the first day of orientation.


The 80/20 Rule

If you want to be a successful PA program admissions director, understand this rule: 80% of your matriculating students each year come from only 20% of your prospects.

Up to 35% of your applicants, even including pre-enrolled students, may be using your program as a backup plan if their first or second choices fall through, which makes identifying the correct 20% of your ideal applicants so imperative. These prospective applicants are just as interested in staying in the funnel as you are in having them stay. Find these applicants and devote your energy to them: don’t waste time chasing those who have little intention of following through.

Who are your ideal applicants? We mention these unicorns often, so let’s break down exactly who they are:

  • Most likely, these are the applicants within 100 miles of your campus.
  • They have some connection to your university or attended undergraduate programs at your institution.
  • They fit your average GPA and other base requirements.
  • They have reached out to you at some point expressing significant interest in your school, and they continue to express interest as time passes—another reason why early and dedicated communication is so valuable.
  • They are familiar with your program—a strong indicator of potential conversion.
  • They respond promptly to your communications.

It’s mostly a matter of your program’s time resources. PA admissions personnel who chase down prospects that won’t make a clear early commitment are wasting 50-70% of their time and the time your program has to allot to the process. They’re trying to convince students who are not sold on the idea of joining your program, and no matter how savvy the salesperson, most of those applicants never will be sold on it.

Instead, devote your resources to the prospects who show their conviction. That’s the measure of how serious they are. Recognizing those applicants early in the recruiting process will give you more time to locate and work with them. They have the highest chance of enrolling and matriculating in your PA program, so they are worth the time spent.

The bottom line of the 80/20 rule is simple; work with the prospects who work with you



The PA admissions paradigm will transform in coming years, requiring more of a recruiting mindset than ever before. You will need to foster relationships and identify your ideal applicants. Through successful selection and a 72-hour communication turnaround, you exponentially increase the likelihood of these applicants depositing and matriculating at your program.

In future Issues, we’ll cover handy techniques that can help determine who your ideal applicants are, like the applicant pre-enrollment risk scoring program. We teach entire seminars on this stuff! We’ll show you how to efficiently separate the good prospects from the bad.


In Issue 16 of PA Admissions Corner, we’ll finish this two-parter on meeting your program’s enrollment goals. We’ll provide answers to some of the most common questions PA program directors have asked us about meeting enrollment goals, such as what to do if—
• applicants are scarce.
• applicants are plentiful, but goals are still being missed.
• conversion rates seem to fall lower each year.
• there are unexpected empty seats at the eleventh hour.


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]

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