The purpose of this handbook is to provide resources for PA educational programs in terms of accreditation standards, policies, and best practices with respect to admissions. The intended audience includes admissions officers, recruitment specialists, admissions committee members, program faculty, program directors, chairs, and medical directors.
The information provided in this handbook is informational only. It is intended to be used as a guide to help PA educational programs develop and evaluate admissions policies and procedures specific to their needs.
This handbook was updated January 2017.
Design of Admissions Goals and Processes
The major objective of the PA program admissions process is to select andmatriculate the students who will best fulfill the mission of the PA program. For a successful admissions process, the program needs to create its ideal student body through review and selection of those who embody the mission, vision, and goals of the individual program, school, and college or university. The process must be in compliance with policies of the institution and program, standards of accreditation bodies, and state and federal laws, while employing approaches for reviewing candidates that will admit those who are most highly qualified to achieve the intended learning outcomes of the PA program.
Understanding the Mission of the Program
Every PA program should have an admissions process that is consistent with its mission and goals. While programs seek students who will succeed academically and professionally, applicants should also be evaluated on factors that reflect the mission and goals. For example, if a program has a mission to provide health care to underserved communities, it is vital to develop a process that captures the qualities of applicants most likely to fulfill this goal.
- What is your program’s mission statement?
- What are the characteristics of individuals who will best exemplify the mission of the program?
- How can your admissions process best identify those individuals?
All PA programs must be compliant with the published Standards of the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The ARC-PA Standards include the following admissions-related requirements:
- Program announcements and advertisements need to be clear and credible, and accurately reflect all aspects of the educational program.
- General program information must be clearly published and must include: current accreditation status, success in meeting program goals, PANCE pass rates for recent classes, required curricular components, academic credit offered, cost estimates, refund policies, and student employment policies.
- Admissions-related information must be clearly published and must include: practices that favor specific groups or individuals, requirements regarding prior education/work experience, advanced placement policies, academic standards for enrollment, and technical standards for enrollment.
- Student admissions decisions must follow the clearly identified and defined published practices of the program and institution.
- Upon admission of students, information regarding academic performance and progression that is published for students must include: required academic standards, completion deadlines related to curricular components; requirements to progress through and complete the program; student grievance, withdrawal, dismissal, remediation, and deceleration policies; and policies for processing allegations of harassment.
- Those granting advanced placement must also document that these students have met program- and institution-defined criteria for placement and have demonstrated competencies for the advanced placement curricular components.
- Is your program compliant with ARC-PA Standards in the area of admissions, and how does the program ensure continued compliance?
- Is your program compliant with the standards of other accrediting bodies associated with your institution?
Admissions policies must be in compliance with state and federal laws. Programs should work with legal counsel to review admissions policies and practices to ensure they are compliant with all current laws and court decisions.
- Has legal counsel been involved and consulted in the development of the admissions process to ensure compliance with state and federal laws?
- Have there been recent changes in laws or court decisions that may impact the admissions process?
- How often should legal counsel review the admissions process to ensure compliance?
The Admissions Team
Many people in the PA program and the institution will likely be involved in maintaining the admissions process, including admissions committee and subcommittee members, administrative personnel, and other institutional offices. PA programs should define the personnel involved in the admissions process and their assigned tasks.
The admissions staff are integral to the admissions process. Each program will determine the number of admissions staff needed to manage an efficient and effective admissions process. These individuals should have a strong understanding of the admissions requirements and process; the policies governing communication and privacy of information; and the program’s mission, vision, goals, and curriculum. Admissions staff are often the first people with whom potential applicants interact.Some PA programs’ sponsoring institutions have a centralized admissions office that performs some functions related to recruitment, applicant communications, collection or evaluation of application materials, and matriculation requirements. Other programs are responsible for all of these processes internally. PA programs should work with their sponsoring institutions to determine the best structure for these functions.
- How will staff be utilized in the admissions process to provide support and efficiency?
- Who should address general inquiries by phone and email, and how should those responses be structured and documented?
- Who collects and screens application materials?
- How should the program recruit new applicants, and who will recruit for the program (locally, regionally, and nationally)?
- Who will establish admissions criteria and make recommendations for admissions decisions?
Every institution has a number of offices that work cooperatively with PA program admissions staff. These offices may include the president’s office, dean’s office, legal counsel, alumni or financial development, financial aid, information technology, public relations, communications, diversity and inclusion, veterans’ affairs, registrar, graduate school, disability services, and student affairs. The roles and responsibilities of the institutional offices and program admissions personnel, and the relationship between them, should be clearly defined.
- How are institutional offices involved in the admissions process?
- How will the program communicate with institutional offices and personnel, and how can they assist in the PA program’s admissions processes?
The development and execution of admissions policies and procedures have legal implications for the program and sponsoring institution. Programs should consult legal counsel to ensure that policies and procedures are clear, and on any decisions that may have legal ramifications. For example, if a student challenges an acceptance decision, citing discrimination, the program needs to ensure that it has solid documentation as to why the student was not selected and that legal counsel is aware of the situation should additional questions arise.Programs may seek legal counsel for any number of reasons:
- For a developing program — to clarify institutional policies relative to admission requirements they wish to establish
- To review their admissions policies and procedures for an opinion about fair practices, particularly if major changes to existing requirements are implemented
- To address an applicant’s or accepted student’s inquiry about a more complex accommodation than published policies address
- For advice on how best to communicate with an unsuccessful applicant who questions the admissions policies or decision
- Regarding retention of admissions applications and records of the decision-making process
- Are program admissions policies aligned with the program’s advertised mission?
- Is there justification for diversity-related recruitment and admissions policies based on the program’s mission statement?
- Have the institution’s admissions policies and procedures been reviewed by legal counsel, especially if there have been major changes or new court case decisions since the last review?
The admissions committee defines the program’s admissions policies and procedures and reviews and evaluates applicants. Programs may take a variety of approaches to the composition of the committee or subcommittees.The composition of the admissions committee is important, as it represents the philosophies and culture of the program and institution. The committee members are responsible for ensuring that the application and admissions policies are consistent with legal, institutional, and accreditation standards. The committee establishes the process and criteria by which candidates will be evaluated and makes admissions decisions. The committee may create subcommittees as needed.
The committee composition should be clearly outlined in the program’s admissions policy with a rationale for why the different members are chosen. The diversity of the committee should reflect the program’s faculty and staff, the students they wish to admit to the program, and the communities they wish to serve. The table below describes potential committee members and functions they may serve within the admissions process.
Potential Admissions Committee Members and Functions
Potential Committee MembersPotential Committee Member Functions
|All or selected principal faculty, including the medical director||Holistic application review|
|Part-time faculty||Developing or editing the scoring model (rubric)|
|Preceptors||Evaluating/reading essays or personal statements|
|Community PAs||Evaluating pre-admission clinical experience|
|Institutional representatives (institution, hospital, diversity officer, other health disciplines)||Interviewing|
|Interprofessional team (reflective of the diverse nature of health care)||Making admissions selection decisions|
|Alumni||Leading campus tours|
|Admissions staff within your program or institution||Communicating with prospective students and other constituents about the admissions process|
|Other stakeholders||Participating in student recruitment events (e.g. info sessions, virtual fairs, graduate school fairs)|
|Students||Counseling rejected applicants|
|Program advisory council||Making recommendations for admissions practices and selection criteria|
Beyond core faculty, participants in the admissions process can include alumni (especially those who teach or precept), current students, basic science instructors, preceptors, and interdisciplinary faculty from other areas of health care who are also involved in educating PA students. All participants should be trained on what the program looks for in applicants and be well versed on how the admissions process works.
The time commitment expected for training, meetings, and applicant evaluation should also be defined. Different levels of participation could affect consistency and inter-rater reliability in the evaluation of applicants. For example, if there are multiple interview sessions, a program may desire members of the committee to participate in a minimum number of sessions.
- Will the committee or subcommittees have members who are not core faculty?
- Who will make decisions on admissions policy? Applicant selection?
- How will individuals involved in the process be reviewed and screened?
- What is the desired composition of the committee related to the program’s diversity initiatives?
- What is the expected time commitment of committee members?
- Will external members be compensated or receive other benefits for their service such as access to institutional resources or clinical/adjunct appointments?
Staff and Faculty Assistance
Staff and faculty can add significant value to the admissions process even if they are not normally part of admissions. Depending on their role, staff and faculty may be incorporated into the process in the following manners:
- Prior to interview day, you may ask faculty to review and score files.
- During interview days, you may introduce faculty and staff to the interview candidates.
- Once offers are made, faculty can contact admitted candidates to answer any questions the candidate may have.
- Staff can contribute by sending emails regarding current events or news on campus to encourage admitted candidates to visit.
Developing an Admissions Process
Developing a comprehensive and equitable admissions process is crucial for the successful selection of competent PA students. The Competencies for the Physician Assistant Profession state: “Professional competencies for physician assistants include the effective and appropriate application of medical knowledge, interpersonal and communication skills, patient care, professionalism, practice-based learning and improvement, and systems-based practice. Although it is acknowledged that these competencies will develop during the educational training and clinical practice, selecting candidates capable of these skills is imperative.”
The admissions policy guides the committee at a high level, while processes and procedures detail the series of steps to be followed, bringing consistency to the process. Programs should develop admissions policies based on the program’s mission. The purpose of these is to help programs thoughtfully consider the selection of students that will enable the program to meet its goals and desired educational outcomes. Policies should be documented and transparent for the institution, the program, accrediting bodies, and applicants—and reviewed on a regular basis.Admissions policies should not only outline mandatory requirements for applicants, but also clearly state specific preferences, such as a commitment to diversity or veterans, or a desire to recruit candidates with leadership or community service qualities. Transparency is important in ensuring that legal issues do not arise and that you are meeting the fair practice standards of accrediting bodies.
- Does the program have a clearly documented admissions policy?
- Does the policy contain the requirements, processes, and preferences for selection of applicants?
- Are admissions policies published or available for prospective applicants?
- Has the program clearly defined mission-driven goals for diversity? If so, how will these be designed, implemented, and evaluated?
The strength of your PA program begins with an equitable and thorough admissions process that allows for the selection of applicants with intellectual ability, physical and emotional competence, and a strong desire to care for patients. Every program develops its own set of requirements and selection criteria.The admissions process should define all procedures related to recruitment, requirements, application, review of candidates, interviews, selection, communications, and matriculation of students. The admissions process and criteria should be transparent and published in the program’s printed marketing materials and on the program’s website.
Timelines must be considered. Admission invitations should allow ample time for students to make all arrangements necessary to matriculate into the program, including a potential residential move, family and childcare arrangements, financial aid or loan applications, and completion of other institutional requirements.
Programs participating in the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) should note that the application cycle opens in mid-April each year and remains open through March of the following year. Consider the potential number of applications, how applications will be gathered, the time it takes to review applications, and whether interviews will take place. This will help in setting the application deadlines and review period. Other factors to be considered are the workload of staff and faculty and institutional policies and processes affecting the gathering and processing of applications. If interviews require travel to the campus, climate and weather may play a role in the decision timeline.
- Does your process allow you to process applications efficiently?
- Can your processes be reliably reproduced across applicants and application cycles?
- What is the timeline to gather applications, evaluate applicants, and extend admission invitations?
Rolling Versus Pooled Admissions
Programs may choose to pool applications or run a rolling process. In a pooled application process, the program gathers all applications and makes decisions to extend interview or admissions invitations based on the entire pool. Some programs using this process will begin evaluating applicant files as soon as they arrive, though decisions on moving applicants to the next level occurs only once all qualified applications have been reviewed.
In a rolling process, applications are evaluated and decisions made on a first-come, first-served basis. Applicants may be offered an invitation for an interview, an acceptance, or a denial as applications are received and evaluated. Other forms of rolling-type systems may include an additional category to hold a decision on an applicant until other applicants, who may be stronger, are evaluated.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these systems. When determining which system is right for your program, consider faculty/staff workload, program curriculum and teaching needs, availability of admissions committee members, recruitment of students by competing programs, and timelines of feeder institutions.
To establish admissions criteria, the PA program must first define success — from the standpoint of program outcomes — that is measurable within the admissions process. The balance of cognitive and noncognitive factors used to screen, interview, and ultimately select the best applicants for the program should be intentional and justified by the program’s mission and goals.
Minimum Admission Requirements
Requirements should be clearly defined for applicants, and the method for reviewing criteria must be considered. Cognitive benchmarks for prospective students should be based on analysis of the academic profiles of successful students who graduate from your program and pass the PANCE. If the program publishes specific cutoff criteria such as minimum overall GPA, natural science GPA, or standardized test scores (such as GRE or MCAT), then applicants with scores below these thresholds should not be considered for admission.
However, because some students with lower scores could potentially be successful in your program, and others that exceed the requirements may not pass the certification examination, many programs discount the outliers and report the middle 50 percent of class statistics of recent graduates or current students for prospective applicants to use as a benchmark for assessing their competitiveness for admission.
The importance of aligning applicant qualities with your program’s mission statement and program values cannot be overstated. Minimum requirements for acceptable health care experience and community or volunteer service can be a supportive tool for fulfilling the mission statement; if used, these should be clearly stated. If health care experience is required or recommended, the program should develop a list of clinical activities that are deemed acceptable by your admissions committee. Some programs require that the experience be direct patient care, while many accept other types of related health care experience.
In considering admissions criteria, it is important to consider whether the criteria create barriers for some applicants. Additional prerequisites, experiences, or specific requirements may have an adverse effect on the diversity of applicants. For example, requiring courses that can only be completed at four-year institutions may create barriers for students completing coursework at two-year institutions due to cost or location. Not accepting online coursework may place limitations on applicants from the military. These decisions should be based on analysis of outcomes and/or literature review related to student success.
For each of the following, a program should consider criteria that define minimum requirements related to preparation and success of students in the program. Institutional policies may also play a significant role in defining these criteria.
- What is the minimum GPA required to apply to the program?
- Is a baccalaureate degree required?
- Is a standardized test required?
- Is the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) required?
- Is there preferential consideration for subgroups of applicants, e.g., based on residency, undergraduate institution, or background factors?
- What courses are needed for success in your program? What is the evidence?
- What are the minimum credit hours and grades that must be earned in prerequisite courses?
- What are the standards the courses must meet?
- Will you accept AP or online courses?
- Must the course be completed at a specific type of institution (e.g., regionally accredited colleges or universities)?
- Is health care, shadowing, or community service experience required? If so, what are the criteria for this requirement (e.g., types of experiences, number of hours, level of responsibility, etc.)?
- Are letters of recommendation required? If so, how many? Do these letters need to be from specific types of people (e.g., a professor, supervisor, or health care professional)?
- Is there evidence that the criteria specified by the program as requirements affect student success or other program outcomes?
Other Special Considerations
Joint Degree CandidatesSome PA programs offer joint or combined degree programs, such as PA studies and master’s of public health (PA/MPH) together. Joint degree candidates are handled differently from institution to institution. The good news is that there are probably several joint degree programs already in existence in your own institution. Mirror their steps in establishing a new joint degree program instead of trying to create a new one from scratch.
There are a number of considerations with regard to establishing joint degree programs, including:
- How will the program be structured?
- Where will students begin their studies?
- Will the curriculum be combined or separate, allowing for equal time at each site?
- Will the application deadlines be the same date or different dates?
- Is it one committee decision for admission, or two separate decisions?
- Is the program truly a joint degree or is it a dual degree?
- When is the degree considered complete, and when is it awarded?
International applicants may include:
- Undergraduate students who are currently attending a U.S. institution on a student visa
- Prospective students who have previously attended a U.S. institution under a student visa, and are applying from within the United States or from abroad
- Prospective students who are applying from abroad without previous experience in a U.S. institution
- Prospective students who are currently living in the United States with or without permanent residency or citizenship status, who possess either a U.S. degree or a foreign degree, and who consider themselves “international” based on their prior international student or immigration status
Host institutions are likely to have policies regarding how the credentials of international applicants are to be evaluated for U.S. equivalency and other eligibility requirements for acceptance to the institution. Individual PA programs may or may not be permitted to adapt these policies based on program requirements and/or preferences for matriculates. Considerations may include:
- Specific program requirements for prerequisite coursework, including whether foreign coursework is accepted
- Health care experience requirements (Students attending a U.S. institution with a student visa are generally not permitted to work.)
- Test scores (TOEFL or iELTS, GRE) as applicable
Because PA licensure requirements are different in each state for non-U.S. residents, PA programs accepting an international student without citizenship or permanent residency status are encouraged to refer the student to an immigration attorney to explore what is required to obtain a U.S. work visa following completion of education and certification. The educational institution will have access to counsel with specific expertise on student and work visas.
- Does your institution or program have specific policies regarding acceptance of international students?
- Does your institution or program have different requirements for international students?
- Are resources and expertise available to support international students?
Foreign Medical Graduates/International Medical Graduates
Foreign medical graduates may seek admission to a PA program as an alternative to pursuing licensure as an MD in the United States, for which completion of exams and residency are required. Reasons may include:
- Limited understanding as to what is required to obtain medical licensure in the United States
- Inability to place in a U.S. residency after passing U.S. Medical Licensing Exams (USMLE) licensing exams, or the candidate may not wish to complete a residency
- Failure to pass all three steps of the USMLEs
- Not wishing to take the USMLEs
- Foreign medical education being deemed inconsistent with US medical education equivalency, and the candidate is not eligible to take the exams
At the institutional level, foreign medical graduates are generally subject to the same requirements as those for all international students. However, the program may have other requirements, such as a minimum number of credits of U.S. coursework, or that prerequisites be taken at U.S. institutions.
- Does your program wish to accept non-U.S. medical coursework and/or experience?
- Does your program require some level of U.S. coursework, such as prerequisites, or a minimum number of credits, before application?
- Does the candidate understand the role of the PA relative to the role of the physician?
Nontraditional students are those who do not proceed directly from undergraduate studies to PA programs or are returning to school after being in the workforce or on military duty. These applicants are often older than the average student and have valuable life experiences that may contribute to the program’s mission and goals.
Programs are required to disclose any preferential treatment given to applicants. The admissions team will want to be sensitive when they receive inquiries about or endorsements of particular applicants from third parties, such as your school’s or hospital’s leadership, preceptors, alumni, friends of the program, or current students. Be sure that you maintain your stated admissions practices in these cases and that applicants with program connections who are admitted have met the same standards required of all admits. Although the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not apply to applicants (only students), you will not want to discuss details of any application with anyone but the applicant.
Every program should clearly define how a candidate applies to the program. This includes creating primary and, (if applicable) secondary or supplemental applications and timelines for application submission and review.More than 90 percent of PA programs utilize CASPA for their primary applications. Some PA programs also require a supplemental application, sometimes with a fee, to augment the CASPA application. CASPA has evolved to allow for the submission of supplemental materials. The program should determine whether all applicants must submit a secondary application or if only some applicants will be invited to do so.
Most programs do not require additional materials from the student other than the primary application (CASPA or other), secondary or supplemental application, or official test scores (if required) in order for the applicant to be eligible for review. However, common additions include:
- Official test scores, such as GRE or TOEFL, sent directly from the source
- A formal application to the institution: this may be required in addition to the secondary/supplemental application (if required), or it may be considered the secondary/supplemental application for the program
- Official transcripts
For PA programs utilizing CASPA, the Program Materials page is a useful tool for downloadable documents and other program-specific information, which augments data supplied in the CASPA application.
The program must also determine an application deadline. The deadline should be defined based on the intended matriculation date for admitted students and the time needed for application evaluation, interview processes, decisions, communications, and other matriculation requirements.
- Does the program intend to use the CASPA application service?
- Will the program have a supplemental application? If so, what additional information will be requested?
- Will there be a fee for the supplemental application? If so, will you offer fee waivers to particular groups of applicants?
- Will the program utilize the customizable program page available in CAS 3.0?
- What is the application deadline based on the timetable for review of applications and matriculation of new students?
Evaluation of Applicants
Developing the method by which candidates will be evaluated is paramount in selecting the candidates that will best fulfill the program’s mission. This is closely tied to the requirements and application process already described; however, the weight and evaluation criteria related to admissions decisions should provide for an individualized and flexible process in the evaluation of candidates.
Evaluation of candidates should take into account not only their previous academic performance, but other qualities, experiences, and backgrounds that are valued in your program mission and outcomes, such as commitment to urban, underserved populations. Selection criteria must be documented and made readily available to all prospective applicants.Typically, students with diverse intellectual and life experiences are valued as applicants. Broad backgrounds help to prepare future PAs for interactions with increasingly diverse patient populations and health care teams. Each applicant’s complete portfolio should be reviewed carefully to ensure selections ideal to the program’s mission and goals.
- What criteria are important for your program? How often are these criteria evaluated?
- What objective measures are used to select students, and what is the relative value of each?
- How and when does the review take place, and who participates in each step of the process?
- How will interviewers be trained to participate in the admissions process?
- How do you ensure fairness and equitability in the evaluation of applicants?
- What methods can be implemented to decrease inter-rater reliability in scoring applicants?
Stages of the Admissions Process
1. Initial Screening
Initial screening of applicants helps the program sort out those who have met certain program-specific requirements from those who have not. Only those applicants who have met initial criteria move onto the next level of evaluation.
Some programs employ standardized scoring rubrics to ensure consistency among reviewers. Often, objective data such as overall and natural sciences GPAs, number of natural science credits, and amount of health care experience are calculated by an established formula for ranking candidates. The program must decide upon weighting of the objective and subjective data to determine which applicants merit an interview.
For application processing, programs may use existing institutional databases, develop their own database, or use WebAdMIT as a tool for sorting, screening, and processing. For CASPA-participating programs, WebAdMIT is an admissions portal that provides web-based application and admissions management capabilities. Admissions officers and all others designated by the program have a secure site through which to help manage applicants.
- Is the initial screening done within the program or in a central admissions office at the institution?
- What requirements are screened for during the initial screening process?
- Are these requirements weighted in the initial screening process? If so, how?
- Does your program have a process to evaluate the applicants that did not meet the minimum requirements?
- Are there any trends of high numbers of applicants not meeting specific minimum requirements that should be considered for recruitment and/or modification of admission criteria?
- Will application processing occur using WebAdMIT or another tool?
3. Developing a Rubric
A rubric is a guide for scoring performance against an identified set of criteria. A rubric can vary from a simple checklist to an advanced tool divided into various components, with explicit descriptions of candidate performance ranging from ideal to unacceptable for each component.
A well-designed rubric takes time to develop, test, revise, and implement. To build a rubric, first define essential applicant qualities based on the program’s mission and goals. Then develop the shell of rows and columns. Specify the optimal skills, knowledge, or behaviors specific to the applicant, and develop the characteristics most important in assessing the ideal applicant. The columns identify what is meaningful in terms of mastery of each item. The scoring, usually numerical, allows for a systematic method of objectively comparing applicants to what is considered “ideal” for each aspect of program admissions criteria. The following is an example of a rubric that could be used.
Point ValuePoint ValuePoint ValuePoint Value
|Academics||(based on objective criteria)|
|Health Care Experience||(based on hours, duties, etc.)|
|Community Service||Extensive, long-term commitment||Consistent, long-term commitment||Minimal or short-term commitment||No community service|
|Personal Statement||Well-written, concise, motivation and knowledge of profession evident||Adequate writing ability, reflects motivation and interest in profession||Some difficulty with proper English, motivation and knowledge for profession unclear||Poorly written and organized; no statement of motivation or knowledge of profession|
To ensure dependable scores, each evaluator needs to interpret the rubric in the same way. Training the evaluators in how to apply the rubric and allowing them to practice using the tool is termed “norming.” This allows for calibration of evaluators so that scores are accurate and consistent across the raters. Then, the instrument can be reviewed and revised as necessary.
- What aspects of admissions require a rubric?
- What style of rubric works best for the program?
- What are the essential criteria specific to the program?
- How descriptive do the narrative performance indicators need to be?
- Is a score assigned or is an overall rating given?
- Are there criteria that are weighted in the decision process?
- Is there a method in place to evaluate the inter-rater reliability of the rubric?
4. The Interview
Selection for an interview should be based on the applicant’s perceived ability to meet the desired goals and educational learning outcomes defined by the program. If the number of applicants meeting these criteria exceeds the number of available interview invitations that may be extended, then a set of published preferences can be used to narrow down the pool to the most qualified candidates.
The purpose of interviewing is to observe the applicant and evaluate personal attributes and communication skills. It offers candidates the opportunity to clarify their experience and express their thoughts to the committee beyond what was included in their initial application. It also allows the candidate to better understand the PA program and how well-suited they are for its environment, culture, and mission. Finally, “Interview day” allows for evaluation of the applicant’s interaction with students, faculty, staff, committee members, and other program or institution personnel.
Types of interviews include traditional (one-on-one), panel interviews (one applicant to several interviewers), and group interviews (several interviewers and applicants). If traditional interviews are used, standardized questions are recommended to increase reliability. Another style of interviewing, from a more holistic approach, is the behavioral interview, which evaluates an applicant’s experiences and behaviors to determine their potential for success. The multiple mini interview (MMI) is structured to rotate the applicant through several mini stations to assess responses to certain scenarios in terms of characteristics like reliability, responsibility, collegiality, self-directedness, compassion, willingness to work hard, teamwork, and altruism. Other styles of interviewing include hybrid styles such as traditional combined with the MMI and/or implementing innovative technologies such as videoconferencing.
Some programs are considering situational judgment tests either prior to or during the interview day. These tests present the applicant with scenarios they might encounter in a clinical setting and assess how the applicant might approach each one. Topics possibly covered within these aptitude tests include communication, teamwork, and relationship building.
Summary of Interview Types
One applicant and one interviewer
|Panel or Group:
One applicant and multiple interviewers
Experience/behaviors as indicators of success
|Multiple Mini Interview:
Rotate through mini stations of various scenarios
Hybrid combination or advanced technological methods
- What aspects (cognitive, noncognitive, behavioral, ethical, etc.) are important to the program?
- What are the experiences, attributes, and qualities valued in an ideal applicant for the program?
- What interview type would work best for the program?
- What resources are available for the admissions process?
- How many committee members are available to assist?
- Will the program use other members of the community or students in the process?
- How will you train and control for bias in the evaluation process?
- How will candidates be notified and scheduled for interviews?
- Has the program published all admissions and enrollment practices of both the program and the institution?
- What additional information should be published about successful or competitive applicants to assist applicants in self-assessment of qualifications?
Training of Admissions and Selection Committee
Training the members of the admissions and selection committee is extremely important in building a common understanding of the PA program’s mission and goals. All members of the admissions team must first understand the program’s mission and curriculum in order to be able to answer questions that prospective students may have during the interview process. Committee members need to understand the relationship between the admissions process and the desired outcomes of the program. Roles and responsibilities of each individual member must be clear to ensure a team-based approach to the admissions process.Some tools and techniques for training committee members are:
- A scoring rubric for applications, interviews, and essay questions
- Standardized or suggested interview questions, including questions that cannot be asked in the process
- Participation in reviewing applications and engaging in discussion of these applications to improve inter-rater reliability across evaluators
- Team interviewing or mentorship of new interviewers
- Team process training/MMI case training
- Orientation and training documents to navigate through the admissions system
- A documented process regarding how admissions decisions are made (for example: consensus; straight vote; a holistic process with two readers — if they disagree, then a third person reads the application and the majority decision is followed)
- Exercises to increase awareness of inherent bias
- Clarification of each team member’s role in the process
- Clarity on expectations around confidentiality
- Clearly defined expectations, including how many files to be read, interview dates, and a formal contract/confidentiality statement (i.e., what can I expect from you/what can you expect from me/the program)
- Payment expectations
It is also important to ensure that all committee members are trained on the legal issues around interviewing. They should be informed that they are not allowed to ask about age, sexual orientation, marital/family status, religious preference, arrest/conviction records, credit scores, disabilities, military record, nationality, or race. They should also be instructed not to include any inappropriate notes in their written comments about the candidate. Many human resource offices have materials readily available to share with respect to what is allowable and what is prohibited in an applicant interview setting.
- How will your program define the admissions committee, selection committee, interview teams, or other individuals who will assist in the admissions process?
- Who will serve on your committees, and how will they be selected?
- What method will be used to train individuals involved in the admissions process (e.g. in-person, phone, webinar, etc.)?
- What information will be included in the training and orientation?
- How will the expectations of each member be defined?
- How will you monitor inter-rater reliability and identify individual or process bias?
- How will each member of the team be remunerated?
Admissions Decisions and Committee Deliberations
Levels of Decision and Definitions
A program may wish to use different levels of admissions decisions and definitions to assist in sorting, tracking, and communicating efficiently with candidates while processing admissions applications.
Decision codes and types should be determined by the program and may be based on institutional definitions used in admissions and student databases. For a CASPA-participating program using WebAdMIT, using the decision codes available in WebAdMIT may help the efficiency of processing. Those decision codes are:
- Declined Offer
- Matriculated (required reporting by all CASPA participating programs)
- Offer Accepted
- Offer Made
- Received/Under Review
- Wait List
Programs also have the option of creating local statuses that may or may not tie to these codes to assist in sorting applicant files.
If candidates may be offered admission with outstanding requirements, it is advisable to have them sign a form acknowledging all that must be completed prior to the specified date. Items may include:
- Outstanding bachelor’s degree
- Health care certifications such as Basic Life Support
- Experiential requirements
- Background checks
- Health screening requirements
- Receipt of official transcripts, if required by the institution
Formal communication of outstanding requirements also avoids errors or miscommunications. This may be done prior to interview invitation, at the time of interview, or the time an admission offer is extended.
- What decision types should the program utilize?
- What conditional acceptance situations are appropriate for the program?
- How and when will outstanding requirements be communicated to candidates?
Programs may have specific deferral policies or consider deferral on a case-by-case basis. Programs may consider allowing deferred admission for such reasons as military deployment, personal or family hardship, or medical issues. Programs granting a deferral request may wish to consider requiring the candidate to sign a deferment letter outlining specific terms of deferral. Regular communication with the candidate, particularly when the next class is accepted, will ensure receipt of updated materials to be collected, such as a background check, updated acceptance letter, and an additional deposit to hold one’s seat.
Any time a deferral has been granted, programs are encouraged to notify PAEA so that accurate applicant and matriculant data from a given cycle may be reported. CASPA participants are required to enter deferred students in the WebAdMIT admissions management portal.
- Under what circumstances, if any, would your program grant deferral?
- Is the candidate requesting deferral a candidate you would accept all over again if he/she were to be required to reapply?
- If admission requirements or standards change for the next cycle, how will this be communicated to the candidate and confirmed?
Developing an effective plan for communicating with applicants is crucial to ensuring timely and accurate information. The plan may facilitate consistency as well as reduce frustration for both program personnel and applicants as they navigate the process. And clear documentation of communications will be important should questions arise from applicants regarding admission decisions.
Notification of Admissions Decisions
Conveying admissions decisions to applicants, whether positive or negative, must be done in a timely and sensitive manner. Some programs are responsible for communicating admissions decisions directly to applicants, while others may have centralized offices to do this. This process should be clearly defined.Defining when and how a program will communicate with applicants is also important. Some programs use electronic communications, while others may notify applicants of decisions by paper letter or even personally call them to convey admissions decisions. The timing of communications should be clearly defined for applicants. A rolling system may allow for admissions decisions to be conveyed immediately, while a pooled system or quasi-rolling system may require admissions decisions to be held until more or all applicants have been evaluated. If an applicant is denied, the program may wish to convey the decision early to allow the individual to apply to or accept a position at other PA programs.
Most programs establish an alternate or wait list in case a student gives up his or her slot in the class. It is helpful to continue frequent communications with those individuals to ensure that open seats are easily filled prior to the beginning of class.
- Who will communicate admissions decisions to applicants?
- How and when will applicants be notified of their admissions status?
- Are there more efficient methods, or better timing, for collecting the important information?
Counseling Unsuccessful Applicants
When candidates are not selected for admission, counseling or additional communication may be warranted. Given the high volume of re-applicants CASPA experiences annually (about 20 percent of the applicant pool), it is expected that many applicants who are denied admission will want additional information or counseling to improve their chances of admission for the next cycle. It is at the discretion of the program if counseling is offered. However, if the program does offer counseling, here are some items to consider:
- An applicant should not be encouraged to reapply if they do not intend to improve their credentials in some way (e.g., academic, experience, interest in the PA profession) between the first decision and the next application cycle. It may be more beneficial for the applicant to skip an application cycle in order to reap the benefit of truly improving their credentials.
- If the applicant did not meet the program prerequisites, simply sharing that information with the applicant would be helpful.
- Often, it is best to have the applicant identify their own weaknesses and determine possible solutions for how to improve in those areas.
- If an applicant has reapplied repeatedly, without showing improvement in their credentials over time, it may be necessary to institute a limit on how many times an individual can apply to your program (if the sponsoring institution and state laws allow this).
- Who communicates with unsuccessful or re-applicants to discuss questions or concerns?
- Does your program consider re-applicants?
- What is the best timing to communicate with applicants in helping them to improve their chances at readmission?
- Does your program communicate information regarding successful applicant profiles to help candidates determine their competitiveness for the program?
Matriculation Requirements and Records
Accepted students will need to complete the additional requirements of the program and institution prior to matriculation. These may include orientation, background checks, health screenings, and immunizations.
Many programs require background checks for compliance with institutional policies and clinical affiliation agreements. Most PA programs require a criminal background check and alcohol and drug screening prior to matriculation. These screens should not be undertaken during the admissions process or before an applicant is accepted. Most universities have strict guidelines regarding these policies, which should be addressed when admissions policies are defined.
- Are background checks required by the program and institution? If so, when must they be completed?
- Does your institution complete the background checks or is this the responsibility of the PA program?
- Does the program or institution have a policy regarding successful completion of the required background checks and does failure of background screening affect the admission decisions?
- If a CASPA participating program, will the program utilize the background check feature available through CASPA?
Onboarding and Other Requirements
When matriculating new students, many things may need to occur before matriculation to establish students in the university’s student information system (SIS) and to be in compliance with institutional policies and orientation requirements. Faculty and institutional offices should maintain a clearly defined process covering the roles of program and institutional personnel and an open line of communication to ensure all documented requirements are completed. Requirements that must be met prior to matriculation may include:
- Student application data entered into the SIS
- Permanent student record received
- Student IDs and security access
- Student background check and timing
- Access via a secure network to the institutional system
- Tracking of required educational preparation or training that must be completed by the student prior to matriculation
- Final degree conferral transcripts received
- Health screening, health insurance, and immunization requirements
- Review of the technical standards and student handbook
- Pre-matriculation study or reading requirements
- Required institutional trainings such as HIPAA, safety, etc.
- What are the requirements for students prior to matriculation?
- What institutional personnel and offices may be involved in communications with applicants and matriculating students?
- Who is responsible for ensuring compliance with institutional policies and procedures?
Admissions materials include the submitted application materials as well as screening, review, and interview materials. Programs should define how long records are retained and what offices in the institution are responsible for maintenance of records. Check with your legal counsel as to your institution’s requirements. Most institutions maintain past student applications for three to five cycles. Matriculant records must be maintained permanently regardless of whether or not the matriculate completes the program.
Once offers of admission have been made and seat deposits have been paid, you will need to move data for your matriculants into your institution’s SIS. You may need to collect the student’s social security numbers to create these records.
- What are the institutional and program policies on record retention?
- Who maintains admissions records for the program?
Evaluation of the Admissions Process
Admissions is part of a continuum — consisting of recruitment, admissions, program of study, graduation, and practice. Evaluation of the admissions process through the program’s self-study process keeps it strong and reliable, and contributing to the program’s overall mission, goals, and outcomes.
It is important to regularly review what criteria define an ideal applicant and how this impacts the applicant evaluation and admissions process. Evaluating student success rates, national board performance, and graduate and employer surveys based on outcomes, and then aligning the findings with indicators of success, will help determine how best to assess applicants. This continuous assessment process “closes the loop” of the educational process.
It is also important to evaluate how applicants move through your process, to determine its fairness and equity. Be sure to complete this evaluation process with sensitivity, both to protect the anonymity of the participants and to ensure that the admission decision-making process is not influenced by the evaluation process. Ask a non–admissions-related staff member to collect the evaluations and hold them until the admission decisions are final.
Once students are admitted, tracking their performance will help identify trends related to remediation and attrition of students, as well as successful certification and placement of program graduates. The program may track performance in didactic courses, supervised clinical experiences, summative exams, and the PANCE. Post-graduation data collected includes data on certification, licensure, and job placement, especially as these relate to program mission and goals. dentifying overall trends and individual traits related to defined outcomes may affect qualifications and criteria used in admissions decisions for both cognitive and non-cognitive traits. This will lead to data-driven decisions regarding admissions policies and processes.
Evaluation may include a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with the admission process. This should lead to identification of strengths and opportunities for improvement; allow the program to plan and modify admissions materials for future enhancement; increase the efficiency of the process; improve satisfaction of applicants, committee members and faculty; and allow for reassessment of measurement effectiveness.
Helpful evaluation hints include:
- Start with what you have
- Set realistic expectations
- Allow for a realistic workload
- Track data for longitudinal analysis
- Use the results to make the process relevant
- Make data-driven and mission-driven decisions
- Choose indicators that are observable
- Consider external issues
- Triangulate the data
- Perform a 360° evaluation
- Evaluate trends
- What criteria do you wish to evaluate in the admissions process? Are there specific criteria that are reported to your institution, grant agencies, or other organizations?
- How will data be gathered for each specific outcome measured?
- How will the data be evaluated?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the admissions process?
- If the program is not meeting admissions goals — are the goals clear, realistic, and consistent with the program’s and institution’s mission?
- Is the program using materials and processes for recruiting that are geared toward program goals?
- Are there selected students who do not attend the program? If so, what are the reasons for their decision?
Are the retention and attrition rates similar to other PA programs or national averages? If not, what should be done?
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The PA Admissions Handbook was written by the following PAEA members:
- Christina Robohm, MS, PA-C, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
- Jacqui Comshaw, MPA, Yale University School of Medicine
- Doris Dalton, MPA, University of Utah
- Gia DiGiacobbe, BS, Northwestern University
- Jeanie McHugo, PhD, PA-C, University of North Dakota
- Audra Perrino, MS, Stony Brook University
- Sherrie Spear, MHS, PA-C, Duke University