Year after year, thousands of applicants have great grades, outstanding test scores, unique patient care experiences, passionate volunteer work, well-written personal statements, and exceptional letters of recommendation. So what sets all of these students apart from one another? Who gets a seat in the class and who doesn't? Students message me a lot asking what's my secret? I got accepted into PA school, so surely I must know what the secret is right? So I'm writing this post to tell you that there is no secret potion nor insider information to getting your acceptance letter. Everyone gets accepted on their own terms following their own unique path in their own unique way. I don't have a perfect answer for you all. However, I do have a single tip that I think has the potential to help. I know it helped me. So here's my secret:
It's as simple as this. I met with a Rutgers PA Program faculty member before applying. I wasn't sure if this was even possible, but I knew it couldn't hurt to try. I called up the program and sure enough was able to make an appointment with one of their professors. Her name was Carol. I sat down with Carol for about an hour and we discussed and dissected every part of my future application. We talked about my grades up to that point. We talked about my letters of recommendation. We talked about my shadowing experiences. We talked about my 3+3 aspirations and how that was a path I really wanted to peruse with Rutgers. She gave me encouragement that I was on the right track. She also gave me areas to improve and areas to strengthen on my app in the upcoming year. She gave me new ideas. She gave me suggestions. She gave me the advice that I had been searching for on my own. It was ridiculously helpful for me in more ways than one, and I recommend it to everyone who asks me for advice.
One thing in particular that we discussed changed everything for me. We started chatting about my volunteer work. I talked about being a patient cuddler, and then we started talking about my work with the Special Olympics of New Jersey. Carol happened to be an active volunteer for the Special Olympics as well. It was something she was very passionate about. We ended up connecting over both being so involved with a cause we both loved. Through talking about events we had attended in the past, we even discovered that we lived in neighboring hometowns. That year in particular, Carol was organizing and running Rutgers PA student involvement at the National Special Olympic games that was being held at The College of New Jersey that upcoming year. After an hour of great conversation and connection, Carol so graciously invited me to attend the event with her and volunteer alongside the rest of the current Rutgers PA students.
The National Special Olympic games took place over the course of four days during the summer. Carol asked if I wanted to volunteer with them for three of those days, so of course I said yes. Our job was to run the "Health Screening" station. Throughout the week, I was able to show Carol a lot about my character versus just telling her about my strengths in an interview setting. This event ended up acting like a 3-day long mock interview before the real deal. I showed up early. I was dressed appropriately, as she instructed. She got to see me interact with current students to see if my personality would mesh well with the types of student the program tends to accept. She got to see how I work on a team. It was also a great display of how I might interact with future patients. One of our jobs as volunteers was to take athlete's height and weight to calculate their BMI. Another was to take manual blood pressures. This was a skill that the PA students had already been trained to do obviously. Carol trained me on the spot, and I was able to show her that I could pick up physical diagnosis skills quickly and effectively. We also learned how to give the athletes a bone density screening, which involved putting gel on the athlete's feet and placing them in a bone density scanning machine. This showed that I was okay with physical contact. I wasn't hesitant. I wasn't grossed out touching other people's feet. I was able to keep up with the rest of them.
On the third day of the event, Carol asked if I was available to attend the last day of the event, since they were going to be low on volunteers. Again, of course I said yes. That particular day, they needed assistance at the nutrition table. One of the nutritionists demonstrated what she was going over with the athletes. An athlete walked over and she completed the mini nutrition counseling session in front of me. From there, I was able to give that same counseling session after only hearing the encounter once without any issues. After the day was over, the nutritionist went up to Carol and gave her a very sweet review on how quickly I was able to pick everything up on the fly. Carol got to see my flexibility and ability to adapt to new circumstances on a whim. All of these skills are important to have as both a PA student and a practicing PA.
At the end of the event, Carol recommended that I take her EKG course the following year. I jumped at the opportunity to show her my skills once more, this time in an academic setting. Not only was taking a full semester long EKG course by a professor from the PA program helpful in building a more personal connection, but also a phenomenal head start on PA school material. What we went over in a semester in undergrad was breezed over in about a week in PA school. And any upper hand is key when you're trying to balance a million and one other courses, trust.
Through connecting with Carol, I was also able to help coordinate that pre-PA club mentoring program that I talked about in my last post. It made organizing events a lot easier and gave us someone to coordinate with directly who knew the PA student's schedule.
During my PA school interview at Rutgers as a prospective 3+3 student, I ran into Carol before my interview. She warmly greeted me as if she had known me for a while. The warm welcome seemed like some sort of validation at the time and gave me that little dose of subtle self-confidence I needed to get through my interview strongly. It helped ease a lot of my nerves seeing a familiar face who already knew me for me, and I think she knew that. She then told me to wait while she went to go grab something from her office before I was ready to leave that day. She had an extra Special Olympics t-shirt that she wanted to give to me. I feel like this was her way of saying, "We want you to be a student here."
I think the personal connection that I made with Carol and the opportunity to show her my work ethic first-hand was my secret to getting into the Rutgers PA Program. What I am trying to communicate is that really any way that you can figure out how to add a face to the name on top of your application is the key. Then you're no longer just another piece of paper in the stack. You have a name. You have an image. You are a reliable choice. That's what gets you accepted.
I'm hoping this was somewhat helpful to some of you who reached out? Of course my story is just one example, but it's the only story I know how to tell. Talk with other PAs as you are shadowing for other ideas. See what they did. See what they would suggest if they were applying now. See what their secret was. In my next post, I will outline several additional ways to make your application stand out from the crowd. Stay tuned! In the meantime, get connecting. One connection can change everything.