A physician assistant (PA) is a medical professional in a career that comes with plenty of responsibilities. As the American Academy of PAs describes them, these responsibilities include:
- Diagnosing illnesses
- Developing and overseeing treatment plans
- Serving as the principal healthcare provider for many patients
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How Much Education Do You Need?
Gaining the skills necessary to take on these medical responsibilities involves a master’s degree level of education, including:
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- A bachelor’s degree
- Courses in basic and behavioral sciences as prerequisites
- An average of 3,000+ hours of direct patient contact
- More than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations (beyond classroom instruction)
With all of those educational requirements, it’s natural to wonder about the physician assistant program cost.
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PA Program Cost
The Physician Assistant Life collated information from these three key resources to arrive at average costs for the 2020 application cycle: the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), and a recent NCCPA Statistical Report. Figures include the following as averages:
- Undergraduate debt going into PA school: $36,300
- PA school debt: $112,500
- Combined, these total $148,800
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Private vs. Public School Costs
The PA program cost varies when comparing public resident programs and private ones, and when comparing resident tuition and non-resident. Here are average figures for 27-month programs:
- Public resident tuition: $50,289
- Public non-resident tuition: $88,677
- Private tuition: $91,639
Over the past five years, non-resident tuition has risen by 3.5%, while resident tuition has gone up by 5.33%.
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Paying Physician Assistant Program Costs
After making the decision to become a physician assistant, it then becomes time to figure out how to pay for the PA program.
By the time someone reaches this point in their education, they are probably already aware of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
(FAFSA) process that allows them to be considered for federal student aid.
Often (but not always), by the time that someone is ready to fill out the FAFSA for PA school, they will be considered an independent student, someone who no longer needs to include parental financial information in the application.
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Federal Student Aid
The results of the FAFSA application will determine eligibility for federal aid including:
- Federal student loans
- Federal grants
- Federal work-study options
Federal loans can be popular ways to pay physician assistant program costs for several reasons, including how payments:
- Can be deferred until after graduation
- Can sometimes qualify a student for tax deductions
- May come with the potential for loan forgiveness
The types of federal loans available for graduate students are slightly different from those available to undergraduate students. The borrowing ceiling is higher but interest rates may be, as well. PA students may qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan , if enrolled at least half time without any adverse credit history.
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Federal Grants and Work Study Programs
Federal grants don’t need to be repaid. Here is a list of federal grants, their program details and the amount that can be awarded. PA students may be eligible for work-study, as well, based on the FAFSA.
Typically, students need to apply for these jobs, often ones at the university. Besides helping PA students to earn money, these jobs could be in the medical field, ones that can help them to gain valuable experience.
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Students can check to see what grants, scholarships, and/or fellowships their university offers, usually by contacting the financial aid office. Some institutions use the FAFSA information to determine eligibility, while others have their own applications. Awards can range from a small grant to the amount of the full tuition. Check out deadlines for school-specific financial aid to meet them successfully.
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More About Grants and Fellowships
Scholarships can be available through the federal government, and through states, non-profit agencies, organizations, companies and more. In general, these are merit based and don’t require repayment. Grants typically don’t need repaid, either, and these are usually based on need.
There are numerous grants and scholarships that are specifically designed to help with PA program costs. As just one example, the Physician Assistant Foundation has provided more than $2.3 million in scholarships to more than 1,400 future PAs. Requirements include:
- Being a student member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)
- Attending a PA program that is ARC-PA-accredited
- Completing at least one quarter or semester in PA studies
- Being in good standing, academically
- Being enrolled in a PA program during the application cycle
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Niche Aid Opportunities
Grants to cover PA program costs can get more niche, such as Association of Physician Assistants in Oncology’s APAO Student Scholarship. Requirements include:
- Being an APPA member or applicant who is in the last year of an ARC-PA-accredited program
- Being in the clinical phase, having already completed or nearly completed basic science courses
- Not receiving a PA Foundation or other specialty organization scholarship
- Having a strong interest in the oncology field; clinical rotation in an oncology speciality is strong encouraged
- Having a minimum GPA of 3.0
As another example, Physician Assistants Orthopaedic Surgery, Inc. offers the annual Susan Lindahl Memorial Scholarship, providing two $5,000 scholarships each year.
Members of the National Guard may qualify for the Medical Professional Officer Accession Bonus (OAB). To find state scholarships and grants, contact the appropriate state’s Department of Education . If a parent died in Iraq or Afghanistan while in military service, a federal grant may be available.
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Other Aid Opportunities
There are also state-specific PA scholarships, such as those offered by the California Academy of Physician Assistants (CAPA). Student members of CAPA can be eligible for three different $2,000 scholarships: the Ray Dale Memorial Scholarship, the Ruth Webb Diversity Scholarship, and the Community Service Scholarship.
It may help to look for opportunities from where the student’s bachelor’s degree was obtained. For example, if a member of a fraternity or sorority, there may be scholarships available to cover PA program costs.
Student athletes who attended an NCAA institution, for example, could qualify for the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship , with up to 126 of them awarded each year. Student-athletes must excel both academically and athletically and be in at least the last year of intercollegiate-level competition.
Non-renewable scholarships of $10,000 are provided three times annually (corresponding with sports seasons of fall, winter, and spring) with 21 available for women and 21 for men during each sports season.
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Fellowships usually require that a student study, work, or research in the PA field, which means that they can gain useful experience while also earning money for the physician assistant program costs.
To find opportunities, talk to the university’s financial aid department or reach out to non-profit agencies connected to the PA field. The application process can be rigorous but can also be quite worthwhile.
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Additional Ideas to Consider
At this point, it can help to revisit the original question of “How much does PA school cost?” to see if the federal options (loans, grants, and scholarships), university help, and other grants, scholarships, and fellowships can cover the costs. What is the gap between what is needed and what will be owed?
Ways to cover that gap can include employer tuition reimbursement, becoming an in-state resident, becoming a resident advisor (RA), working as a teaching assistant (TA), and private student loans.
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1. Employer Tuition Reimbursement
Some employers reimburse employees for a certain part of their education costs. It can be worth checking what is available, how to apply, and what constraints might exist.
A company might, for example, only reimburse funds for certain degrees or they may require that a student receiving reimbursement stay at the company for a predetermined amount of time.
Some employers may provide employees with professional development funding. If so, can this be used towards PA program costs?
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2. In-State Resident
Significant sums of money can be saved by attending a public university in the state where a student lives. Each state determines residency in different ways; so, if planning to relocate to take advantage of in-state residency savings, check to see what residency requirements are. Some states mandate one year of full-time residency while others may require three.
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3. Resident Advisor
RAs help new students get settled into dorm life and are compensated for their work. This usually includes part, if not all, of their room and board; perhaps a meal plan; and sometimes a reduction in tuition.
Plus, RAs typically can get their own room, which can make studying easier (although this job does come with plenty of responsibilities and interruptions). How much an RA is compensated varies by university.
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4. Teacher Assistant
This can involve prep work for teaching, organizing lab work, conducting research, grading papers and more. Payment can come in the form of reduced tuition or a stipend. Besides helping with PA program costs, it can provide experience in the field and allow students to network with industry experts.
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