Best PA Schools

Updated on April 8, 2024

Physician assistants (PAs) play a critical role in healthcare. They practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. Becoming a PA requires completing an accredited education program and obtaining a state license. With the aging population and expanded healthcare access, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 37% job growth for PAs from 2020-2030, much faster than average. This high demand makes PA one of the most appealing medical careers.

Choosing the right physician assistant program is crucial. Factors like curriculum, clinical rotations, faculty, career support services, and location shape your educational experience. While no definitive ranking system exists for PA schools, several factors indicate program quality, like graduation rates, certification exam pass rates, and job placement rates.

Here are 10 of the best PA schools in the United States based on academics, affordability and reputation.

Yale School of Medicine Physician Associate Program

Location: New Haven, CT

Rating: 9.5/10

Acceptance Rate: 3%

Tuition: $92,500

Avg Salary: $146,260


Yale boasts an Ivy League reputation and top-ranked medical school. Its PA program stands out for small class sizes, prestigious faculty, and abundance of clinical sites, including Yale New Haven Hospital. Students complete rotations in pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, emergency medicine, and more. Over 96% of Yale PA grads pass the PANCE certification exam on the first attempt.

Duke University PA Program

Location: Durham, NC

Rating: 9.3/10

Acceptance Rate: 3%

Avg SAT Score: 1370

Tuition: $92,097

Avg Salary: $126,520


Duke University provides an intellectually challenging PA course of study. The 28-month curriculum includes year-round clinical rotations at Duke Health hospitals and clinics. Hands-on patient care experiences enhance learning. Duke PA students consistently exceed the national average score on the PANCE exam and 100% pass on their first try.

Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions Physician Assistant Program

Location: Boston, MA

Rating: 9.1/10

Acceptance Rate: 2.3%

Tuition: $92,222

Avg Salary: $139,970


This Boston PA program partners with Harvard Medical School professors and Massachusetts General Hospital, the #1 hospital in Massachusetts. Students complete clinical rotations across Mass General’s expansive hospital network. The program also arranges international healthcare immersion experiences in Chile, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Mexico. Graduates have enjoyed 100% PANCE exam pass rates since 2017.

George Washington University PA Program

Location: Washington, D.C.

Rating: 9/10

Acceptance Rate: 7.9%

Tuition: $59,010

Avg Salary: $126,000


GW offers an accelerated 2-year path to earn a master’s degree in PA studies. Students complete clinical rotations at top DC medical centers, including GW Hospital, Children’s National, Walter Reed, and VA Medical Center. They also enjoy abundant hands-on patient care experience during the curriculum. Graduates praise the program’s strong focus on primary care and underserved populations.

Emory University PA Program

Location: Atlanta, GA

Rating: 8.9/10

Acceptance Rate: 3.8%

Tuition: $92,432

Avg Salary: $115,800


Emory University’s highly competitive 24-month PA master’s degree stands out for small cohorts (under 50 students) and prime training hospitals, including Emory University Hospital, Grady Memorial and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Students complete at least 6 clinical rotations across a range of specialties as well as two elective rotations. They also complete a master’s project on a clinical question or community health topic.

University of Washington MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Program

Location: Seattle, WA

Rating: 8.7/10

Acceptance Rate: 5.7%

Tuition: $84,876 (in-state), $123,948 (out-of-state)

Avg Salary: $130,270


This Seattle PA program is one of the oldest and most selective in the nation, launching in 1970. MEDEX students train across University of Washington Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center, Seattle Children’s Hospital and Swedish Medical Center to prepare for rural and urban medical careers. Students also complete a community health project in a medically underserved area. Over the past 5 years, the PANCE pass rate averaged 98%.

South University Physician Assistant Program

Location: Savannah, GA

Rating: 8.5/10

Acceptance Rate: 7.5%

Tuition: $94,448

Avg Salary: $102,000


South University’s 27-month curriculum includes clinical rotations across core specialties plus electives. Students train at diverse sites like medical centers, VA clinics, prisons, homeless shelters and Indian Health Services facilities. They also complete a Master’s paper on a clinical topic. South University PA grads have achieved 100% PANCE pass rates since 2015. Its Savannah campus location also provides access to sunny beaches and southern hospitality.

Rosalind Franklin University PA Program

Location: North Chicago, IL

Rating: 8.3/10

Acceptance Rate: 7.8%

Tuition: $100,968

Avg Salary: $118,960


This private Chicago medical school provides rigorous PA training deeply rooted in problem-based learning. Students focus on patient cases across body systems and specialties during the clinical phase. Rotations occur at medical centers including Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Lake Forest Hospital. Rosalind Franklin also collaborates with underserved clinics and the Chicago VA to expand student perspectives. Graduates consistently land jobs soon after finishing the program.

Carnegie Mellon University PA Program

Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Rating: 8.1/10

Acceptance Rate: 13.9%

Tuition: $89,190

Avg Salary: $97,000


Innovation drives Carnegie Mellon’s newest PA program, which welcomed its first class in 2021. Students gain hands-on skills through early clinical experience and simulation training across the 27-month curriculum. They also develop cultural competency skills during a global health clinical rotation. Graduates earn a Master of Medical Science (MMS) degree and complete rotations at UPMC hospitals and Allegheny Health Network.

Harding University PA Program

Location: Searcy, AR

Rating: 8/10

Acceptance Rate: 11.9%

Tuition: $73,800

Avg Salary: $93,700


Harding University’s Christian mission infuses its supportive PA program. Students gain clinical experience across medical and surgical specialties at sites like Arkansas Children’s Hospital and local private practices. They also complete overseas medical mission trips and rural health rotations. Harding’s 5-year PANCE exam pass rate is a stellar 98%, higher than the national average. Graduates consistently secure good jobs that allow them to practice quality, compassionate medicine.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does PA school take?

Most PA programs last approximately 27 months or 2-3 years. This includes classroom learning and over 2,000 hours of clinical rotations across core medical and surgical specialties. Accelerated options allow students to complete a PA master’s degree in 24 months or less.

How competitive is PA school admission?

PA programs are very competitive with average acceptance rates under 10%. Applicants typically need extensive healthcare experience (like EMT, medical scribe, CNA, etc), high GPAs (usually 3.5+), good GRE scores, shadowing experience, and strong letters of recommendation.

What is the tuition cost for PA school?

Depending on the program length, PA school tuition averages $60,000 – $100,000 for private programs. Public and state school options cost less, averaging $30,000 – $60,000 for in-state students. Most students take out loans to fund PA master’s degrees.

What is the average PA salary?

The average annual salary for PAs is $121,530 per year, significantly higher than similar medical careers. Those working in surgical subspecialties or hospital settings earn the highest PA salaries. Salaries also rise with years of experience.

How difficult is the PANCE certification exam?

The PANCE certification exam has high first-time pass rates, averaging 94% nationally. PA curriculums provide comprehensive medical content review and test prep to set graduates up for success. Board scores depend most significantly on individual student dedication and preparation.

Can I work abroad as a physician assistant?

Yes, some countries employ PAs in similar medical provider roles to the United States and value PA training. Obtaining licenses/credentials abroad differs per country. Global health clinical rotations during PA school help expand options. Organizations like Partners for World Health also arrange short-term PA humanitarian work abroad.

Is becoming a PA worth it?

With high salaries, excellent job prospects, flexible work settings, and rewarding patient care, a PA career offers excellent upside. Avoiding extensive residencies and fellowships also allows PAs to begin practicing more quickly than physicians. If you desire work/life balance and varied medical experiences, becoming a PA is absolutely worth the demanding PA program admissions and curriculum.

Should I go to PA or NP school?

Choosing between PA and NP careers shares similarities, but important differences exist. PAs always work under physician supervision and focus more on medical models. NPs can practice independently in many states and provide more holistic nursing care. Weigh priorities like specialized practices, work environments, scope of practice regulations, and salaries when deciding.

Can I attend PA school part time?

Unfortunately part-time options for PA school are very rare since curriculums integrate intensive classroom and clinical education. Working while enrolled full-time is also extremely difficult. However, some schools may provide more flexible options for students needing accommodations.

Is PA school harder than medical school?

Comparing difficulty levels is challenging since PA and medical programs differ significantly in structure. While less extensive overall, PA school squeezes a rigorous breadth of medicine into an accelerated timeline. The condensed pace and clinical demands cause intense stress. In the end, both produce extremely competent medical providers through academic rigor.

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Rohit Mittal

Rohit Mittal is the co-founder and CEO of Stilt. Rohit has extensive experience in credit risk analytics and data science. He spent years building credit risk and fraud models for top U.S. banks. In his current role, he defines the overall business strategy, leads debt and capital fundraising efforts, leads product development, and leads other customer-related aspects for the company. Stilt is backed by Y Combinator and has raised a total of $275M in debt and equity funding to date.

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