A physician assistant (PA) is a medical professional who handles a variety of key responsibilities. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, these include:
• Diagnosing illnesses
• Developing and overseeing treatment plans
• Prescribing medications
• Serving as the principal healthcare provider for many patients
Gaining the skills necessary to take on these medical responsibilities involves a master’s degree level of education, as well as:
• 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.
PA Program Cost
The Physician Assistant Life collated information from these three key resources to arrive at average costs for the 2023-2024 application cycle: the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), and a recent NCCPA Statistical Report. What they found:
• The average cost of a 27-month resident PA program (including public and private) is $95,165.
• The average cost of a 27-month PA program (including public and private) for nonresident students is $103,660.
• The average total resident tuition and nonresident tuition were higher for PA programs from private institutions than for those from public institutions.
• There was a 4% to 7% increase in the average total resident tuition for public and private institutions.
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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.
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 a popular way to pay physician assistant program costs for several reasons, including the fact that 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 typically are as well. PA students may qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan if enrolled at least half time without any adverse credit history.
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 also be eligible for work-study 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, which can help students gain valuable experience.
Students can check to see what grants, scholarships, and/or fellowships their university offers 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.
More About Grants and Fellowships
Scholarships are available through the federal government, as well as through states, non-profit agencies, organizations, companies, and more. In general, these are merit based and don’t require repayment. (By contrast, grants are typically need-based.)
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
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 four $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.
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 one of five different $2,000 scholarships.
It may help to look for opportunities from where the student’s bachelor’s degree was obtained. For example, if you are a member of a fraternity or sorority, there may be scholarships available to cover PA program costs.
In addition, student athletes who attended an NCAA institution 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.
Graduate 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 your 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.
Additional Ideas to Consider
When determining what PA school will cost, you’ll want to factor in any federal funding options (loans, grants, and scholarships), university help, and other grants, scholarships, and fellowships you may be eligible for. You’ll next need to consider what, if any, gaps in funding are left.
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. Here’s a closer look at each.
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, you may want to find out whether this be used towards PA program costs.
You can often save a significant sum of money by attending a public university in the state where you live. Each state determines residency in different ways. So if you’re thinking about relocating 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.
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.
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, being a teaching assistant can provide experience in the field and allow students to network with industry experts.
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Private Student Loans
If additional funds are needed, private graduate student loans can help. Private student loans are available through private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Rates and terms vary, depending on the lender. Generally, borrowers (or cosigners) who have strong credit qualify for the lowest rates.
Keep in mind, though, that private loans may not offer the borrower protections — like income-based repayment plans and deferment or forbearance — that automatically come with federal student loans. But if you are looking for supplemental funding for your PA program, private student loans may be worth looking into.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
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