AASPA Student News

The down-low on what you need to do, before your first day of PA school

Adam Buck, PA-S, Assistant Student Representative

Congratulations, you’re in! After years of studying and accumulating hundreds of patient care hours, all your hard work has finally paid off. You are officially on your way to becoming a physician assistant! ...Now what?

After working relentlessly through the application process, the natural deceleration that comes with acceptance can be a little unsettling.  Students are left without direction, and questions about how to prepare and what they should be doing leading up to PA school.

Truth be told, there's no right or wrong way to spend your time before school starts. However, I’ve listed some words of advice that I believe every prospective student should consider to make the most of their time, prior to the didactic year.  


If you’re anything like me, your first thought after getting that acceptance email was, “OMG, I need to start studying to get ahead.”

My best advice to you is- don’t bother. Trust me when I say, everything that you need to know about being a PA is taught to you in PA school. What’s ahead of you academically for the next 2+ years has been planned out methodically by professionals who have been doing this for longer than you have been alive. I promise you the  1-2 months of preparation that your planning is not going to make the difference.

The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to prepare your mind for what’s to come. Take a vacation, go on an adventure, spend some time with your family/ friends, and find a way to relax. Give yourself a break, so that you’re ready to hit the ground running once school starts. 


Let me preface this tip by stating that PA school has undoubtedly been the best decision of my life. I have met some of my best friends and had some of the most rewarding experiences during my time at school. You should be excited for the years to come!

Now with that being said - let me give it to you straight. PA school is a program designed to fit four years of medical training into two. It’s a lot of information that you’re expected to learn in a very short period of time. It’s a demanding process that involves waking up early, staying up late, and settling for fast food every now and then.  

While getting sick can sometimes be inevitable, it can be preventable! Take the time to take care of yourself while you have it. Go to your PCP, get your physical, and ask about anything that’s been bothering you. While you’re at it, go see your dentist and get your cleaning! Once the didactic year starts you are usually obligated to class Monday through Friday, 9 am-5 pm. For every hour that you miss, is material that you’ll have to make-up later.  

Pro-Tip: Check your school’s website for “mandatory vaccinations” or “health requirements” before going to see your PCP. Chances are, you’ll probably need some paperwork done as well. 


Before you set foot on campus, take a moment, and have an honest one-on-one conversation with yourself. Ask yourself, “What makes me, me? What makes me happy on a day-to-day basis?”

Taking care of yourself is THE MOST important thing you can do to be successful in this program (seriously! There is data to back this up!) It’s important to reflect on this now when your mind is clear and stress is minimal. Whether is going for a run, having a home-cooked meal, or even calling your mom--Decide right now the one or two things that you can’t live without and commit to making it happen while you’re in school. 

It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, you are no good to yourself, or your future patients if you burn yourself out after the first semester. Prioritize balance in your life and protect your mental health at all costs. I promise you, at the end of the day this will make you a far better student than any amount of studying ever could.


When I first got to orientation, my program made me do a time management exercise that changed my life. Essentially, I was given a 1-week calendar of classes and told to plan the rest of my week without any further instruction. Of course, I planned out the *perfect* week, getting 8 hours of sleep every day, going to the gym in the morning, and preparing for the next day of classes in the afternoon. However, once I was finished, they began asking questions like, “when are you going to cook, clean, shop, study, hang out with friends, etc..”  The seemingly little things that I took for granted in “normal life”,  all of the sudden became big-time commitments!

To avoid having to make this adjustment, I encourage you to start a planner/ Google calendar. Learn how to plan your free time so you can use it efficiently. Get in the habit of planning out your obligations, budgeting your free time, and writing it down. If you need 8 hours of sleep, plan your day around that! If you want to go to the gym, budget that time. Want to check in with some friends on the phone, block that time off. Learning how to manage your time and holding yourself accountable is an absolute necessity to succeeding in PA school.


 Let me start by saying — loans are almost always inevitable. Unless you’ve received a grant or scholarship, almost everyone uses Federal Student Aid loans to pay for school. It’s a very normal part of the process, and basically expected as most programs won’t allow you to work while you’re enrolled.  There are going to be plenty of things to stress about during PA school, having loans is not one of them.

With that being said, you should still be smart about the debt that you take on. There are different kinds of interest and financing options to pay for school, and you should take a moment to research the kinds of loans that exist and how they work.  For every dollar that you take out, is a dollar that accumulates interest.

While you don’t want to short yourself of basic living necessities, you also want to avoid taking out too much. My advice, make a monthly budget to estimate what you need, factor in books/ tuition, and then add a little extra as your “emergency fund” (because you know, life happens).

Pro tip: check your school’s website for tuition/ financial aid. Many times, they have an estimated cost of the attendance page, which is a great place to get an idea of what your budget should look like.