Applying to PA school can be a huge financial burden, especially if you are still an undergrad student trying to pay your way through your bachelor’s degree. The first thing that any pre-PA out there needs to be aware of is the actual cost of applying. There are a lot of associated costs that may not occur to you at first. Through this blog, I will share with you some of my money saving tips I’ve acquired through my application cycles to help you cut some costs.
CASPA, or the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants, charges a per school fee to apply. The first school you apply to is $175, and each school thereafter is an additional $50. The average number of schools an applicant applies to is 8; so that means an average of $525 on primary applications only. Most schools also have secondary applications and an associated application fee. Most secondary fees range between $35-100. That means you will most likely spend another $500 on secondary fees. So all in all, you are looking at spending at least $1,000 for both primary and secondary applications, which is if you are applying to only the average number of programs.
Another expense is the GRE; not all, but most programs now require the GRE. It currently costs $205 to take the GRE exam. When you take the test, you are allowed to send your scores to 4 schools for free! I seriously wish I had known this prior to arriving on test day because I could’ve saved myself over $50! It costs $27 to send your GRE scores to each school. If you make sure you are prepared come test day, with a list of 4 programs you want to apply to, you can save yourself a little dough! Also, be sure you check to make sure that the programs you send your scores to actually require the GRE. I freaked out a little bit and just named 4 schools I knew I wanted to apply to off the top of my head, and it turned out that 2 of the 4 didn’t require the GRE so if I had been prepared with a list, I could’ve saved some money there.
Now if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking about how you most definitely do not have an extra $1,500 laying around, so plan early and SAVE! But if that just isn’t feasible, or even if you can swing it, but you’d like a smarter way to pay, then this next tip is for you! Apply for a flight rewards credit card! Now there are a lot of reward credit cards out there, but the reason I suggest a flight rewards credit card is because you can bank flight miles which will definitely come in handy come interview season when you are jetting across the country trying to make your PA dreams a reality. There are so many options for flight reward cards so I’ll give you a few tips on how to narrow it down.
My first screening criteria would be to sort through which card has the best promotion at the time. I have 2 different flight reward credit cards and I chose these because I got killer deals for signing up. I have the Citi American Airlines Advantage Platinum Select card and the Gold Delta Skymiles AMEX rewards card. Both of these cards offered the same deal for joining, which was 50,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. If you find a few cards with great deals like this, I would then sort through them by airlines you prefer and typically fly. There are also generic travel rewards cards that aren’t associated with a specific airline. The cards that aren’t associated with a specific airline tend to not be the best deals though. For example, the Capital One Venture Card you must spend $3,000 in 3 month to earn 40,000 bonus miles. Sounds like a lot right? Well this is only equivalent to $400 in travel benefits. So you tend to be better off when they are for a specific airline. I’ve attached a link to a site with current promotions on flight reward cards.
So you’ve got your flight booked, now where will you stay? Airbnb is a great option when traveling for interviews. Not only will staying at an Airbnb save you money on the room, but it also offers certain amenities that are appealing to a solo traveler. Many Airbnbs have ensuite style kitchens or kitchenettes. The Airbnb I stayed at in Florida had a fridge and oven which was very useful for saving money on meals. I was able to cook all my meals myself, except for one lunch I stopped at a sandwich shop on the beach. The Airbnb I stayed in was near a grocery store so I was able to walk to get groceries and did not have to take a cab or an Uber.
Hotels that are near the school can be very tempting because they are so close and you can just walk there or take a few dollar Uber ride. But, be aware! Hotels that are in close proximity to schools know when interview season is! They bump up their prices making it more expensive for the lowly college student just trying to make it into grad school. I’m not saying that Airbnbs could not do this as well, but I have noticed the trend more in the hotel industry. Also, hotels close to the campus tend to generally be more expensive than hotels a few miles out, so if you go the hotel route, branch out a little bit.
There is one area of the process where I do not suggest cutting corners, and that is your interview attire. It can be very tempting to just pop into H&M and get some business professional clothes for really cheap, but in my opinion, this is an investment piece. Spend the money now on getting a nice, professional suit that can be used for job interviews and rotations in out-patient settings that require professional dress. You will be strapped for cash in PA school, so if you can invest in this item now while you are still making money, you definitely should. But still be frugal; keep your eye on sales going on at department stores. Macy’s is literally always having “one day sales” so take advantage of these days and use them to get your interview attire. And start looking early; it may be because I’m a girl, but I looked for weeks before I found a suit I liked at a price I could manage. Interview invites come out of the blue so be sure you are looking soon after you submit your applications. Also, in my experience, this is when suits are at their cheapest because no one wants to buy a suit jacket and long pants in the middle of the summer!
You’re going to spend a decent amount of money applying to PA school, and then amass a large amount of debt once you’re in PA school; it’s just inevitable. You have to keep everything in perspective though. This is just a necessary step to achieving your end goal of being a PA-C. These tips can aid you down the right financial path to starting your life as a physician assistant, and help you keep your debt level at a minimum prior to entering PA school. And once you’re admitted and sitting pretty, you can use your excess flight miles to take a victory vacation! Heaven knows you’ve earned it!