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To view all Issues of The PA Admissions Corner Newsletter, click here.

ISSUE 10

TAKING CONTROL OF YOUR PA ADMISSIONS PROGRAM:

Struggles in Admissions Practices Part 4: Competitive Analysis Exercise

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner. In the past three Issues, we have discussed problems that affect all PA programs: grade inflation, lack of didactic preparedness, and competition with other programs. The fourth and final installment on Struggles in Admissions Practices, we’re going to provide a list of questions to ask yourself about how you stack up to the other programs in your geographic area.
One caveat—only look at competing PA Programs within a 150- to 250-mile radius of your PA educational institution. Some areas like Philadelphia or New York City usually have a smaller competitive radius, where areas in the Midwest like Iowa, Kansas, or Nebraska have a larger competitive radius and may need to expand the 250-mile radius.
Why limit the radius to 250 miles when most PA programs receive applicants from sometimes dozens of states. If we’re looking at why candidates would choose another PA program over yours, who are your direct competitors for a good percentage of your applicants? A PA program halfway across the United States will only enroll a few students every few years from your region.
11 Questions: Analysis
 
Step 1: Determine the mile radius that fits your PA educational institution.
 
Step 2: List all of your competing PA programs within that radius. Add any outliers needed.

Step 3: Assess these 11 important factors about your competition.
 
1)    How does your reputation compare to your competition?
a)    Better
b)    On par
c)    Worse
 
2)    How does your in-state tuition compare to your competition?
a)    Significantly higher (More than $20,000 more expensive)
b)    Moderately higher ($8000 to $20,000 more expensive) 
c)    Competitive (Within $8000 of competition)
d)    Moderately lower ($8000 to $25,000 less expensive)
e)    Significantly lower (More than $25,000 less expensive)
 
3)    How does your out-of-state tuition compare to your competition?
a)    Significantly higher (More than $20,000 more expensive)
b)    Moderately higher ($8000 to $15,000 more expensive)
c)    Competitive (Within $8000 of competition)
d)    Moderately lower ($8000 to $15,000 less expensive)
e)    Significantly lower (More than $25,000 less expensive)
 
4)    How does the start of your admissions cycle compare to your competition? 
a)    Earlier (Start date 60 or more days earlier) 
b)    On par (Start date between 60 days earlier and 45 days later)
c)    Later (Start date 45 or more days later)
 
5)    How does the end of your admissions cycle compare to your competition?
a)    Earlier (End date 30 or more days earlier )
b)    On par (End date less than 30 days earlier or later)
c)    Later (End date 30 or more days later)
 
6)    How does your initial (first) interview cycle date compare to your competition?
a)    Earlier (Start date 45 or more days earlier)
b)    On par (Start date less than 45 days earlier or later)
c)    Later (Start date 45 or more days later)
 
7)    How does your initial acceptance letter date compare to your competition?
a)    Earlier (Letter date 30 or more days earlier)
b)    On par (Letter date less than 30 days earlier or later)
c)    Later (Letter date 30 or more days later)
 
8)    How does your admission cycle’s next matriculation date compare to your competition?
a)    Earlier (Start date 60 or more days earlier)
b)    On par (Start date less than 60 days earlier and less than 75 days later)
c)    Later (Start date 75 or more days later)
 
9)    How does your cost of living compare to your competition?
a)    Higher
b)    On par
c)    Lower
 
10)    How does your PA program’s location as a destination for young people  compare to your competition? For example, Philadelphia, New York City, or Miami would have more to offer young people than a city in Maine or Iowa.
a)    Significantly more appeal to young people
b)    On par
c)    Significantly less appeal to young people
 
11)    How does your PA program’s location as a healthcare destination for your graduates compare to your competition? For example, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, or New York City would have more healthcare employment options than Kansas City, MO or Akron, OH.
a)    Significantly more healthcare employment options
b)    On par
c)    Significantly fewer healthcare employment options
 
Step 4: Tabulate your above data using the accompanying templates.
 
Step 5: Use the tabulated data on your competition to self-assess your weakest areas and determine what adjustments your admissions processes and procedures can benefit from. 
 
Self-Assessment

One of the main focuses we want to drive home to PA programs is the importance of admissions practices and procedures self-assessment. There are a few questions for you and your team to consider for self-assessment:
 
  1. Is your price point high? Can you compete on price? If your overall cost is on the high side, consider how you can make your program attractive to candidates in other ways, like attempting to place out-of-state candidates in the clinical phase near their point of origin or facilitating relocation for students outside of the community.
  2. Have you considered the importance of customer service? A customer service approach to the admissions process will increase prospective student opinion about your program, improving the odds of matriculating if accepted.
  3. What is unique about your brand that attracts applicants to your program?
  4. Does your website accurately depict the tangible and appealing resources of your program?
  5. Does your admissions cycle need improvement in applicant outreach and public relations?
 
Why Do Candidates Apply to Your Program?
 
Besides the assumed goal of becoming a physician assistant, why do candidates apply to a particular program? Don’t make the error of dismissing this consideration as unimportant. Having worked with the recruiting, admissions, and financial aid departments of hundreds of higher educational institutions there are many pressing problems that applicants consider above and beyond being trained for a new career. For example, applicants are thinking:
 
  • If I don’t get accepted this year, who can guide me in strengthening my application?
  • How do I know if this PA program is right for me? Will I fit in?
  • Will they support me if I have trouble with my studies?
  • Money is tight. Do they have any scholarships, and who do I ask about that?
  • Where are safe places to live? I’d rather room with another PA or medical student, but how do I find them?
  • Will they help me apply for graduate loans?
  • I don’t know anyone here. Can I talk to a current student to learn more about the community?
  • Most PA programs I reached out to didn’t return my call, or I just talked to an assistant. I really want to speak one-on-one, not just in a group or virtual open house. This way, I can see if they really care about their students.
  • Who can help me brush up on my prerequisite course knowledge to be better prepared?
We all want to connect with people of authority and be confident about the decisions we make. The more you and your admissions team can have personal one-on-one conversations with your ideal applicants and answer their most pressing questions, the more these ideal applicants will be drawn to your PA institution as a place they want to attend. 

Competition Affects All PA Programs 

Using a careful self-assessment and a data-driven approach to evaluating applicants, you can refocus your admission practices and processes. You can identify qualified candidates  who fit your program’s competitive strengths and who are willing to accept your program’s weaknesses. Your program can better align with its applicant pool to enroll and matriculate more ideal candidates. You are going to need to accept that you cannot change some of the competitive issues facing your program.
 
Always prioritize  having something to offer distinct from your competition. Don’t become exactly like the other programs; focus on where your program stands out (your brand). In what ways is it exceptional? There are applicants out there who will understand that your program is the best one for them. You just need to find them and let them know. 
 
Next time…
In Issue 11 PA Admissions Corner, we’ll begin a new series of articles on strengthening your program’s outcomes, like lowering attrition rates and directing your admissions department’s energies toward the applicants who matter most.
 
To Your Admissions Success,
 
Jim Pearson &
Scott Massey
 
To view all Issues of The PA Admissions Corner Newsletter, click here.

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