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PA School Tuition

By Daniel Champigny - Jun 15, 2020

PA School Tuition

We have talked a lot about the academic side of the physician assistant school application, but a common and sometimes overlooked issue is, how much does PA school actually cost? In the swirl of GPAs, letters of recommendation, and GRE scores, sometimes students forget to consider how they will pay for their education. After all, taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to fund your dream is a major decision! A decision that sometimes students, including yours truly, simply sign on the dotted line. Today, we will ask the simple question how much does PA school cost? We will look at a few different schools for PA school cost; including, USC PA school. As well as the many other factors that go into tuition.


The Cost of Education

I’m a huge proponent about discussing the cost of education. Personally, I think the cost of education in our country is astronomically high and that needs to change, but hey, that’s for another topic altogether. I say these things because my PA school education was incredibly expensive. I had graduated much like everyone else from undergraduate with a cookie cutter biology degree that got me a bench chemistry job, paying peanuts.


Taking Out More Loans to Pay Off Current One’s

As I moved through this career in chemistry, I knew that it would not be sustainable long term. First, it was not what I wanted to do and second, it was not sustainable financially. As I started to review the PA application process, I made the stark realization that I was in part, taking on more student loan debt, so I could pay my student loan debt. Wait….what?


Hidden Costs of PA School

Before we even begin to discuss the process of tuition for PA schools, we need to make ourselves aware of a few things that are hidden “costs” of PA school. The first and likely most important, is the interruption in income that comes with giving your notice at a job. In my particular case, I could not simply go from working one day to packing up and moving to another state the next, this required time prior to coordinate all of the moving processes, which took away from time that I might have been working and making an income.


The second major thing to consider even prior to setting foot in the anatomy lab, is that schools require a deposit to ensure your seat in the program. Many of these values are $500 or even $1000, but keep in mind that many are not refundable. I can recall being between two schools for considering my admission, with both requiring hefty deposits to ensure I could keep my seat at the program. One of them wanted my $1000 within 1 week of notifying me of my acceptance and would keep it for themselves if I later decided to go to another program! To me, as a recent undergraduate, that was quite a pretty penny. Many schools thankfully do take this deposit into account for your tuition, but I imagine some may not.


What if you move to attend PA school?

Another very important factor that we need to discuss is whether you are moving to attend a PA program. This is not taken into account one bit when we discuss tuition, so it is very important to be aware of. This can be one of the single biggest contributors to financial stress just prior to PA school and even when starting PA school. When comparing programs, we must obviously look at their overall tuition, but whether the student needs to move for the program, finding new housing is also a major factor.

Even prior to your first day of PA school, you may have already spent thousands on gas, a moving company, U-Haul renting, lease signing and breaking! It is a ton to think about and can put you in the financial hole even before your first exam.


What is tuition?

As we finally get in to looking at tuition in general, I think it is reasonable for us to first define tuition. In many cases, the term tuition simply encompasses what the school or program is charging the student for their academic/educational time at the institution. In many cases, this does not actually consider other financial pieces; such as room and board, books, laboratory fees, transportation, and many other things that inevitably come up during the rigorous process of the physician assistant education.

Make a Budget

My very first recommendation regarding tuition is to simply sit down and look at how much this education is going to cost. As we know, cost of living, residence and other factors do vary in cost based on geographic location, as does PA school tuition. For prospective students, I would first get a sense of the numbers by research programs. Perhaps pick 5 programs in different parts of the country and compare their tuition and cost of living. It may seem ridiculous to say, but this could end up saving you or costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.


When we start to look at the list of tuition and fees listed on program websites, we must also be prepared for the unknown. Much like the deal that can’t seem to be true, when we review “tuition” we also find numerous other fees and payments that add up very quickly. Throughout my research on program cost for this article, I found numerous variations of fees between programs including “laboratory fee”, “health and wellness fee”, “personal expenses”, “equipment fee”, you get the gist. Unfortunately, these fees are not included in the total tuition and quickly multiply to provide for one very costly education.


Comparing Tuition

For this article, I strictly compared different tuitions, as tuition must be paid by all students and can not be haggled or adjusted. In many cases, I was shocked by what I found and how expensive programs could be. Even since I graduated over four years ago, tuition has continued to rise across the country.

I reviewed multiple programs throughout the country’s admission page under the section of tuition in order to give us a better idea of truly how much it costs to become a PA. As we know, the emotional, professional, personal costs can never be calculated. At the same time, there are numerous other factors that go into paying for an education, but these are also unable to be calculated. When it boils down to it, it would be almost nearly impossible to create a full running tab of how much it costs to become a PA.


How much do programs cost?

I started with my own alma mater, Pennsylvania State University, where I received my degree over 4 years ago. Tuition was listed at $37,552 per year and the program is two years in length. In addition, it was nice to see that the website listed a total education cost for each year, weighing in at $58,154 for year 1 and $57,354 for year two, making a grand total of $115,508.


Duke University

Next, I looked at Duke University, one of the big original PA programs and a highly ranked PA program each year. This was a bit more expensive, with tuition being listed as $43,518 per year, times two years. In addition, room and board was listed as $22,858 for year one and $27,014 for year two. Not taken into account would be the numerous fees, including a first-year lab fee of $1,522 and a “student health fee” of $1,128.


East vs. West Coast

I also looked at a school on both the East coast as well as the West coast, for comparison from across the country. Boston University in Boston, MA listed their tuition as $45,507 for year 1, $47,782 for year 2, and another $15,750 for the 4 months of year three (a roughly 28-month program). This did not include room and board, which they listed as about $20,000 per year, respectively. Sections on transportation, student health fee, and “personal expenses” also existed as well.

Lastly, I looked at the University of Southern California (USC), notoriously one of the most expensive programs in the country. It is important to note that USC is a longer program than many of the above-mentioned; with a length of 33 months. The first-year tuition was listed as $59,260, the second year at $57,560, and the third year also at $57,560.

The total listed cost of the program for tuition was $187,160. It is extremely important to note that this calculation on their website did not consider room and board or housing!


Mitigating Expenses

answer to our question is that yes, PA school is very expensive. There are some major bright spots, however as well as things you can do to mitigate expenses. For me, it was living with two other PA students to keep the cost of housing down, being frugal with my spending, and using my car as little as possible. Another bright spot is that the average PA salary for a new graduate has continued to increase in recent years, which makes it easier for students to pay off debts.


I hope that today’s article on PA school tuition has been helpful for you in your journey. I would strongly recommend that all prospective PA students take a strong look at costs before you begin your journey, as PA school is expensive, but very rewarding.



Boston University PA program Admissions page, section on tuition/costs.

Duke University PA program Admissions page, section on tuition/costs.

Pennsylvania State University PA program Admissions page, section on tuition/costs.

USC PA program Admissions page, section on tuition/costs.


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