Humans take cognitive shortcuts. We see an expensive bottle of wine and automatically make assumptions that it’s better than a cheap one. But that may not necessarily be the case.

Say you prefer sweet, carbonated white wines and the expensive one just happens to be a full-bodied, dry red? Regardless of the quality of the red wine, it won’t suit your tastes and will not be appreciated for dinner.

Wine is one thing.

If you chose a bottle you don’t like then you’re only out a couple bucks.

PA School tuition, on the other hand, is to the tune of thousands.

So this is a big decision.

So, if you’re assessing two PA schools and one happens to be cheap and the other is expensive, which one is better?

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to tell you which school to choose because each situation is different. But, I can offer enough insight here to help you make a decision.

Let’s begin.

Cost Analysis

PA school tuition has been hovering around $40,000/year or approximately $80,000 total and this number seems to climb year-after-year.

The dilemma is usually created because the more expensive program may have a better pedigree or nicer facilities. You start to wonder in your head if the added cost is justified.

Whenever people ask me about going to an expensive PA school or a cheap one, I usually default to saying choose the cheaper one. Simply because if a PA school is accredited by the ARC-PA and they have a good PANCE pass rate – they’ll ultimately have the ability to turn you into a Physician Assistant. Likewise, many employers don’t seem to care where you graduated from when it comes to PA school.

The other hand of this conversation is if the quality of education, the connections, and the facilities differ to provide you with a better graduate school experience – hence justifying the cost?

I’m going to break down a few factors that may sway your decision about a cheap PA Program or expensive one.

Cost Discrepancy

When comparing two schools, look at the cost discrepancy between the two.

Imagine you’re looking at two PA schools: Program A is $30,000/year and Program B is $40,000/year. And in your eyes, the $40,000 program was a lot better in terms of facilities, faculty, curriculum, and location. In this case, you could maybe consider the more expensive school.

Compare this to a scenario where you are looking at a $40,000/year school versus a $70,000/year school. The additional cost would be really hard to justify because there comes a point where you’re just getting a diminished return on your investment.

Interview Assessment

I’m assuming you’ve visited both schools on a tour. While on the interview, pay attention to a few things:

Location – Which school is closer to home? How is the general area? What are the rents like (if you need to rent)?

Facilities – Look at the classroom, the technology provided, the study rooms or library. Does one school offer a gym and other on-campus privileges?

Faculty – A more affordable PA school doesn’t necessarily have worse educators. Are the faculty warm, welcoming, and available for office hours? Do the faculty have a good attitude and want to see you succeed? How much experience do the faculty members have? What are the credentials of the guest lecturers?

Connections – Does one school have more medical connections and better affiliations offered in an area you’d like to work in the future?

Fees involved – Minor point, but ask about if any PA school supplies or books are included in the tuition. Is parking free? Are there supplemental application fees? Essentially cover your basis and make sure you won’t get hit with more costs once you get accepted.

Scholarships or awards?

Is one program offering you any scholarship money allowing the cost comparison to swing in a different direction?

Public versus Private

Public universities tend to be cheaper than private institutions. In terms of PA school, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between the quality of a public or private school. If you can swing a cheaper public school, go for it.

Out-of-State versus In-State

Some schools have similar out-of-state and in-state tuition rates. Others will charge you more if you’re from out of the state. So be on the lookout.

Your Other Liabilities

A few things to consider….

Are you burdened with a lot of student loan debt already? I would definitely default to saving money on your PA school choice and go with a more affordable program.

Do you have a family to support?

Do you have any monetary support from parents, a spouse, other family members?

Maybe your debt burden is low and you can handle paying more for your graduate education. Or maybe, you’ll be digging yourself deeper into negative net worth.


Making the decision about an acceptable PA program cost is a personal decision. However, I would recommend to go for the more affordable PA program and save yourself possibly tens of thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt which will have to be paid off in the future.

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