Tips on Researching MA Programs and Finding the Right Fit for You
Medical assisting is one of the fastest-growing fields in healthcare, which means many schools are offering MA programs to keep up with demand. But with so many options out there, how do you decide on the right medical assisting program for you?
If you’re considering a career as a medical assistant, the school you choose to complete your training can significantly impact your success in school, your financial situation, and even your future job prospects. Everyone’s learning style and life circumstances are different, and one person’s ideal situation may be a significant challenge for somebody else.
To help you make a more informed decision, we’ve put together this guide on researching and evaluating medical assisting programs, including helpful tips on comparing MA program costs and financial aid options. Understanding your choices and a few key differences can help you choose a program where you’re most likely to thrive and set you up for success in school and beyond.
Looking to learn more about what it takes to become an MA? Click here to learn how to become a medical assistant.
Researching Medical Assisting Schools
Factors to Consider When Researching Medical Assisting Schools
When researching MA programs, there are a few important factors to consider that can affect your academic experience and daily life while you’re in school. While there’s no right or wrong answer for everyone, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your own needs and tendencies and where you’re most likely to succeed.
Some people enjoy the idea of making a fresh start somewhere new, though relocating for school can be expensive. Staying closer to home and commuting to school for your MA program makes more sense for many people—it’s nice to be near your family or friends, and it’s often less of a financial burden than changing cities. Even if you do relocate for school, campus locations close to a major city usually offer more housing options than small college towns.
It’s essential to choose a medical assisting program that’s recognized by major accrediting organizations like the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). This means the program meets certain academic standards that ensure the quality of education for all graduates. Most healthcare employers strongly prefer (or even require) their medical assistants to have an education from an accredited organization, so this should be something that’s non-negotiable when researching MA schools.
Online vs. In-Person
Online classes allow busy adults with other responsibilities to study on their own schedule, though they also require students to stay motivated and disciplined enough to complete their lectures and assignments. Many people simply do better with a more structured class schedule, and that’s OK—it’s important to be realistic about how you learn best.
Some MA programs use a hybrid curriculum that combines the flexibility of online courses with the individual attention and interactivity of in-person lab training. These blended formats can be a great way for future medical assistants to study on their own schedule, while also mastering the hands-on skills required to provide excellent patient care.
Class sizes are an often-underrated part of choosing between MA programs. Bigger schools may have hundreds of students in lecture classes, which can make it tough to ask questions or feel like you’re involved in a conversation. Medical assisting programs with smaller class sizes mean it’s much easier to get one-on-one attention from instructors, which can be helpful in mastering certain concepts or skills that can be challenging at first.
Medical assistants at many healthcare employers often specialize in either administrative or clinical work, so it’s wise to choose a program that aligns with your career goals. Still, any quality MA program will train you on both the administrative and clinical sides of the role, as professional versatility is one of the defining traits of medical assistants.
MA programs at schools specializing in healthcare education can come with some additional perks, like opportunities to continue your schooling with a degree-level program. If your long-term plans include advancing into a related field like nursing, medical laboratory science, or healthcare administration, consider choosing a school that helps streamline your ongoing education.
Evaluating Medical Assisting Schools
Factors to Consider When Evaluating Medical Assisting Programs
Once you’ve answered the big-picture questions about the type of situation that’s best for you, it’s time to dive into the specifics of the MA programs you’re considering. All these factors can influence how well you perform in school, and even the opportunities available to you after you graduate.
Any accredited medical assisting program should cover the basics of medical terminology, administrative practices, and basic patient-care techniques. When comparing programs, look for a well-rounded curriculum that covers all the major systems of the human body, trains you on modern equipment and health records systems, and includes instruction on first aid and emergency response.
If you’re interested in working with a particular specialty or patient population—like pediatrics, orthopedics, or cardiology, for example—it’s smart to look into how thoroughly those areas are covered by your coursework. While you may need to gain work experience or pursue additional training before you can move into a specialty role, learning the fundamentals in your MA program prepares you to work towards your long-term career goals.
Though lectures and theory are an important part of any healthcare training program, most people learn best by doing—especially in a hands-on career like medical assisting. The best MA programs combine classroom instruction with interactive lab sessions to help you master the tools and techniques you’ll use when caring for real patients.
Many students find high-tech training tools like realistic labs and VR simulations to be incredibly useful in building confidence with certain concepts and skills. Medical assistant programs that invest in modern equipment and learning technologies should be at the top of your list, as it shows a commitment to achieving results for their students.
It’s always wise to research the short list of schools you’re considering to see what former students, instructors, and employees are saying, as well as other people around the healthcare industry. Online reviews and testimonials can be valuable resources, though nothing beats a recommendation from somebody with firsthand experience. If you don’t know anybody who attended the school in question, don’t be afraid to reach out on social media to ask people about their honest opinions.
Student Support Services
The support systems available to students and graduates are often what separates a great medical assisting program from a decent one. MA training can be challenging at times, and programs that assign you a dedicated advisor can make it a lot easier to get help with things like tutoring, test anxiety, or anything else that comes up inside or outside of the classroom.
Some schools even employ dedicated teams to help graduates get connected with job opportunities in their chosen field, sometimes even years after they’ve finished their training. Be sure to ask about any student support or job placement services that are included with your tuition and how long you’ll have access to them.
In any healthcare profession, there’s no substitute for experience working with real patients under the guidance of a seasoned supervisor. Look for medical assistant programs that include an externship or clinical rotations, as they’re one of the best ways to solidify your skills and prepare you to enter the workforce with confidence. MA programs with connections to local healthcare networks can help you build valuable experience, and sometimes help you secure a job offer before you’ve finished your externship.
Medical Assistant Program Cost
How Much Does a Medical Assisting Program Cost?
Cost is a primary factor for many people when choosing a medical assisting program, which is understandable—going to school is a big investment. There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all answer for how much an MA program costs, because it can vary significantly based on campus location, your financial aid situation, and other variables.
While it’s always wise to consider the price of tuition, it’s also important to remember that the true cost of attending an MA program involves several other factors. Lab fees, textbooks, scrubs, and other school supplies can easily add thousands to your tuition bill if they’re not included as part of the program.
On the other hand, schools that provide all relevant materials at a simple flat rate may offer a better overall value, even if they don’t have the lowest listed price for tuition. It’s also essential to research costs like transportation and living expenses, plus moving expenses if you’re considering a relocation for school. Ask lots of questions about what’s included and what’s not, and be sure you’re making even comparisons when evaluating different programs.
Medical Assisting Program Financial Aid
Financial Aid Options for Medical Assisting Students
If you need help covering the cost of your MA program, there are several potential solutions available. Most schools have financial aid offices to help students explore their options and find the best way to finance their education. Any school worth your time will be more than happy to answer your questions without pressuring you into enrollment or taking on student debt.
All students considering a diploma or degree-level healthcare training program should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year. The FAFSA is the first step in determining your eligibility for various types of financial aid, including federal student loans.
Many scholarships and grants are also available for people with different backgrounds and life circumstances. Unlike student loans, scholarships and grants usually don’t need to be repaid as long as you stay in school. Some scholarships are based on community or academic achievements, while others are based on financial need or a combination of both.
A school guidance counselor or financial aid office can help you look into scholarships and grants. You can also find them through community and professional organizations, or the Department of Education website for your state. Career OneStop (affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor) can also help you find ways to finance your education.
Besides loans and scholarships, students can also receive federal work-study aid, which qualifies them for part-time jobs that are often related to their field of study. Once becoming eligible, work-study students receive a normal paycheck which they can use to cover the cost of education. Work-study jobs often have flexible hours, which makes them an appealing option for busy students. The jobs themselves vary, but they generally involve academic or community service, which is why the government considers them an investment in the public good.
Visiting Medical Assisting Schools
Once you’ve narrowed down your final few options, it’s always a good decision to visit the schools you’re considering and see what the campus and classes are like. Many MA schools will be more than happy to give you a tour, introduce you to some of the instructors, and even sit in on a few lectures or lab sessions.
Write down some questions in advance to ask the instructors, advisors, or financial aid staff. When touring the campus or observing a class, take notes about what you see. Do the instructors seem engaged in connecting with their students, or are they going through the motions? Are the facilities and labs equipped with modern technology, or do they feel overdue for an update? Do you feel welcomed by the instructors and support staff? You’ll be spending nearly the next year of your life here, so it’s important you pick a place where you feel empowered, inspired, and supported.
Choosing the Best Medical Assisting Program
Choosing a medical assisting program is just like making any other major life decision. Make a list of the pros and cons of each choice, and consider how they align with your needs, preferences, and circumstances. Review the notes you took while researching tuition costs and visiting different campuses, and make sure you’re considering all the important details. It’s perfectly fine to seek advice from friends or family members, but remember that it’s your decision, and you should consider your own needs first and foremost.
All other factors considered, you want to choose a program that gives you the best opportunity to complete your diploma and accomplish your goal of becoming a medical assistant. That may not mean choosing the school with the best nightlife, the easiest curriculum, or the lowest tuition—but instead, selecting the school that’s most capable of helping you succeed.
Brookline College Medical Assisting Program
If you’re looking for a program with small class sizes, dedicated instructors, and up-to-date learning technology, the medical assisting program at Brookline College could be the best place to launch your healthcare career. Our curriculum prepares you to thrive in modern medical facilities, with a mix of theory and lab learning that combines academic knowledge with practical skills.
Through a combination of high-tech simulation labs and real clinical experience, you’ll receive extensive hands-on training to master essential techniques and enter the workforce with confidence. And thanks to our student services and career services teams, you’ll have support from your first day on campus through finding your first job, with ongoing access for all graduates.
Serious about taking the next step, and planning to enroll soon? Learn how to prepare for medical assistant school.