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Putting the Pieces of the Physician Assistant School Application Together

Updated on December 12, 2012

If you’re like I was when approaching graduation from college, you are stressed, running around trying to put all of the finishing touches on assignments and trying to say good bye to everyone. You’ve spent the better part of your Junior and Senior years working on projects and cramming for tests. The last thing on your mind is getting all of the information needed to apply for graduate school from the health care professionals advisor before leaving school. Now you have graduated and decided to apply to graduate level physician assistant programs and have no clue where to start.

Start Putting the Pieces Together Before You Graduate

While there are courses that all PA programs require as prerequisites (Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, etc) each program has individual admission criteria, resulting in a lot of variability among programs. There are currently 156 accredited PA programs in the U.S according to the AAPA website, and each one is unique in the exact details of what they require in the application process. Save yourself some money, and make sure you have all of the prerequisites for the programs you are most interested in before graduating undergrad. So where is the best place to find the admission criteria for each program? The first option is to visit the website of each individual program, but a more time effective way is to use to CASPA website. It can provide useful information including deadlines, entrance testing requirements (GRE, TOEFL), and if a supplemental application is required.. In addition to this, by clicking on any of the participating programs within the participating programs list you will be redirected directly to the admissions requirements page for that particular program. There is also a comprehensive list of schools available through the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), but there is a 1 year subscription fee of $35. While the last option is the most complete source of information, I found the CASPA portal to be that most cost efficient.

A side note on entrance exams: The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is required by the majority of the schools and many colleges offer prep courses for competitive students. The TOEFL is generally only required if English is your second language. Generally, the MCAT is not required for entrance to PA programs.

In addition to requiring certain prerequisite courses, many graduate level physician assistant programs place a large emphasis on hands on patient care experience and shadowing. Most colleges have a program set up to help students get such experience. Take full advantage of such programs, because it makes getting patient care experience a lot easier! Many colleges have numerous long standing relationships with health care professionals in the area, and it is to your advantage to use these resources while still attending under grad.

Still Missing Admissions Requirements After Graduation? Don't Give Up!

For those of us that didn’t plan ahead in undergrad or didn’t decide exactly what profession to pursue until after graduation there is community college! The tuition per credit hour is generally more reasonable and it is simple to take only those courses that you are lacking.

In recently applying to school, there appears to be a trend of students graduating college and taking a year or two off to gain hands on health experience. Many programs have a hefty experience requirement, but the specifics vary from school to school. In general, many students get such experience by working as nursing assistants, personal care attendants, and emergency medical technicians. I found it particularly difficult to find a job in healthcare without certification. I found that nursing assistant programs provided the quickest, most cost effective way to become licensed and get hands on experience. Fair warning: it is definitely starting at the bottom and working your way up (no pun intended).

Many people wait until after graduation to take the GRE and it can be taken multiple times if you are unhappy with your score. In attempting to prepare for the GRE without the aid of a prep course there are a number of books and practice tests available.

Finally Ready to Apply!

I found that the most time and cost efficient way to go about applying to schools was using the CASPA portal. While some schools do not use the portal, the majority of schools are participating at this point (you can find out if the school you are interested in participates on the main page of the website under participating programs). CASPA provides a way to apply to numerous schools using the same application. So instead of applying to each school individually, you can apply to multiple schools and only fill out the application once! In addition to this, they have recently started allowing applicants to save their information and only update it for use for the next cycle. So if you don’t get accepted first time around you don’t have to start over! I found that the process was very user friendly, and that instructions were given along the way to help you through the process. Here is where you get to brag about yourself. The CASPA application includes demographic information, prerequisite course information and both science and general GPA calculators, and a personal statement. It also keeps track of which programs you are interested in and the application deadlines for each school you choose. Then when you are finished you are able to send applications directly to each program and even pay the application fee online. The application fee is dependent on how many schools you apply for, so the more places you apply the less the application fee is for each individual school.

Now it’s just time to wait for an interview……GULP!


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