Application Process Overview
PA schools admit students once a year in the fall, but applications are submitted 12-15 months before the desired enrollment date. Applications open each year in April for the following year admission.
When you apply depends on when you will complete your degree, complete necessary prerequisite coursework, and successfully take required tests (GRE). Timing is sensitive so you will want to plan well.
Apply early in the cycle, but make sure your application is the best it can be. PA school requirements vary from school to school — research schools early for specific information on their requirements.
Before submitting your application, have people with an unbiased eye go over the entire application to catch any errors.
How to Choose the Right Program
Establishing some criteria is an essential first step in finding the best physician assistant school for you. We recommend you start to research schools early and consider what is most important to you. Some criteria you may consider:
- Geographic location—Keep in mind that some regions or states have fewer schools than others and have a higher volume of applications than others. Also, consider how willing you are to relocate and the cost of living near the school.
- Cost—Physician Assistant programs are expensive. Generally, state schools have lower tuition rates than private schools. Consider how much money you will need to borrow and your debt comfort level.
- How established is the program? Newer programs may still be working on getting clinical sites and preceptors.
- Length—Program lengths can vary from 24 to 36 months.
- Your fit of the prerequisites—Make sure you have completed all prerequisites, clinical hours, and tests required for the program.
- Curriculum “style”—do they use problem-based learning or more a traditional lecture format? Consider how you learn best when looking at how programs are designed.
- The first-time PANCE passage rate—take into consideration not only their pass rate but also how many students they retain in each class. If they have a high retention AND pass rate, that is a good indicator.
PA School Application includes five main components:
- The Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
- Primary Application
- Letters of Recommendation
- Secondary Applications (not all schools will require Secondary Applications)
The Admissions Test
Check school websites to determine if you will need to take the GRE to apply for admission. Most PA schools do require the GRE so plan to take it early.
Primary Applications are processed through a central processing service and are sent to every school affiliated with that service. The application service for PA school is called CASPA. ** Please note, not every PA program uses CASPA for applications. Check admissions websites to determine how to apply to specific programs.
CASPA opens online in April and can be submitted as soon as completed. It is important to apply early!
READ ALL INSTRUCTION MANUALS AND DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY!
- Your GRE score
- A list of all college classes taken, as well as official transcripts from each college where you have earned credit
- A list and descriptions of your activities since graduating from high school
- A Personal Statement
- Letters of Recommendation
NOTE: To help us advise other students, we would appreciate it if you would release your statistical information from your applications to the Health Professions Advisor when prompted. This information will always be kept confidential.
Your personal statement is a very important piece of your application and should be given a high degree of attention in the process. You can begin creating your first draft at any time, but serious work should be done a few months before applying.
Get feedback! Have 3 or 4 people you can trust to be honest with you (professor, parent, advisor, etc.) read your essay and offer feedback. Give yourself plenty of time to make revisions.
A great personal statement will answer the following:
- Motivation - Why PA? Why PA over another helping profession?
- Capacity - How have you prepared to become a PA?
- Fit - What makes you a good fit for the profession?
- Vision - What impact do you wish to make?
GENERAL PERSONAL STATEMENT DOs and DON’Ts
DO answer the question posed by CASPA.
DO concentrate more on actual experiences rather than speculation about future accomplishments.
DO focus more on what you can give rather than on what you can get by becoming a physician assistant.
DO “show” more than “tell.”
DO limit the number of “I” statements you use.
DO share your background if it is appropriate.
DO describe meaningful experiences.
DO pay careful attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
DO pay attention to the character count (5000).
DO NOT use the “I want to help people” theme if possible.
DO NOT devote too much space to writing about other people (family, patients, a PA you know).
DO NOT summarize or merely repeat what is on the activity list on your primary application.
DO NOT use overly flowery language.
DO NOT assume everyone knows what you know.
DO NOT try to make jokes.
DO NOT use a foreign language.
DO NOT begin your essay with a quote.
Letters of Recommendation
CASPA has a service that allows your letter writers to upload your letters directly to the application and have them distributed to all schools to which you have applied.
Requirements for letters vary between schools, so research schools early and know what you need.
If the school you are applying to does not use CASPA, check their admissions webpage about how to submit letters of recommendation.
Requesting Letters of Recommendation
- Ask if potential writers feel capable of writing a STRONG letter. If anyone is hesitant, you should probably try someone else.
- Ask if recommenders would welcome any written background material. You could include a brief biographical sketch or resume, your interests and activities, career goals, and motivation toward your intended profession.
- Always give recommenders ample time — two to three weeks at a minimum.
- Make sure letter writers know their letters must be signed and on letterhead
- Follow-up with your letter writers and be sure to send thank you notes.
Some PA schools will require a Secondary Application. These are specific to each school, and vary in length and structure, but often require one or more additional essays, or ask you to list certain experiences in a specific format. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY.
Some schools send Secondary Applications to every student who submitted a Primary Application. Other schools will screen Primary Applications first and only send Secondary Applications to students who are under consideration for admission.
Secondary Applications usually have a fee attached, so it is a good idea to re-evaluate your list of schools at this point. If you have changed your mind about applying to a school, you do not have to complete their Secondary Application.
Make sure you promptly return your Secondary Applications with well-written, thoughtful, and professional responses.
The final stage of the application process is the interview. If you receive an invitation for an interview, that is an indication that a school has decided that you are a qualified applicant and they want to get to know you better. Some PA schools hold “interview days” where they bring in a group of applicants for a day that may consist of some or all of the following: Interviews, lunch, school tour, and opportunities to meet students and faculty. Remember, the entire day is the interview, not just those times when you are in a formal meeting. Be on your best professional behavior all day!
Interviews can take many forms, so it is essential to research your schools and be prepared. A Health Professions Advisor can help you with preparation tips and practicing your interviewing skills.
The most common types of interviews are:
- One on one interview—Usually one or two 20-30 minutes interviews
- Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)—7-10 rooms with a different prompt or scenario posted on the door. You are typically given 2 minutes to think about the prompt before entering a room, and 5-8 minutes to respond to the question. Additional questions or a role play situation could be part of the interview.
- Group interview—Either one applicant interviewed by several interviewers, or a group of applicants interviewed by one or more interviewer.
- Standardized Video Interview—This is a new interview method being implemented at some schools. Before the interview day, applicants are sent a link to a site where they will be asked to provide timed video or written question response.