One of the key requirements for choosing physician assistant (PA) programs is having information about the programs, including data on the programs’ matriculants. Unfortunately that’s more difficult to come by for PA applicants since the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants, (“CASPA”) simply does not provide data on applicants or matriculants for individual PA programs, only collective averages for all applicants. For program-specific information, you’ll have to visit the individual program websites. And regrettably, not all PA programs share class profiles and incoming matriculant data.
8 Criteria to Consider When Choosing a PA Program
While acknowledging these challenges, I recommend that you compare the schools in the following areas so that you can apply successfully to PA programs:
Location matters. Apply to all the public programs in your state. You receive a reduced fee as an in-state applicant and often your chance of acceptance is higher at the schools in the state where you’re considered a resident.
Double and triple check deadlines to make sure that you apply as early as possible. PA schools use rolling admissions. The sooner you apply, the better your chances. You can submit your application to PA schools one at a time, if you don’t want to submit to all the schools on your list all at once. For example, if you have an MCAT score and would like to submit to the schools that require the MCAT, you can do so. After you have taken the GRE, at a later date, you can submit your application to additional schools.
3. Start Dates
Make sure the program start date does not conflict with any of your current commitments. If so, consider applying the next cycle if you are completing a different degree, certificate program, a research project, or any other time sensitive activity.
4. Secondary Applications
Some programs require secondary applications. You’ll have to visit the individual websites to determine whether the school does or does not have this requirement. If possible, get started on these as early as you can. Submitting these secondary applications within two weeks of receiving them – a rather quick response – can help you earn an interview by demonstrating your interest in their program as well as your time management skills.
5. GRE or MCAT Requirements
While most PA programs require the GRE, some accept the MCAT instead. Double check each school’s exam requirements. You can submit your CASPA application, even if you are waiting for your test scores. Be sure to list any pending exams on your application to avoid confusion and unnecessary delays.
6. Minimum GPA or GRE/MCAT Scores
Some schools share the averages for applicants and matriculants. Review this data if it’s available. Use it to evaluate your chances. There are programs that have minimum GPA or GRE/MCAT score requirements. Make sure that your scores and grades are above the minimums and preferably closer to or above the average.
7. Specific Course Requirements
Since there are disparities in the courses required by PA programs, confirm that you have completed all the required coursework for each individual program. Some schools will not accept pending coursework while others may have a limit of two pending required courses. Double check their course requirements to be safe.
8. Expiration Dates for Coursework or Scores
PA programs all have expiration dates for coursework and scores but they all vary from program to program. Again, make sure that your courses and scores all fit within their time requirements.
For best results, create an excel spreadsheet that you can use to compare all of the following data side by side for all the PA programs that you are considering. Using this approach can give you a “big picture” perspective on what the programs have in common and the ways that their programs and requirements differ. It can also help you stay focused and motivated to have all deadlines and timelines listed so that you don’t miss anything.
Comparing GPA and MCAT/GRE Scores for Top PA Programs
In addition to understanding the criteria listed above, you’ll also need to analyze where you fit in when it comes to the competitiveness of the different physician assistant programs. Reviewing the data available for the top programs will provide guidelines as to what scores you will need in order to be a competitive applicant to their programs and others.
Below you will find the most recent data available for the top nine PA programs in the U.S.:
As you can see, most of these programs share an average GPA and average GRE scores or percentiles. A couple of schools provide a range for the GPA’s of students they accepted. The numbers vary widely, from 3.07 to a 4.0 cumulative GPA and 3.2 to a 3.8 science GPA. Three of the nine programs do not require any test scores. Students were accepted with scores from 154 to 161 in the verbal section, 151 to 161 in the quantitative section and 4.0 to 4.5 in the analytical writing section. Use this information as a guide, but do not use it to rule yourself out unless you are far below both of these averages in GPA as well as GRE. As long as you are within range of one of these numbers, you could still be a competitive applicant, depending on the strength of your activities, essays and other sections of the applications.
While these top nine programs shared the data for applicants accepted into their program, other programs do not make this information available. Often, they will share a GPA or GRE/MCAT minimum requirement. Collect as much information as you can.
How to Learn More about PA Program Requirements and Expectations
In addition to reviewing program websites, there are other ways to learn more about physician assistant programs. You can schedule a visit to their campus or attend any information sessions they are hosting. If you cannot find a calendar of events on their website, call to request information. Make sure that you attend any and all premed fairs on your campus as well as any hosted at nearby schools. It can be an easy way to collect a lot of information about the types of students PA programs are looking for in the shortest amount of time possible for multiple programs. Network to make connections with current students and admissions professionals to learn more. Start following the schools you are interested in on social media. You can learn a lot about what is important to them by reading what they post. Read any student handbooks available and watch their informational videos.
For more help with choosing the best PA programs for you and preparing your Physician Assistant (PA) CASPA application, contact me and my fellow expert admissions consultants for advice and guidance. We look forward to working with you and helping you get ACCEPTED!
Alicia McNease Nimonkar is an Accepted advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs. Want Alicia to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• Fitting In & Standing Out: the Paradox at the Heart of Admissions, a free guide
• Focus on Fit, a podcast episode
• Showing You Can Do the Work [Fitting In & Standing Out]