If you are interested in becoming a physician assistant (PA), you are probably wondering about how the application process works. For example, you may want to know what the PA school application timeline looks like and when you start getting your acceptance letters.
It is important to be organized so that you can stay on top of all the deadlines and requirements. Failure to submit everything in time can delay your admission to PA school, even if your GPA and GRE are great.
This guide will go over the timeline for applying to PA school. It will also go over some of the most common questions prospective applicants have about the application process.
PA School Application Timeline
Most PA schools use the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA), which is a service that allows you to apply to schools, all in one convenient platform. Because schools vary in their specific deadlines, you should keep track of when you need to submit everything for each particular program.
This section outlines the PA school application timeline, starting with the fall of junior year and ending with the summer after college graduation.
Fall of Junior Year
In the fall of your junior year of undergrad, you should start getting an idea of what PA schools you are interested in. You should research the requirements and deadlines for each school, as they will likely be different. For example, not every school requires you to take the GRE.
- Find out what schools you are interested in. Every PA program is unique. You should start creating a list of schools you plan on applying to. Some important factors to consider include tuition, teaching philosophy, reputation, and location.
- Get clinical experience. Having clinical experience is especially important when applying to PA school. Admissions committees want to see that you have spent time working directly with patients to gain a deeper understanding of what a career in the healthcare field is like. The best way to get meaningful clinical experience is by finding a job. Check out our Best Jobs to Do Before PA School Guide to learn more about the best jobs to get clinical experience.
- Prepare to take the GRE. If you plan on taking the GRE, you should schedule your test and start studying. It is best to give yourself at least 3 months to prepare. The best time to take the GRE is in February or March of your junior year. That way, you can get your scores and submit your application as early as possible.
- Make sure you are on track. Because each PA school has different prerequisite course requirements, you need to make sure that you are on track to satisfy them. For example, some PA schools require you to take 1 year of college-level Spanish. It is better to plan everything ahead, instead of finding out at the last minute that you still need to take a particular class.
January to March of Junior Year
In the winter and early spring of your junior year, your main focus should be on preparing everything you need for when the application opens in April. This includes taking the GRE and asking for letters of recommendation. In addition, this is a good time to start writing rough drafts for your personal statement. You should also continue getting clinical experience.
- Narrow down your list of schools. By this time, you should have a better idea of what PA programs you want to apply to. Identify your target schools and back-up schools. In addition, you should identify any “reach” schools. These are usually the most competitive programs, where your test scores and GPA may fall slightly below those of the average admitted student.
- Take the GRE. This is a great time to take the GRE. You should study hard and prepare well to minimize the possibility of having to retake the exam.
- Get your letters of recommendation. The best people to ask are those who know you well. This can include faculty, supervisors, or doctors you have shadowed. It is best to ask well in advance for your letters of recommendation. This is not just the polite thing to do, it also gives your writer time to come up with a strong letter.
- Start working on your personal statement. You should be able to clearly articulate why you want to become a physician assistant in your personal statement. You can (and should) draw on your personal life, academic career, and clinical experience. Starting your essay early gives you time to edit, revise, and ask for feedback.
April to May of Junior Year
During the spring of your junior year, you should work on your application and submit all the required documents. The CASPA opens each year on the last Thursday of April and closes the following year on April 1st.
- Complete your application. You can officially start your application when the CASPA opens at the end of April. You should try to finish and submit it before May ends.
- Retake the GRE, if needed. If you know that you want to retake the GRE, you should schedule the retake as soon as possible. Taking the GRE too late can potentially delay your application. Check in with each school you are applying to to find out the latest date you can take the GRE.
- Submit transcripts. You will need to send your transcripts, as they provide proof of all the coursework you have taken throughout college. You will need to arrange this with your school’s registrar after you get your spring grades back.
- Take the Capser, if needed. The Casper test is a unique examination that evaluates your behavior and responses to various scenarios. Not every school requires you to take the Casper. For schools that do require you to take the Casper test, you should check their respective deadlines.
Summer After Junior Year
After you submit your CASPA application, you may receive school-specific supplemental applications and interview invitations. These are both especially important, as they are your best opportunities to show why you are an excellent fit for PA school. In addition, you should look into your options for paying for school.
- Work on supplemental applications. Depending on the program, you may receive a supplemental application after you submit your primary application. This typically includes additional school-specific essay prompts. Again, the deadlines for these depend on the school.
- Take interviews. After submitting your supplemental applications, you may receive an invitation for an interview. You may need to travel to the school or another location to conduct your interview.
- Find out how to pay for PA school. Tuition for PA school can be quite expensive. Fortunately, there are several options available for financing your education, such as financial aid, grants, and scholarships.
Fall and Winter of Senior Year
During the fall and winter of your senior year, you should focus on getting good grades and continue working on supplemental applications. During this time, you may also receive more invitations to interview.
- Maintain your grades. Failing a class or having your grades significantly decline can jeopardize your application. In fact, if you fall below a program’s minimum GPA requirement, they can revoke your acceptance. PA programs want to see that you are consistent with your education.
- Continue working on supplemental applications. Keep on working on supplemental applications if you have any. Make sure to complete them by the deadline.
- Take interviews. You may also continue to receive interview invitations during this time.
- Review your offers. You may also start receiving acceptance letters from schools. You should start reviewing your offers and taking note of any requirements or deadlines.
Spring of Senior Year and Beyond
First of all, you should accept the offer of the school you plan on attending. Some PA programs begin early, such as in May. However, most programs generally start in the Fall.
Before your program starts, you should make your final preparations for PA school. This includes securing housing, completing onboarding requirements, and finding financial assistance (if needed).
- Accept an offer. After reviewing your admissions offers, you need to decide which one to accept. Some programs have deadlines for accepting offers, so keep that in mind.
- Tie up any loose ends. After you accept an offer, thereby committing to a PA program, you should complete any onboarding requirements. For example, you may need to attend an orientation, submit additional information, or get required vaccinations.
- Start school! Congratulations, you made it! Now it is time to begin the next step in your career journey.
When Do PA School Applications Open?
Each year, PA school applications open through CASPA on the last Thursday of April. So, you would not be able to officially start your application until then.
Before applications open, you should still prepare by writing rough drafts for your personal statement and getting all of your needed documents ready.
What is the CASPA Deadline?
The CASPA application closes on April 1st of the following year. So, an application cycle is just under a year in length.
CASPA allows schools to choose one of ten following deadlines that range from June 15 to April 1st of the following year. In general, schools usually choose deadlines during the fall.
As a result, deadlines can vary widely. It is important to stay organized and keep track of the deadlines for each school you are applying to. For example, the PA program at the University of Southern California has a deadline of November 1st. In contrast, the PA program at Kean University has a deadline of April 1st of the following year.
When Do PA School Acceptance Letters Go Out?
Acceptance letters typically start coming out in the fall and continue until spring of the following year, depending on the school’s application deadline and whether or not they use rolling admissions.
Check with each school to see when they start notifying applicants of their admissions decisions.
PA School Application Timeline FAQs
How early should I start preparing for PA school if I don’t want to take a gap year?
If you do not plan on taking a gap year, you should start officially preparing for PA school in the fall of your junior year. This will give you enough time to complete all of the requirements.
How early should I start preparing for PA school if I want to take a gap year?
Taking a gap year essentially shifts your application timeline by one year. This means that you can start preparing for PA school during the fall of your senior year. This will give you enough time to complete all of the requirements.
How much clinical experience do I need for PA school?
Every PA school has its own requirements for clinical experience. Some schools may specify a specific number of hours, while other schools may not. Make sure to double check with each program you are applying to.
A good guideline is at least 1,000 of paid clinical experience that involves direct patient care. Volunteering, shadowing, or unpaid work may also count, depending on your tasks and responsibilities.
Should I take a gap year to strengthen my PA school application?
Taking a gap year is a smart choice if you have certain deficiencies in your application, such as lack of clinical experience or unfulfilled prerequisites. During your gap year you should focus on addressing these parts of your application, so that you can become a stronger applicant in the next application cycle.
How much does the application cost?
The CASPA application will cost $184 and allows you to send the application to one school. Each additional school you apply to will cost $61.
When should I take the GRE?
The best time to take the GRE is in February or March of your Junior year. Taking it as early as you can will give you more flexibility just in case you want to retake it to improve your score.
Do I need to take the Capser Test?
Each PA program has its own requirements on what tests to take. For example, the PA program at Stanford University requires applicants to take the Casper test. Check with each of the schools you plan on applying to to see if the Casper test is required.
What if I miss the PA school application deadline?
If you miss the PA school application deadline, you will need to reapply during the next application cycle. Exceptions to late submissions (if any) are rare.
How to Give Yourself a Better Chance of Getting Into PA School
Long story short, PA school is no different from other healthcare professional programs in that getting in can be extremely competitive. Because of this, you may be wondering about the best ways to improve your chances of getting accepted.
Although there is no way to guarantee that you get accepted into your dream PA school, there are several things you can do to strengthen your application and maximize your chances of getting in.
- Retake classes you received a bad grade in. Most PA programs have a minimum GPA requirement. Retaking a class and getting a better grade can give you the GPA boost you need. However, you will need to weigh the costs and benefits to retaking a class. You should ask yourself if your time would be better spent gaining clinical experience instead of improving your grade by one letter. However, if there are classes that you failed (especially ones that are prerequisites), then you should definitely retake them.
- Study hard for the GRE. The GRE provides admissions committees with an objective assessment of your knowledge and critical thinking capabilities, both of which are important attributes for a physician assistant to possess. You should look up the average GRE scores for accepted applicants at each of your schools of interest. Then, you should aim to get a better (or at least similar) score.
- Gain as much clinical experience as possible. PA programs strongly emphasize clinical experience in their admissions process. Many of them require a certain number of hours. For example, the PA program at Northwestern University requires applicants to have at least 1,000 hours of clinical experience that involves direct patient care.
- Write a great personal statement. Personal statements give you an opportunity to make your application stand out amongst the crowd of applicants. This is your chance to show admissions departments that you are passionate about becoming a physician assistant and that you have the qualities needed to succeed in their program. If your academic stats (such as GPA or GRE score) are relatively weak, you can use your essays to explain any circumstances as to why this may be so.
- Prepare well for your interview. The interview can make or break your application. If you are on the borderline of being admitted, then a strong interview can push you over the top. On the other hand, a poor interview can reflect poorly on your application. Take the interview seriously by preparing well and having strong answers to potential interview questions.
- Consider a post-bac or special master’s program, if you have a low GPA. Post-baccalaureate programs or special master’s programs allow you to gain clinical experience and show that you are dedicated to a career in healthcare. For example, you can complete a post-baccalaureate program in medical technology. You would strengthen your application by gaining more experience and education.