When is the right time for you to apply for a physician assistant (PA) school?
For many future PAs, this is an important and personal question that comes up eventually. One of the first things that you should research is the application process for the PA school(s) that you are interested in.
This PA school application guide will inform you of when is the right time for you to apply for your chosen PA school. This guide will also provide you with additional application process information to ensure that you are absolutely prepared to begin your journey towards becoming a full PA.
When to Submit Your PA School Application
It is vital to know when you should submit your PA school application. It is highly recommended that you submit you application sometime around a year before your school starts. A notable exception to this rule are for PA schools that begin courses in January. With those schools, it is best to apply in April.
This basically means that after acceptance, you would be starting your PA school around six months later.
The majority of schools begin courses in either May or August.
Submitting your application in April affords you over a year to attend interviews and prepare yourself mentally and physically for the PA school program.
It is very important to factor this time in when you are considering which year is best to submit the application. If you would prefer to have a gap year, then it is suggested that you apply towards your senior year.
However, if you want to continue with your PA education without a gap year, then it is highly recommended that you apply as you finish your junior year or at or near the start of your senior year.
Taking a year off or not is really up to each person, and there is nothing inherently wrong with taking the year off or pushing through with your PA school education.
Another thing to consider is that when you apply for a PA school in April for an August start date, that will always mean the August of the following year.
Many students are confused about this part of the process.
Meeting PA School Requirements
After determining when it is best for you to start, you will have to figure out your PA school’s requirements. It is key that you meet all of the school’s requirements, or your application will not reach the evaluation phase.
Some practical advice: if your application currently meets all of the programs requirements, then you should try to get into the school. It is unwise to put off applying for too long, as it may indicate that you have reservations or lack commitment.
So long as you are meeting the minimum requirements, then there is little reason to not take your chance at the opportune time.
After reaching a decision that this will be your cycle, you can improve your chance of being accepted if you apply early to PA school programs with rolling admission policies. With rolling admissions, once your school application submission is updated in the school’s system as “complete,” it is immediately evaluated. A positive evaluation will lead to your interview and, with luck, acceptance into the school’s program.
Applying early for schools with rolling admissions could lead to securing your seat early in the event that more seats are available for the future at the time of your submission.
It used to be that submitting during the months of July and August was considered to be early. With rising competition, however, the May-June timeframe is now considered to be early in terms of submissions.
Not submitting during those timeframes will not mean that your application will be instantly rejected, but submitting early is one way to make your application stand above your competition.
GPA and GRE
Two areas of your application that absolutely must meet your preferred school’s minimum requirements are your grade-point average (GPA) and (Graduate Record Examinations) GRE scores.
The majority of PA schools have a minimum GPA requirement and a science component GPA between 2.75 and 3.2 at a minimum. You have to meet these minimum requirements to even be considered for these PA programs.
As for the GRE, you will want a combined score for quantitative and verbal of 300. You should also try to reach each GRE section’s top 50th percentile.
If you do not get the score that you would like, keep in mind that the test can be retaken to improve your score.
The GRE is a section of your application that you can continue to improve to meet or exceed your preferred school’s requirements.
PA Shadowing Hours
It is important to get in shadowing hours to gain as much medical experience as possible before being accepted to a PA school.
The bare minimum would be around 8 hours, but it is highly recommended to get around 100 shadowing hours. These hours should be split up across two specialties. You will want to gain shadowing experience that involves different settings, such as the operating room, the urgent care center, the internal medicine office and the emergency room.
Not having shadowing hours, or not enough hours, can become a big red flag to your application’s evaluator.
These shadowing hours show the evaluators that you’ve been exposed enough to a PA’s environment that you have a good idea of what will be expected of you.
Opening a CASPA Account
CASPA is the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants.
It is a primary application service for the majority of graduate-level PA school programs. You should create a CASPA account and dive into the information relevant to the CASPA process.
Learn anything and everything about the process so that nothing catches you off-guard and causes you to miss important deadlines.
Even if you are not planning to apply during this cycle, you should still learn about the process and retain this information in a way that you can easily reference it around the time that you are ready to apply.
Four weeks or more prior to your preferred PA school program’s application deadline, you should order all of your college transcripts.
Use the CASPA transcript request form to do so, and order an unofficial copy of each transcript for your records. Act on the assumption that the transcripts can and will be delayed, misdirected and lost.
This means strictly using the most consistently effective communication method and delivery methods that can be tracked for you.
Store order receipts and tracking numbers in a safe place in case you run into an issue with your schools receiving your transcripts in a timely manner.
You must sufficiently prepare for your interview. This means conducting your own thorough research and consulting forums such as the IPAT Physician Assistant Forum. Consider working with an interview coach to work on your interview answering skills.
Do everything that you can to make your experiences, education and personality shine through on interview day.