What do a PA program’s admissions look for in Applicants?

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Admission into a physician assistant program can be competitive. Some schools receive thousands of applications when there could be only two dozen accepted. Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professionals typically receives 1,620 and allows only 75 students each school year.

The road to becoming a PA begins in your freshman year of college when you select the appropriate prerequisite courses to satisfy the PA school’s requirements. Chemistry, biology, anatomy, microbiology, and physiology are essential during your undergraduate years. More precisely, the journey should start in high school by taking as many science classes as possible.

At the college level, when not attending classes full-time, students need to gain experience in a clinical setting. The hundreds of hours necessary vary by the PA program, but this step is vital to your future application. Many programs set the minimum hours of direct patient care experience at 500, with some demanding 750 or more. On the lower side is Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions that requires at least 250 hours of direct patient care.

A PA program is the equivalent of a master’s degree – the majority of institutions refer to it as a Master of Science-PA or Master of Health Science-PA. As with any graduate specialty program, there are prerequisite courses that admissions will expect. The Physician Assistant Studies degree at the University of Pittsburgh stipulates one to two semesters in an assortment of subjects. Examples are organic chemistry, psychology, statistics, biology, anatomy lab, and English Composition.


The grade point average is another admission criterion. Again, this differs per school. Using the two schools named above, Pittsburgh and Drexel set the GPA at 3.0; however, these grades are not indicative of the average applicant. Drexel applicants have an overall average of 3.63 and 3.60 for all science courses. The Baylor College of Medicine has a minimum GPA of 3.2 overall and overall sciences. Therefore, prospective PA students need to review each potential program’s admission checklist regarding the GPA. Generally, schools only accept scores verified by CASPA (Central Application Service for Physician Assistants). It is the only organization in the United States that represents PA programs.

Letters of Recommendation (LORs)

Another admission requirement is letters from professors, a medical doctor (M.D.), and a P.A. or related source as specified by the school. Three references are the norm, with one being from an M.D. The LOR should include the applicant’s work history and the specific duties he/she performed while under the supervision of the doctor, registered nurse, or PA. What functions did the person do: assist in the laboratory, diagnosis, admit patients, or record medical history? Also, a brief assessment of how the individual interacted with staff and how well she/he executed the tasks.

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is not a requirement of all PA admission departments. The test is a standardized multiple-choice, computer-based exam used for admission to many graduate programs. It consists of three scores:

  • Analytical Writing
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning

The score for the Quantitative and Verbal sections is 130 to 170. The mean score for both is between 151 and 153. The Analytical test has a mean of 4.0 on a range of 0 to 6 with half-point increments. Rocky Mountain, as mentioned above, uses the GRE – applicants must have a minimum of 298 aggregate for the Verbal and Quantitative scores.

The Missouri State Physician Assistant Studies Graduate Program requires either the GRE or MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). The MCAT is a seven and a half hour computer exam that assesses your knowledge of physical and biological sciences, as well as sociocultural and psychological behavioral influences. Each of the four sections has an average score of 125 or a maximum of 528. It is available 15 times a year at the cost of $315. Judging from the description of the MCAT, used primarily for medical school applicants, the GRE seems like the better option given a choice.


An in-person or video interview might be the last hurdle for admission to a PA program. At this stage, the school has narrowed the applicant pool to a group of possible successful candidates. Missouri State conducts interviews with the PA studies committee. Some groups of finalists are more extensive than others. Northeastern University Bouvé College of Health Services in Boston, for example, interview approximately 150 promising applicants for its PA program. However, the school accepts only 52 each year.


In this highly competitive field, no wonder the average medical experience for applicants is three years, according to statistics. The percentage with prior employment in a medical profession is an astounding 79%! Applicants to PA programs come from RNs, occupational therapy, radiologic technology, emergency medical technician (EMT), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), and more.

Your successful admission to a program depends on multiple accomplishments: academics, clinical practice, character, interview techniques, national test scores, and persistence. You may have to persist after being declined by one admission committee – then on to another school.

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