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Unlike many other health care degree programs, most PA programs want applicants who have previous health care experience and some college education. Commonly, applicants include nurses, EMT's, and paramedics. You must check with individual programs for their specific prerequisites.

Typically, PA programs have several different components in their application process, including completion of a general application form, proof that you have satisfied education and experience prerequisites, a narrative personal essay, and a personal interview. As there is no pre-PA major, the best educational preparation is one that focuses on the basic sciences, math, some specialized science courses such as Microbiology, and English/writing courses. Depending on the degree offered, you may be required to have either a Bachelor's degree and have GRE scores, or only a general 2-year course of undergraduate study involving the same course emphasis as mentioned above.

Researching Accredited Programs

If you are currently in university, you may be able to obtain information about accredited Physician Assistant programs in your area by visiting your school's guidance office. You can also search online. One place to start your search is by visiting the web site of the Physician Assistant Education Association. The web site features a state-by-state list of all currently accredited PA programs in the US. Once you identify specific programs of interest, you may also want to check to see whether the programs have their own web sites containing information about their curriculum, admissions process, prerequisites, etc. Because there are so many variations among programs, and because program requirements may have changed since the web site was last updated, it is also wise to contact the PA programs directly by phone, email, or regular mail to request an applicant information packet.

Another good web site to visit as you begin to explore PA programs is that of the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), which lists all accredited PA programs, as well as those which are in the process of review for accreditation.

After examining the information on specific programs, and deciding which programs you plan to apply to, make separate files for each program and sequence them by application deadlines so that you won't inadvertently miss out on applying to any with earlier due dates.

PA School Prerequisites

PA programs vary in terms of what courses, degrees and other prerequisites they require. Basically, these variations are based on the type of degree the programs offer.

Programs awarding a Master's degree often require a Bachelor's degree and possibly GRE scores as well.

Programs awarding a Bachelor's degree usually require at least 2 years of college courses in basic sciences, math, some specialized science coursework such as Microbiology, and English/writing courses. Those interested in applying should contact individual PA programs for specific admissions requirements.

Because of the variation in types of degrees offered and required prior education, there is no pre-PA major offered to students who want to apply to PA school as there is for medical students. However, having exposure to the courses mentioned above, to medical terminology, and some knowledge of biochemistry and genetics will certainly help students survive the coursework once they gain admission to a PA program.

The most unique aspect what PA programs expect of applicants is the requirement for some health care experience. While this experience could be voluntary, many applicants to PA programs are from nurses, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or those who received medical corpsman training during military service.

The Application Process

Beginning in April of 2001, many of the accredited PA programs began to participate in the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). This change means that you can now apply online and fill out only one application, then designate as many PA programs as you like to receive your application from CASPA. This centralized service assembles an applicant's application, standardized test scores, school transcripts, and recommendation letters and verifies them before distributing the package to the designated PA programs listed by that applicant. Programs look over the applications and then contact desirable applicants directly to obtain supplemental information, arrange interviews, and make final selection decisions.

Applicants should visit the CASPA web site for detailed application instructions. Applicants may call 617-612-2080 or email at to contact CASPA's customer service, which will provide help to applicants who have questions about completing their online application. Applicants should call or write directly to PA programs that do not participate in CASPA to obtain application information, or look for this information on the individual web sites of these schools.

The Interview

Most applicants worry about interviews. How should I dress? Will the program director like me? If I am accepted, will I feel comfortable and fit in with the other students? Such questions are natural as each side—the program and the applicant—attempts to learn as much as possible about the other in a short span of time.

There have been a number of studies to uncover the key factors interviewers use to decide which applicants they will rate more highly. Here is a synopsis of the results of these studies:

1. The compatibility of the applicant (how comfortable they feel with you).

2. The applicant's ability to grow in knowledge (your learning skills, apparent intelligence).

3. The applicant's maturity (how calm, realistic, and confident you appear).

4. The applicant's commitment to hard work (whether you seem reliable, eager, and energetic).

5. The applicant's fund of knowledge (your grades, scores, previous experience, articulateness during the interview).

Please note that different studies ranked these factors differently, so the order in which they are listed above does not imply that factor one is more important than factor five.