When I applied to PA school, I found myself doing some guessing about how the CASPA process works from the inside.   I thought it might be helpful to others if I were to call and speak to them to clarify a few of my questions.  Their customer service representative was helpful, and got me in touch with Timi Agar Barwick, the Executive Director of the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), which runs CASPA.  Here’s a transcript of our talk.

Paul: Could you give me some background information on CASPA?

Ms. Barwick: CASPA is a service of the PAEA that started in 2001 to help physician assistant schools and PA school applicants.  The idea was for CASPA to use technology to help PA schools spend more time on recruiting applicants, and less time pushing paper.   All accredited PA programs in the U.S. (154 as of June 2011) belong to the PAEA, and of these, about 130 participate in CASPA.  The service also benefits students by eliminating the need for them to send out different applications to each of the schools that interest them.

caspa statisticsPaul: Are there any recent changes in the application process?

Ms. Barwick: Every year there are at least minor enhancements to the application process.  This year there was a technology overhaul, creating “Web Admit,” as system that, once fully implemented, will allow programs to schedule interviews electronically through CASPA and provide several other useful administrative features.  There has also been some discussion of secondary applications being handled by CASPA, but so far there is no plan or timeline for that.

Paul: Are there any content changes to the application?

Ms. Barwick: There was a change this year to how student economic and educational status was determined.   We at the PAEA believe that some categories of students are under-represented in the applicant pool.  This year, we were more specific about the criteria for those statuses, with individual questions like, “Are you the first member of your family to go to college?” etc.  We hope these changes will improve the accuracy of the numbers.

Paul: How are CASPA applications processed once they are submitted?

Ms. Barwick: We contract with a private company to process the applications.  Because they do similar work with other health professions, they are very good at it. They review transcripts, references, and the application itself.  Their most important role is validating the applicant’s GPA and coursework by comparing these to student transcripts.

Paul: Is there any other fact checking?

Ms. Barwick: The critical pieces are the GPA, references, colleges attended, and coursework documentation.  Decisions rest with the individual programs.  It’s also important to understand that CASPA doesn’t pass any judgment on applications we only review and verify.

Paul: What are the most common and easily avoidable causes for delay in CASPA application processing?

Ms. Barwick: Usually it’s incomplete or missing items.  Students should keep track by reviewing the “status” section of their application regularly. This shows which parts of the application have been received and processed, so that if something is missing (e.g. a reference letter), the student will know and they can resolve this before the application is delayed.  Also, if the applicant has had any felonies or a criminal record, they should be very honest about those things.  A criminal record, depending on the severity of the charge, could prevent them from becoming licensed, so there’s no point in hiding this information.

Paul: Do you have any general advice for applicants?

Ms. Barwick: Sure.  Be thorough and knowledgeable about the institutions you apply to.  Programs tend to look at the applicant and their experiences as a whole, so make sure your application is a good reflection of who you are.  Also, consider each school’s mission.  It’s tempting to look just at the school’s admission data, GPA requirements, etc.  You should also consider a school’s mission and how it aligns with who you are and your personal goals.

  • Hilary April 13, 2012, 1:19 am

    Do you think schools are able to view your GRE score through CAPSA even if they don’t require you to take the GRE? I have never taken the GRE and the main programs I want to apply to do not require it, but some programs that I plan to apply to as back-up do require the GRE. Im afraid if I dont do well on the GRE that Ive risked my top schools seeing my bad score.

  • lorena castro June 26, 2012, 1:27 pm

    I took the GRE twice, do i have to input both scores on caspa or just the latest one since that’s the one i did better?
    Thank you

  • Kristy August 21, 2012, 8:45 pm


    What do you think about the format of the “duties” section of the CASPA application? Should I use bullet points to provide a clear/fast way to read the info, or an essay format?

    For the ‘frequency’ tab what should I put for a shadow experience? Part, full, seasonal or varied? What about for a 2 week long medical mission trip?

    Any other general advice for CASPA apps?

    Thanks so much for all of your help! This site has been the most helpful site I’ve found over the past year!

    • Paul August 21, 2012, 10:09 pm

      Hi, Kristy! I think bullet points is a good way to go. Complete sentences have filler that gets in the way, IMHO.

      As for frequency, I would the exact frequency, if that’s an option – for example – write in “two week trip.” If they don’t let you do that, I would put full time for anything that was over 32 hours per week, even if it was only for two weeks (they can always ask you if they’re wondering). If you did anything less than 32 hours per week, I would put part time.

      Though CASPA will reformat your information, I think it makes sense to make it look as neat, spacious, and orderly as possible – if you have room, use blank lines between items to provide some space.

      Try to put something down for every field. For example, if you aren’t fluent in Spanish, but can meet and greet, and understand a little, I would put “Polite” under fluency. I did this and the they asked me about it during my interview. But putting “none” or leaving blank just calls attention to what you DON’T have.

      Thanks for your praise – it keeps me going – honestly!


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