PA School Application Tip #0: Have a Game Plan

Posted By: Paul   |   Getting Into PA School   |   8 Comments

I’ve made today’s PA school application tip #0 because it really should be the first, but (ironically) I didn’t plan ahead enough, and it comes second in the series.  Learn from me, people!  Here’s how…

Why You Need A PA School Application Plan

First, no one has PA school application success because they do one big thing right.  They do a long list of little things right.

You have courses, healthcare experience, letters of reference, health care experience, your CASPA application, and fifty other details to take care of.  Going at it haphazardly is the easiest way to seal your fate.  When I applied to PA school, I learned late in the game that the comparative physiology course I had taken for my bachelor’s degree wouldn’t count as human physiology.  This meant I had one more course to take.  Thankfully I started just early enough that I had time to take that class.  If I had realized this just a month later, I would have missed the PA school application deadline and been out of luck for another year.

Second, if you apply to multiple programs, you’ll have multiple deadlines to keep straight.  If you you haven’t planned things out, you’re likely to miss one or more of them.

Finally, and I hate to put it this way, but your competition is planning.  You will be up against many organized, well prepared, and highly motivated PA school applicants, so as they say, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Steps of a PA School Application Plan

  1. Contact any schools you particularly want to attend.   Do this before you do anything else because not all schools have the same requirements, and you will need to fulfill them before you can even think about applying to them.
  2. For each school, find out 1) which prerequisite courses they require (anatomy, chemistry, anthropology, etc.)  2) Which tests they require (MCAT, GRE, TOEFL, etc), if any 3) how much health and what type of health care experience they require, if any, 4) if their program participates in CASPA (most, but not all do), and 5) their application deadline(s).  Schools that participate in CASPA have different deadlines, even though you apply to them as a group.  Most PA school application deadlines fall between September of the year before you would begin PA school, and January of the same year you begin.
  3. Go to CASPA at and create a free CASPA account.  Do this even if you do not plan to apply for the upcoming cycle.  You need to become familiar with the application process.  Pay particular attention to the categories where you will be logging patient care experience, work experience, volunteer experience, etc.
  4. Plan out when you will take any prerequisite courses that you will need.  Ideally, these should be completed by the summer before you plan to submit your PA school applicationy, however some schools will allow you to apply with one or two courses “in progress.”
  5. Get familiar with what a PA does.  Shadowing is an ideal way to do this.
  6. When not in school, get as much health care experience you can.  This experience needs to be with patients
  7. You will need three letters of reference.  Begin thinking about who you will ask to act as a reference.  Do this early – it will help you keep your eyes out for possible candidates.  Approach them at least three months before you need their letter.
  8. Order transcripts early, and check to make sure that they have actually been sent and received. Many an application has been invalidated because a transcript was ordered, but got lost or arrived too late.
  9. Set a deadline for when you will submit your completed CASPA application.  Earlier is better, and you should leave yourself extra time in case there are delays with transcripts, letters, test scores, etc.
  10. As soon as your PA school application is complete, begin preparing for interviews.  Make a list of your application’s strengths and weaknesses.   Don’t neglect your weaknesses – acknowledge them so that you can be ready for questions about them. Get familiar with the most frequently asked PA school interview questions and how you might respond to them.

It may seem obvious, but having a PA school application plan requires thinking ahead.  Don’t put off the tasks that you dislike or feel anxious about.  Instead, prepare for them by working on them well before they are due.  Preparation will reduce your anxiety and assure that you put your best foot forward. 


  1. raquel March 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    Great PA school application tip plan. I didn’t make a free account of CASPA, but CASPA will be opening soon anyway in April 18, 2012.

    I have a question. “Order transcripts early.” Do I order them before or after the next CASPA cycle opens? Do I order just one to be sent to CASPA or do I have to send them to the schools I want to apply to?

    Thanks so much for your help and preparing me for this application cycle! 🙂

    • Paul March 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Racquel!

      As long as you have no more coursework that you want to show them, you can order them any time. You only need to send your transcripts to CASPA, UNLESS YOU ARE APPLYING TO ANY NON-CASPA SCHOOLS (in which case you will send to those schools as well.

  2. Trish December 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm - Reply


    I realized I wanted to pursue the PA path a little late in undergraduate and I will have to take a 5th year in order to finish my major and my prerequisites. Will this disadvantage me in the application process? Would admissions look at that poorly?


    • Paul December 22, 2012 at 11:28 am - Reply

      I really don’t think it will be a problem. All you need to do is explain what happened. They should understand that plenty of people don’t realize they want to become PAs until late in the game. Another year in that context makes a ton of sense.

  3. shada January 8, 2014 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Hi Paul,

    I am currently a student pursing my bachelors in psychology. I will finish within the next year or so. After that I plan on applying to a PA school either in VA or TX depending on where I am living. I do not have any experience in the medical field at all. I was wondering if you could advise me on where and how to get that medical experience. I really want to be accepted into the school so I must be as competitive as I can be. I have been doing tons of research but everyone is directing me to another path. Any help would be appreciated thank you.

  4. Anna April 28, 2015 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    If I started an application for this cycle but does not complete it, does CASPA still keep the information for the following cycle? Or do I have to start over?

    • Paul June 5, 2015 at 10:33 pm - Reply

      Starting this year, you need to fill out a totally new application every year. They save exactly ZERO old data.

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