PA School Requirements: Complete Guide

April 26, 2024
10 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Have you ever considered a career as a physician’s assistant? You’ve come to the right place! Follow along to learn every requirement for PA school.

Physician Assistant (PA) programs can be highly competitive and have strict admissions criteria. Before choosing a career as a PA, it’s essential to have a solid understanding of the PA program requirements to help you prepare for what’s to come. The first step you should take is to understand the prerequisites and qualifications required to apply to PA school. 

Although every PA school has their own individual requirements, you should still have a general understanding of PA school requirements and how you can prepare before applying. In this complete guide, we cover the prerequisites required for PA school (such as the required coursework and healthcare experience), GPA and GRE scores, essay requirements, and more. 

Let’s get started!

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PA School Application Requirements

The first step in pursuing a career as a PA is to graduate from an accredited entry-level PA program recognized by the ARC-PA. Keep in mind that every school has a unique admissions process, and it’s crucial to do thorough research into each program you’re interested in. The following are common requisites and prerequisites for PA Schools:

  • An Undergraduate Degree
  • Healthcare Experience, Extracurriculars
  • Prerequisite Courses
  • GPA
  • GRE Scores
  • CASPer
  • Essays
  • Letters of recommendation

Every PA school requirement on this list is vital in shaping a well-rounded and competitive applicant, ensuring that students are not only academically prepared but also possess the necessary hands-on experience and personal qualities to succeed in the rigorous PA program and ultimately excel in their healthcare careers.

Certain PA programs present a pre-professional phase that allows high school graduates and students with partial college credits admission to PA programs without an undergraduate degree. The pre-professional phase lasts between four to six years and involves completing undergraduate coursework before entering the professional phase of training. 

Prospective PAs interested in programs with a pre-professional phase are advised to check with institutions regarding program criteria and availability. 

PA School Prerequisites Courses

The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) provides a complete list of PA programs and their requirements for you to browse. It’s essential to know the PA prerequisite requirements of your target school ahead of time so you can structure your schedule accordingly. The following PA school prerequisite courses are typically required

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • English Composition/Writing
  • Genetics
  • Medical Terminology
  • Microbiology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physiology
  • Psychology (general)
  • Statistics

It should be noted that each school has their own individual requirements. Before checking a PA school requirement off your list, you should always do plenty of research on each of your target schools before applying. 

School research can also help you throughout the essay writing and interview process and is a necessary step to educating yourself about what your target schools have to offer you. 

PA School Degree Requirements

To pursue a career as a physician assistant, certain educational requirements must be met. Whether you choose a full-time or part-time path, here are the key educational requirements to become a physician assistant:

1. Bachelor's Degree: You'll need a bachelor's degree as the foundational educational prerequisite.

2. Science Prerequisites: You'll typically be required to complete specific science courses as prerequisites for PA programs. These courses often include subjects like biology, chemistry, and anatomy.

3. Direct Patient Care Hours: Most PA programs mandate a certain number of hours of direct patient care experience. This hands-on experience provides valuable insight into healthcare settings.

4. Master's Degree: Successful completion of a master's degree from a PA program accredited by the ARC-PA (Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant) is essential. PA programs typically span around two years.

5. State License: After completing your education, you'll need to obtain a state license to practice as a PA. Licensure requirements can vary from state to state.

6. National Certifying Exam: To become a certified PA, you'll need to pass the national certifying exam, such as the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE).

For those interested in pursuing a career as a physician assistant, it's important to research the specific admission requirements of the PA programs they are interested in. The AAPA (American Academy of PAs) offers resources, such as a one-hour application success webinar, to help prospective students navigate the admissions process.

PA School GPA Requirements

According to the latest PA Education Association report, the overall average GPA of accepted PA school applicants is 3.6. The same report shows that these accepted students averaged a science GPA of 3.5, CASPA Biology, Chemistry and Physics GPA of 3.5 and a non-science GPA of 3.6. 

The PAEA data also shows that the average GPA of students who did not get accepted into a PA program was 3.28. This is an important statistic to consider because many PA schools' GPA requirements are lower than their averages.

However, achieving an average GPA isn’t necessarily enough to get you into PA school. Depending on the competitiveness of the school, you may need to aim higher to gain acceptance. Here are the average GPAs of the top 5 PA schools in the US.

School Name Average Overall GPA
Duke University 3.9
University of Iowa 3.76
Baylor College of Medicine 3.72
Emory University 3.78
University of Utah 3.66

Source: Duke University, Baylor College of Medicine, PASF

If you’re concerned about your GPA, consider hiring an experienced tutor or PA school admissions coach to help you improve your grades before applying. If it’s too late to boost your GPA - there’s still hope. A seasoned admissions counselor will help show you how to satisfy the requirements for PA school and improve the quality of your overall application to help you get into PA school with a low GPA.

PA School GRE Requirements

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test that is commonly requested by Physician Assistant (PA) schools and other graduate programs to evaluate your readiness for graduate-level courses. The exam comprises three primary segments: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. 

According to the PA Education Association’s latest report, the average GRE scores for US applicants are as follows:

Source: PAEA program report

PA schools typically want to see your GRE results to determine your potential to excel in their challenging curriculum. Not all PA schools mandate the GRE, although we highly recommend taking it regardless of your target school’s requirements. 

It's a common PA school requirement that can positively impact your overall application and increase your chances of admission.

Here are the GRE requirements for the top 5 PA schools in the US:

School Name GRE Quantitative Average GRE Verbal Average GRE Analytical Average
Duke University 157 159 5.0
University of Iowa 159 158 4.5
Baylor College of Medicine 154 161 4.5
University of Utah No GRE Requirement - -
Emory University 153 155 4.5

An outstanding GRE score typically averages at 300 composite score, with scores exceeding 310 regarded as highly competitive. This averages out to around 150 for verbal reasoning, 150 for quantitative reasoning, and 3.5 for writing. 

It's important to note that these figures are based on previous GRE exams and that a score above the 50th percentile is generally considered competitive. Percentiles carry more significance than actual GRE scores since each test's difficulty level varies, making them incomparable without standardization.

To get a high GRE score, you’ll need to study and practice often. Consider taking GRE practice tests so that you can get familiar with the question format and minimize any surprises on the exam.

Discover your chances of getting into PA school with our free PA School Admissions Calculator!

PA School Health Care Requirements

When it comes to applying for PA school, “extracurriculars” refer to work and volunteer experience. You should only include experiences that are relevant to the PA program; the skills you gained should directly assist your ability to become an excellent PA in the future. 

Patient Care Experience (PCEs)

In terms of patient care experience, many PA programs require applicants to have about 2,000 hours of experience working in direct patient care. You can gain this experience through many different avenues. Some examples of PCE experience include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Taking patient vitals
  • Starting IVs
  • Administering medications
  • Assisting with procedures
  • Phlebotomy
  • Nursing experience (RN, CNA, APRN)
  • Paramedic, EMT

PCEs specifically refer to experience you have in hands-on patient care. You’ll also be able to list your general healthcare experience, which is much more broad.

Healthcare Experience

Because healthcare experience is very broad, a common PA school requirement asks that students have around three years total of healthcare experience, which includes direct and indirect care. Healthcare experience can include, but is not limited to, the following:

Healthcare experience can be paid or unpaid, and there is no limit to how much experience you can list. The more healthcare experience you have, the more it shows that you are committed to your career. Of course, the more experience you have, the better and broader your understanding of the healthcare industry, which will also help you as you move forward.

PA School Essay Requirements

A CASPA personal statement is one of the most common requirements for PA school, and it acts as an introduction to your personality and values to your school. You should not overlook this part of your application: a compelling personal statement can have a significant impact on your chances of acceptance.

To write a memorable PA school personal statement, you should be true to who you are. Use your voice, think of a few unique anecdotes you want to speak about and brainstorm before you start writing. It can also be helpful to have a professional look over your essay before submitting it. 

PA School Personal Statement Example

98.6 degrees Fahrenheit has been a constant in medicine for centuries, but recent research has called into question whether that is still the average healthy temperature. As new treatments or protocols are developed for known illnesses, new diseases are always just around the corner. Nothing is constant except for change. Having an appetite for learning is necessary to excel in healthcare. By staying as current as possible, we all can continue to provide the best possible prognosis for our patients. I want to take a step forward in my life-long learning. When I become a PA, that will not be the end of my education. It will just be the beginning.
My introduction to healthcare was not a voluntary one. On a cool September early morning, my mother was attacked by dogs on the front doorstep of our family home. My father happened to be awake and was able to fight them off. Eventually, I heard the noise and darted out of bed to see my mother: bloodied, torn clothing, a large gash over her left bicep. I asked her how can I help. Her teeth were chattering so hard she could not get a clear word out. I go back inside and grab a blanket for her to keep her warm until the ambulance is able to get here. They rushed her to the local hospital.
After multiple IVs, grafts, and nights of rest, my mother was finally allowed to come back home but not before a final talk with the wound care management team. We were greeted by a PA who had been working with my mother. This was my first time ever hearing of a PA. He gave us a demonstration of how to keep the wound clean and dressed. My father worked 17-hour days and as the oldest of four children, I was chosen as the designated wound dresser. The PA reassured me that this is something that I could do and his words gave me confidence. Every follow-up appointment with the wound team my mother had I went along with to talk with the PA again to talk about how the wound was getting better and what technique I should be using to dress her wound. I was hooked into healthcare and I needed to get in somehow.
I went into the counseling center of Georgia Perimeter College and asked an advisor to show me all of the healthcare programs they had. Radiology appealed to me as working independently and being directly involved in patient care was what I was looking for, so I applied to the program. Two years later, I graduated as one of the top students academically in my class and started working.
One evening, Abigail, a young child, was brought into the ER by her mother for shortness of breath and an odd-sounding cough. An order came across for a chest x-ray on my worklist, so I prepared my exam room for her entry. A dark room with large, grey machines can turn an anxious child into a scared one. With this in mind, the lights were turned on and the equipment was lowered to about what her height was as listed in her chart. When I brought them into the room, I attempted to explain the exam but Abigail’s mother interrupted me.
“I am sorry but we have not even seen a doctor yet. Are you sure she needs to have this done?” Abigail began coughing. It sounded more like a bark than an ordinary cough. I recalled from a recent class I took within the hospital that the cough sounds like croup and a chest x-ray can support a diagnosis. I convinced the mother that if the exam was not done now it could lengthen their stay in the ER. She relented. I finished the exam and brought them back to their room. I looked up who had signed up to be Abigail’s provider. It was Joseph, one of the PAs that worked in the ER. “Abigail is back from x-ray. If you have not seen her yet, I believe she may have a case of croup.” I explained my reasoning and Joseph thanked me for the information.
That was the end of my time as a part of Abigail’s healthcare team. I couldn’t help any further. I became dissatisfied. If I was a PA, I would have left Abigail’s room knowing how she was going to get better rather than just wondering what happened to her.
In the last 10 years, I have learned many things. Being able to anticipate a person’s needs will always be a valuable skill to have. Wrapping an arm in gauze three times a day can be tiresome but pales in comparison to aches in my arm after washing pots and pans in a soup kitchen. Ulcerative colitis does not care if you are in the toughest semesters of your junior year. Retooling your studying methods for yourself can turn your senior year into a breeze. What I have gained from all of this is that I am going to keep learning and improving myself to become the best possible PA that I can. In doing so, my words will confer confidence to the next young adult whose mother needs help that they can do it too.

Why this is a good example: This candidate does a phenomenal job of explaining his passion for the PA profession. He goes over his first introduction into the healthcare field, the story of how he changed career paths, and how he feels when he helps patients. Overall, the applicant makes a compelling case for himself and seems to be very passionate about PA school.

PA School Recommendation Letter Requirements

PA schools usually require at least one letter of recommendation as part of your application. There are unique requirements for recommendation letters, so make sure to research each program's specific guidelines carefully. 

Generally, PA programs ask that your recommendation letters come from healthcare professionals, such as physicians, physician assistants, or nurse practitioners, who can attest to your clinical skills and bedside manner. Some programs may also ask for a letter from a professor who can attest to your academic abilities. 

Sample Letter of Recommendation

To fulfill this PA school requirement, it's not uncommon to type your own letter and simply have a professor sign off on what you've typed. Here's an example of a PA school letter of recommendation:
I am writing this letter to recommend Samantha Jenkins for admission to your Physician Assistant (PA) program. As a physician at Mayo Clinic, I have had the pleasure of working with Samantha for over 2 years as she has shadowed my work. Throughout this period, I have witnessed Samantha’s display exceptional clinical skills, outstanding work ethic, and remarkable interpersonal skills.
Samantha Jenkins demonstrated an unwavering commitment to delivering high-quality patient care. She consistently displayed clinical judgment beyond her level of experience and made significant contributions to the team. Moreover, she showed an exceptional ability to connect with patients, demonstrating empathy and compassion in all interactions.
As a volunteer, Samantha has consistently exhibited excellent communication and teamwork skills. She worked collaboratively with other healthcare professionals to ensure seamless care delivery to patients. Samantha was always willing to learn and receptive to feedback, demonstrating a growth mindset.
In conclusion, I strongly recommend [Applicant's Name] for admission to your PA program. She is a dedicated, hardworking, and compassionate individual who would be an asset to any healthcare team. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require further information.
Dr. Foster 

Why this letter works: The letter of recommendation is quite basic, but it contains everything a school would need to know. There’s a clear introduction which establishes who the recommender is and how long they have worked with the applicant, and the body provides examples of the applicant's clinical and interpersonal skills. 

This letter also highlights the applicant's positive work ethic, excellent communication skills, and ability to work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals. These are all important traits that PA schools are looking for in candidates. Finally, the letter ends with a clear statement of recommendation and an offer to provide additional information if required. 

PA School Application Timeline 

The timeline for applying to PA schools is crucial for prospective students to follow. Most PA programs utilize the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA), simplifying the application process. Below is a breakdown of the PA school application timeline, from the fall of junior year to the start of the program:

Fall of Junior Year

  • Start researching PA schools of interest, considering factors like tuition, location, reputation, and teaching philosophy.
  • Gain clinical experience by finding a job working directly with patients.
  • If planning to take the GRE, schedule the test for February or March of junior year.
  • Ensure you are on track to meet each PA school's prerequisite course requirements.

January to March of Junior Year

  • Narrow down your list of target, backup, and "reach" schools.
  • Take the GRE and prepare well to minimize the need for retakes.
  • Request letters of recommendation from individuals who know you well.
  • Begin drafting your personal statement, drawing on personal experiences, academic history, and clinical exposure.

April to May of Junior Year

  • Start your CASPA application when it opens at the end of April, aiming to submit before May ends.
  • If necessary, retake the GRE promptly.
  • Arrange for transcripts to be sent to CASPA to document your coursework.
  • If certain PA programs require the Casper test, verify their respective deadlines.

Summer After Junior Year

  • After submitting your CASPA application, be prepared to receive supplemental applications and interview invitations.
  • Work on school-specific supplemental applications with additional essay prompts.
  • Attend interviews if invited, which may require travel.
  • Explore options for financing your PA education through financial aid, grants, and scholarships.

Fall and Winter of Senior Year

  • Maintain good grades to demonstrate consistency in your education.
  • Continue working on supplemental applications and meet their deadlines.
  • Attend interviews as necessary.
  • Review and consider acceptance offers from PA schools, taking note of requirements and deadlines.

Spring of Senior Year and Beyond

  • Accept the offer from the PA program you plan to attend, adhering to any acceptance deadlines.
  • Complete any onboarding requirements, such as orientation and vaccinations.
  • Secure housing and financial assistance, if needed.

Finally, you'll embark on your PA school journey, which typically begins in the fall, with some programs starting in May. Congratulations on reaching this important step in your career!

FAQs: Requirements for PA School

Here are our answers to the most frequently asked questions about PA school requirements.

1. What Are the Requirements To Be A PA?

To become a PA, you must earn a Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and complete certain prerequisite courses, such as biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Additionally, you must gain clinical experience, either through paid work or volunteering. 

Once you have met these requirements, PA programs will also ask you to include one or more essays, letters of recommendation, your GPA and GRE scores, and any additional information that the individual school requires. 

2. What GPA Do You Need for PA School?

The average GPA for entering PA school students is 3.6. Depending on the competitiveness of your program, you should aim for above the national average to ensure your application stands out. Overall, you should ignore the minimum PA school GPA requirements and aim high!

3. How Hard Is It to Get Into PA School?

PA schools have a highly competitive admissions process. Classes are often small and limited, so the number of applicants often exceeds the available slots. It is vital to have an above-average (3.6) GPA, as well as relevant healthcare experience and strong application materials. 

4. What Do I Need Before Starting PA School?

Before starting PA school, you should make sure to complete all necessary prerequisites during your undergraduate degree. To find out which prerequisite courses you need to take, research each of your target schools at least a year before applying. 

You’ll also need to acquire letters of recommendation, complete your undergraduate degree, and gain relevant work experience. Lastly, make sure you’re aware of how much PA school will cost so you can adequately prepare. 

Final Thoughts

Although checking every PA school requirement off your list can seem overwhelming, they are designed to help you succeed throughout your program. With the right preparation and dedication, you’re sure to beat the odds and get into PA school. If you still feel unsure, consider reaching out to an experienced PA school admissions coach

From completing prerequisite courses and gaining clinical experience to submitting strong applications and preparing for interviews, our Inspira team is here to guide you through the process. We know the rewards of becoming a PA are worth the investment! PAs play a crucial role in improving patient care and addressing healthcare disparities. 

So, if you are passionate about healthcare and helping others, PA school might be the right path for you. Just remember to do your research, stay organized, and never hesitate to reach out for help when you need it. With these tips in mind, you can take the first steps toward a rewarding and fulfilling career as a PA.

Good luck!

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