Here is the general timeline for applying to PA school
Generally, applications are submitted one year prior to the year you plan to attend.
Note: complete applications are better than early ones but with rolling admissions earlier submissions are frequently better!
Years Before You Apply
- Get your prerequisites - every school is different so make sure to check their website
- Get your hours - I got mine as a phlebotomist but there are many options.
- Shadow a PA for at a minimum of 8 hours, and more if possible. Try to shadow PAs from more than one specialty if you can. Send a thank you card to anyone you’ve shadowed afterward.
- Become familiar with the application process and research PA schools
- Decide which schools you will apply to. Pick a spread of schools - some that are a reach for you, some that seem about right, and some that look like they will be easier for you to get into.
- Create a CASPA account and learn everything you can about the process. Do this even if you aren’t applying for the current cycle! No one will ever know or care if you choose not to submit the application.
- Sign up for the IPAT Physician Assistant Forum and reach out to other applicants.
- Become an AAPA member, attend a conference, and join your state constituent chapter of the AAPA.
- Attend a PAEA virtual fair health through careereco.com. To find an upcoming fair click on "grad school fairs" and type the keyword "physician assistant" into the search box. Registration is free and these events are awesome!
- Create or refresh your resume.
- A winning resume can help you find meaningful PCE/HCE hours, volunteer opportunities, and shadowing hours. It can double as a data repository of all the wonderful things you have done over the years which you can use throughout your career. Some schools will ask for a resume and you can hand this off to potential LOR writers to help them create a recommendation letter that shines. Once you have a resume you are proud of, update it frequently so it's ready to go at a moment's notice.
- Make your online presence and social media accounts work in your favor
- Do you have pictures on your Facebook or Instagram account doing keg stands or beer bongs around the campfire with your friends? Delete them now! This will NOT help advance your career or help you get into PA school. Many people miss an excellent opportunity to get social media to work for them. You control your social media profile so create an image of a stable, well-rounded individual who cares deeply for family, friends, and community.
- Do a deep dive social media audit and remove all incriminating photos, posts, or tags that may not represent the absolute best you. Start today to create a social media profile that your mother would be proud of. Trust me when I say that schools and potential employers will seek out and review your social media accounts. This is an online resume in a sense, so why not make it work in your favor?
- If you don't yet have a LinkedIn account, create one. Take some time to design an attractive profile, upload your resume and outline your accomplishments. Make it look professional with a nice cover photo and a mission statement that will impress employers and future graduate school adcoms.
- Go a step further and start sharing your ideas and experiences about medicine, important healthcare topics, mission trips, volunteer experience, etc., as status updates, forum posts, or blog articles. Demonstrate your deep yearning to help people along with your understanding of the current medical landscape.
- Ask your recommenders to write your letters of recommendation. Request letters of recommendation from faculty and PAs individually - CASPA requires three letters of recommendation but there is room for five.
- Start thinking about the GRE. Most, but not all schools will require the GRE. Consider taking the GRE in winter or early spring.
- Start brainstorming ideas for your personal statement. We have lots of personal statement samples.
- Confirm that you are on track to complete the pre-requisite courses for PA school.
- Continue to gain patient contact experience and community service and/or research experience throughout the next year.
January 2021 - April 2021
- Work on your personal statement - make sure to identify why you want to be a physician assistant.
- Send reminders to the people writing your letters of recommendation.
- Start writing down all the things you have done that you want to include in your application and your personal statement.
- Compile a list of schools you want to apply to.
- Order transcripts from all colleges attended in time to be delivered at least 6 weeks prior to the earliest program deadline you are applying for. Be sure to use CASPA’s transcript request form! Get an unofficial copy for your own reference.
- CASPA opens in late April!
- Work to complete applications
- Take or retake the GRE
- Apply early: plan to submit by the end of May
May 2021 (It's time to apply!)
- Plan to hit submit by the end of this month
- Begin receiving supplemental applications from programs. Note: some schools have secondary application questions within the CASPA application in the “Program Materials” section. Those must be completed at the time CASPA is submitted to those schools.)
June 2021 – August 2021
- Continue receiving supplemental applications.
- Interviews begin in July or August at some schools.
September 2021 – December 2021
- Interviews and decisions
- Stay in contact with schools you are waitlisted at.
- Open your acceptance letter! Woot, woot!
- Go to www.fastweb.com and sign up for a free account so you can search for scholarships and grant money.
- Consider applying for The National Health Service Corps scholarship (that's what I did)!
- Notify schools that you have not yet been accepted to that you have received admission from another school (if you would rather go to their school).
- Accept a seat in your desired program.
- Call that school’s financial aid office to get an overview of the PA school financial aid process.
Matriculating into PA School (May 2021 - August 2021, January 2022, May 2022 - August 2022)
- Most PA programs start from May to August some programs start in January
- Start preparing for PA school. The earlier the better. Here is a list of things you should do now once you have been accepted to PA school.
There you have it, a general timeline for the PA school application process. Make sure to check out our 5 steps to PA school series or follow the links within this post for a deeper dive into each of these topics.
Got questions? Drop me a line or post your question in the comments!
If you need any help along the way we can help with consulting, free (or paid) personal statement revision, mock interviews, resume and cover letter editing. . . or loads of free advice and articles about The PA Life on the blog.
I have been in your shoes, and I know the struggle is real! 😉
Stephen Pasquini PA-C