You are here:

Physician Assistant School - Application Process

The Application Process

Most Physician Assistant (PA) programs admit students once a year, most commonly for Summer or Fall matriculation, but start dates range from May-January of the following year.

Applications are submitted at least 12 months in advance of the desired enrollment date. However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary coursework, and successfully take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) if necessary. All degrees must be posted to your transcript prior to starting a PA Program, and the timing is sensitive.

While applying early in the cycle has advantages, the best time for you to apply is when your application is the best it can be.

Requirements vary from school to school. Research schools early for specific information about requirements.

Before submitting applications, have people with an unbiased eye go over each entire application to catch any errors. Your Preprofessional advisor is happy to do this for you

The PA Program Application process includes 4 or 5 main components

  1. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE)—Some schools
  2. Primary Application
  3. Letters of Recommendation
  4. Secondary Applications
  5. Interviews

Choose schools that are of serious interest to you, but give your list enough variety so as to maximize your chances for admission. It is wise to include one or two “reach” schools where your GPA and GRE might be on the low end, at least one to two solid "back-up" schools at which your chances are very good, and then several where you are likely competitive, but in the middle of the pack. On average, students apply to 5- 10 programs.

Follow social media of programs of your interest, visit their website, attend webinars, and visit their campus if possible. Assess your credentials realistically and give your school selection careful thought. You can also refer to our statistics for PA.

Ask these questions as you select schools you want to apply;

  • Size of School and size of individual classes.
  • Location and environment--do you prefer a large metropolitan area or a smaller city atmosphere? What about surrounding area, quality of life, etc.?
  • Cadaver labs and other facilities--quality of cadaver/simulation labs, tutoring and other academic support services, adequate staff, study/meeting space, open hours, etc.
  • General “personality” of School--what are your impressions from their faculty representatives you meet?  Are you looking for an intense, more competitive environment or more of a community feeling?
  • Special interest areas: combined degree programs; specialized courses, student organizations in your area of interest; early decision program availability, etc.
  • Student/faculty ratio.
  • Student body--How do you fit in with GPA and Standardized Test Score averages of students previously admitted? How balanced and diverse is the student body? How is the student morale? Do students have input in operation of School?
  • Faculty diversity—Are they largely all from the same background or relatively diverse with respect to race, creed, gender? Are they well-balanced in educational experiences or only from the same School or schools? What is the extent of their research and professional activities? 
  • Faculty-student relationships--Are faculty accessible and committed to teaching? Is there an “open door” policy?
  • Opportunities for clinical programs, research, international clinical rotations, student-run free clinics etc.
  • What student support programs are available? If applicable, what minority or disabled student services are available?
  • What are the board certification exam passage rates? Are graduates finding employment in the geographic areas you are interested in? What are the average or median salaries of graduates?
  • Tuition costs. You cannot ignore the cost, but neither can you use it as your only criterion. Consider the cost and potential indebtedness along with the other factors, and make sure you are choosing the right schools for the right reasons.

Some PA programs require the GRE. The GRE is administered throughout the year. It may be repeated, but the best strategy is to prepare thoroughly and take it once. Taking the exam by spring the year before you wish to enter PA school will enable you to apply earlier. More information on the GRE, including sample questions, can be found here

August is the last GRE accepted by most schools for their following summer or fall entering class.

GRE structure:

  • 2 multiple choice sections which are scored on a scale of 130-170
    • Verbal Reasoning
    • Quantitative Reasoning
  • 1 Analytical Writing essay that is scored on a 6 point scale.

University of Utah Continuing Education offers GRE Prep Course. For more information, please click here.

Physician Assistant programs incorporate a variety tools in their assessment in order to gather a holistic view of their applicants, to make sure they are not only academically capable but also possess the characteristics of someone who will likely succeed on the job. One such tool used by many PA programs including the University of Utah, is CASPer®, which is a situational judgement test designed to assess how an individual will behave in certain situations.

CASPer® assesses for 10 characteristics: Collaboration, Communication, Empathy, Equity, Ethics, Motivation, Problem Solving, Professionalism, Resilience, and Self Awareness. 

It is a 60-90 minute virtually proctored assessment, made up of 12 sections. Each section contains a video-based or word-based scenario and three open-ended questions. Test takers have five minutes to type their responses to all three questions.

Further information is on the CASPer Website.

Primary Applications are processed through a central application service called the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)  Primary applications are not school specific. The same information is sent to all schools to which you are applying.

Deadlines: CASPA is Available Online in mid April through early March. Program deadlines range from July – March. UPAP’s deadline is on August 1.

Because many schools use a rolling admission process (they begin reviewing applications and admitting before deadlines), it will enhance your chances if you submit your application early regardless of when you take the GRE.

Make sure you will have plenty of time to fill out the application. Completing the application will take at least one week, and most students take several weeks. READ ALL INSTRUCTION MANUALS AND DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY!

The CASPA Application will include:

  • Your GRE score, if applicable
  • A list of all college classes taken, as well as official transcripts from each college where you have earned credit.
  • A list and descriptions of your activities since graduating from high school
  • A Personal Statement outlining your motivation for pursuing a career as a Physician Assistant
  • Letters of Recommendations

NOTE: To help us advise other students, we would appreciate it if you would release your statistical information from your applications to the Health Professions Advisor when prompted. This information will always be kept confidential.

CASPA Application Workshops:


The personal essay is about you and your motivation for pursuing a career as a Physician Assistant. Remember, why you want to be a PA is different from how you were inspired to become one. Describe your current passion for the field with specific examples from recent experiences. Try to choose a theme rather than random thoughts. The primary application activities section provides a list of accomplishments. Your personal essay is an opportunity to provide additional, more in-depth information.

REMEMBER, your audience is smarter, has more medical knowledge, and knows what is like to be a Physician Assistant. Don’t try to impress them with your knowledge of the field.

Get feedback! Have 3 or 4 people you can trust to be honest with you (professor, PA, PA student, parent, advisor, Writing Center, tutor, etc.) read your essay and offer feedback.  Do not ask too many people to read it. Having too many opinions can become confusing.

Dos and Don’ts

DO answer the questions “Why do you want to be a Physician Assistant?”

DO concentrate more on actual experiences rather than speculation about future accomplishments.

DO focus more on what you can give rather than on what you can get by becoming a Physician Assistant

DO limit the number of “I” statements you use

DO share your background if it is appropriate

DO describe meaningful experiences

DO use all five senses as you tell your story

DO pay careful attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation

DO NOT devote too much space to writing about other people (family, patients, PA you shadowed)

DO NOT summarize or simply repeat what is on the activity list on your primary application

DO NOT use overly flowery language or words you do not know how to use

DO NOT overuse medical terminology or abbreviations

DO NOT assume everyone knows what you know

DO NOT try to make jokes

DO NOT use foreign language

DO NOT begin your essay with a quote

Submitting Letters of Recommendation

You will have your letters submitted to CASPA. From there they will be distributed to the PA programs to which you apply.  These programs will request Letters of Recommendation (LORs) after they receive your CASPA Primary Application, so do not delay submitting your primary application while waiting for letters to arrive.

Requirements for letters vary between schools, so research schools early and know what you need. Most schools require 3 or 4 letters.

Requesting Letters of Recommendation

  • Ask if potential writers if they feel capable of writing a supportive letter. If anyone is hesitant, you should probably try someone else.
  • Get business cards with your recommenders’ contact information.
  • Ask if recommenders would welcome any written background material. You could include a brief biographical sketch or resume, your interests and activities, career goals, and motivation toward your intended profession. You could also include a snapshot, a copy of a paper or assignment from their class, or transcript.
  • For recommenders who are unsure of how to write a good letter, the PPA Advising office provides a Guide for Letter Writers.
  • Always give recommenders ample time. Two to three weeks at a minimum. Follow up to make sure that your letters have been sent.
  • Send thank you notes.

For more detailed check out our “How To” Guide

Once PA programs receive your Primary Application, they will send out Secondary Applications. You will generally have a month to complete these. These are specific to each school, and vary in length and structure, but often require one or more additional essay. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY.

Some Schools send Secondary Applications to every student who submitted a Primary Application. Other schools will screen Primary Applications first and only send Secondary Applications to students who make the cut.

Secondary Applications usually have a fee attached, so it is a good idea to reevaluate your list of schools at this point. If you have changed your mind about applying to a school, you do not have to complete their Secondary Application.

The final stage of the application process is the interview. If you receive an invitation for an interview, that is an indication that a program has decided that you are a qualified applicant and they want to get to know you better. Most PA Programs hold “interview days” where they bring in a group of applicants for a day that may consist of some or all of the following: Interviews, written essays, school tours, and opportunities to meet students and faculty. Remember, the entire day is the interview, not just those times when you are in a formal meeting. Be on your best professional behavior all day!

Interviews can take many forms, so it is important to research your schools and be prepared for each kind. The Preprofessional Advising office can help you with preparation tips and practicing your interviewing skills.

The most common types of interviews are:

  • One on one interview—Usually one or two 30-45 minutes interviews
  • Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)—7-10 rooms with a different prompt or scenario posted on the door. You are typically given 2 minutes to think about the prompt before entering a room, and 5-8 minutes to respond to the prompt and any follow up questions, or play out the scenario with a trained actor.
  • Group interview—May be either one applicant interviewed by several interviewers, or in a group of applicants interviewed by one or more interviewer.


  • Applications are submitted at least 12 months in advance of the desired enrollment date. However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary coursework, (and successfully take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) if necessary.)
  • It is helpful to create a timeline for yourself when applying to medical school but your timeline should be flexible. Course scheduling, extra-curricular activities, deadline changes, etc. all contribute to the need of having flexibility in your timeline.
  • For specific application deadline dates, you should always check the CASPA
  • Talk to potential writers of your Letters of Recommendation. Give them plenty of time to write the letters. The PPA Website has helpful information on asking for letters and guidelines that you can give to your writers.
  • Continue with your volunteer, work or research activities. Do not stop these activities until you have an official offer of admission. It may take two or more application cycles to gain admission, so you need to be continually improving your application until you do.
  • Prepare for and take the Graduate Record Exam Try to take it by May/June of the year you submit your application.
  • Research schools/programs using the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) Directory (LINK)


  • Primary Applications through CASPA opens in late April. Begin to fill out primary applications as soon as possible. Read instruction manuals carefully.
  • Order official transcripts from ALL colleges and universities that you have attended to be sent to CASPA


  • Make sure LORs have been sent
  • Complete CASPA Academic Updates
  • Complete secondary applications to applicants (if invited to complete a secondary application, submit them sooner rather than later).

August – April

  • Prepare for and attend interviews. Interviews occur from August through Spring
    • The PPA Advising office offers mock interviews so you can practice. If you have an interview scheduled, call the office 801-581-5744 and ask to schedule a mock interview.
  • Continue to complete and submit secondary applications (check deadline dates).
  • Some schools notify applicants of acceptances October 15. Notifications continue until the class is full.
  • Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA , in October.
  • By April 30, applicants to AMCAS schools should only be holding a spot at one school. They may remain on waitlists for other schools.


PrePhysician Assistant Student Organization (PrePASO),


Last Updated: 5/29/20