female doctor

4 Tips for Your CASPA Application

Written by Christy Eskes, DHSc, MPA, PA-C
Director of Didactic Education, Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies Program

Keck Graduate Institute (KGI)

Congratulations on your decision to apply to physician assistant (PA) school! This is an exciting journey that begins with a single online application that can feel daunting as you begin.

After reviewing CASPA applications for many years, there are several key mistakes common to many applicants. Here are our top four tips to make your CASPA application process less stressful and maximize the chance that your chosen schools will consider you for an interview.

  1. Do your research before submitting your application.
  2. Take your time.
  3. Avoid last-minute submissions.
  4. Make sure your application is in your voice.

1. Do your research before submitting your application.

  • Block out time during your week to list all of the schools you are considering and look at the website for each one.
  • Create a spreadsheet to compare schools with the following details:
    • Application deadlines
      • Some deadlines are for the date of submission and some deadlines are for the date of receiving the CASPA application. Check CASPA for an updated list of deadlines for each PA program.
      • Be sure to note if a program requires a secondary application and any connected deadlines.
    • Admission requirements
      • Minimum GPA
        • Every year, programs receive hundreds of applications that do not meet their most basic requirements such as overall GPA or science GPA. Use a GPA calculator to estimate your GPA if you are unsure before applying, but note that programs will only use the GPA as calculated by CASPA or their own calculated GPA as defined by their policies. If you believe that the CASPA calculated GPA is in-error, contact CASPA.
        • Many programs will not recalculate a GPA using in-progress courses if the GPA on your CASPA application did not meet their minimum requirement. Check the policies on GPA recalculation for your chosen programs before applying.
      • Prerequisite courses
        • List out the prerequisites and make sure you meet each one with courses you have taken or are able to register for them within the required time frame.
        • Note whether the program requires all courses to be completed or if a certain number of prerequisite courses can be in-progress at the time of your CASPA application.
        • If you are not sure about a specific course, many programs allow you to contact them before you apply. Be sure to have the specific course name and number plus the course description ready. Some programs may ask you for a copy of the course syllabus to make sure it meets their requirements.
      • Patient care experience
        • Most programs require patient care experience and have specific requirements for the type of experience hours that are accepted. For example, some accept volunteer hours and some do not. Make sure your type of experience(s) and number of hours meet the minimum for your chosen schools.
      • PA shadowing hours
        • Not all programs require PA shadowing, though it is always a good idea to observe someone who works in the profession you want to join. Note if a minimum number of hours are required.
      • Volunteer hours
        • Several programs require volunteer hours. Be sure to include all types of volunteer experiences in your application.
      • Letters of recommendation
        • Many programs require specific letters of recommendation such as a medical provider you have worked with, an academic professor, etc. Make sure to note the specific types of letters required, and select people who will be able to complete the evaluation.
        • Including at least one PA is a benefit since this is the profession you are working towards. Some programs may even require an evaluation by a PA.
        • Always select evaluators who know you the best and will speak positively about you. You also want to make sure that they will be able to complete the evaluation in a timely fashion in order to meet your deadlines.
        • We recommend you avoid using a family member, even if this person meets a program’s requirements for your clinical or academic letter.
      • Any other unique requirements
        • Write down any additional requirements for your chosen program.
      • Be sure that every program you apply to is a good fit for your goals.
        • While all programs have to teach the same topics at minimum due to accreditation requirements, some programs create an added emphasis on areas such as surgery, emergency medicine, underserved rural areas, pediatrics, etc. Check each program’s mission statement and look for those that align most closely with your future goals.
        • You may also want to include other factors in your review based on your individual circumstances such as tuition, location, and family/social support.
      • We recommend you only apply to those programs for which you meet all prerequisite requirements and that you feel are the best fit for you.

2. Take your time

  • Being an early applicant with an incomplete or thin application will not help you make it past the initial review. When you submit, be as complete and as thorough as possible.
  • Programs generally prefer more complete applications to those with multiple in-progress requirements, even when allowed by policy.

3. Avoid last-minute submissions

  • Your chances of interview and acceptance may be lower if you wait until the deadline to apply. Some programs even fill their class before their deadline if they review enough qualified applicants.
  • Programs cannot make exceptions if your application does not go through on the last day. Even with circumstances beyond your control such as power outages, computer issues, or Wi-Fi connectivity problems, programs have to hold fast to their deadlines.

4. Make sure your application is in your voice

  • Never use other people to write your essays or any part of your application. All programs want to connect with you as an authentic person.
  • Do ask someone to proofread it for grammatical or spelling errors.
  • Do not be afraid to tackle any inconsistencies or gaps in your application. Your explanation goes a long way in helping programs understand your journey and can even help to bolster your application.

Need more help?

Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) is hosting two programs this summer that can help you feel confident and ready to apply to PA school.

  • Application Boot Camp – This five-day interactive program provides personalized advising and support on your personal statement, extracurricular activities, and interview prep. Many pre-PA students have found this to be invaluable for their CASPA application.
  • PA Summer Success Program – This five-day online program is designed to inform, excite, and empower high school, college, and post-graduate students to pursue a career as a physician assistant (PA). This program will provide attendees with information about the profession, real PA perspectives, and engaging clinical scenarios. The program will then conclude with information about applying to PA school, including admissions applications, financial aid, and successful interviewing.

We hope that all of this information is helpful to you as you begin your journey towards becoming a PA! Be sure to check out our MSPA program at KGI as you evaluate programs. We are excited to offer an innovative program that will help you not only achieve your goals to become a PA, but prepare you to be a leader and make a real difference in your community.