Becoming a physician assistant (PA) requires careful planning and dedication. This guide outlines essential steps, including understanding prerequisite coursework, preparing for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), navigating the application process through the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA), and gaining healthcare experience.

Students will need to check the admissions requirement for each school they plan to apply to. The most common prerequisite requirements for admission are:

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Statistics

Some programs will have additional requirements that you will need to meet.

Most programs will require applicants to have prior healthcare experience and a certain amount of healthcare experience hours for admission.

Students should check with each physician assistant program to see which exam is required for admission.

The GRE has six sections:

  • Analytical Reasoning (one section with 2 tasks)
  • Verbal Reasoning (2 sections)
  • Quantitative Reasoning (2 sections)

When should I take the GRE?

Students should take the GRE when they feel ready. Generally, the GRE is taken during your junior year of college. Students may decide to re-test to improve their score. Scores need to be back in time to meet the program deadlines. Check with the individual program to see how they will consider your scores for admission.

Create a study plan for the GRE:

Step 1: Gather Information about GRE

Step 2: Take a practice test

Step 3: Gather study materials

Step 4: Make a study calendar

Step 5: Study!

Step 6: Prepare for test day

How long are GRE scores valid?

GRE scores are valid for up to five years from your test date. Students should verify with each program if they will need newer scores.

Is the exam expensive?

The GRE costs $205.

The Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) opens on April 29, 2021, and closes on April 1, 2022. Individual programs set all application deadlines.

Students should complete their applications by the end of May/beginning of June. 

Once students have certified and submitted their application and CASPA has received all required transcripts, the application enters the processing queue where the information will be verified. This process can take 6-8 weeks. Students are responsible for checking the status of their application to ensure it is error-free to avoid delays, which can result in missed deadlines.

CASPA offers a fee wavier to assist with the cost of the application.

  • You can major in anything! Most students choose a biology or chemistry degree because the required science coursework fits well within their degree plan. However, students can major in art, psychology, criminal justice, etc., and still apply if they meet the admissions requirements.
  • Students should take academically rigorous coursework (independent study, honors, and research opportunities) to demonstrate their ability to be successful in higher-level coursework.
  • Most students have beyond the minimum number of health care experience hours required for admission and at least 2-3 years of experience working in a health care environment.


  • Sign up on the pre-health listserv.
  • Ensure you register for the correct science courses (general biology and general chemistry your first year).
  • Join the Pre-Health Club on campus.
  • Focus on your grades and develop good time management and study skills to help you start successfully.
  • Start researching the admissions requirements for physician assistant programs you wish to attend.


  • Continue to focus on grades.
  • Think about what aspect of healthcare interests you and gain experience through part-time employment, job shadowing, research, and/or volunteering. Make the experience meaningful to you, not simply because you think it looks good. Students should focus on direct patient care when seeking experiences and start recording hours.
  • Get to know faculty to ask for letters of recommendation when you are ready to apply.
  • Attend admissions fairs, open houses, or events at the schools you are interested in to learn about the different programs and become familiar with each school’s admissions process.


  • Continue to focus on grades.
  • Make a study plan and begin reviewing for the GRE.
  • Ensure that you have met or are meeting the requirements for admissions to the different programs you are interested in.
  • Register and take the GRE.
  • Create a profile on the CASPA website and begin work on your application. Take your time on the application so you do not make mistakes and miss a deadline.
  • Certify and submit your CASPA application.


  • Continue to focus on grades.
  • Complete and return secondary applications to physician assistant programs.
  • Verify that all materials have been submitted to each program.
  • Respond to interview requests promptly and professionally.
  • Notify all programs of your decisions as early as possible.
  • Email of your final decision.
  • Send thank you cards as a courtesy to everyone who assisted you.
  • Complete the FAFSA for the medical school you plan to attend.