How to prepare for PA School: For Those Still in Undergrad

Making sure you’re a competitive applicant prior to applying to PA school is very important. Application season is not cheap & making yourself a well-rounded applicant is vital! The following post contains all aspects of the most FAQ I get about how to prepare to PA school as an undergraduate student:

1.     GPA / Prerequisites: Most programs will require prerequisite courses that are relatively the same in nature for core classes, including courses like:
-        HUMAN Anatomy & Physiology, + LAB: 6-8 semester hrs.
         To meet this requirement you will have to take
         Human Anatomy and Physiology 1 + LAB & Human Anatomy and Physiology 2 + LAB
       –OR– take
         Human Anatomy with lab + Human Physiology
-        Microbiology + LAB: 3-5 credit hrs
          Preference is typically given to those with higher level Microbiology
-        General (Inorganic) Chemistry + LAB
          Ex: Chem 1 with lab PLUS Chem 2 with lab: 8-11 credit hrs
-        Statistics: 3 credit hrs
-        Medical Terminology: at least 1 credit hr
-        Psychology: 3 credit hrs

Keep in mind to double check and triple check the schools requirements for courses they REQUIRE and courses they simply recommend.
 Each school will be different and I would NOT go by any website other than the programs.
GPA is a huge topic I get many emails on daily from with concern that their science GPA is too low (this will definitely need its own future blog post).
If you do not feel confident about the course or maybe you received a ‘C’ or below, retake it. Retaking a course is not frowned upon if completed again with a satisfactory grade- this will show perseverance over a subject you struggled in.
In my opinion, it’s better to feel confident applying with great grades even if courses are repeated than to apply with an application you’re not ready to stand behind during an interview.


2.     GRE: Every year it seems the GRE requirements increase and become more competitive. But the good news is most schools only care that you meet their minimum GRE requirement. This minimum score is typically a 300 (Min. of 150 in Reading + 150 in Math). Typically this is not too difficult to attain for most applicants, but don’t leave it to the very end without giving yourself time to study if needed. This test is much different than topic focused exams in undergrad and more like the SAT/ACT format you took in high school.
-       Verbal Reasoning — Measures abilities to analyze & evaluate written material, synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences & recognize relationships among words & concepts.
-       Quantitative Reasoning — Measures problem-solving ability using basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry & data analysis.
-       Analytical Writing — Measures critical thinking & writing skills, specifically the ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively.
To get a better idea of the question types click here to the ETS website:

If I were you, I would recommend taking a practice test through the ETS website here
or using a GRE book from Barnes and Noble (Amazon), Magoosh, Kaplan, or Princeton review & see how you score without previously using any study material.
Use this raw score to determine how much time you should allot in preparation for the actual test.
Fees for GRE: $ 205  (& $50 to reschedule your exam)           

3.     Volunteer Hours; these are important to keep you a well-rounded applicant, but remember volunteer hours DO NOT have to be medically related! However, if you do not already have shadowing experience and are in need of finding a provider to shadow I definitely recommend volunteering at a local hospital or clinic to build your network of professionals you will surround yourself with. Building these relationships can lead to your next PA or MD to shadow and possibly a letter of recommendation! Be sure to make yourself useful when volunteering and do not just wait on someone to give you work to do, offer a helping hand or a task you notice is needed! The last thing people want is someone just standing around in their office with nothing to do & probably won’t get you very far in that relationship ;)

4.     Shadowing: Most programs are going to require this – and it makes COMPLETE sense why everyone needs to shadow before applying to PA school. You won’t really understand the everyday responsibilities of a PA or MD until you actually shadow them & witness what it’s like first-hand. First of all, PA programs want to make sure you have a clear concept of what you’re getting yourself into and that you’ll be a committed student & not a student who is going to drop-out after the 1st quarter because you realize ‘it’s just not for you’. Becoming a PA is a lot of work and you want to make sure this is something you can see yourself doing every day and still loving it 5-10 years down the road.
Keep in mind: PA’s at different facilities or in different subspecialties will encompass different daily routines & responsibilities. You may shadow a PA and know it’s not for you but then shadow another & absolutely love it. So just make sure to keep an open mind when ruling these qualities in or out & shadow a variety of providers.

5.     Patient Care Experience (PCE): I constantly get messages in my inbox about which kind of patient care experience is best…and honestly everyone is going to have a different answer to this. I think having a solid background as a certain healthcare employee (ex: Medical Assistant, Patient Care Tech, CNA, etc) is extremely beneficial because you begin to establish professional relationships that can provide you great LOR & hours.
On the other hand, you have the option to scribe and every program is going to look at scribing hours differently. As far as I’m aware, most schools accept students who count their hours as scribes because it’s such a valuable job to have before coming in to school – you understand the flow of the ED, you’re exposed to a variety of patho, & you already learn how to take efficient SOAP notes and exercise your medical terminology that you’ll be using later down the road!
Hours obtained as an EMT as also very valuable, but if the training period is too long – don’t waste your time for the sake of Pre-PA hrs if the other options are easily accessible.
Things to consider: Most schools require a minimum of 1,500-2,000 HCE Hours. Before letting this stress you out, check out the average number of hours students who are accepted to the programs you’re applying to have. This will let you gauge if you’re within the “competitive” range when applying to each program. If you’re someone who is lacking hours, don’t let this deter you – each program is going to be different and I think if you’re still gaining hours through the application season and it’s your only “weakness” on the application – still go for it!

6.     Letters of Recommendation (LOR): This is one of the very first aspects of the application I’d recommend working on even if you aren’t planning on applying this cycle. Most people forget about building and establishing professional relationships with MDs, PAs, or their professors until the cycle is already open and things feel rushed & awkward. When you DO finally decide you’re ready to apply to PA school, let those who you’re going to need letters of recommendation from a heads up before the application season opens; doing this can prepare them to begin thinking of your many qualities. LOR contacts may ask for different information from you to write a personalized letter or may want to discuss your future in person through a meeting before working on it. I always took time writing a personalized email or stopping by their office to ask them in person to ask if they would be willing to write a letter on my behalf – unless you’ve had a rocky past or haven’t made yourself noticeable during your courses with them – most will say yes. But the important part is making sure they are aware of who you are outside of the classroom. To accomplish this, I would include a well-written draft for their personal use that includes information similar to your resume: your GPA, experience in healthcare so far, future goals,  why being a PA is important to you (just summarize it), & offer them any additional information that can further enhance the quality of the LOR they will be providing.
In short, the more personal the LOR, the better – you want the BOA to be convinced that you had an actual relationship with these providers or professors, and not just an already drafted letter they use for everyone. The most important thing about receiving your LOR and still applying early is giving them a 2-3 weeks heads up on the due date. Basically, EXPECT them to be late getting the LOR uploaded to CASPA and give them a due date that is before your projected date of submission! 

Overall, the application process will seem a bit intimidating, but just remember that everyone is going to have their own unique traits & experience to contribute. Not every applicant will be from the same school, background, or have the same competitive grades. Be sure to make yourself stand out by having a seamless application through CASPA & a bomb personal statement!
All you can do is your best & there will be a program out there who will recognize this & want to know more.