Tips for Physican Assistant Applicants

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If you aspire to be a Physician Assistant, this fact sheet will give you some background information about the requirements you must fulfill to apply to PA school, and how you can meet those requirements at Elmira College.

Admissions requirements

Most physician assistant programs require a variety of courses in science, social science, and the humanities for admission.  There is little uniformity among programs, so please be sure to research each program that you may be interested in attending. 

Pre-requisite courses – many schools require these courses

Freshman Composition/Communications
Biological concepts with labs (major’s level)
General chemistry with labs (major’s level)
Organic chemistry with labs
Anatomy and physiology with labs
Calculus and/or Statistics and/or Physics

Other courses that are required, or strongly recommended

Animal Physiology                   
Molecular Biology


You may major in anything, as long as the pre-requisite courses are taken.  Most applicants choose a science major because there are many science pre-requisites and most students have a strong interest in science.  Other students will major in psychology, and minor in biology, for example.  Successful applicants have a wide variety of majors, so choose a major you are truly interested in rather than one that you think will look good on an application.

Test scores and GPA

The exam that most physician assistant programs require is the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), taken during the summer between junior and senior year.  See for details about this exam.  Some programs will accept the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test), taken spring of junior year.  See  for details about this exam.  Be sure to check the programs you are interested in to be sure you take the appropriate exam for that particular program.  The GPA (grade point average) that is typical for a successful applicant is generally 3.5 or higher. 

Health care experience

Direct patient contact is a necessary component of your experience before applying to a physician assistant program.  Every program has its own mission and philosophy, and usually has a recommended list of experiences they would like to see.  The following is a general guide, rather than a complete list.  Many programs require in excess of 500 hours of patient experience that may be paid or volunteer work.  To gain this experience, student have become athletic trainers, certified nursing assistants, paramedics, EMTs, and some have entered the Peace Corps with a medical focus,  You need to explore the various professions and be educated about your decision to become a Physician Assistant versus another member of the health care team as well as gain experience with patients.  At Elmira College, some of these hours can be fulfilled through community service or the internship experience, although you are advised to seek out more than this minimum amount of experience.

Development of Personal Attributes

While a high degree of academic success is necessary, it is not sufficient for admission to Physician Assistant programs.  Demonstrated altruism, interpersonal skills, and integrity are all part of developing what you need for a strong physician-patient relationship.  Cultivating outside interests and activities is critical.  Length of time invested, depth of the experience, and lessons learned are three key criteria for evaluating outside activities.

Research experience

While not a requirement at every professional school, research can give you an academic edge.  Research can give you insight into how science works outside the classroom setting.  In addition, your professors can get to know you better and thus be able to write meaningful letters of recommendation.  Students can conduct research at Elmira College during the academic year or can apply for the summer undergraduate research program.  Many deadlines across the country for research internships close in early February.


1.  The American Academy of Physician Assistants
The professional organization of Physician Assistants.  There is a page for Students in Physician Assistant programs under the umbrella of this parent organization.

2.  Physician Assistant Education Association
The national organization representing physician assistant education programs.

3.  PA focus website

Information for applicants considering PA programs.  Links to virtual chat sessions and FAQs.

4.  Central Application Service for Physician Assistants
The site that most physician assistant programs use to manage their applicants.  Start working on your application through this site in spring/early summer of your junior year if you plan to attend right after you finish your degree here.

5.  Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences Pizza Lunches and premed Speaker Series

Attend as many as you can.  Important information that can help with the application process will be shared at pizza lunches.  These sessions also educate you about various health care professionals you will be working with some day. 

Common Questions

How many Physician Assistant programs are there?

There are 184 programs and counting.  It is a growing profession, and becoming more competitive as more people consider entering this career track.  Choose those offering a true Masters degree, rather than a certificate of completion.

How competitive is the admissions process for Physician Assistant programs?

Over 18,000 applicants were recorded in a recent application cycle, with about 5,800 matriculants, so it is competitive.

How do I succeed on the GRE?

Take practice exams under test conditions.  Be as familiar as you can with the test format.  See for details.  Most graduate programs want to see a minimum combined math/verbal score of 300 for consideration.