Applying to Physician Assistant Programs

Applying to Physician Assistant Programs

As the need for more healthcare providers increases, there is growing interest in Physician Assistant (PA) programs. PAs participate in many facets of medicine, as defined by the scope of practice set by the supervising physician, state law or a state's medical board. They work closely with and under the supervision of physicians. Strong academics, especially in the sciences, are essential for a successful application.


One Semester* Two Semesters* Three Semesters*
Introductory Psychology Introductory Biology with lab English Composition
Developmental Psychology General Chemistry with lab
Microbiology with lab Anatomy and Physiology with lab

*Note: Anticipated courses and number of semesters required. Students must verify individual program requirements.

This form may be helpful in determining and comparing individual requirements between various schools.

Anatomy and Physiology
Occasionally, some of the academic prerequisites for a given PA program are not offered at Columbia. In such cases, pre-PA students should plan to complete the necessary coursework at another institution. Thus, for example, while Columbia offers an undergraduate physiology course, it does not offer a two-semester integrated sequence of anatomy and physiology often required by PA programs. Listed below are New York City colleges and universities that offer courses in anatomy and physiology. Visit the schools' websites below for details including application fees and deadlines, specific courses offered, and possible prerequisites.


Schools will often list the minimum GPAs and GRE scores required to apply for their PA programs, and will also sometimes list the average scores of their admitted classes. A competitive application should be accompanied by comprehensive letters of recommendation, strong grades in rigorous courses, and impressive practical experiences.

Supplemental Requirements

Some programs may require supplemental courses (e.g., psychology, sociology, or a language requirement). It is the responsibility of the student to research the admissions requirements for each PA program, including supplemental requirements.

Practical Experience

Clinical experience is the most important factor in admission to PA programs. Schools may require that as many as 1,000 hours of direct patient care be completed by the time of application. The following are examples of positions that may fulfill this requirement. Schools may vary in what they deem relevant experience; students should check with the respective admissions office to confirm.

  • Athletic trainer
  • Clinical health educator
  • Dietician
  • EMT/paramedic
  • ER technician
  • Hospice volunteer
  • Licensed practical nurse (LPN)
  • Medical assistant
  • Medical corpsman
  • Medical technician
  • Nursing assistant
  • Occupational therapist
  • Patient care technician
  • Peace Corps volunteer
  • Pharmacist
  • Phlebotomist
  • Physical therapist
  • Physical therapy assistant
  • Psychologist
  • Registered nurse (RN)
  • Respiratory therapist
  • Surgical technician
  • X-ray technician

*Note: It is also a good idea to shadow a current physician's assistant or another medical professional, but this may not count toward the hour total for direct patient care.

Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)

The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants is a service of the Physician Assistant Education Association. CASPA allows applicants to use a single application to apply to multiple PA programs. For more information about CASPA, including application fees, visit the website.

Letters of Reference

Three letters of reference are required to complete an application for PA programs. Requirements vary by institution, but an application should typically include two letters from medical professionals (including a current PA) and one from a professor or academic advisor. References are initiated with an email prompt from CASPA, and must be uploaded electronically by the referee.

Non-CASPA Schools
For non-CASPA participating schools, students should refer to individual policies for the preferred delivery method for letters of reference.

Committee Letters of Recommendation
The Premedical Committee does not provide committee letters for PA program applicants.