How do you get in?: Part 2

Let’s talk about personal/professional letters of recommendation:

VERY IMPORTANT!  It is critical that you select professional and personal relationships that have had time to grow.  Think about professors who have guided you along your journey and can touch on how well you’ve done with your research or in a particular science course & your strengths in the academic setting.  Think about physicians and PAs that you have shadowed or worked alongside that will provide an excellent letter for you.  You will be required to submit 3 letters or recommendation to CASPA and maybe even more depending on the program you apply to.   Start thinking about who you are going to ask early in the process.  Ask them when the application cycle opens and give them a time frame and deadline to complete the letter.  If you want to be a strong candidate, at least one letter MUST be from a physician assistant, if not more.  In addition, when requesting a LOR, don’t ask someone you know many PA students ask, the chances of you getting a cookie cutter, copy and paste LOR is very high.  When you ask someone for a LOR, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS give them your resume and a little paragraph about yourself so they can personalize the letter.  This makes it more authentic, believe us, acceptance committees can tell if the person writing your LOR truly knows you as an individual.

Let’s talk about personal statements:

We can both agree that aside from your healthcare experience and letters of recommendation your personal statement must be extremely strong to stand out in the crowd.  Do not wait to start writing this until the very end.  You will want to go through several ideas, outlines, drafts, and have multiple people edit and revise for you.

Takeaway points we learned:

-Do not use more than -20 I’s in your letter (I am passionate, I know I will succeed as a PA, etc)

-Although CASPA gives you a certain word length maximum, we’ve been told to limit your statement to 600 words

-Be a story teller.  Start out with a story or experience that will pull us in and keep us reading.   What is your “Why”?  Really dig deep about why you want to be a PA versus MD/NP.

-Include your experiences observing a specific PA and other leaders who have made an impact on your decision

-Use this time to explain bad grades or mishaps in your application, we know you aren’t perfect and respect you more if you know that too

-We’d love to hear about mission trips, healthcare experience, why are you better suited for this experience than someone else

-Revise, revise, and revise again.  Perfect spell check, perfect grammar.  Ask someone in the healthcare field, a professor, and a friend to look at it.  The more eyes the better.

Let’s talk about the GRE – is it everything?

It’s been over 4 years since we both had to jump through this hoop, so the requirements have likely changed since our application cycle.  There are now 94 schools which do not require the GRE.

Katie’s take:  I prepared with a Kaplan course 1 day per a week for a few weeks at The University of South Florida (since it had been awhile since I took any type of English or Math course).  I can’t say it was very beneficial because I didn’t score well.  In fact, I scored UNDER the “required GRE score” that the program I was accepted to required.  It’s important to keep in mind that your application is supposed to give us “the whole picture.”  In my opinion, do not stress over the GRE.  Focus on your personal statement to sell you and your letters of recommendation so we can see who you really are and if you’re a person of good character.

Emily’s take: I was working full time and finishing up a few pre-requisites the year leading up to applying for PA school therefore I did not have time to take a course.  I bought a GRE book and went through a few practice tests and called it quits.  I took the test once; my score was not stellar but it was slightly above the average so I let it be.  Like Katie said, I didn’t feel like this was something I needed to stress about and it turns out I was correct.  In my personal opinion, it’s likely the least important aspect of the application and more and more schools will drop it as criteria.  Focus on your grades, your HCE and LOR.

Let’s talk about CASPA:

CASPA is the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants.  The application cycle begins in April of each year and typically lasts a little under one year.  This portal allows you to apply to several programs within one application.  You can anticipate the time to complete your entire application will be about 5 weeks.  Always track deadlines for each program you’re interested in so that you aren’t scrambling.  Some programs require a supplemental application and/or essay. These are all things you can look up ahead of time and have prepared so the day applications open you can submit.
Emily’s tip:  I literally had everything ready to go day 1 CASPA opened.  I submitted everything that day and the things that were pending were finished within one week.  I wanted to be the first to have everything in to my desired schools so I could be among the first to be selected for interviews.  It worked, I was the first to interview at both of my schools.

If you take anything away from this remember to:  APPLY EARLY!!  The sooner the better will give you a greater chance for an interview.

Link to apply to PA school:


Everyone is going to have a different experience with the application process.  Stay organized and work towards completing everything early.  Best of luck!!  This will all be worth it!

If you have any questions about any part of the application process, comment below or send us an email. We also would be happy to proof read your personal statements!

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