Tips On Getting into PA School: Part 1

posted on: March 3, 2014

USC Keck white coat ceremony Physician Assistant PA{Me and the hubby at my White Coat Ceremony in 2007}

I’ve had a lot of inquiries by Pre-PA students on tips on getting into PA school. I’m no expert on PA program admissions but I applied and got in so I must have done something right. Since graduating I’ve mentored about 2 pre-pa students per year and have a 100% on their acceptance rate, so here are some tips that can be helpful in getting you into PA school.

Narrow down the programs you’re going to apply to. Every program has different requirements for their applicants including class prerequisites, minimal number of hands-on hours, volunteer hours, etc… One program may require Spanish while the next requires Genetics. Knowing what prerequisites you’re up against will help you better plan your class schedule. You would hate to either take an extra year to wait to apply because you have to take one more class or not applying to a program because you’re missing a class or two.

Line up those paid hands-on medical hours. Even if a program does not “require” hands-on hours it will make you a much more competitive candidate if you do have them. I think this is the hardest part of applying to PA school. Most states require some sort of license or certificate to work in an “hands-on” capability. This is can be frustrating because on-top of working on your bachelors degree you have to find time to squeeze in more schooling to get a license for a profession that you’re only planning on using for a short time. Common hands-on jobs PAs have prior to attending PA school include: EMT, Phlebotomist, Certified Nursing Assistant, Medical Assistant, Physical Therapy Assistant, etc… I recommend researching these professions and seeing if the classes will fit in your school schedule or your summers off. I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant and a Cast Tech for an Orthopedic Surgeon prior to PA school. I’ll give some more information about how I got those jobs in a future post.

Don’t forget to Volunteer. In addition to having paid hand-on medical hours having medical volunteer hours will make you a more competitive candidate. Luckily these are easier to obtain than paid hands-on hours. Most hospitals have volunteer programs that easily satisfy this requirement. It is better to have a weekly, ongoing volunteer commitment vs just picking up a few hours here and there. I started volunteering HERE in high school as a junior volunteer and racked up over 300 hours with my weekly 3 hour shifts. I volunteered in pediatrics and loved every minute of it. I mostly played with the patients, brought them toys and video games, did paperwork and other odds and ends. When I went away to college I was able to get a volunteer position at St John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. I really wanted to work in the ER and the only weekly shift they had open was Fridays from 4- 7pm. So every Friday afternoon I trekked my way through LA traffic to put in my time. I learned so much during these short 3 hours shifts. My favorite tip I learned from an RN there was that if you have a patient that was pretty stinky you can soak a washcloth in Listerine Mouth Wash and put it next to their bedside and the room smells minty fresh. Such a simple fix! In addition to these weekly commitments I found various health fairs, medical conferences and weekend medical missionary trips to Mexico to add some variety to volunteering experience.

Look for Pre-PA programs. There are a programs that are focused on giving pre-pa students the ability to work directly with Physician Assistants and witness first what exactly a PA does. The program I am most familiar with is the Physician Assistant Helper Program at LAC+USC. This amazing program allows you to work with PAs at LA County Hospital in the ER. While I applied and was accepted into this program I had finished my undergrad and got a job with an Orthopedic Surgeon near my parents house so I decided to move home and take the job there. The hour commute to LAC+USC did not work with the open shifts. I do know many people who volunteered with this program and have told me that it was such a wonderful experience. Do some research and see if any of your local hospitals or PA programs have something like this.

Are you a PA or currently in PA School? Comment below with your advice for Pre-PA students!

Next Week Look For: Tips on Getting into PA School Part 2- How to really get that paid hand-on medical experience

  • Chase Hungerford

    Your site is awesome. I have been thinking how I am going to continue my site once I get through PA school and your content has got me inspired. Thank you!

  • daniella


  • Tina

    Hi! I’m so glad I found your site via Instagram! Can you make a list of the schools you applied to? Can you explain how the application process works? What month should you apply to schools? If you are an undergrad and you want to go straight to PA school without a gap year, should you apply during your 3rd year? Thank you for making this site! I can’t wait till next week’s post!

    • Erin

      Hi Tina! I applied to Western University of Health Sciences, Loma Linda University and USC. I only applied to these schools because I wanted I stay in Southern California and I wanted a masters program. I’ll have to work on answering your other questions in an upcoming post because the answers are more involved and I would like to get you a detailed answers. Thanks for following!

  • Akeyia Britton

    Do you have any tips on what should you major in for undergrad? I;m in school to be a medical assistant at the moment. I’ll be finishing up at the end of april and starting my externship soon. I want to go back to school to be a PA, I’m looking forward to be in dermatology. I’m just stuck on trying to decide what I should major in. Thanks in advance.

    • Erin

      Most Pre-PA students choose to major in a science as it helps fulfill prerequisite for PA schools easier. I was a biology major but other choices for science majors include, chemistry, anatomy, microbiology, etc… Other people choose to look outside the traditional science major (like sociology, psychology, foreign language) and make sure they are taking science pre-reqs too. The most important thing is finding a major that interests you and keeping track of your classes and making sure you are completing all of your prerequisites as you go along. Good luck!

  • Leslie

    This site is amazing…I am currently a PA student at USC and I am loving school! Getting into PA school can be tough and confusing but it’s worth all the long hours of studying while volunteering and shadowing.

  • Adam Dudik

    Hi Erin,

    I just stumbled upon your website while I was looking for PA information. Looks really nice. Found some hopefully helpful info about the LAC+USC physician assistant helper program. Do you have any info about when it starts? I currently work at Cedar Sinai and am looking for a way to get experience with a PA. Do you know of any other programs?

    • Erin

      I believe LAC+USC is a rolling admission, contacting them directly would yield you the best information. I am not aware of any other programs like this in the LA area. If you find any more please let me know. Good luck on your PA journey!

  • Kate

    I’m so glad I have found your website. I have been looking for as many tips as I can for getting into PA school. I’m currently in my last year of respiratory therapy school and I have been wanting to go to PA school. I hear is harder to get into than medical school. So that scares me a little. I need to find somewhere to volunteer on a regular basis. I just have absolutely no idea where I’m going to apply.

    • Erin

      Stick with it! Your hard work will pay off. Make sure you are getting plenty of clinical hours and volunteer hours. Good Luck!

  • TaMika

    Hi I am in the process of applying what should I highlight in my personal statement?