Before PA School


Considering PA school? You are embarking on a challenging and exciting journey! There is a lot you can do to research the profession, the educational system, and the application process.  This is the time to prepare yourself mentally, physically and financially for this incredible endeavor. Check out some resources below:

Applying to PA School


The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants is a full service, web-based application system that allows students to apply to multiple participating PA educational programs with a single application, as well as facilitate a streamlined admissions process for programs. It allows you to fill out a single application to send to multiple schools. Many schools require a program-specific supplemental application after receiving your CASPA application to ensure you meet the requirements for their program.

LINKS: PAEA CASPA Information Page , CASPA Portal , CASPA Demo Video , PAEA Blog for Pre-PA Students

Getting Hands On Experience


Most PA programs require applicants to have health care experience, meaning hands-on patient care. Volunteer at a local hospital or clinic, get your CNA, EMT, or become a phlebotomist. The goal is to get yourself in front of patients and have healthcare experience to make yourself a better candidate. Consider trying to locate a PA to shadow for a day or conduct an interview with. Be sure to check with programs on what type of experience they require some require all experience to be paid while on the job or a professional certification. Meeting with an Admissions Director is a good way to understand what type of experiences they are looking for.

LINKS: Red Cross Nurse Assistant Course


PA School Guide Book:

Many many students utilize “The Ultimate Guide to Getting Into PA School” by Andrew J. Rodican. This book encompasses all you need to know for getting into PA school and beyond. It is the most comprehensive PA school preparation book we’ve come across. We highly recommend looking into purchasing and reading this book. It can be found online, in a bookstore, or (likely) from a friend.


Recommended Reading

Throughout the didactic and clinical years you will have plenty of time to read dense text books. We recommend you avoid most academic material in the months leading up to the start of PA school. However, some books can contribute to your outlook and perspective on medicine and patient care. These books, often focusing on the “humanity” side of medicine, are worth a read if you find a few extra hours before school begins.

The List

  1. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
  2. Every Patient Tells a Story by Lisa Sanders
  3. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  4. How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
  5. Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem
  6. Stiff by Mary Roach
  7. Seeing Patients, Augustus A. White
  8. White Coat Wisdom, Stephen J. Busalacchi
  9. The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal, PhD
  10. Cutting Stone and/or Being Mortal, Abraham Vergeshese

PA Schools and Costs 

Stephen Pasquini, PA-C (Blogger: The PA Life website) compiled a comparison table of PA program tuition and costs. Please be aware that his chart does not include variables, such as fees and textbook costs.

Financial Aid

Students have several opportunities to obtain additional funds before and during PA school. These sources should be carefully considered as many have special prerequisites or require a service commitment upon graduation. This list is not comprehensive and interested students should continue to seek financial assistance if needed.

1. Professional Organization Scholarships

National Level: Physician Assistant Foundation Scholarship

State Level: Check with your state physician assistant society to see if they offer scholarship assistance.

Physician Assistant Specialty Organizations: Many specialty associations offer scholarships for students with strong interest in a particular field.

Association of Family Practice Physician Assistants
American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants
Association of Physician Assistants in Oncology
Society of Emergency Medicine Physician Assistants

Physician Asst Student Foundation

Johnson & Johnson’s Pre-PA Scholarship

2. Physician Assistant schools and related institutions

Ask your admissions or financial aid office about additional financial aid. Some schools provide need-based or merit-based scholarships and grants.

3. Military Service

The United States Army, Navy and Air Force offer financial incentives, including full scholarships and living stipends, for a commitment to active duty. These typically require a minimum of three years of active duty followed by a period of inactive reserve. Contact a medical services recruiter for the most current opportunities and requirements.

What are the options within each branch:

Army PA

Navy PA

Air Force PA

Marines and Coast Guard

Additional opportunities are available in the Reserves of the above branches and in the National Guard.

National Guard

4. National Health Service Corps – Scholarship or Loan Repayment

The National Health Service Corp (NHSC) offers scholarships and loan repayment options for students who wish to serve in high-need areas after graduation. These incentives require students repay a number of years at an NHSC-approved site.

NHSC Website

Webinar about the Loan Repayment Program – by NHSC

5. U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

The U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps is one of the uniformed services and provides medical support to the Department of Health and Human Services as well as other select government agencies. They provide financial opportunities for students in return for a commitment after graduation.

USPHS Student Opportunities

 6. Loans

Students can apply for various types of government-supported loans by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).


7. Employer Loan Repayment

Loan repayment is sometimes offered as part of an incentive package by employers. Attempt to negotiate this in your contract when you apply for jobs after graduation.

Academic Prep

There are many approaches and viewpoints on how to spend your time before PA school starts. Your decision on how to spend these pre-PA months should depend on your personality and individual needs.

Know the best way you relax: Resetting and recharging yourself will be crucial to your success in PA school. Finding your escape from the stress of school will get you away from school so you can get back to it with a level head. Everybody is different, but some common ways people relax are: exercise, yoga, meditation, books, cooking, walks, spending time with a pet, and 20-minute power naps. Follow Socrates’ advice and “know thyself” so you can get back to productive studying!

Take your undergraduate courses seriously: The more you learn in your undergraduate classes, the less you will have to relearn when it comes to PA school. Creating a solid foundation for yourself is of the utmost importance. It will allow you to springboard into grad school and help you tackle the large amounts of information you will be processing. Courses such as Anatomy, Physiology, Pathophysiology, Pharmacology, and even Medical Terminology are crucial to building your knowledge base.

Fellowship/Scholar Programs

Professional Organizations

Become a member! Many PA professional organizations have Pre-PA, discounted memberships. They all provide invaluable information about the PA profession. If you can take the opportunity to attend a state-society sponsored event to meet & understand the life of PA students and certified PAs.

 Other Relevant Resources