Want to know how to get into PA school? The admissions journey for physician assistant programs is not so different from how to get into medical school, and the PA school requirements have a lot in common with other health-related professional schools. But to really ace your application and get into PA school, you need to know the assets and experience that PA school admissions look for and how to make your PA application stand out from the crowd. In this blog, we’ll look at how competitive PA schools are, how you can prepare for your application to PA school and tips on how to make your application stand out and get accepted!

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Article Contents
7 min read

How Hard is it to Get Into PA School? How to Prepare for PA School Applications How to Get Into PA School: Application Timeline Tips for How to Get Into PA School: What Makes a PA Applicant Stand Out? FAQs

How Hard is it to Get Into PA School?

Just how competitive is PA school? PA schools, or physician assistant programs, are similar to other health professions in that they can be quite difficult to get into, as most programs are fairly competitive. From the best PA schools to the easiest PA schools to get into, the journey to get in can be long, demanding and competitive, just like medical school, nursing school, dental school and so on.

Physician assistant acceptance rates in the US hover around 31%, while physician assistant acceptance rates in Canada are at about 20%. This is partly due to the lower number of available PA programs (there are just over 300 physician assistant programs in the US and only 3 (soon to be 4!) physician assistant programs in Canada). But it’s also due to the rigorous PA school requirements and the increasing number of applicants as the PA profession grows.

As a PA applicant, you’ll be facing many of the same problems as premeds applying to medical school when it comes to competition to get in. There are thousands of applicants to a limited number of programs, and meeting all the admissions requirements takes time and dedication. How can you stand out from the crowd and increase your chances of acceptance?

Here are the initial tips you need to know if you want to get into PA school:

#1 Gain clinical hours

One of the most important requirements for PA school applicants is accruing the necessary clinical hours. This is easier said than done, since the minimum can be anywhere from 500-1,000 hours. To be a competitive applicant, you’ll want 2,500-4,000 hours of direct healthcare experience or clinical hours. If your goal is to be a PA, start gaining those hours as soon as possible!

#2 Know your “why”

Having a strong reason “why” you are applying is important no matter what kind of program you’re applying to. For those hoping to get into PA school, is it critical. Admissions officers want to know you have a passionate and strong reason for choosing the PA profession, and their school in particular. Spend some time refining your answer to “why do you want to be a PA?

#3 Research PA schools

Research potential PA programs thoroughly, not just so you know whether they’re the right fit for you but so you can learn as much as you can about their mission, values and approach to the PA profession. This initial knowledge will help you during applications, especially in your interviews and in writing your personal statement.

Doing a little research on different PA programs will also help you narrow down your list of potential schools, whether you want to apply to an online physician assistant program or an in-person program, and where you want to apply. You can check out our list of PA schools by state if you’re looking for schools near you.

#4 Apply early, apply completely

Applying early is an easy strategy you can use to increase your chances of acceptance. Submitting your application earlier means the bulk of the competition will not have submitted their applications yet and the applicant pool is smaller. Admissions officers, if they like what they see on your application, may give you an early interview offer. This can mean an early offer of acceptance, securing you a spot before they all fill up.

Submitting a complete and comprehensive application is also a must. Complete every section to the fullest, and don’t leave out any optional materials that might give your application a little boost, such as PA-CAT or GRE scores.

With these strategies in mind, we’ll look more closely at how to prepare yourself for PA school applications and our top tips on how to make your PA school application stand out!

How to Prepare for PA School Applications

To get read for PA school applications, get to know the CASPA application, which is commonly used by physician assistant programs in the US. This application is similar to the AMCAS or AACOMAS application for med schools but is tailored specifically for PA school applicants.

Just like medical school requirements and application materials, the application for PA school has many of the same guidelines and requirements. Although as we’ve noted the number of clinical hours required for PA school is significantly more.

Here’s a list of the common PA school requirements:

Here are some PA school interview questions to watch out for!

How to Get Into PA School: Application Timeline

Whether you’re just starting your undergraduate studies or you’re a working graduate thinking of making a career change, applying to PA school requires some work and planning ahead. Here we have a short guide to PA school timelines and the steps you can take to make sure you’re meeting all the requirements for admission.

Undergraduate Students

New Grads or Mature Applicants

If you’re a new grad, mature or non-traditional applicant to PA school, your priorities will be a little different and you may have already completed some of the requirements. Here’s a general timeline you can use as a guide:

Tips for How to Get Into PA School: What Makes a PA Applicant Stand Out?

Meeting all the PA school requirements, submitting a great application and nailing the interview, is great, but it’s not always enough to get into the most competitive PA school programs. Here are a few more tips on how you can truly stand out and present yourself as an exceptional PA school applicant.

1. Be Patient-Centered

Remember, gaining those 2,000 hours of clinical experience is the MINIMUM. It’s not enough to show you are experienced. You need to demonstrate that you are a patient-centered care provider.

To truly stand out in your application, you need to show the admissions committee that you have more than technical skill or strong interpersonal abilities. In all aspects of your application, you need to embody the ideal abilities and skills of a physician assistant. This means sharing concrete and real examples of how you exemplified patient-centered care. Maybe you talked with a patient through a difficult treatment, improved someone’s access to care or contributed to their understanding. Or you always make an effort to discuss options with your patients and listen to their concerns.

2. Focus on Interpersonal Abilities

Clinical hours alone do not reveal your abilities. Share your experiences in your personal statement and essays, highlight notable achievements in your extracurriculars or physician assistant CV, and demonstrate your interpersonal skills in your interview. Excellent interpersonal skills are arguably the most important skill you will need as a PA!

Some of the notable interpersonal skills you’ll need are good communication, conflict resolution, teamwork or collaboration, empathy and compassion, flexibility and adaptability.

Something that can help is learning more about the CanMEDS Roles, a guiding framework for physicians in Canada. Believe it or not, there is a CanMEDS for PAs, too! In the US, the AAMC Core Competencies are the ultimate guide for premeds, but these attributes and skills are applicable to the PA profession as well.

3. Get to Know the PA Profession

Understanding a little more about the PA profession, and the differences between PA vs MD as a career and an education can help you solidify your choice to attend PA school. But it can also prepare you for some tough questions during your interview, such as “what contribution can you make to the PA profession?”

Overall, knowing a little more about your future career will show the admissions committee that you’ve done your homework, you’ve considered all the pros and cons of your decision to apply and that you are committed to becoming a physician assistant.

Here are some of the key differences between PA and MD:

4. Have Clear, Defined Goals

We mentioned earlier that you need a strong “why” for applying to PA school. But this is not enough to stand out. In your application materials or during your interview, don’t be afraid to share why you want to become a PA, but what your plans are for AFTER. Think about what your 5-year goal is, your 10-year goal. Do you see yourself pursuing any PA specialties? What kind of environment do you want to work in as a PA?

Having an answer to these types of questions assures the admissions committee that you’re not just applying on a whim, and that you have concrete goals and reasons for wanting to join their program.

5. Take the GRE

While there are many PA schools that don’t require the GRE, you can add more options to the list of schools you can apply to if you take the test. Not only this, but a high GRE score can offset a low GPA if yours is below average. Submitting GRE scores to a PA school that is test-optional also has advantages. If you’re one of only a handful of students who took and submitted scores, this can reflect favorably on your as a candidate by demonstrating your academic ability and willingness to “go the extra mile”.

6. Don’t Skip Optional Steps

Your program might have optional application materials you can choose to submit or not, such as PA school supplemental essays or a PA school cover letter. Admissions requirements might also list “recommendations” of what you can add to your application to make it stronger.

Take all of these optional and recommended actions as must-do! Anything you can do to make your application better or stronger should be considered. It means a little more work and time, but it can certainly pay off for you, especially if you’re applying to a very competitive program and need an edge over other applicants.


1. How do I get into PA school?

To get into PA school, you’ll need to complete the PA school requirements and complete a CASPA application, or online application for a specific program. To increase your chances of getting into PA schools, apply early, gain more than the required number of clinical hours and submit a very strong application. 

2. How do I get into PA school in Canada?

To get into PA school in Canada, you’ll need to meet the program admission requirements, including the number of required clinical hours. You’ll also need a strong application and to attend a PA school interview. Review the admission requirements in detail before you apply!

3. What are the acceptance rates for PA schools?

PA school acceptance rates in the US are around 31% on average.

4. What are the acceptance rates for PA schools in Canada?

PA school acceptance rates in Canada are around 20% on average.

5. Do you have to write the MCAT for PA school?

No. Most PA schools require the GRE or sometimes the PA-CAT instead of the MCAT. A handful of PA schools will accept the MCAT in lieu of the GRE or PA-CAT.

6. What GPA do you need for PA school?

Most PA schools set a minimum GPA of 3.0, or do not have a minimum required GPA at all. A competitive GPA for PA school would be 3.5-3.6. Note that some PA schools look exclusively at your science GPA instead of your cumulative score.

7. How many clinical hours do you need for PA school?

PA schools usually set a minimum of 500-1,000 clinical hours in order to apply. However, to be a competitive applicant you should aim to gain at least 2,500-4,000 clinical hours.

8. Is it hard to get into PA school?

PA schools, like many health-care professional schools are very competitive and can be tough to get into. You can increase your chances of acceptance by becoming very familiar with the PA school requirements, earning enough clinical hours and experience and submitting a stellar application.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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