PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illnesses, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs are versatile and collaborative. PAs are committed to team practice with physicians and other healthcare providers. Currently, most state laws require PAs to have an agreement with a specific physician in order to practice.
Preparation for PA school includes completion of a certain prerequisites. Make sure you do research into which prerequisites are required for the programs to which you are interested in applying, as they can vary! Listed below are the most common prerequisites for PA school and courses at UNLV that will fulfill the requirement.
Major: You may major in whichever subject you choose as long as you are meeting required pre-requisites for the programs to which you are applying. PA schools appreciate diversity in majors so choose a subject you will be successful!
Pre-Reqs: Prerequisites for PA schools vary widely. This list shows courses which may be required. Do your research to ensure you are meeting all required courses for the schools to which you are interested in applying.
- 1 or more semesters of General Biology w/labs: Biol 190/191 (with labs)
- 1 year of General Chemistry w/lab: Chem 121/122 (with labs)
- 1 year of Organic Chemistry w/lab: Chem 241/242
- 1 semester of Biochemistry: Chem 474
- 1 semester of Stats: Stats 391
- Anatomy and Physiology: Kin 223/224 OR Biol 348/349
Additional common pre-reqs
- 1 year of General English
- 1 semester of Psychology or Sociology
Grading Policies for Pre-Requisites
- AP and IB Credit are generally not accepted towards pre-reqs
- Community college credits can be viewed differently by each school; do your research on if they are accepted!
- Online lab courses are generally not accepted towards pre-reqs; some schools will not allow ANY online coursework
- All courses, including repeated courses will count towards your GPA, regardless of how old they are. Be careful with “W” on your transcripts; they are not counted towards GPA but you should not be withdrawing from courses as a trend
- Some programs have expiration dates on their pre-reqs, meaning you need to take them within a certain time period of applying. Again, do your research!
GPA Information and Calculator
While the professional school admission process is holistic, your grades do matter. It is extremely important to understand how professional school GPA’s are calculated, as there can be a vast difference between your UNLV GPA and your professional school GPA.
Keep in mind that while the information below is generalized to professional schools/programs and the GPA calculation process, it is the student’s responsibility to understand exactly how the programs they are applying to consider, weigh, and/or calculate their GPA.
Professional school GPA’s calculate all grades ever taken at the secondary level. This includes all transfer credit grades, repeats, remedial courses, and possibly graduate level courses. There is no “grade forgiveness” or “grade replacement” for professional school GPA - all grades count. There is also no expiration date on courses for them not to be considered for calculation; even courses you may have taken “years ago” count toward your professional school GPA.
Professional school GPA’s are also calculated in more ways than just your cumulative GPA. Your “science” GPA (or BCP/BCPM) is also a very important marker in your application to professional school. Your science GPA is your GPA calculated only with your Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and (sometimes) Math classes. The third and fourth most common calculations are your “all other” GPA, which is your GPA calculated on all courses WITHOUT your science classes, and your “prerequisite GPA”, which is your GPA calculated only on the prerequisites necessary for that particular professional school program/track.
To help you understand how your professional school GPA will be calculated, please use the resources below. Although intended for use in calculating GPA for medical school, this calculator can be effective for calculating PA school GPA as well. Bring this GPA calculation to your PPAC appointments, as it is an important part of the discussion. If you need help filling them out, give us a call!
- PA GPA Information and Secondary Calculator
- For Excel spreadsheet: please email email@example.com a copy.
Professional school programs have adopted a “holistic” admissions process, meaning you are more than just your metrics. How you demonstrate your motivation for your future profession, your personal characteristics, and the ways in which you give back to your community can make or break your application.
It is your responsibility as a pre-professional student to understand the different types of experiences that will make you a competitive applicant to professional school. The most common classifications for experiences include:
- Direct Patient Care: Pre-PA students are required to obtain hours in “direct patient care”. These are often licensed positions such as Medical Assistant, EMT, CNA, etc. PA schools often require between 500-3000 hours of direct patient care before you can apply. Please be mindful that while schools have a “minimum” number of hours to obtain, the average matriculant usually exceeds those hours by double that amount. Be sure to read your program’s requirements to understand how many hours are required and what types of positions will “count”.
- Community Service: experiences that show your commitment to your community and serving others
- Shadowing: observing a PA in their office or other healthcare environment. Strive for a longitudinal experience, where you are shadowing over the course of several semesters. Shadowing can be notoriously hard to find so start early! Some schools do have a required number of hours, but this can vary. Do your research!
- Research: It is highly recommended that you participate in research during your undergraduate career. Not sure where to start? Visit UNLV’s Office of Undergraduate Research for help! Research can be in many different areas so choose something that is meaningful (you will publish, present a poster, etc.) and that you are interested in!
- Student Organizations/Clubs: Involvement in student clubs/organizations on campus. You can visit the UNLV Involvement Center for a complete list of student organizations on campus.
- Leadership positions: It is important as a future dentist to demonstrate leadership. You should aim to have 2-3 leadership roles (lasting longer than 3 months) before you apply.
One of the most frequently asked questions is “how many hours do I have to do?” There is no “magic number” of hours for you to complete (except for direct patient care hours). Keep in mind the following for your experiences:
- There should be a reason “why” you have chosen each experience; “check the box” mentality will NOT work.
- They should be meaningful both on a personal level and to your professional journey. Keep in mind, you will have to write thoughtful, eloquent descriptions about your experiences so participating “just because” won’t help your application.
- Commitment over time is important. Programs would rather see dedication over many months/years to an experience over your “experience-hopping.”
It is about the breadth and depth of the experience; think quality, not “quantity”
Please visit our PPAC Resource Board for volunteer, clinical, shadowing, etc. experiences, as well as examples of where to find these experiences in the Vegas valley. Please keep this link bookmarked, as we are always updating!
Letters of Recommendation
Please note: UNLV currently does not offer committee letters. Students will need to secure individual letters of recommendation. We will keep you updated as to the status of new committee letters.
When applying to professional school, you will need 3-5 STRONG letters of recommendation from writers with whom you have long-term relationships and who can address multiple competencies.
The most frequent question we get asked is, “who should write my letters of recommendation?” As advisors, we aren’t here to tell you who to ask; we are here to guide you through the process of securing your letters for your application. Generally speaking, the best recommendation letter writers are those professors, mentors and healthcare professionals that you have shadowed, worked with closely, can speak to your academic abilities or humanistic side, and will write you a STRONG letter. Choose someone who can speak in concrete terms about your passion for professional school and why you will excel as a healthcare professional. The key to finding these letter writers? Start forming your relationships EARLY in your pre-professional career. Far too often, students come to us at the point of application and are still unsure of who to ask to write their letters. Asking a professor, healthcare professional, community service director, etc. “just to ask” will result in a less than stellar letter for your application and this can be detrimental in the admissions process. Remember: start forming relationships EARLY!
Make it as easy as possible for your letter writers. Schedule a meeting to address your goals. Provide your recommender with your resume, personal statement and competencies or strengths that you would like addressed in the letter. Express gratitude for their time and effort.
Respect your recommender and give him or her ample time to write your letters. Your request already imposes on your recommender’s time, and a last-minute request is an even greater imposition. Not only is it rude to ask for a letter close to a deadline, but you will also end up with a rushed letter that is far less thoughtful than is ideal. Don’t assume that it is anyone’s duty to write a letter for you, and realize that these letters take a lot of time out of your recommender’s already busy schedule.
Types of Letters
It is of utmost importance that you do your research into specific letter guidelines for the schools you are applying to, especially in regards to who the letters should be from. Schools will often require a science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) and/or non-science professor, healthcare professional, or “other”, but requirements can be different from program to program. Please pay attention to the requirements!
Since many professors have hundreds of students in their classes in a given semester, it is your job to reach out to them first, build a relationship, and then ask for a letter. Letters from professors should not only address your academic capabilities but also your motivation for your chosen career. Since letters do address your academic capabilities, you should be seeking letters from professors in which you received a good grade in the class. Lastly, make sure you understand the necessary requirements regarding “science” professors. “Science” professors are often those from Biology, Chemistry, or Physics areas.
How to Get Strong Letters from Professors
Get to know your professors
Go to class and office hours
Volunteer for research or to TA
Take more than one class with the same professor
Maintain the relationship
Attend virtual office hours
Ask meaningful questions to show that you care about the course
How To Ask
- Be respectful
- Ask 2-3 months in advance
- Request the letter via in-person meeting
- Follow up with a scheduled meeting to review your goals & resume
- Provide your personal statement, resume & AAMC Guidelines & Competencies
Request your letter from a medical professional that you have developed a relationship with through multiple hours of clinical or shadowing. The letter should address your skills as a future healthcare professional.
Letters from research professors provide another validation of your aptitude for life-long learning and research and could be especially important to programs with a heavy research mission. In projects led by a graduate assistant, you may find that most of your experience is with the Graduate assistant rather than the professor. In this situation, the graduate assistant with whom you have worked most closely may write you a letter and have the lead professor cosign.
Other types of Letters
Often students will have other letter writers that know them well and can speak strongly to the strengths and attributes. This could be a volunteer supervisor, a liberal arts professor, or family physician, just to name a few. The guidelines are the same. Provide them with the information they will need to write a strong letter. Share your passion and goals.
Who Not to get Letters From
Yes, there are people you shouldn’t be asking for letters of recommendation. They include family members, “family friends”, patients, and, generally speaking, people who don’t know you well. Letters from family and family friends are considered bias and the admissions committees won’t give them any merit. Those from people who don’t know you well often result in “alive and breathing” letters, meaning they don’t tell the committee much of anything other than you are “alive and breathing”.
Also, many students make the mistake of getting letters from distant acquaintances who have powerful or influential positions. The strategy often backfires. Your family member’s employer may know the governor, but the governor doesn’t know you well enough to write a meaningful letter. This type of celebrity letter will make your application seem superficial.
Minimum of three; maximum of 5 letters can be submitted
LOR and a ratings portion for each reference
Electronic submission of letters is preferred by all professional schools application services. Follow specific instructions in your application on what information to provide to your letter writers to formally ask for the LOR.
Never physically collect a letter from a letter writer yourself!
If you need to collect letters early, utilize services such as Interfolio. Be sure to note which of these third-party services your professional school application service integrates with for uploads.
When asking for a LOR, it is a good idea to give your letter writers:
copy of your transcripts
copy of your personal statement
Give your letter writers the general courtesy of information about the letter writing process, including deadlines, how they will upload the letter, and by telling them when you have inputted their contact information so they can keep an eye on their email for instructions.
Your personal statement is the part of your application where you have an opportunity to show the admissions committee who you are beyond your GPA, test scores, and experiences. It communicates what is important to you and explains in-depth your reasons and motivations for pursuing professional school. Additionally, a personal statement can help explain any gaps in education or experiences, as well as any weaknesses in an application. Follow these tips and tricks to help get you started.
- Take some time to reflect and write some notes on your personal journey to professional school. What is your motivation for this career? What experiences have you had that have helped reinforce this motivation?
- Write down a list of qualities you want to demonstrate to the admissions committee, and select your stories and experiences to show them. Explain HOW these experiences impacted you and your journey personally.
- Use this as a time to explain any challenges you faced that may have resulted in receiving low grades, gaps in education, etc. Focus on how your over came these obstacles and make it part of your story.
- Be concise and simple. Stick to the character count, which is 5,000 characters (with spaces). Check your relevant CAS application guide for more information.
- Edit, edit, edit! Seek multiple opinions from at least 4-5 different people and NEVER turn in a personal statement with grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes.
For more information on how to write a personal statement for professional school, please attend a Personal Statement workshop. Dates and times for all workshops can be found on the PPAC website.
Attributes and Competencies
It is important for you to understand the important competencies, attributes, and characteristics that schools are looking for in their applicants. This is vital to the “holistic” admissions process. Research the competencies each school is seeking. The AAMC publishes “Anatomy of an Applicant” which gives a thorough review of competencies. Although targeted for MD students, the information can also serve as a guide to PA students.
The GRE® General Test is a broad assessment of your critical thinking, analytical writing, verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning skills. It is not required by all PA schools. Do your research to determine if those schools where you are interested in applying, require the test.
The test is conducted in two modes; computer-based or paper-based formats and is offered throughout the year. It includes questions in college-level vocabulary and verbal reasoning; basic math concepts in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry; and your writing and analytical skills. Plan 3 to 4 hours to take the exam.
The GRE General Test features question types that closely reflect the kind of thinking you'll do in graduate and professional school, including business and law.
Verbal Reasoning — Measures the ability to analyze and draw conclusions from discourse, reason from incomplete data, understand multiple levels of meaning, such as literal, figurative and author’s intent, summarize text, distinguish major from minor points, understand the meanings of words, sentences and entire texts, and understand the relationships among words and among concepts. There is an emphasis on complex verbal reasoning skills.
Quantitative Reasoning — Measures the ability to understand, interpret and analyze quantitative information, solve problems using mathematical models, and apply the basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis. There is an emphasis on quantitative reasoning skills.
Analytical Writing — Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, including the ability to articulate and support complex ideas with relevant reasons and examples, and examine claims and accompanying evidence. There is an emphasis on analytical writing skills.
More information can be found at ETS Website.
- Applications to PA school are submitted 12-15 months before you intend on enrolling (think: summer of the year prior to enrollment). However, the exact timing depends on when you will take the GRE, complete prerequisites, direct patient care hours, etc.
- It is helpful to create a timeline for yourself when applying to professional school but your timeline should be flexible. Course scheduling, extra-curricular activities, deadline changes, etc. all contribute to the need of having flexibility in your timeline. Visit our office for help in creating your timeline!
- Make sure you pay attention to specific deadlines for the schools you are applying to! For specific application deadline dates, check the CASPA website.
For a general overview.
What Programs do I Apply to?
The CASPA simplifies the process of applying to PA programs. You start by selecting the programs you wish to apply to, then you submit one application that includes all necessary materials. Once received by CASPA, your application and materials go through a verification process before being transmitted to all of your selected programs. CASPA list of Participating Schools.
Research! Visit each professional school’s respective website; they have tons of tools for prospective students!
Generally, students will want to consider the following when deciding where to apply:
- Mission statement and focus
- Programs offered
- Curriculum and teaching methods
- Support and wellness structures in place for students
- GPA/test score requirements
- Specific or unique prerequisites
- Size and demographics
- Cost to attend; scholarships
For a template to help with your research, please email the PPAC at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Primary Applications are processed through a centralized application service (CASPA) and are sent to all schools you designate on the application.
Applications open online in early April each year to allow applicants to start their applications and submission starts on, or around, April 25. As mentioned, ensure you are paying attention to deadlines for submission for each school you are applying to! Deadlines vary between October-March. Some schools require Supplemental Information to be sent concurrently with the application. Research each school to which you are applying to view their requirements.
Read all instruction manuals and directions carefully! When available before each application cycle, download the instruction manual on your computer to have access to at all times while filling out the application.
Be prepared months in advance for the cost of submitting applications for PA school. Fee assistance is available through each application processing service, but will only cover a limited number of programs.
NOTE: When prompted, please release your information back to UNLV PPAC. This helps us advise other pre-med students and gives us accurate historical data on where our students have applied, been accepted, and matriculated to. Your personal information will be kept confidential at all times.
Secondary Application/Supplemental Information
After you have submitted your application through CASPA, you will receive secondary or supplemental applications directly from the individual PA programs. They vary from school to school, but may ask you a range of essay questions about yourself. This is your opportunity to convince the committee to grant you an interview.
Getting an invitation to interview is a great sign! This means the admissions office has decided you are qualified and they want to get to know you better! This is your face-to-face opportunity to impress the admissions committee. Your job is to turn that invitation to interview into an invitation to attend. The best way to do that is to prepare.
There are several types of interview formats used by professional schools. The most common are the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI), Traditional format, and Group Interview.
Multiple Mini Interview: The MMI is an interview format where you are given a scenario/question and a predetermined amount of time to answer. These questions are typically ethical scenarios such as: “You are coming into a room with a parent who does not wish to vaccinate her child. How will you handle the appointment?”
Traditional: These are the most common, where you are interviewed by 1-3 people at a time. You will be asked questions about your application, why you chose to apply to their school and why you decided to pursue medicine.
Group Interviews: These activities include more than one applicant. They can either be to determine your ability to work with others by giving you group activities to solve a problem, or asking one question where everyone has to answer.
The most common questions asked on interviews
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why OUR school?
- Why did you want to pursue medical/PA/Dentist, etc?
- Discuss you clinical experiences.
- What will you do if you don’t get in this cycle?
- What is your biggest weakness?
- How do you deal with stress?
- If you couldn’t do medicine/dentistry/etc., what would you do?
- What is your greatest strength?
- Why should we accept you?
Application Year Timeline
- The Primary Application Service (CASPA) opens in April. Begin to fill out the primary application as soon as possible. Read instruction manuals carefully.
June - July
- Make final decisions on which schools to apply to and submit primary applications.
- Order official transcripts from ALL colleges and universities that you have attended to be sent to the appropriate Application Services or Interfolio
- Application Services verify primary applications, and notify applicants of verification or problems with verification
- PA schools begin sending secondary applications to applicants (if invited to complete a secondary application, begin and submit sooner rather than later).
- Continue working on and submitting secondary applications.
- Begin to check PA school application status websites for schools where applied.
September – April
- Prepare for and attend interviews.
- The PPAC Advising office offers mock interviews so you can practice. If you have an interview scheduled, call the office 702-895-2959 and ask to schedule a mock interview.
- Continue to complete and submit secondary applications (check deadline dates).
- Send schools application updates if acceptable.
- Continue to check school application status website for each individual school.
- Admissions committees meet and decide status: accept/reject/waitlist. Applicants notified.
- Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA , in October.
- Newly admitted applicants must notify Application Services and the school to which they plan to matriculate of their decision. Admits with multiple acceptances must choose one school and withdraw their applications from other schools.
May – August
- Applicants on waitlists are notified of an admission offer (typically, schools confirm their class by the end of June).
August – September
- Orientation and school year begins. An applicant on a waitlist can no longer be offered a position at another school once orientation begins