Physician Assistant

Overview of Profession


Additional Requirements

Application Process Timeline

Admission Exam- GRE

Overview of PA school

Important Websites


The table at the bottom shows the courses that are most commonly completed by UC Santa Cruz Students to fulfill PA program prerequisite.  The Career Center recommends that students complete the courses sequenced listed in this table.

NOTE: The PA program prerequisite can differ slightly from school to school.  It is important to look at the coursework required for each school you wish to apply to.

Course Subject # Quarters UCSC course sequences most students use to fulfill requirements
General Chemistry Nearly all schools require at least 1 quarter of general (inorganic) chemistry, with laboratory Chem 1A, Chem 1B/M and Chem 1C/N
Organic Chemistry Some schools require 1-2 quarters of organic chemistry, with a laboratory 

Chem 8A/L, Chem 8B/M

Mathematics A lot of schools require 1 quarter of College-level Algebra

Math 2

Statistics Some schools require 1 quarter of statistics

AMS 5 or AMS 7/L

Physics Some schools require 1 quarter of physics, with a laboratory

Phys 6A/L


Phys 5A/L

Human Anatomy Nearly all schools require 1 quarter of human anatomy, with laboratory 

METX 135/L

Human Physiology Nearly all schools require 1 quarter of human physiology, with laboratory BIOL 130/L
Microbiology Nearly all schools require 1 quarter of microbiology, with laboratory METX 119/L
English Composition Nearly all schools require 2 or 3 quarters of English Composition

Courses that satisfy the Core Courses (C1) and Composition (C2) requirements at UCSC will fulfill two quarters of the schools English coursework requirements for most schools.  An additional course in Writing or Literature will usually satisfy the remaining quarter.*

*Save your course syllabi in case any schools express concern that you did not complete their English requirement.


A lot of schools require 1 quarter of introductory or general psychology.

Some schools require developmental or abnormal psychology.

Psych 1

Psych 10, Psych 170

Social Science A lot of schools require an introductory course in sociology, cultural anthropology, or both Anthro 2 and/or Socy 1

Few schools require one quarter of a speech course

Not usually offered at UCSC
Other Requirments

Some schools also require embryology

Some schools also require spanish

Not offered at UCSC

Span 1, 2, 3, 4, 5M, etc.

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Additional Requirements:

  1. Most PA schools require applicants to have a minimum of 1,000 to 3,000 hours of direct (hands-on) patient care experience. 
  2. Examples of preferred clinical experiences:
    • Military medic or corpsman 
    • Paramedic/EMT (waiting time not included in hours) 
    • Nurse (LVN or RN) 
    • Radiology technologist 
    • Physical therapist 
    • Respiratory therapist 
    • Occupational therapist 
    • Medical technologist 
    • Medical assistant (certified; back office hours only) 
    • Certified nurse’s aide
    • Home health aide
    • Athletic trainer 
    • Other professions not listed above (e.g. phlebotomy, scribe, etc.) will be considered on a case-by-case basis and are dependent upon the quality of patient interaction. 
  3. Examples of clinical experiences not preferred:
    • Administrative duties 
    • Massage therapy 
    • Personal trainer  
    • Pharmacy technician 
    • Shadowing a physician or PA 
    • Research with no patient contact 
    • Hours received during training programs (e.g. medical school, internship)

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Application Process Timeline:

  1. CASPA
    • CASPA is the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants, a Web-based application service. 
    • If you are applying to a school that does not use the CASPA application service, it is important that you become familiar with the application process and deadlines for that school.
  2. Prior to applying:
    • Consider these factors when deciding upon where to apply: 
      • Location
      • Cost
      • Size
      • Licensure exam passage rates
      • Faculty interests and reputation
      • Job placement history of program graduates. 
      • Talk with recent PA graduates, as well as ask PA employers about various programs’ strengths and weaknesses.  
    • Research each program you wish to apply to before submitting your application. 
      • Admission requirements 
      • Pre-requisite coursework 
      • Deadlines 
      • Amount and preferences for letters of recommendations 
    • Contact your schools to determine what types of references they require and their contact information
    • Compose your personal statement. 
  3. Early May
    • CASPA application is available 
  4. June 1st 
    • CASPA application cycle opens
  5. November 1st
    • CASPA application cycle ends
  6. January to February 
    • Conduct interviews 
  7. February to April
    • Applicants learn if they were admitted 
  8. June to September
    • Newly admitted students start PA school 

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Admission Exam:

  1. Overview of Graduate Record Exam (GRE):
    • Only some U.S. PA schools require applicants to submit GRE exam scores. 
      • To see if the schools you’re applying to require the GRE, check their websites in the admission requirements section, or contact their admissions department, to learn if they require the GRE. 
      • Some schools allow applicants to substitute the MCAT for the GRE. 
    • Approximately a 4 hour standardized multiple-choice computerized-based exam. 
    • Scores are usually available 10 to 15 days after completion of the exam. 
    • No GRE scores older than five years will be accepted. 
    • Sections:
      • Verbal Reasoning - Measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts. 
      • Quantitative Reasoning - Measures problem-solving ability, focusing on basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis. 
      • Analytical Writing - Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively. 
    • Score:
      • The Verbal and Quantitative reasoning sections are out of 800 points, for a maximum score of 1600. 
      • The Analytical writing section is out of 6.0 
      • The maximum score is a 1600 with a 6.0 AWA. 
  2. When should students take the GRE?:
    • You should take the GRE well in advance of applying to PA school but definitely at least one year prior to your intended start date. 
    • If students want to go straight into PA school, they will need to take the GRE the summer of their junior year.
    • Students should take the GRE when they can do their best.
      • If they can be preparing for the GRE and be taking courses, and do well in both, then they should do that.
      • If the student will compromise their grades and/or score by doing both at the same time, the student should prepare for the GRE during the summer or after they have graduated. 
  3. Dates for exam:
    • Offered daily 

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Overview of PA School:

  1. Overview:
    • Physician assistant educational programs usually take at least 2 years to complete for full-time students. 
    • Most programs are at schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, or 4-year colleges; a few are at community colleges, are part of the military, or are at hospitals. 
    • There are 142 PA Schools in the United States, and 9 in California.
  2. During PA school:
    • PA education includes classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects like biochemistry, pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical pharmacology, clinical medicine, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics.
    • PA programs also include supervised clinical training in several areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, prenatal care and gynecology, geriatrics, emergency medicine, and pediatrics. 
    • Sometimes, PA students serve in one or more of these areas under the supervision of a physician who is seeking to hire a PA. The rotation may lead to permanent employment in one of the areas where the student works.
  3. Licensure and Certification:
    • All jurisdictions require physician assistants to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination. 
    • Only those who have successfully completed the examination may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified.” To remain certified, PA’s must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every 2 years.
    • Every 6 years, they must pass a recertification examination or complete an alternative program combining learning experiences and a take-home examination.
  4. Specialty:
    • Some PAs pursue additional education in a specialty. PA postgraduate educational programs are available in areas such as internal medicine, rural primary care, emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics, neonatology, and occupational medicine. 
    • Candidates must be graduates of an accredited program and be certified by the NCCPA.

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Important Websites:

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