Pre-Physician Assistant (PA) is not a degree-granting major, but rather a track for students who plan to attend PA school after their undergraduate studies.  Pre-PA students take a prescribed sequence of courses that prepare them for PA school, which is usually a 2-3 year professional program.  Pre-PA students can major in any field they choose as long as they have completed the prerequisite courses and have taken the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), but a major in the life sciences is recommended.  Pre-PA students work with a pre-PA advisor who helps with course sequencing and academic preparation for PA school.

Pre-PA accordion

PA programs do not all require the same courses.  Be sure to research the schools to which you plan to apply and learn what their required courses are.

Below are the required courses for the UI PA program:

  • Biological Sciences:  complete introductory one-year course, with labs, plus additional three coursework in upper-level courses in biology or zoology
  • Chemistry: a complete introductory one-year course, with labs, plus additional one semester of organic chemistry
  • Biochemistry: an introductory biochemistry course
  • Physiology: a human physiology course
  • Statistics: a general statistics or biostatistics course

 Recommended courses:

  • Second semester of organic chemistry
  • Cell biology
  • Genetics
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular biology

An essential part of the application process to PA school is gaining experience in the medical profession.  Students accomplish this by shadowing, volunteering, and/or working in a hospital or other healthcare facility.  During the application process, students will be expected to show that they have a good understanding of what the PA profession is like.  Gaining experience is also a great way for students to decide if the profession is right for them. Unlike physicians, PA can choose specialization areas after completing the degree. 

Most PA programs participate in the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA).  This service allows applicants to apply to several PA programs with just one application. CASPA opens in April, and each program has a deadline. Students can apply in summer after their junior year if they have accumulated enough health care experiences by then, but it is not uncommon to apply after working one or two years in a health care setting.

Most PA programs require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), and some also accept MCAT.

The followings are the application process for the UI PA program (taken from the UI PA program website):

All application materials including GRE/MCAT scores, 3 recommendations (1 must be from an academic reference and 1 must be from a health care experience supervisor), and college transcripts must be received by CASPA by the November 1st deadline. Under present Carver College of Medicine regulations, applications will only be accepted from U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Prerequisite requirements for the UI PA program are listed below.

  1. Baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited institution in the United States.
  2. Completion of all required courses.
  3. A minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 on all course work completed at the college or university level.  In addition, UI applicants must have achieved a cumulative science GPA of at least a 3.20 on a 4.00 scale OR at least a 3.20 on a 4.00 scale on the most recently completed 40 credit hours of science course work.
  4. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test or MCAT (if taken, strongly encouraged to submit) taken within the last 10 years. All applicants taking the GRE must be at the 25th percentile or higher in the Verbal, Quantitative and Analytical sections. Students submitting the MCAT will be reviewed on an individual basis. 
  5. A minimum of 1,000 hours of direct patient health care experience by December 31st prior to the year of matriculation.
  6. In addition, all applicants must be able to meet the program's technical standards.
  7. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required of all applicants for whom English is not their native language. The TOEFL requirement may be waived for applicants with Masters or Doctoral degrees from an accredited US institution. A total score of 93 and a speaking score of 26 will be a prerequisite for entry into the program.

  1. The admissions profile of students admitted to the UI’s graduate Physician Assistant program in 2021:
    • 25 students matriculated
    • Mean Cumulative GPA: 3.81
    • Mean Science GPA: 3.77
    • Mean GRE scores: Verbal: 158, Quantitative: 158, Written: 4.5
    • Healthcare Experience: 2,975 hours
    • Research Exp. 705 hours
  2. The UI PA program takes a holistic approach when evaluating candidates. The competitive candidate will have:
    • Over 1000 hours of direct patient care
    • Medical shadowing, ideally with multiple PAs in multiple settings
    • Demonstrated success in academics, particularly in science
    • Multiple semesters of rigorous coursework with multiple science courses
    • Strong letters of reference from a practicing physician assistant, science professors, and health care experience supervisors
    • Commitment to serving others
    • Leadership experience
  3. Some questions to ask yourself when considering PA school:
    • Am I committed to serving others?
    • Do I have a strong interest in science?
    • Do I enjoy working with others and problem-solving?
    • Have I shadowed a health professional?  Am I interested in the work PAs do?
    • Am I committed to the time, money and effort involved in PA education?
    • Do I have empathy?  Can I see myself working with people who may be in pain or afraid?
    • Do I have a parallel plan outside of PA education?
  4. How to get started:
    1. Meet with your Pre-PA academic advisor
    2. Attend the UI’s Pre-PA Student Club meetings
    3. Start job-shadowing and volunteering in healthcare settings