A Physician Assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional who practices medicine under the supervision of a licensed physician. PAs can diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medication, order and interpret diagnostic tests, perform procedures, and provide patient education and counseling. They work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices, and often collaborate with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive patient care. PAs typically complete a master's degree program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) to become licensed. A Physician Assistant who passes the exam may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).” The profession is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years due to the increasing demand for healthcare services and the shortage of physicians. Learn more
Note: It is not recommended to self-advise. There are many things to consider besides the required courses such as prerequisites and course sequencing, balancing your schedule, building in time for volunteering, shadowing, research, entrance exam preparation, and planning for the application cycle. See the Director of Pre-professional Advising for individualized long-term planning.
Students who are planning to apply to PA programs will need the following:
- Bachelor’s degree with a competitive cumulative and science GPA
- Required prerequisite coursework
- Research experience (recommended)
- Clinical experience and service
- Communication and leadership skills
- Letters of Recommendation
- Personal Statement
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
- PA College Admissions Test (PA-CAT)
- Understand the application timeline
- Illinois PA programs
- Pre-PA resources
A baccalaureate degree is required in any field as long as the prerequisites are met. Biology and Biochemistry majors can meet all prerequisites within their programs. Other majors will still need to take the prerequisite courses in addition to their major and degree requirements.
To be a competitive applicant students must have a strong grade point average (GPA). Professional programs will look at several GPAs:
- Cumulative GPA: all courses and from all schools attended including repeats, remedial courses, and possibly graduate-level courses
- Science GPA: includes biology, chemistry physics, and often math (or BCP/BCPM)
- Prerequisite GPA: calculated only on the prerequisites necessary for that particular professional school program.
- All other GPA: calculated on all courses except your science courses
Professional schools do not honor “grade forgiveness” or “grade replacement” for repeated courses. All grades count and repeats are averaged together. There is also no expiration date on courses taken many years ago.
The following list indicates the most common classes required or highly recommended by most PA schools. Applicants should always check directly with each program they are applying to and see the Preprofessional Advisor for more information.
Writing I & II
ENG 101 & 102
Biology I & II
BIOL 201 & 202
Anatomy & Physiology I & II
BIO 318 & 319
General Chemistry I & I
CHEM 211 & 212
Organic Chemistry I
PSY 100 or 200
Additional courses to consider
Cell Biology, Genetics, and other advanced Biology. Medical Terminology is often required (not available at NEIU).
- AP and IB credits are generally not accepted toward prerequisites
- Community college credits can be viewed differently by each program. Check before applying.
- Some programs do not accept international courses to meet prerequisites. Check before applying.
- Online lab courses are not accepted toward prerequisites. Some programs will not allow any online coursework. There may be some exceptions for courses taken at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check before applying.
- Too many withdrawals (W's) on your transcripts can reflect negatively on your application.
- Some programs have expiration dates on their prerequisites. Make sure you have taken them within the program's time requirements.
Undergraduate research is not required for admission however, PA programs value the experience and it can make an applicant stand out. Subjects can include basic science, biomedical, and clinical research, as well as social science and health systems research. You can reach out to the Student Center for Science Engagement for help finding research opportunities.
Successful applicants typically have at least 1,000 hours of documented hands-on, direct patient contact experience in healthcare and PA shadowing experience. Having 2,500 hours or more is considered competitive. Examples: EMT, Paramedic, Registered Nurse, Medical Assistant, CNA, ER Tech, and Physical Therapy Aide.
Professional schools like to see as much hands-on, direct patient care as possible. Competitive applicants complete 100+ hours of PA shadowing. Shadowing opportunities are notoriously hard to find, so start looking as soon as possible. The most common way to find shadowing opportunities is through networking: ask family, friends, and colleagues if they know a PA that would allow you to shadow them. Another option is to engage in clinical experiences first. If you are volunteering in a hospital or clinic, working as a CNA or EMT, etc., ask the professionals you work with. The more they know about your aspirations as a future health professional, the more likely they are to take you on for shadowing or refer you to a colleague who will.
You are preparing for a "helping" profession and it is assumed that you care about those you are planning to serve. Therefore, it is important to have volunteer experiences demonstrating a commitment to service. This should be ongoing throughout your college years. Medical professions often play a big role in the community. Getting involved in your community is a great way to experience this. You can volunteer at a church or other religious facility, community centers, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, etc.
Get involved on campus through student government, honors programs, or student organizations that are related to your major or future profession such as the Future Health Professionals Club. Get involved by participating in their events. They often conduct enrichment programming and even community service. Try to become an officer in an organization to gain leadership experience. You must take this role seriously though and live up to the commitment you make. You can search all of NEIU's Student Organizations to find others that are a good fit for you.
As a health professional, you will be a leader and team member with your patients, staff, colleagues, and in your community. Other ways to gain leadership experience include offices held in organizations, committee work, leadership in religious activities, coordinating a project; managing, training, and supervising at work, teaching or training experience of any kind, tutoring, as well as peer counseling or mentoring.
You will need at least two to three strong letters of recommendation ideally from science faculty and/or relevant professionals preferably from clinicians who have supervised you in clinical settings. You will need to give them at least two months’ notice so be sure to research the letter of recommendation requirements for each program you're planning to apply.
Get to know people from these ideal categories so you will feel comfortable asking them to write excellent letters for you.
- Patient experience supervisor
- Science professor
- Physician Assistant you shadowed
Learn more on how to request letters of recommendation. Please note that NEIU does not offer a committee or composite letter.
You will have to write a personal statement/essay as part of your application. It should be about two pages double-spaced and discuss how your life has led you to your desired career. While most personal statements are general in nature and can be used for multiple applications, some programs want applicants to follow specific guidelines and answer prompts that they will provide. Check with the schools you’re applying to and make sure you’re following directions. Look up examples of personal statements and have several people read yours before submitting it. If you would like to talk about why you’re interested in a particular program you can write several statements and customize them as needed.
This is also your 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.
Learn more about how to write Personal Statements.
While many PA programs no longer require the GRE, some still do. Be sure to check with each program you're planning to apply to. The GRE is administered throughout the year. It may be repeated, but the best strategy is to prepare thoroughly and take it once. Taking the exam by the spring of the year before you wish to enter PA school will enable you to apply earlier. More information on the GRE.
- Two (2) multiple choice sections which are scored on a scale of 130-170
- Verbal Reasoning
- Quantitative Reasoning
- One (1) Analytical Writing essay that is scored on a 6-point scale.
GRE Preparation Resources
The Physician Assistant College Admission Test (PA-CAT) is in the experimental phase right now and there are a few programs that are testing it. it is currently not something for applicants to be concerned about but it doesn't hurt to be aware of it. The PA-CAT is a specialized test that is designed to measure applicant knowledge and application in key prerequisite science subjects typically required for PA schools: anatomy, physiology, general biology, general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, behavioral sciences, genetics, and statistics
The Altus Suite, which includes CASPer Snapshot, and Duet, is a multi-part assessment that evaluates applicants for people skills in a fair and reliable way while giving applicants multiple opportunities to showcase their unique personal and professional strengths. It's an online, open-response situational judgment test (SJT) required by some PA schools. It asks what you would do in a tough situation, and more importantly, why. This helps determine the behavioral tendencies of applicants pursuing people-centered professions. Not required by all PA schools and some may only require CASPer and not the other evaluations in the suite.
CASPer assesses for 10 characteristics: Collaboration, Communication, Empathy, Equity, Ethics, Motivation, Problem-Solving, Professionalism, Resilience, and Self Awareness. It is a 60-90 minute virtually proctored assessment, made up of 12 sections. Each section contains a video-based or word-based scenario and three open-ended questions. Test takers have five minutes to type their responses to all three questions. CASPer website.
Most Physician Assistant programs admit students once a year, most commonly for summer or fall matriculation, but start dates range from May-January of the following year. The application cycle for PA schools begins about 12-15 months before you intend on enrolling, in the spring of the year prior to enrollment. However, the exact timing depends on when you will take the GRE (if needed), complete prerequisites, etc. Meet with your paraprofessional advisor to develop a long-term plan for applying. Keep in mind that course scheduling, extra-curricular activities, exam preparation, and even your personal and family life can all contribute to the need of having flexibility in your timeline.
The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) opens in mid-April through early March of the following year. Program deadlines range from July-March. You should have selected which PA schools to apply to, have contacted those who will write letters of recommendation for you, ordered official transcripts from all colleges attended, and completed your personal statement by this time. Application services verify primary applications and notify applicants of verification or problems.
- Chamberlain University (NEW)
- Dominican University
- Midwestern University
- North Central College
- Northwestern University
- Rosalind Franklin University
- Rush University
- Southern Illinois University
- Touro College Illinois (NEW)
- Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)
- CASPA Fee Assistance Program
- American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)
- Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA)
- Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) Directory
- Physician Assistant vs Nurse Practitioner vs Medical Doctor
- Occupational Outlook Handbook - Physician Assistant