CASPA and Applying to PA School
Huge thanks to Lorenzo Santos (pre-PA student) for his help in updating this blog post!
In 2011, the average age of first-time applicants in CASPA programs was 26.1. The average undergraduate GPA was 3.49 and the average undergraduate science GPA was 3.43. The average non-science GPA was 3.56. The majority of applicants reported health care experience in the following categories: other work experience (mean = 4,264), patient contact experience (mean = 3,350), and other health care experience (mean = 1,830). More applicants reported health care experience from research (mean = 1,140) than health care shadowing (mean = 141) or community service (mean = 710).
Update to CASPA 3.0 Platform: Before beginning the 2015 application cycle, CASPA updated their interface in order to better streamline the application process. The application is now broken up into 4 main sections: Personal Information, Academic History, Supporting Information, and Program Materials. Funny story but last year, when I was applying to PA school, CASPA actually crashed because of so many applicants trying to access the website. To ironically add icing on the cake, it was also my birthday that same day (happy birthday to me). This proves that the PA profession is rapidly growing and becoming more competitive year after year. Therefore it best to prepare early in advance before the big day.
Here is what the new interface looks like:
What was great about the new interface was the progress bars that notified your percentage of completion. CASPA will not allow you to submit your application without completing every required section. In addition, it also kept you up-to-date with your selected school deadlines since not all programs have the same deadlines. Something I also stress is to have your email notifications turned on so that CASPA can send you confirmation emails notifying when rec letter writers updated their evaluation of you, when HQ receives academic transcript(s), and when your entire application was verified. Though it was a convenient feature, it is still imperative to be on top your application from start to finish. Leave no “stone” unturned.
1) Personal Information:
- Biographical Information
- Contact Information
- Make sure that your contact information is up to date since this is how CASPA and your selected programs will contact you.
- Citizenship Information
- Ethnicity and Race
- Family Information
2) Academic History
- High School(s) Attended
- College(s) Attended (input ALL institutions you received college credit from)
- Every school must send in a transcript with a Transcript Request Form for every school!
- Transcript Entry
- Dual credit classes taken in high school, study abroad classes, etc.
- Request unofficial transcripts from the schools you attended to help you fill out this section.
- List every class you took, EXACTLY as it appears on your transcripts.
- +/- grades apply
- Section for planned coursework as well
- This is where you place any remaining pre-reqs.
- If you have pending prerequisite courses while applying to CASPA, remember to include this in a “In Progress”. This lets CASPA and your programs know that you will be updating these grades as soon as they are available.
- Make sure that the programs you potentially apply to allow pending hours therefore it won’t affect you when it comes to getting interviews.
- Note: In this picture, the one course I was pending was my microbiology lab (BIO 226L). Once I received a grade I uploaded this both on my CASPA application as well as notified the programs I was applying to.
- Standardized Tests
- Input your GRE scores, TOEFL, and MCAT
- Note: You will need to send an OFFICIAL transcript report to every school.
- You are allowed to send your scores to 4 institution for free at your testing site. Any additional school requires a $20 fee.
- Scores can be accessed on the ETS website
3) Supporting Information
- Minimum of 3 needed and maximum of 5 allowed. Make sure they spell the PA title correctly and tie in your experience with them to the qualities of what makes a good PA.
- You will input their contact information (name and email) and CASPA will send them a link to create and account and have access their applicant evaluation page.
- CASPA will notify you when they have submitted their evaluation.
- ANY and EVERY documented hours of service are placed here.
- Categories (5):
- Patient care
- Experience where you are DIRECTLY responsible for a patient’s health progress.
- Ex. Working on a patient as an active EMT, PCT, NA, MA, pharm tech, scribe, medical missions, etc.
- Experience where you are working in a healthcare setting but not directly involved in a patient’s health (communication, touching, etc.)
- Ex. Filling prescriptions, performing clerical work, delivering patient food, cleaning patient rooms, etc.
- Experience of observing a healthcare professional.
- Ex. Doctor, PA, NP, nurse, pharmacist, PT, OT, etc.
- Paid experience that does not pertain to any health-related field(s).
- Ex. Mentoring, tutoring, work-study, etc.
- Experience of community service outside the health field.
- Research work performed OUTSIDE of receiving credit necessary for degree completion.
- Note: CASPA will require a position, employer name, supervisor name, contact phone number, start-end date, frequency hours, and description of duties performed (600 characters).
- Duties can be in paragraph or bullet form. DO NOT repeat categories. You may split up hours if your duties requires tasks that fall in more than 1 category.
- Any awards, honors or titles that recognize/acknowledges an achievement earned.
- Ex. University Honors, recognition awards, officer titles, committee/event leader, TAPA/AAPA membership, etc.
- Credible certification with documented proof of passing an examination.
- Ex. MA, EMT, CNA, pharm tech, CPR, First-Aid, phlebotomy, BCLS, etc.
- Note: Do NOT give yourself a title if you did not receive certification for it/ have an expired membership.
- “Essay” (AKA Personal Statement)
- Prompt: “Please explain why you are interested in becoming a physician assistant”
- 5000 character limit
- Please note that once you enter your personal statement, you CANNOT go back and edit it. Make sure that all editions are made on a separate document before transferring.
4) Program Materials
- This section is intended to inform all applicants on PA program information such as a school’s mission statement, required prerequisite courses, contact information, etc.
- Some programs may even include their supplemental application or even allow you to “claim” your prerequisite courses.
Keeping Track of Your Application
There is a “Monitor your progress” tab located at the top of the CASPA homepage. This is where you can keep track of your application once you submit your primary application.
- “Received” means that CASPA has received and processed your application
- “Materials Received” means that CASPA has received your outside requirements such as academic transcripts (with the transcript request forms), your rec letter evaluations, and your application fee.
- “Verified” means that CASPA has confirmed that your application is completed and will then be sent to your selected programs.
- Note: Applicants take roughly 1-3 weeks before becoming verified given the large pool of applicants submitted their applicants at the same time. Therefore it is IMPORTANT to submit yours early and get evaluated early.
Updating Your Application
- After submitting your primary application, CASPA allows you to update your application for any new grades, experiences, evaluations, achievements, and certifications. However you can only add in NEW information and cannot edit previously entered ones.
- You must first access your the section you wish to update and there will be a section that says “Add new (blank)”, once you update this, you need to go back to the CASPA homepage and click the blue button on top of the screen that says “Update my application”. This will then send in any newly added information to the school you are applying to.
When to begin CASPA:
CASPA traditionally opens around mid-April. It is best to get a head start on your application and prepare documents containing your health care hours, volunteer hours, work experience, and shadowing hours before applying. You’ll also want to secure your letters of recommendation and at least have a draft of your narrative done.
Below you’ll find all of the information you’ll see on the CASPA including a detailed description of each part. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try to answer the question as best I can. For the most part, if you get stuck, you’ll need to contact your individual programs you are applying to for answers. As a last resort, try CASPA.
- Applicant Information
- Contact Information
- Personal Data
- Highest Degree Earned To Date
- Check if you have any professional certifications, e.g. BCLS for healthcare providers, EMT
- Check if you have any professional registrations, e.g. TAPA Member, AAPA member, PAFT member
- Additional Information
- Additional Information
- Have you ever matriculated in or attended any PA education program? If you answered Yes, please provide an explanation. Have you ever been disciplined for academic performance or conduct violations (e.g. academic probation, dismissal, suspension, disqualification, etc.) by any college or school? If you answered Yes, please provide a brief explanation.
- Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor? Most PA program require background checks as a condition of acceptance pending satisfactory results. Failure to disclose prior convictions may have serious consequences.
- Have you ever had any certification, registration, license or clinical privileges revoked, suspended or in any way restricted by any institution, state or locality?
- Have you ever had any US military experience?
- Authorization: Check box to authorize CASPA to release information (including admissions status) to pre-professional health advisors to assist those advisors in counseling future applicants.
- How did you first hear about the PA profession/PA education?
- What was the most influential factor in bringing you to the PA profession/PA education?
- Health Related Training
- In this section you list any CURRENT professional certifications ONLY.
- Type, e.g. Basic Cardiac Life Support for Health Care Providers, EMT-Basic
- Organization issuing certification, e.g. American Heart Association
- Attendance From and To Dates, e.g. The time span which it took you to earn the certification. The dates can be the same for one day CPR courses or if you just took an exam. Not referring to dates which the certification is valid itself.
- Certificate, e.g. If you received a certificate at end of course training/exam.
- Narrative- see my posting about narratives, here, for details.
- Work and Volunteer Experience - If you feel lost here, visit my blog posting about HCE and it might clear some things up a bit.
- Patient Care Experience
- Experiences where you are directly responsible for a patient’s care
- Ex. Prescribing medication, performing procedures, directing a course of treatment, working on patients as an active EMT, etc.
- Ex. Phlebotomist, PCT, MA, nurse, tech, etc.
- “Duties Section” - This is where you’ll have to talk about what you did. You can do this ahead of time. Keep your job descriptions and use them to type out a list or use bullet points. Both are acceptable.
- Other Healthcare Experience
- Any healthcare experience where you are not directly responsible for a patient’s care
- Ex. Filling prescriptions, performing clerical work, delivering food, cleaning patient rooms, working as a “candy-striper” or hospital volunteer, etc.
- Ex. Pharmacy tech, clerk, volunteer
- Healthcare Shadowing
- Time spent officially following and observing a health professional at work
- Make sure you keep names and contact numbers for people you work for and the number of hours you’ve shadowed
- Research projects done IN ADDITION to classroom work; should NOT appear as credit on a school transcript
- Make sure to keep supervising PI’s names and phone numbers and keep a log of the number of hours you worked for them
- Community Service
- Medical or non-medical, but done outside of the healthcare field
- Ex. Science fair judge, AIDS Walk, diabetes awareness, blood drive, tutoring, etc.
- Extracurriculars, e.g. Run Club
- Other Work Experience
- Non-medical work experience (paid)
- Ex. retail or restaurant jobs, summer camp counselor, however you might want to sort out what work you show on your CASPA. For instance, if you have 15-20 years of experience to show, you might only want to show more recent work, or work that might have more meaning. Admission committees will pass quickly over your CASPA and you don’t want them to breeze over your work experience because you have so much listed. Quantity doesn’t necessitate quality.
- Awards, Honors & Leadership - college or post-college ONLY
- Research Publications
- Research Presentations/Conferences
- Leadership Positions
- Awards (including need based)
- Academic History
- Tests - Here you can self report your standardized test scores because some schools require that you self-report. Failure to self-report can lead to automatic rejection at some schools. You should read the directions about what to do about sending scores to CASPA here. CASPA must verify each score you report. In addition, you’ll have to send scores to the schools that require your scores.
- Most recent GRE Scores
- Most recent MCAT Scores
- Most recent TOEFL Scores
- Institutions Attended
- Institutions Attended - This is where you’ll list each school you have any history of college coursework at; even if that school work was done in high school. You’ll need to keep track of dates (e.g. May 2007 - August 2010) of when you attended each. This area is where you’ll print what’s called a “Transcript Request Form.” These will be sent in later on with your transcripts to CASPA so that CASPA can enter your grades a lot easier.
- College Degrees
- Degrees Awarded vs. No Degree Planned - You still have to list a school here, even if no degree was planned
- This is where you’ll have to add “new terms” for each semester you took courses. In the end, your “CASPA transcript” should match all of your hard copy transcripts down to the name. Any courses that haven’t occurred yet when you plan to submit can still go into CASPA, but they’ll be considered “Planned/In Progress.” You can find more instructions on what to classify each course as subject wise here. You can use an unofficial transcript to fill in coursework, but be advised that if any discrepancies are found between your unofficial and your official transcript, it could delay verification of your CASPA later on.
- Reference Forms
- This is where you add who you want to fill out your maximum of 3 letters of reference. You’ll need their title (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr.), name, occupation, and you’ll be asked to waive your right to view the letter. It is to my understanding that if you choose not to waive your right (meaning you want to see the letter before it has been submitted), then your chances of being accepted are decreased. PA schools want to know that whatever your reference wrote in your letter had no influence from you.
- First - don’t make the mistake of just listing who you want to be your references without asking FIRST! What happens when you list them is that an email gets automatically sent after you list them. Make sure you ask them first in person and then place them on the CASPA reference list. To delete a reference, go to the Reference Forums on the main page and there will be a red “X” next to their name where you can delete them.
- My Programs
- This is where you’ll choose what programs to apply to. It will show the program name, the state, their CASPA deadline, it will ask you whether you have previously applied, and it will tell you if you need to complete a supplemental application for each.
- The fee schedule starts at $175 for one program and goes up $45 per program after that. Make sure you choose only the programs you would be happiest at. It can get expensive quick!
CASPA automatically performs the following steps when calculating GPAs. This process is NOT done manually. To have GPA calculation done on your application, you must have submitted all updated transcripts to CASPA, you must have e-submitted your application, paid your fees, and at least 2 of 3 letters of reference must have been received. CASPA breaks down GPAs into undergraduate, post baccalaureate, graduate, and cumulative GPAs. Be advised that professional coursework, i.e. graduate coursework is not calculated into overall GPA calculations - read it here. In case you were wondering, +/- totally does count. Only A/A+ are the same - 4.0. Quarter hours count as 0.667 of a semester hour.
- Multiply the grade value of the course by semester hours for that course. The product of this multiplication will be the "Quality Points." Ex: If you receive a grade of 4.0 (A) in a 3 credit course, the calculation is 4X3=12 "Quality Points"
- Divide the cumulative "Quality Points" by the cumulative attempted hours. Ex: If you have have the following grades in a semester: 4.0, 3.0, 2.0, 4.0 and 3.0 for 5 courses that are all 3 credit hour courses, the "quality points" received will be 16X3=48, and the GPA calculation will be 48 (quality points) /15 (attempted hours) =3.2
You can also read this on CASPA’s FAQ, here. This site will also answer your questions like - what classes/subjects are included in my science GPA? There are a few GPA calculators out there, like this one at Berkeley.
Another student (GeneValgene), on physicianassistantforum.com posted a helpful excel file and instructions to calculate your GPA based on what you have entered into CASPA.
Here's how to use the spreadsheet:
- Login to CASPA
- In your coursework on CASPA, copy out your classes, and paste them into Columns B-H of the 'Courses' sheet in the excel workbook. You will need to copy and paste semester by semester.
- Correctly fill in Column A of the 'Courses' sheet with the appropriate grade level (e.g. Fresh, Soph, Junior, etc.).
- Correctly fill in Column J of the 'Courses' sheet with either Semester or Quarter
- Press the Calculate GPA button.
Some important notes:
- Make sure you are using either Internet Explorer 8 or higher, Opera, or Google Chrome as a web browser (FireFox does not work). If you do not want to cut and paste, you can always fill in the information manually.
- Make sure macros are enabled when it prompts you for permission. The spreadsheet will not work if your security settings are too high, or if you do not enable macros.
- If you use a Mac, you might need to unprotect the sheet with a password if it asks for one: AAAAAAAABBBt
- GPA calculations are not automatic. You must press the update or calculate button each time you enter any new information.
E-submission and CASPA mailings:
Your application is considered “complete” when CASPA has received all current transcripts for courses not “in progress,” your payment, and at least 2 of the 3 letters of reference. Once complete, your application may be sent into the verification queue. See below. E-submission is when you submit all of this information to CASPA.
Anything e-submitted in June and before by my own definition is considered “early.” CASPA mailings occur in late June. This means they send out submitted applications one by one to school. Be advised that although CASPA does not mail the applications until late June, schools are still allowed to download electronic copies at their own will. It won’t make much of a difference if you turn everything in right at the end of April versus mid-May. However, the later you wait into the summer months, the less your chances become of obtaining earlier interviews and the more competitive it becomes for spots. All schools will advise you to submit your applications as early as possible. Keep in mind that some schools will have to receive and process your application before sending you a login/password to complete their supplemental application, further delaying the process.
By CASPA’s definition, verification of applications can take 4-6 weeks, even with CASPA verifying on the weekends. Don’t worry though, they’ll keep you updated by posting where they are in applications. They say something like, “currently verifying applications submitted XX-XX-2014.”
For this reason, it is important to submit your application at least a month in advance prior to your school’s deadline dates. CASPA does not call your workplaces to verify employment or health care experience. It is up to your individual programs to do this at their own will, and some programs will. These types of things are done on an honor system. Imagine if you lied and put a false number of hours for HCE or work to make yourself more competitive and then you were questioned during you interview why you did such a thing. Could you imagine the guilt? CASPA will verify your transcripts with what you input manually into the website. They’ll calculate your GPAs based on this data.
In addition, you also will want to make sure all of your schools received all of your materials (transcripts, supplemental applications, resume, photos, etc.). Never assume they have received them unless you receive receipt of confirmation.
CASPA offers fee waivers for folks who have financial hardship and are worth $175 each. They cover the initial application fee and allow you to apply to one school only. If you wish to apply to more schools you must pay the $45 per school. You must apply with appropriate documentation, including your Federal Income Tax Return Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ, unless you are claimed by your parents/guardians, then you’ll submit theirs instead. You have 10 business days from time you are notified of approval to use your waiver. More information can be found here.
Schools are picky about what courses they accept and from what schools they will accept them from. If you graduate from an online school and have transcripts with pass/fail grades, you might have trouble with PA programs and CASPA, especially if the courses are for prerequisites. PA programs will not accept pass/fail grades for coursework in prerequisites.
My GPA is less than 3.0 (total or science). What can I do?
To improve your GPA, you can retake classes for which you received a low grade. Note that CASPA will calculate your GPA based on the original grade and the new grade.
I have completed post‐professional (doctoral) coursework. Are these courses included in my GPA?
No, CASPA does not include post‐graduate coursework in its calculations. See the above for information regarding GPA calculations for undergraduate and graduate coursework.
If my GPA from graduate‐level coursework is above a 3.0 but my undergraduate GPA is less than 3.0 (total or science), can you use my graduate GPA instead of my undergraduate GPA for admissions decisions?
An applicants’ cumulative college performance is considered in the GPA calculations by CASPA.
Is there a time limit on prerequisite courses?
It is strongly recommended that all prerequisite science courses have been taken within the last 10 years, especially for those applicants who have only been in clinical practice for a short time. For non‐science prerequisite courses, there is no time limit.
Do PA programs accept community college courses for prerequisites?
Most of the time, yes, if the college is regionally accredited.
Science prerequisites must be at the level of science majors and include a hands‐on laboratory.
Contact individual programs for specific coursework.
Do PA programs accept online courses for prerequisites?
Most of the time, yes, for non‐science courses if taken through a regionally accredited college or university.
Online science courses will usually be evaluated on a case‐by‐case basis but usually must have an on‐campus laboratory component to be considered. Again, contact individual PA programs for specific coursework.
Do PA programs accept pass/fail credit for prerequisite coursework?
Most PA programs do not accept pass/fail credit for any prerequisite science course when taken at an undergraduate level. Occasionally, graduate level prerequisite science courses will be considered on a case‐by‐case basis.
Non‐science prerequisite courses will often be evaluated on a case‐by‐case basis. Contact individual PA programs for specific coursework.
Do I have to have completed 2,000 hours of patient care experience before I apply?
No, but it is strongly recommended that you have at least 2,000 hours of hands-on patient care experience completed before you apply to increase your chances of applying to more PA programs and to make yourself more competitive.
Click here to view the TOP TEN CASPA ERRORS!
Video on Coursework Entry for CASPA
CASPA Facebook Page
CASPA Mobile App: CASPA released a mobile app that allows you to check the status of your transcripts, references, test scores, payments, and GPA.
CASPA Tutorials: Bestoor from PhysicianAssistantForum.com recently posted tutorials on YouTube for CASPA. Check them out here and here.