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Biology alumnus and current physician's assistant student outside

Pre-Physician Assistant

Interested in a career as a physician assistant?

At the School of Science at IUPUI, students seeking professional careers in medicine are exposed to opportunities that no other school in the state of Indiana can offer.

Through comprehensive coursework, hands-on experience in the classroom and labs, one-on-one guidance from professors, and research and leadership opportunities in the School, five surrounding hospitals, the IU School of Medicine and the IU School of Dentistry, graduates of the School of Science are well prepared for PA school and beyond!

See all Pre-Professional Pathways

What will you learn?

PA school success is largely dependent on the knowledge, experience and habits students pick up as undergraduates. Through opportunities to participate in industry-leading research, community involvement and clinical experience, a pre-physician assistant student in the School of Science at IUPUI will be well prepared for success in PA school and life in the medical field.

  • Prerequisites for many PA schools often favor and lean heavily toward science majors and majors in the School of Science at IUPUI provide students with excellent undergraduate preparation for PA school.
  • By studying science at IUPUI, students have opportunities to work, learn and participate in internships and research in the School of Science as well as the IU Medical School and surrounding hospitals.

Many science undergraduate degrees are marketable to future employers even if the student chooses not to pursue professional schooling.

What will you do?

PAs work in a number of fields of medicine. They often practice in primary care as well as trauma, surgery, the surgical sub-specialties and all other areas. PAs can become experts and earn multiple specializations throughout their careers based on their experience working under the given type of physician or in the given setting in which they specialize.

Physician Assistants are comprehensively trained in a variety of fields including:

  • Conducting physical exams
  • Diagnosing and treating illnesses and injuries
  • Ordering and interpreting lab tests and x-rays
  • Counseling on preventative health care
  • Assisting in surgery
  • Writing prescriptions for medicine

Like most universities, IUPUI does not offer a pre-physician assistant major because PA schools do not require students to complete specific majors. However, many majors in the School of Science at IUPUI provide students with excellent undergraduate preparation for a physician assistant program.

Prepare for a Physician Assistant Program

The School of Science office for Pre-Professional & Career Preparation (PREPs) will support you throughout the process of preparing for a physician assistant program. From advising you on pre-requisite courses and professional development activities to helping you through the application process, PREPs can assist you in every step.

Admission into a physician assistant program is very competitive. You need to plan thoroughly from the start to be successful. The links below include detailed information on everything from the courses to the application process. If you are an IUPUI School of Science student, we strongly encourage you to make an appointment to meet with a pre-professional advisor.

Schedule an advising appointment


Admission to the IU Masters of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program requires successful completion of a baccalaureate degree, prerequisite courses (which can be worked into most undergraduate degrees), and other admission criteria.

You may choose almost any undergraduate major as long as you also complete the PA prerequisite courses. The IU PA program shows no preference for one degree or major over another.

The IU MPAS professional coursework will begin in May of each year.  The IU PA program consists of 7 consecutive semesters spanning 27 months, including 75 credit hours of didactic courses (i.e., classroom and lab instruction) and 36 hours of clinical rotations, for a total of 111 credit hours. The program requires courses or clinicals during all three summers - at the start of the program, in the middle, and at the end.

Important: Each PA program has its own set of admission requirements and policies. It is recommended that you research other schools in order to plan your prerequisites and other admission requirements, and to determine the timing of your courses and the application itself.

Admission to the IU Physician Assistant Program is very competitive. Admission requirements include significant direct patient care experience, successful completion of prerequisite coursework, admission exam scores, a directed essay (i.e., a brief essay focused on a particular question, as explained on the IU PA program site), letters of recommendation, and an admission interview (for those who qualify). Admission requirements are not weighted by percentage in terms of their importance during the admission process. They will be considered together as a complete application portfolio. Nonetheless, as with all PA programs, GPA is of central importance to the competitive admission process.

Indiana residents from certain Indiana counties will be given some preference as part of the program's commitment to producing PAs to work in under-served communities.

Admission Requirements and Prerequisite courses for Indiana PA Programs

Download a Pre-Physician Assistant Timeline to help you stay on track for physician assistant school!

Become a Science student

Entrance Exams


As part of the application process, most physician assistant graduate programs require that you take the GRE revised General Test.

Indiana University Physician Assistant Program Admission Exam Requirement

The IU PA program requires GRE or MCAT scores taken within the past 5 years. No minimum score has been set (obviously the higher your scores the better), nor is there a set value in terms of how significant a role the exam will play during the admission process. Scores will be considered as part of your total application portfolio.

As of Fall 2012, the IU program indicted that only the verbal section would be considered. Other programs, however, may consider other sections as well.

MCAT Scores and PA Programs

Some PA programs will accept scores from the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) in place of GRE scores. (Program websites should indicate if this is the case.) The MCAT option sometimes arises when a premed student who has already taken the MCAT switches to pre-PA, or wants to apply to both medical school and PA programs.  If you are not thinking of applying to medical school and have not yet taken the MCAT, then opt for the GRE instead (assuming you are applying to PA programs which require the GRE).

Gaining Relevant Experience

Professional Shadowing

Professional shadowing, or job shadowing, is another means of career exploration in which you observe a professional at work. With a professional shadow, you can learn more about a profession before you invest too much time preparing for a career that may not be right for you.

Direct Patient Care Experience

What "direct patient care experience" is, and why you need it:

"Patient care" is not the same thing as shadowing or clinical observation. "Direct patient care" is exactly what it sounds like: You are literally providing healthcare of some kind to patients or clients in a healthcare setting, in either a paid or volunteer capacity.

  • The amount and type of patient care necessary for admission varies greatly from one program to another!
  • All physician assistant programs either require or strongly recommend that applicants garner patient care experience.
  • Direct patient care experience is important to developing skills necessary for success in PA school. Applicants without adequate direct patient care experience are not likely to be competitive for admission, nor likely to have developed the level of comfort and skill necessary to thrive in a PA program's clinical settings.
  • Patient care experiences can help you build your credibility with program admission committees by demonstrating that you are committed to a career in healthcare, and are comfortable working in a healthcare setting.
  • Along the same lines, extensive patient care experience can greatly strengthen your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and admission interview.
  • Patient care experiences can help you determine whether a career in healthcare and the PA profession is a good fit for you.

Amount and Type of Patient Care

  1. Requirements vary dramatically across programs!
  2. The only way to confirm a program's patient care requirement or preference is to check their webpage, and call them if you need clarification.
  3. Some programs express no preference as to whether the work is paid or voluntary, but some do have a preference. Still others may express a preference for paid work, but might still consider applicants with extensive volunteer direct patient care experience (especially if the work stems from some kind of certification; for example, CNA, EMT, or hospice certification). Check websites and call programs if you need clarification.

The required number of direct patient care hours varies widely among programs that require patient care, ranging literally from 0 to 3000. What these numbers mean in practical terms can also vary, so if a program's website does not make it quite clear how you should tally patient care hours, and what kind of experiences will meet the requirement or recommendation, we suggest you contact them and politely inquire.

Research, Internship and Leadership Opportunities

Unlike other health profession training programs, most physician assistant programs, including IU's, require or strongly prefer that applicants have some actual direct patient care experience. The IU program also urges applicants to gain experience working with under-served rural populations. 

One of the biggest benefits to studying science at IUPUI is the accessibility of our world-class professors, and the ability to participate in research and internships.

The School of Science at IUPUI offers various programs for students to become involved with both research and other leadership opportunities throughout their undergraduate experience.

One of those programs is the Life Health Sciences Internship. This one-year program provides students the opportunity to participate in both clinical and scientific research opportunities throughout IUPUI's campus and the surrounding hospitals and labs.

  • Internship Opportunities 
  • Research Opportunities
  • Involvement Opportunities
  • SCI-I-297: Health Professions Shadowing course is a 1 credit hour Satisfactory/Fail class that exposes students to the healthcare field through shadowing a healthcare professional. Students gain hands on experience, basic knowledge and insights into the career of healthcare professionals.

Application Process

CASPA and Non-CASPA Programs

Some professional programs require that you apply through a central application service, e.g., the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA); whereas others require that you apply directly to the program itself instead of through the central application service. Therefore, if you are applying to both CASPA and non-CASPA programs, you will need to meticulously follow two or more application processes. Attention to detail is critically important.

About 80% of all US PA programs require applicants to submit an application, letters of reference, and other materials through CASPA

When to Apply

Application cycles vary considerably; some PA programs begin during the summer, some in the fall, and others in the spring. Thus, application cycles occur roughly 8 to 11 months prior to when admitted applicants will begin the PA program itself. 

  • PA program application cycles and deadlines are different from the CASPA application cycle!
  • The "CASPA application cycle" consists of the 11 months out of each year during which the CASPA application is available. The CASPA cycle opens in mid-April of each year, and closes in mid-March of the next year. In the year you plan to apply, it is recommended that you open a CASPA account once CASPA announces that the new application cycle has opened (i.e., mid-April).
  • Within the CASPA application cycle, each CASPA program will have its own application cycle, i.e., its own opening and closing date. 


Indiana University MPAS Program essay requirement: Most PA programs require applicants to submit a personal essay. The Indiana University MPAS program requires that applicants submit a "directed essay," a response to a specific question posed by the program. In the past the question has usually centered on the applicant's reasons for pursuing the PA profession, plus rationale for applying to the IU program in particular.

Letters of Recommendation & CASPA 

Indiana University Physician Assistant Program recommendation requirements: The IU PA program requires that applicants submit letters of reference through the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA).  In addition, it is important that in the year leading up to your application, you read the HPPLC guidelines related to the PA application process, including information about when to apply, common mistakes to avoid, and so on.

Admission Interviews

Indiana University Physician Assistant Program admission interview: The IU MPAS program interviews approximately 3 applicants for every 1 applicant admitted. Interviews are held on the IUPUI campus, normally November through December, with admission decisions normally occurring in December.

As with many program interview processes, you should plan to arrive early and spend the entire day on campus, unless you learn otherwise from the given program.

Certification in Basic Life Support (BLS) for Health Care Providers 

Prior to beginning professional coursework, many programs require that you become certified for adult, child, and infant CPR, commonly referred to as BLS certification, Health Care Provider CPR, or CPR for the Professional Rescuer. Training courses are offered for a fee through the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross.

Physician Assistant Program Interview Questions

If you are unsure how to answer any of these questions, check out Step 2 of our Interviewing resources for detailed tips on how to correctly answer tricky interview questions.

Questions About You

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. What are your two best points?
  3. What are your two weakest points?
  4. What are three things you want to change about yourself?
  5. How do you handle conflict?
  6. Explain your leadership/research/volunteer experiences.
  7. What extracurricular activities are you engaged in?
  8. Which of your college courses interested you the most?
  9. Where do you see yourself in five/ten years?
  10. What do you do in your spare time?
  11. Why did you choose the undergraduate school you went to, and if you could, would you do anything differently?
  12. What do you do to relieve stress?
  13. What course was most academically challenging for you?
  14. What life experiences have made you a better person?

Questions About Your Physician Assistant Program Goals

  1. Why do you want to be a physician assistant?
  2. Why did you choose to be a physician assistant over a doctor or nurse?
  3. Are you planning to go to medical school?
  4. When did you decide that being a physician assistant was a good career choice for you? 
  5. What steps have you taken to confirm that you want to be a physician assistant?
  6. What do you feel are the most important qualities in being a good physician assistant?
  7. What opportunities have you had to observe a physician assistant?
  8. How will you handle the stress of a physician assistant program?
  9. Outside of being a physician assistant, did you ever consider any other health profession?
  10. Explain the role of a physician assistant?
  11. What type of practice do you want to work in after you receive your degree/certification?
  12. What would you like to do if you are not accepted into a physician assistant program?
  13. What steps have you taken to acquaint yourself with the role of a physician assistant?
  14. What aspects of your life experiences do you think makes you a good candidate for a physician assistant program?
  15. What is the difference between a physician assistant and a physician?

Questions About the Physician Assistant Program

  1. Why do you want to attend this physician assistant program?
  2. How are you a match for this physician assistant program?
  3. Describe your method of learning.  How does this fit with the physician assistant program?
  4. What schools did you apply to and why?
  5. What do you look for in a good physician assistant program?
  6. Why do you want to go to school here?
  7. Why should this physician assistant program choose you over other candidates?

Current Issue/Scenario Questions

  1. You have a patient whose English stills needs some improvement and you do not speak their language, how do you overcome the language barrier to assist them with their needs?
  2. Provide an example of a time that you had to make an ethical decision. What was the situation and what did you do?
  3. A person makes an appointment with their primary care physician, but when they are waiting for the doctor in the examining room, you enter and explain that you will be meeting with them today.  The patient refuses to be examined by a Physician Assistant. How do you handle this situation?
  4. How would you describe your position to a patient?
  5. What do you see as the role of the Physician Assistant in the workforce or healthcare in the next 10 years?
  6. How would you handle a dispute with a colleague?

Personal statements

Most graduate and professional programs require a personal statement as part of the application process. The personal statement is an appropriate place to share your career goals, strengths, experiences, personality, and academic successes and obstacles.

Getting Started

Often time schools require a general, comprehensive personal statement. With the general personal statement, you are allowed maximum freedom in terms of what you write. This is the type of statement often required for medical or law school applications. However, business schools and other graduate schools often ask specific questions, and your statement should respond explicitly to the question being asked. 

Despite the type of personal statement you're asked to write, you need to think of your statement as an opportunity to show how you are unique among all the other applicants. A concise, well-written personal statement is going to carry more weight than one that is long-winded or difficult to read. The following tips will help you craft a compelling personal statement.

Get started by answering the following questions:
  • What is unique or impressive about my life story? 
  • What are my professional goals? 
  • What are my core values? 
  • What is the most compelling reason for the admission committee to be interested in me? 
  • What do I know about the field I am pursuing? 
  • What obstacles, disadvantages, or hardships have I overcome? 
  • How have I involved myself with the community? 

If you need help brainstorming ideas for your personal statement, our PREPs advisors are more than happy to help you get started.

Once you have answered the questions above, begin to fill out the following outline: 

Paragraph I

Begin this paragraph by explaining what motivates you to go to graduate or professional school. You should address some, if not all, of the following questions in your first paragraph:

  • Why do I want to go to graduate or professional school?
  • How does graduate or professional school fit with my career goals?
  • Why do I believe I am an able candidate?

Paragraphs II, III, IV

Your qualifications and participation in extracurricular activities make up the next several paragraphs. This is the body of your personal statement and should answer the following questions:

  • What activities have I participated in that are relevant to my career choice?
  • What are my academic accomplishments, skills, or interests?
  • What have I learned from these accomplishments, skills or interests?
  • What have I overcome? What challenges have I faced? 

Paragraph V

You want your final paragraph to show that you are looking towards your future. Make sure your conclusion answers to these two important questions:

  • In the next several years, how do I see myself evolving?
  • Why will professional or graduate school be an important stepping stone leading to my life's work?

Tips and Tricks

In addition to the information above, the following advice taken from Purdue's Online Writing Lab can also help you craft a captivating personal statement: 

Answer the questions that are being asked. This seems obvious, but if you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar. Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It's important to answer every question as specifically as possible, and if slightly different answers are needed, you need to write separate statements.

Tell a story. Create your application so that it shows and demonstrates who you are through concrete experiences, stories, and examples. One of the worst things you can do is bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific. Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, dentist, etc., should be logical and the result of concrete experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as a rational conclusion to your story.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph. The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It's here that you either grab the reader's attention...or lose it. This paragraph also serves as the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know. While being as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field, be sure to use the profession's jargon to convey this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of detailed information about the career you want and why you're suited for it.

There are certain subjects you should avoid. References to experiences or accomplishments in high school (or earlier) are generally not a good idea to mention in a personal statement for graduate or professional school, focus on something more recent. Avoid potentially controversial subjects (for example, religious or political issues). If your reader disagrees with you, your application may be unfairly scrutinized.

Do your research. If a school wants to know why you're applying to their school rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Pay attention to the technicality of your writing. Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid cliches. A medical school applicant who says that he's good at science and wants to help other people isn't exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements and stories.


“Teaching 1st year med students at the clinic how to draw blood was an amazing experience. They learned a new skill and the patients learned not all blood draws are painful."

Melissa Peden Neuroscience, Undergraduate
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