CASPA Prep Tips
With the CASPA 2018-2019 cycle opening on April 26, 2018, the new application cycle is quickly approaching. Considering the amount of time and money that CASPA consumes from pre-PA students, it is extremely important to try and get accepted during your first application cycle. I spent a lot of time doing research and proactively preparing my application before CASPA opened to ensure that I was accepted as a first-time applicant. And guess what... it worked! So for all you pre-PA students, I got some CASPA preparation tips to help you appropriately prepare for CASPA's opening day and increase your chances of acceptance.
1.) Decide on the PA programs to which you will be applying- I have a blog post all about how to do this here. I suggest applying to 8-10 programs. I know that sounds like a lot, but the acceptance rates for PA school are very low, so you need to expand your horizons and your chances of acceptance. I highly suggest making an excel file with information about several PA programs: location, cost, pre-reqs, healthcare experience (HCE) hrs, HCE deadline, types of HCE accepted, average HCE of accepted students, application deadline, supplemental application information, average GRE of accepted students, average GPA of accepted students, and rank. Obviously the average GPA, GRE, and HCE of accepted students should not deviate you from applying to a specific program; however, you should apply to at least 5 PA programs where your stats fit into the average to increase your chances of acceptance. Below I attached a picture of a very small part of my PA school excel file- not much fits into the picture, but it helps to give you an idea. I know this may seem like a lot of work, but when you are going to the same PA websites repeatedly to check the same information... you are wasting a lot of time! Creating this excel file was extremely helpful for deciding on which PA programs I was going to apply, as well as keeping track of deadlines. Also you probably notice that my excel file is quite colorful, I used colors to categorize the programs: red = not applying, yellow = maybe applying, and green = applying.
Another option for those pre-PA students who do not want to perform this research on their own is the Applicant's Manual of PA Programs 2018. I did not use a PA program manual for my CASPA application, so I have no personal experience with this manual- I just want to make sure I provide as many useful options for pre-PA students as possible.
2.) Once you know the PA programs to which you are applying, you need to make sure that you fulfill all the required HCE hours. Not all programs require you to complete the HCE hours by the time you submit your application, which is really important information that you need to know! I was unable to have more than 250 HCE hours by my application due to clerical errors with my CNA license, so I mainly applied to programs that required more HCE hours at a later date (aka HCE hours due by matriculation). I also applied to some programs that accepted not only paid HCE, but also volunteer and shadowing hours as HCE. By volunteering a local free clinic, volunteering at a hospital, and shadowing a PA in the ER, I was able to increase my knowledge about the medical field (especially the PA profession), boost my application, and increase my HCE hours for some programs- 3 for 1! So if you are having a hard time getting more HCE hours, you have another month before CASPA even opens- go volunteer or shadow!
3.) At this point you should also know which pre-reqs are required for the PA programs to which you are applying. As with HCE hours, pre-reqs are not always required to be complete by the time you submit your application. I did not take Biochemistry in college, but I applied to 2 programs that required BCH to be completed by matriculation. I specifically chose PA programs that only required BCH by matriculation, so that I would know if I was attending that program before wasting time and money on the class- lazy, but smart!
4.) Decide who you want to write your letters of recommendation early! Before CASPA opens, you need to choose who you want to write your LORs, ask those people if they are willing to write your LORs, and then give each of them a due date to complete the LOR. Most likely the people you are asking to write your LORs are very busy, so they need at least a month to 2 weeks notice. If you want your LORs to be amazing and you want to submit your application early, you should really start working on this asap! Some programs require specific people (PA/MD, healthcare boss, etc) to write your LORs, so definitely be aware of that information! If you are able to choose your LORs, I would suggest choosing people involved in different parts of your life because it makes you look more well-rounded and emphasizes the variety of your experiences. Examples are professor from college, floor director at work, volunteer coordinator at a local free clinic, PA that you shadowed, PI from research lab, etc. Although this may seem obvious... please make sure you choose people who are going to write you a good LOR in the first place and people who know you well-enough to write a glowing LOR.
5.) Start gathering your unofficial transcripts before CASPA opens that way you will be able to start filling out transcript entry. Transcript entry is a somewhat long and tedious process, so I wanted to get it out of the way immediately. I think it only took a total of an hour and a half though, so I definitely do not recommend paying extra to have CASPA enter your transcript information for you... it's really not worth the money, CASPA is expensive enough!
6.) Study for and take the GRE if you have yet to do so already! I was actually pretty darn late on the GRE train and took it in JUNE! :O As stated earlier, I had problems with my CNA license and I wanted to have at least 250 hrs by my application, so I was unable to submit my applications until June 30th... I do not suggest submitting later than early June unless absolutely necessary!
7.) Start writing your personal statement asap! The importance of your personal statement on your PA applications can not be emphasized enough! I will be dedicating a whole blog post later this week on writing a personal statement because this can really make or break your application.
8.) If you really want to get ahead and have the time, then you can start writing 250 word synopses of your HCE experiences, work experiences, organizations/clubs, honors, awards, scholarships, etc. I honestly found this to be the most difficult and tedious part of the application because... I just did not want to write them! I think I procrastinated this part to the very end, but it is important that you explain these things effectively since this is an insight into your life and experiences.
Later this week, I will write a post about how to write a personal statement to round out this CASPA preparation topic. I will also be doing CASPA Tip Thursdays on my Instagram starting today until the day CASPA opens, so follow my IG for that information! I really hope you guys found this advice useful! Let me know if you have any questions or comments, I would genuinely love to hear them! Also today happens to be an amazing and empowering holiday- Happy International Women's Day!