CASPA Opens: April 27, 2016 for admission to classes starting in 2017
Central Application Service for Physician Assistants. This is essentially the "common app" for PA schools.
They will ask about grade transcripts, clinical hours, letters of recommendation, and much more!
When should you apply?
Apply as soon as you are ready! If you have everything you need for prerequisites and clinical hours, start on the day it opens! AMC has rolling admissions, so if you are a strong candidate, it is in your best interest to apply as soon as CASPA opens.
Selecting your schools to apply to...
CASPA has a list of all the programs and their deadline requirements. Note that many schools do NOT start in January like AMC does; however, if you want a January start date, there are a handful around here that will fit your needs. Pay attention to schools that would like a supplemental application. Many school would like that submitted right away with your initial application while others would like you to be invited to fill it out before you submit it to the program.
How much does it cost?
CASPA has a fee of $175 for the first program you apply to, any additional program added onto that application will be $50 each.
After you submit your CASPA, now what?
It will take up to 4 weeks to process your information into their system and gather all the letters of recommendation and such. This is why applying earlier is a good thing to do.
What about letters of recommendation?
All letters of reference need to be submitted by the person writing them and they must be through CASPA's application. You will provide CASPA with an email or contact for the person writing your letter, and CASPA will send them a generated email asking them to attach or write their letter. Sometimes your references will be very busy people and forget to write you a letter. CASPA will not remind your references to submit your letters which means that YOU will have to remind them with another link through CASPA. This is very easy to do and CASPA's website explains it all.
Make sure you are ready when you apply
In my opinion, if you barely meet or don't meet the minimum number of clinical hours, wait another year to apply. The more experience you have the better and easier PA school may be for you. I know that in my case, even though I was already accepted, I completed ~1000 hours in the ICU, but I knew that I did not learn as much as I could have. Shortly after, I transferred down to the ER to work as a tech where I learned more than I could have ever imagined! I then gathered ~1000 hours from the ER and to be honest, they were some of the most valuable hours. If I stopped working after only 1000 hours in the ICU I know that I would have had to work a lot harder in many classes simply because the information would have all been new to me. By having experience hearing drug names, seeing lab values and how they presented in patients, etc, I was able to reason out most of the material instead of memorizing and having little context to its worth.
IMPROVING YOUR GPA
If you believe that your grades are pulling you down, think about ways to bring them up. If these classes are electives or not the prerequisite classes, there may not be a significant reason to retake a class you got a B/B+ in order to get an A. Some schools may like that, but from an application stand-point make sure your core prerequisites are strong first before you start worrying about others. Most programs have a minimum you need to achieve in order to even be considered (for example, C+ or better). Retaking classes is a variable thing for programs, some programs don't mind it, others look down upon it. If you are wondering what to do in regards of raising grades, contact your school of interest and see what they suggest. Again, every school is different.
One view: Some programs will look down upon retaking classes (unless under extremely unique circumstances) because it means that you may take longer to understand material. Since PA school has such a rigorous curriculum, there really is no time to slow down or retake classes. In this case, some programs will suggest getting another degree in something else, for example, nursing or even a paramedic license, that way you have a stronger Plan B in an similar field if PA school does not work out, (being practical). However, this would be time consuming and expensive, but if your grades change significantly during that new program/degree (say from a 3.0 to a 4.0), it may show that you have matured and will be able to handle whatever PA school brings. (just a thought)
Another view: retaking classes can show that you are dedicated to getting better grades and improving yourself. It is a comparatively inexpensive way to improve your application without changing your whole life around. Basically, a fast track to improve your grades. (from experience, our program tends to lean on the opposite view, which is why I do not know much about this point of view)
IMPROVING YOUR GRE
Now, I did not take the GRE, but from watching friends and colleuges study for them, it is best to study hard and do well the first time. It may seem terrible, but it is simply the best way to go about it. If you have to retake them, I am not even sure if both scores will show up to PA schools or if they even care that one time you scored much lower than the next. Again, this is an individual school thing and contacting your school of interest will give you the best answer as to if you should retake them with scores that you have.
Keep in mind: not every school will be helpful with admissions. They will typically never tell you EXACTLY what to do, so their answers may be vague. However, getting a general idea about what they suggest or prefer is great if you can.
*all of this is simple advice from things I have heard a faculty, student or admissions person say before in addition to my own opinion. By no means am I saying that this is the perfect way to handle any of these situations, just common answers to common questions