Frequently Asked Questions
Admission Requirements and Procedures
Questions related to COVID-19
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I already have a bachelor’s degree. Do I still need to complete all the prerequisites?
Yes, all applicants, regardless of an undergraduate degree or major, must complete all prerequisites before entering the PA program.
Does the PA program give preference to any major?
No, the program does not give preference to any major. The most common majors are biology and chemistry.
Will I be able to continue to work outside of the program while attending school?
The Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at USC is a full-time program. Students are strongly discouraged to accept or continue outside employment while enrolled in the program. Students are not permitted to work for the program.
Does the PA program accept online/distance-learning courses?
Yes, distance learning courses are acceptable provided they are equivalent in all dimensions (including laboratory requirements) to courses taught in ‘traditional’ educational settings (e.g., hybrid courses). All distance learning course credit must be provided by regionally accredited institutions of higher education.
When is the application due?
November 1st for both the CASPA and USC Supplemental Applications. However, early application (by September 1st) is highly recommended. Be aware that the USC PA program receives your CASPA application only after it has been verified by CASPA, which may take several weeks. Additionally, your application is reviewed by the Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at USC program only after it is complete (i.e., we have received all 3 of these elements: CASPA application, supplemental application, and supplemental application fee).
Can I enter in the Spring semester?
No, the program admits in the Fall semester only.
What is the PA program’s GPA requirement?
The expected GPA for consideration is 3.0 for overall and science coursework. The average cumulative GPA of admitted students for the Class of 2025 was 3.42.
What is the PA program’s GRE requirement?
The PA Program no longer requires the GRE.
Is preference given to California residents?
No, the program uses the same criteria to evaluate out-of-state applicants as California residents.
Do all applicants get an interview?
No. The selection process for the PA program is highly competitive, and only a portion of the applicant pool will be invited for a personal interview on the Alhambra campus. Interviews are by invitation only and conducted on a rolling basis.
How old can letters of reference be?
We will accept letters that are no older than 3 years from the time that you are applying.
How many letters of recommendation can I send?
A minimum of three (3) letters of reference are required with a maximum of five (5) letters allowed through the CASPA application process. Additional letters will not be considered by the program. Reference letters should not be from personal friends or family members. Letters of reference must be submitted directly to CASPA and postmarked on or before November 1st.
If I am a re-applicant can I have the same person write a new letter of reference or does it have to be from someone different?
Yes, you can have the same person write a new letter of reference for your application.
Is there preference given for prerequisite courses taken at a four-year institution versus at a community college?
No, prerequisite courses may be taken either at a regionally accredited community college or four-year institution.
How many courses may be outstanding during the application process?
Two non-science prerequisite courses can be in progress in the spring semester or quarter following the November 1st application deadline. All science prerequisites must be completed by the end of the fall semester the year prior to matriculation.
Is there an expiration date for the science prerequisite courses?
Yes. All science prerequisites must be completed within ten (10) years of the application deadline. Exceptions to the 10-year science prerequisite time frame may be granted on an individual basis to those individuals who have completed one of the following: 1) at least 8 semester units of graduate credit in a medically-related natural science discipline with an overall grade point average of 3.0 or better, completed within 7 years of the application deadline, or 2) received an advanced degree in the natural or clinical sciences (e.g., MS, DVM, PharmD, PhD, MD) within 10 years of the application deadline.
What is considered direct patient care experience?
Hands-on, paid patient care clinical experience is preferred. Please refer to our list of common clinical experiences. Other health care experience is equally acceptable as long as the clinical experience is hands-on. It is important that PA applicants are familiar with medical care environments and the role of a physician assistant, and have experience working with patients. Volunteer clinical experience is also considered in the application process and should be entered into the CASPA application, as well; the applicant is encouraged to describe their hands-on experience, whether it is paid or volunteer.
Do I have to have volunteering experience?
The Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at USC is dedicated to the advancement of physician assistant education and emphasizes service to the medically underserved. Volunteering in both health-related, and non-health related settings is highly recommended.
Do I have to shadow a PA?
Shadowing a Physician Assistant (PA) is preferred in the admissions application process. The selections committee defines shadowing as observing a PA in the care of patients, working alongside a PA on a day-to-day basis, or attending virtual shadowing opportunities. Examples of virtual shadowing include telehealth, provider platforms, and websites that offer case studies provided by a PA. The goal of shadowing is to help an applicant articulate the role of a PA.
I am a MD from another country. Do I have to go through the entire PA training program?
Yes. The PA program does not offer any advanced standing, and the entire 33-month program must be completed in full.
Can the PA program check all my references, employment and volunteer/clinical experiences?
We reserve the right to confirm and verify all employment, volunteering and clinical experience as included in all submitted applications.
What’s next if you are offered a seat on the Alternate List?
- Confirm if you want to be on the alternate list.
- Those on the alternate list can potentially be admitted into the program until August.
- Continue with your current experiences, and complete your prerequisite courses.
- Review the website and statistics on admitted students.
- Start your process of reapplying for the next admissions cycle
What classifies as direct patient care experience? If your role enables you to work directly with patients (taking temperatures, vitals, drawing blood, feeding, bathing, etc) it would be considered hands-on patient care. If you have questions regarding the patient care experience requirement and what may fulfill this requirement, please email email@example.com
Do you accept medical scribe as direct patient care? Yes, medical scribing will count as direct patient care experience. We accept a wide range of direct patient care experience: Click here to see some examples of the common roles we accept for patient care.
Do you accept behavioral technicians/therapists as direct patient care? Yes, this role will count towards direct patient care experience.
I work in the front office of a clinic and interact with patients daily. Does this count as direct patient care experience? Clinical administrative duties (calendar management, insurance management, etc.) will not be counted as direct patient-care experience.
Can I submit updates regarding my patient care experience/hours after I have submitted my application? Once you have formally submitted your application in CASPA, your submitted hours will be locked into place.
What if I volunteer and work at the same place? How should I input this information in CASPA? That is more than okay. We recommend splitting your paid role and volunteer role into two separate entries in your CASPA application. This will allow you to outline your duties and responsibilities specific to each role in the description section.
Is paid clinical experience more heavily weighted than volunteer clinical experience? No. We will accept both paid and volunteer experience as long as the duties are hands-on patient care.
When filling out the CASPA application, should the descriptions be in complete sentences or bullet points? There is no preference, as long as the patient care experience duties are outlined and explained thoroughly.
I’m still unsure if an experience counts as direct patient care; how do I submit an experience for an evaluation? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org – please be sure to include your job title and a brief description of your duties. A response can be expected within 48 hours.
When does the CASPA application open for USC? End of April.
How does USC’s PA Program calculate GPAs? All GPAs are calculated through CASPA (this includes cumulative, science, post-bacc, and graduate GPAs).
Why is my CASPA GPA different from the GPA on my transcripts? The CASPA GPAs factor in all coursework taken, regardless of the college or university and any academic forgiveness policies. See Calculating Your CASPA GPAs for more information.
My transfer credits are listed on my primary transcript. Do I still need to send all transcripts into CASPA? You must report all colleges and universities attended and submit official transcripts, even if your transfer credits are listed on your primary transcript. See Sending Official Transcripts for more guidelines.
Should I submit my CASPA application if I’m still waiting on transcripts and/or evaluations?
Yes. You are allowed to submit your application before your transcripts and/or evaluations are received by CASPA.
How do I list my repeated courses in CASPA?
Enter them exactly how they show up on your transcript (if you decide to enter your transcripts in manually.) You have the option to pay CASPA to enter this information for you.
A mistake was made on my CASPA application; what should I do? Please notify CASPA immediately. Because all materials are submitted through CASPA, all communication will have to go through CASPA. Feel free to send an email to email@example.com with a brief overview of the mistake, and be sure to include the communication you received from CASPA in this email.
I have officially submitted my CASPA application, what do I do next? You will need to submit a supplemental application, as well as your supplemental application fee payment in order to complete the application process. The supplemental application can be found here: https://keck.usc.edu/physician-assistant-program/admission/application/
Will CASPA update me on the status of my application? Yes. CASPA will notify you when your application has been verified. Our admissions team will notify you via email when your verified CASPA Application, Supplemental Application, and Supplemental Fee Payment have been received. We will also email you if you are invited for an in-person interview.
Can Spanish be substituted with another foreign language?
No. Spanish is a prerequisite requirement, and no other foreign languages may be substituted.
I am a native Spanish speaker; can I opt-out of taking a year of college-level Spanish?
Yes, a Spanish placement exam can be taken at your local community college or at a four-year university. If you place in intermediate Spanish, it will satisfy our Spanish prerequisite requirement. Be sure to turn in your placement exam results along with your Supplemental Application. Letters and placement exam results must be sent from the school to our program.
I took four years of high school Spanish, does that count?
No, unless you were given AP college credit. Credit for Spanish must appear on your college transcript.
Please do not call and submit any additional materials or letters of recommendation.
At this point additional materials will not be considered for admissions.
Admission is a holistic review process, and hours exceeding the average applicant does not guarantee admittance into the program.