Frequently Asked Questions

Please refer below to common questions related to the application process.

  • I already have a bachelor’s degree. Do I still need to complete all the prerequisites?

    Yes, all applicants must possess a bachelor’s degree (in any discipline) from a regionally accredited institution and complete all prerequisites prior to starting the USC PA program.

    Does the PA program give preference to any major?

    No, there is no preference in admissions for any particular major.

    Will I be able to continue to work outside of the program while attending school?
    The USC PA program 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 USC PA program while enrolled.

    Does the PA program accept online/distance-learning courses?
    Yes, distance learning and remote courses are acceptable provided they are equivalent in all dimensions (including laboratory requirements) to courses taught in “traditional” or in-person educational settings. All distance learning course credit must be provided by regionally accredited institutions of higher education.

    When is the application due?

    The application is due on November 1st at 11:59PM (EST) or 8:59PM (PST). We highly recommend early submission by August 1st. 

    A complete application package will include the (1) verified CASPA application, (2) USC Supplemental Application, and (3) USC Supplemental Fee. Please note that our program will only receive your application after it has been verified by CASPA, and this process may take a few weeks. The program will begin reviewing your application package after all three components have been received and processed.

    Can I start the program 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/MCAT requirement?
    Beginning with the 2022-2023 application cycle, the standardized testing GRE and MCAT are NO LONGER a requirement for our program.

    Is preference given to California residents?
    No, the program uses the same criteria to evaluate out-of-state applicants and 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. Interviews are by invitation only and conducted on a rolling basis.

    How old can letters of reference be?
    We accept letters that are no older than 3 years from the time that you are applying.

    How many letters of recommendation can I send?

    You are required to have a minimum of two (2) letters of recommendation and may have up to five (5) letters. 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 through CASPA by the November 1st deadline.

    If I am reapplying, can I have the same person write a new letter of reference, or will it need to come from someone else?
    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, there is no preference. Courses must be completed at regionally accredited schools.

    How many courses may be outstanding during the application process?
    Two (2) non-science prerequisite courses can be in-progress in the spring term following the November 1st application deadline. All science prerequisites must be completed by the end of the fall term 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.

    Requests for a 10-year expiration exemption may be made by those 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) graduated with an advanced degree in the natural or clinical sciences within 10 years of the application deadline. Requests should be emailed to

    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 USC PA program 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?
    It is not required to shadow a PA, and we do not have a minimum number of required hours for the admissions process. However, shadowing experience is highly recommend for your personal and professional development. Shadowing can be 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 and explain why they want to be a PA.

    I am an MD from another country. Do I have to go through the entire PA training program?
    Yes, the USC PA program does not offer advanced standing, and the program must be completed in its entirety.

    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 are my next steps if I’m invited to be on the alternate list?

    1. Confirm if you want to be on the alternate list. Applicants on the alternate list can potentially be admitted into the program until August.
    2. Continue with your current experiences, and complete your prerequisite courses.
    3. Start the process of reapplying for the next admissions cycle.
  • What classifies as direct patient care experience?

    Hands-on patient care experience includes tasks such as administering vaccines, taking vitals, drawing blood, feeding, bathing, etc. If you have questions regarding the patient care experience requirement and what may fulfill this requirement, please email our team at

    Do you consider the medical scribe role as direct patient care experience?

    Yes, medical scribing will count as direct patient care experience. We accept a wide range of direct patient care experiences. Click here to see some examples of the common roles we accept for patient care.

    Do you consider behavioral technician/therapist roles as direct patient care experience?

    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? 

    After your CASPA application has been submitted, no updates to hours or experiences will be considered.

    What if I volunteer and work at the same site? How should I input this information in CASPA?

    In this case, we recommend entering your paid role and volunteer role as two separate entries in your CASPA application. You’ll want to outline your responsibilities and record the number of hours pertaining to each role in its respective entry.

    Is paid clinical experience more heavily weighted than volunteer clinical experience? 

    No. We consider both paid and volunteer hands-on patient care experiences.

    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 my experience counts as direct patient care; how do I submit an experience for an evaluation?

    Send an email to – please be sure to include your job title and a detailed description of your duties. You can expect a response from our admissions team within two business days.

  • When does the CASPA application open for USC?

    End of April.

    How does the USC PA program calculate GPAs?

    All GPAs (cumulative, science, post-baccalaureate, and graduate) are calculated through CASPA.

    Why is my CASPA GPA different from the GPA on my transcripts?

    Your CASPA GPA factors in all previously completed coursework 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? 

    Yes, 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 are displayed 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. At the same time, you can send an email to 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?

    Congratulations! You’ll want to make sure that you’ve also paid the USC Supplemental Fee. You can find payment processing information here. Select the “Physician Assistant Program” and “Masters in Physician Assistant Studies Supplemental Application Fee” options on the website. Please save a copy of your receipt.

    Our team will send you a confirmation email that your application package (verified CASPA application, USC Supplemental Application, and USC Supplemental Fee) has been received within the next 2-4 weeks.

    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 into 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, high school courses cannot be used to satisfy the Spanish prerequisite. However, if your college institution provided you with transfer credit for AP Spanish, and this information appears on your official transcript, then this may be used to satisfy the Spanish prerequisite.

  • My institution continues to offer coursework on a Pass/No Pass grading scale. Will prerequisites completed as a Passing grade be accepted?

    Due to the impact of COVID-19, the program will accept prerequisite courses completed on a pass/no pass grading scale for Spring 2020 through Spring 2022. All completed prerequisites must have a “Passing” grade. Since this is a fluid situation, there may be an adjustment as more information is received. Please note the USCPA Program will allow for a maximum of 32 units to be applied to prerequisite coursework.

    Courses taken for a Pass/No Pass: Course taken for pass/no pass will not hinder and/or increase GPA. If you are trying to increase your overall and/or science GPA, you may want to elect to complete coursework for a letter grade.