Frequently Asked Questions
The following are responses to questions that are frequently asked by prospective students of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program. Click on the topic headings below to maximize and minimize the list of related questions. If you have any questions after review of the FAQs, please contact the admissions office at email@example.com.
The Application Process
- What does "rolling admissions" mean?"Rolling admissions" means that interviews are being conducted and admission decisions are being made while applications are still being accepted. Our process is specifically designed so that the class does not fill up prior to the application deadline or conclusion of the interview cycle. The alternative is a lock-step admissions process, in which all interviews are conducted after the application closes and all decisions are made after all interviews have been completed.
- When will you start accepting applications for the next class?
Applications for the class matriculating in June open through CASPA in April of the preceding year.
The deadline for the next application cycle is October 1. The GRE must be taken and scores received before this date. The CASPA and supplemental application must be marked "complete" no later than the deadline; applicants can access the CASPA definition of a "complete" application through the application's FAQ resource. Only prerequisite coursework may be pending (with two courses completed by the end of December and one completed by May prior to matriculation).
- When should I submit my official GRE scores and do scores carry over from one cycle to the next?
Official GRE scores must not be submitted until your intended application cycle has opened. Official scores will not be received if they are submitted prior to the start of your intended application cycle. The Northwestern University PA Program School/Institution Code is 4879; no department code is necessary.
Official GRE scores may carry over from one cycle to the next; refer to CASPA directly for this answer.
- When do most applicants submit their application?
The CASPA application opens in mid-to-late April. Most applicants submit their CASPA applications in August of the application cycle, with peak times between mid-July and early September. Early CASPA submissions do not necessarily lead to early decisions, since the supplemental application and official GRE scores are also required before an application is considered complete.
Placing a higher priority on submitting an application by an early date at the expense of quality and accuracy is not recommended. Applicants are advised to ensure their applications present the best representation they can put forth. It is generally good practice to submit all required application materials at least one month before the application deadline in case any issues arise.
- Do all of my application materials need to arrive at the same time?
No. Completed submissions include a complete CASPA application with fee payment, supplemental application with fee payment, three professional references, and official GRE scores. Each is received from a different vendor and then combined by program staff to create an application file. Applicants are not penalized if required parts of the application are received at different times, but a file is not reviewed until the application is complete and all components are present.
Required parts of the application should be received at least one month before the application deadline.
Official GRE scores must be received by the application deadline; CASPA and supplemental applications must be complete by the application deadline.
- Can I send additional letters of recommendation, beyond those included in CASPA?Only those letters of recommendation included in the CASPA application submission are required. Additional letters of recommendation are not necessary.
- How can I make my application stand out from the rest?
Applications are holistically reviewed, meaning all elements are considered for eligible applications that meet our minimum overall GPA requirement of at least a 2.80 and at least 1,000 hours of direct, hands-on care experience are present. In addition to previous academic performance and pre-admission clinical experience, the following elements are also closely evaluated: essay responses, letters of recommendation, PA shadowing experience, volunteer or community service backgrounds, leadership experiences and GRE scores.
Competitive applicants stand out by being able to speak to each of these categories.
- Are you still interviewing for the current application cycle?Interviews are conducted between mid-August and January for the class matriculating in June. Interviews are conducted on set dates within this range. Applicants are notified when selected to visit on one of these dates. If not selected for an interview, applicants are notified at the conclusion of the interview selection process.
- What are the factors that affect your admissions decisions?We consider the following factors in making admission decisions: GPA, GRE score, clinical experience (including level of responsibility and number of hours), the personal statement, application essays, references and your interview performance. Regarding references, three letters are required; at least one letter must be from a healthcare provider who can discuss your abilities with patients, preferably someone who has supervised you in a clinical setting. Personal references from friends or family members are not accepted.
- Who are members of the Admissions Committee, and who makes the final decision?The Admissions Committee consists of the PA program faculty, clinically practicing PAs and community representatives. Final admission decisions are made by the PA program director and PA program core faculty. Decisions may not be appealed.
Common Questions While Completing the Application
- Should the CASPA, supplemental and GRE be sent at the same time?
The CASPA, supplemental and official GRE scores can be submitted separately. Each must be submitted and received by October 1. The CASPA application must be marked "complete" by October 1.
An application will not be reviewed until each is received; having this completed earlier in the cycle is recommended.
- Is the supplemental application sent to select applicants after submitting the CASPA?
No. The link to the supplemental application is available in the How to Apply section of the website. It can be accessed at any point during the application cycle and is not sent only to select applicants.
The supplemental application must be submitted by the October 1 application deadline.
Applications will not be reviewed until the CASPA, supplemental and official GRE scores have been received.
- What GRE code should be used?When requesting official GRE scores, use school/institution code 4879 for the Northwestern University PA Program.
There is no department code.
- How should volunteer hours be entered if they are patient care experience?
Direct-patient clinical hours should be entered in the Patient Care section of the CASPA. For each entry, select the appropriate option for whether the experience was paid or unpaid. Volunteer patient care experiences should not be double-listed in the Volunteer section.
The CASPA guidelines for entering professional experiences provides useful assistance in this area.
- Where should PA shadowing experience be listed?
PA shadowing experiences should be listed in the Shadowing section of the CASPA.
We recommend following the CASPA guidelines for entering professional experiences.
- How should I enter prerequisite coursework?
Prerequisite coursework must be entered on both the CASPA and supplemental applications.
- Select one course per prerequisite. Labs are not required for any of our prerequisites; if the lab component of a prerequisite is listed separately from the main course in your transcript information, select only the main course, not the lab as well.
- Do not select any expired prerequisites completed before the cycle's listed expiration date; these are not acceptable or considerable for admission. Instead select an unexpired prerequisite course, or a current/planned future qualifying course. If a prerequisite course has been identified but a grade not yet earned, select this course from those listed on the transcript entry section.
- If a prerequisite course has not yet been identified, select the option: "I am not matching any courses to this prerequisite."
- Enter one course per prerequisite. Labs are not required for any of our prerequisites; if the lab component of a prerequisite is listed separately from the main course in your transcript information, enter only the main course, not the lab as well.
- Do not enter any expired prerequisites completed before the cycle's listed expiration date; these are not acceptable or considerable for admission. Instead enter an unexpired prerequisite course, or a current/planned future qualifying course.
- If your institution is not included in the predefined list, select "None of the Above," then manually type in the name of the institution at which the prerequisite was completed. Leaving this field as a default "Not Found" will result in an error message.
- If a prerequisite course has been identified but a grade not yet earned, enter all course information and select "N/A" for grade.
- If a prerequisite course has not yet been identified, complete each as follows:
Course #: Any number
Course Name: Name of the prerequisite being fulfilled (i.e., Microbiology)
Credit Hours: 3
Grade: Select N/A
Date Completed: Enter an estimated completion date
Institution: Select "Find Institution," perform a state search, select "None of the Above," then manually type "Unknown"
- How can I get an a fee waiver code?
Applicants that qualify for an application fee waiver through CASPA will qualify for a fee waiver for the supplemental application. Qualifying applicants should contact the Northwestern University PA Program at firstname.lastname@example.org before submitting the supplemental application.
After the CASPA Application Is Submitted
- I submitted my CASPA application. When will I hear a status update on my application?
Once you have submitted your CASPA application, you will receive an email notification from CASPA that it has been received and then verified.
At this point, your application will be made available to the Northwestern University PA Program as verified for processing purposes.
Email notifications regarding the status of an application will be sent at the following instances:
- Your application is complete: CASPA application, supplemental application, official GRE scores are all received.
- During the application cycle if a required part of the application has not been received.
Email notifications will not be sent to confirm receipt of each individual piece of the application, such as when GRE scores are received. If you believe your application to be complete and have not received a confirmation email from the PA Program, check your spam email folders and call the PA Program directly.
- When will I know if I am selected for an interview or not?
Once an application is received, it takes between two and four weeks to process, depending on application volume. From this point, applicants can hear at any point if they have been selected for an interview. Because of our holistic review process, the earliest applicants do not always get the first interview spots. Applicants not selected for an interview will be informed at the end of January, when our interview cycle has concluded.
Applicants calling to check on the status of their application will likely be told their application is under review. This status reflects our periodic and holistic review of the applicant pool when making interview invitation selections.
- I have grades that have completed since submitting my application. How do I update the PA Program?
Relevant coursework is often completed by applicants after the CASPA application has been submitted. Applicants are strongly encouraged to do each of the following:
- For prerequisite coursework completed after the CASPA application was submitted, official transcripts reflecting newly earned grades and college credit should be sent directly to the PA Program. Unofficial transcripts, including emailed or faxed transcripts, are not accepted. Grades from courses other than prerequisites are not necessary. Do not send transcripts to CASPA after submitting the application.
- Your CASPA profile has a feature called Academic Update. For courses added and/or grades earned after submitting the CASPA application, this feature provides an unofficial update to your CASPA course listing. Entered grades and courses will not be re-verified, but this can provide your designated programs with an updated, unofficial picture of your academic profile.
Official transcripts sent as hard-copy or electronic versions are accepted and must come directly from the higher education institution.
- I have updates to my patient care or volunteer experiences. How can I update the PA Program?
Updates to patient care, volunteer, community service and shadowing experiences can be made by contacting the PA Program at email@example.com. Updates can be made to applicant files until November 15 preceding the intended June enrollment.
Eligible updates include:
- Starting new or leaving old patient care positions
- Significant changes in hours worked per week in existing patient care roles
- Changes in responsibilities or duties within an existing patient care role
- New volunteer, leadership, community service or shadowing experience
- Newly acquired certifications or honors
Updates to newly accrued hour totals of patient care experience are not required or necessary beyond what is listed on the CASPA application for current patient care roles.
- Are electronic transcripts accepted?
Transcripts electronically sent to the PA Program are accepted only if they come directly from the college or university through a secure web portal. Transcripts that are emailed, faxed or represent unofficial versions of official transcripts are not accepted.
The Applicant Pool
- How many applicants are being interviewed this year, and how many will be chosen for the class?
Approximately 150 applicants will be interviewed for each admissions cycle. Our goal is to enroll 36 students each June.
- Realistically, what GRE score, GPA and number of clinical hours must I have to be admitted?
We strive for a holistic approach to candidate evaluation and consider all components of an application: academic record, GRE score, healthcare experience, PA shadowing, personal references, written personal statement, supplemental application essay answers, additional personal experiences and on-campus interview performance. It is possible for a weak aspect of a profile to be counterbalanced by stronger than normal characteristics in another aspect of the application. However, our applicant pool is very competitive.
Applicants must have an overall GPA of 2.80 or higher on a 4.0 scale. Characteristics for the most recent matriculating class can be viewed on our Class Profile page.
- Does it matter what your academic major is from undergrad?
No. Applications are reviewed holistically and no specific academic major is preferred from undergraduate or graduate school experiences. Because the PA Program is a professional health science graduate program, previous coursework in the sciences is expected and grades should be competitive.
To view the academic major backgrounds for our most recent enrolling class, see our Class Profile page.
- Is there a preference for residents of the state of Illinois?
No. Northwestern University is a private university. No preference is given for applicants residing in Illinois.
GRE and Other Standardized Tests
- When should I submit my official GRE scores?
Official GRE scores must not be submitted until your intended CASPA application cycle has opened. Official scores will not be received if they are submitted prior to the start of your intended application cycle. The Northwestern University PA Program school code is 4879; no department code is necessary.
Official GRE scores may not carry over from one cycle to the next; contact CASPA for its inter-cycle policy.
- What code do I submit my scores to, and do I need a department code?
Official GRE scores must be sent to the Northwestern University PA Program school code 4879. No department code is necessary.
Official GRE scores cannot be shared across departments at Northwestern University, including if scores were accidentally sent to another department instead of the PA Program's GRE school code.
Failure to send scores to the correct school code may result in scores not being received and the ineligibility of your application if discovered after the application deadline.
- Is the GRE waived for any applicant, even with a master's or advanced degree?
No. Regardless of any past academic experiences, achievements or degrees, the GRE is not waived.
- Can I use GRE scores submitted for a previous graduate program?
Official GRE scores can be submitted as long as they are still valid. Scores are valid for five years from the test date.
This would not be affected by previous graduate work or score submissions to other schools.
Official GRE scores cannot be shared across departments at Northwestern University, including if scores were accidentally sent to another department instead of the PA Program's GRE school code (4879).
- Can the MCAT substitute for the GRE?
No, the GRE is a required part of the application. Other graduate-level standardized tests cannot be used as substitutes, including the MCAT or GMAT.
- How are scores sent and received? Do I have to send scores to both CASPA and the PA Program?
The Northwestern University PA Program uses electronic score reporting for official GRE scores. Scores generally take one to two weeks to be received. Official GRE scores must be received by the application deadline, so applicants should factor this delay when scheduling their GRE test date.
Official scores are to be sent to school code 4879 for the Northwestern University PA Program. Official scores cannot actually be sent directly to CASPA, as CASPA does not have a GRE school code. That is why the Northwestern University PA Program school code on CASPA is listed as 4879.
Through a special business process, applicant GRE scores are actually sent to and attached to the CASPA application. Once received, applicants are able to view this status update on the log-in screen of their CASPA applicant portal.
- Do I have to self-report my GRE scores on CASPA?
No. Some programs may require official GRE scores to be self-reported on the CASPA application, but the Northwestern University PA Program does not require this.
Pre-Admission Clinical Experience & Shadowing
- Do you really require 1,000 hours of clinical experience from your applicants?
We require that applicants present in their CASPA materials a minimum of 1,000 hours of direct patient care experience, accrued upon the date of application submission. CASPA applications submitted with less than 1,000 accrued hours of direct patient care experience are not considered further for admission. Other things being equal, the admissions committee will prefer applicants with two years or more of clinical experience over those with one year, for example. However, clinical experience is not the only type of experience that the admissions committee values. Leadership, volunteer and research experiences, among others, are also factored in. But no type of experience is valued more than direct patient care experience.
- How do you evaluate clinical positions and compare one against the other?
Clinical positions are compared to one another based on level of patient contact and level of responsibility. Jobs that require a certification or licensure usually provide stronger experiences because they are tied to positions in which these levels are heightened and provide a greater level of weekly hour accruals.
Hours accrued through research and graduate assistant positions will only count if there was significant patient contact and they were not tied to the completion of any prior academic degree or certification credential.
- I completed clinical hours as part of an internship. Will those hours count?
No. Hours completed as part of an academic degree or professional certification will not count in the patient care clinical hour total.
- Can the Northwestern University PA Program connect me with a PA to shadow?
No. Due to conflict of interest considerations, the Northwestern University PA Program is not able to assist PA Program applicants with obtaining PA shadowing experiences. You may consider contacting your local physician assistant organization for assistance and networking opportunities. In Illinois, this is the Illinois Academy of Physician Assistants.
- Do hours spent shadowing a physician count toward PA shadowing?
No. Shadowing hours accrued while shadowing a PA carry the most impact on the application and is strongly encouraged. Shadowing hours accrued while shadowing a physician are factored into the overall review of your application, but will not carry the impact of shadowing a PA.
- Can I apply before I complete all the prerequisites?
Yes. An applicant may submit their application with a maximum of two prerequisite courses scheduled for completion in the fall term (ending December 31) and one prerequisite course scheduled for completion during the spring (January 1 - May 31). Thus, it is possible to apply in advance of the October 1 deadline while enrolled in two of the courses and take another prerequisite in the spring semester.
However, we reserve the right to postpone admissions decisions, either regarding an interview invitation or offering acceptance, until we see grades from all the prerequisite courses. In such cases, it is the student's responsibility to provide the program with official transcripts upon completion.
When completing your CASPA application, include courses in progress and coursework planned in the appropriate fields to alert us to your plans. If you are accepted into the program before you complete the required coursework, your acceptance will be on provisional status until records of your coursework and/or graduation are received. No student will be allowed to matriculate into the program if all prerequisite requirements are not met. Because of the various factors considered in selecting applicants, you are encouraged to complete the majority of prerequisites before applying.
- If I took a prerequisite course five, 10, even 35 years ago, will you still accept that?To be considered further for admission, all prerequisite coursework must be completed no earlier than 7 years prior to application cycle deadline. Thus, for the 2020 application cycle, all qualifying prerequisite coursework will have been completed on or after October 1, 2013.
- I need to go back to school to finish a few prerequisites. Can I take courses at a community college?
Yes. You can take courses online, too, if you'd like. As long as it's at a regionally accredited institution of higher learning and the coursework is taken for college credit (not certificate or continuing education credits), we will honor your coursework there.
- Can prerequisites be waived, like Medical Terminology, or tested out of with CME or CEU credit?
Prerequisites cannot be waived or tested out of for the Northwestern University PA Program.
No prerequisite can be waived due to previous academic, life or field experiences. Prerequisites can be completed at any regionally accredited institution of higher learning. A grade and college credit must be earned. Prerequisites cannot be satisfied through Continuing Medical Education or Continuing Education Unit credit.
Visit our How to Apply page to review a list of our prerequisite courses, credit minimums and content requirements.
- In general, what are the requirements for an international applicant?
Applicants who have received their bachelor's and/or master's degrees from outside the United States must have completed at least 30 credit hours of coursework in the United States prior to enrolling in the PA Program and submit TOEFL scores along with their applications. Please visit our International Applicants section for more details.
- I have an advanced degree in medicine. What admission requirements are waived? Can I test out of any courses?
Regardless of any previous academic or life experiences, no admission requirements are waived, including the GRE.
Additionally, no advanced standing can be granted and no classes can be tested out of. Applicants with advanced credentials and/or experiences would go through the same 24-month, six-term curriculum that all other enrolled PA students go through.
- I am a citizen or permanent resident of the United States. Am I still an international applicant?
If you did not complete a degree from a U.S. or Canadian institution of higher learning, you would still be considered an international applicant. Whether an applicant is considered an international applicant is tied to where their degree was earned, rather than current citizenship.
View our International Applicants page for more admissions requirements.
- When is the TOEFL waived?
The TOEFL is required of all international applicants unless an academic degree has been earned from a U.S. or Canadian college or university. Visit our How to Apply page to view TOEFL minimum score requirements.
Program Policies (Working, Deposits, Licensure, etc.)
- How often are students admitted during the calendar year?
The Northwestern University PA Program enrolls 36 students once per year into its full-time program at the start of June. There is no part-time option.
- Can I work full time and still be a PA student in your program?
Realistically, no. This is a full-time program with classes during regular business hours. Employment of PA students by the program itself is strictly prohibited.
- Is there an enrollment deposit required to hold my space in the class if I am accepted?
Yes. All applicants offered admission are required to submit an enrollment deposit to hold their seat within 10 days of receiving their admission offer. The enrollment deposit is $1,000.
This deposit is applied to your tuition, and is non-refundable.
- Is a background check required?
Yes. Accepted students are subject to a pre-enrollment background screen for criminal convictions and appearance in the US Department of Health & Human Services List of Excluded Individuals. Should the background screen process yield any such information, an offer of admission may be rescinded.
- Do you accept transfer students, allow advanced placement or provide credit for experiential learning?
No. The PA Program does not accept transfer students from other programs, and all students must have a bachelor's degree prior to starting the program. The PA Program does not allow advance placement or course credit for experiential learning.
- What criteria are used to determine who is able to receive a license as a physician assistant?
Please be advised that each state and other jurisdictions and credentialing bodies determine the criteria for professional licensure, registration, certification or employment. Physician assistants must meet the same high standards required of physicians, nurses and other health professionals.
Applicants with histories of impairments such as alcohol or substance abuse, certain mental illnesses or other disabilities may be denied licensure or related credential. Applicants with felony and other convictions may also be denied licensure or related credential. Applicants with outstanding child support obligations or who have defaulted on student loans or public scholarship obligations, may also experience difficulties obtaining licensure.
Physician assistants who leave clinical practice for a period of time may also face challenges and barriers. Licensing bodies and some employers may be concerned that clinical skills and knowledge are out-of-date, thereby placing patients’ health and safety at risk.
Additional information is available at the American Academy of Physician Assistants website.