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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 FAQ, please contact the admissions office at paprogram@northwestern.edu

 The Application Process

 What does "rolling admissions" mean?

In a "rolling admissions" approach, interviews are conducted and admission decisions are made while applications are still being accepted. Our process is specifically designed so that open seats remain after the application deadline in October and the conclusion of the interview season in December.

While applications are reviewed in the order that they are received, all applicants who meet our minimum requirements will remain under consideration for the duration of the interview period and may be invited for an interview at any time during that period. 

In this rolling approach, the timeline between application submission and interview invitation can vary significantly for a given applicant. Thus, one applicant could submit their application in August and receive an invitation to interview in August, while another applicant could submit their application in May and receive and invitation to interview in December.

If not selected for an interview, applicants are notified at the conclusion of the interview selection process, typically in December.

 

 When will you start accepting applications for the next class?

For the Class of 2025 with a projected start date of May 30, 2023:

The CASPA application portal will open on April 28, 2022. 

The deadline for application submission for this Program is end of day on October 1, 2022.

The CASPA application must be in "Complete" or "Verified" status, as designated by CASPA, as of the application deadline. Applicants can access the CASPA application status definitions through the application's FAQ resource.

In addition to the CASPA submission, the Northwestern University PA Program Supplemental Application must also be submitted and received by end of day on October 1, 2022. 

Failure to meet the above criteria will result in an incomplete application which will not be considered further for an admissions decision.

Only prerequisite coursework may be pending (with two courses completed by the end of December and one completed by May prior to matriculation).

 Is the GRE required? When should I submit my official GRE scores and do scores carry over from one cycle to the next?

For the 2022-23 application cycle, the submission of Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test scores is not required and GRE scores will not be evaluated during application review.

If a candidate desires to send official GRE scores, they should 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.

 When do most applicants submit their application?

The CASPA application opens in late April. Most applicants submit their CASPA applications in August of the application cycle, with peak times between mid-July and early September.

In our rolling admissions approach, the timing of submission is not linked to the timing of a potential invitation to interview.

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 to give ample time to address unexpected issues.

 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, and at least three letters of reference (called "evaluations" within CASPA).

The CASPA and supplemental applications are received separately by our Program and then combined 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.

To meet our deadline requirement, both the CASPA application, in "Complete" or "Verified" status as defined by CASPA, and the supplemental application must be received by the Nortwestern University Physician Assistant Program by end of day on October 1, 2022. 

Applications that do not meet our deadline requirement are considered incomplete and will not be considered further for an admissions decision.

 Can I submit more than the required 3 letters of reference via CASPA?

Yes. CASPA requires submission of at least 3 letters of reference (called "evaluations" within CASPA). Additional letters of reference (up to 5 total) may be submitted and will be reviewed by our admissions committee, but are not required. There is no admissions advantage or disadvantage associated with the number of letters submitted as part of the application.

 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.

The decision to offer an interview to a candidate is based on the following criteria: academic record, patient care experience, health care experience, professional references (evaluations), written personal statement, supplemental application essay responses, awards/honors, and all Experiences provided via the CASPA application (leadership, volunteer/community enrichment, PA shadowing, research, teaching, extracurricular, and additional professional experiences). 

Competitive applicants stand out by being able to speak to each of these categories. Please see our Class Profile to better understand the academic and professional experience of our current students.

 Are you still interviewing for the current application cycle?

Interviews will be conducted between late August and December for the class matriculating in late May 2023. 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?

Applicants are holistically evaluated on the basis of their individual merits.

Admission decisions are based on the following criteria: academic record, patient care experience, health care experience, professional references (evaluations), written personal statement, supplemental application essay responses, awards/honors, and all Experiences provided via the CASPA application (leadership, volunteer/community enrichment, PA shadowing, research, teaching, extracurricular, and additional professional experiences). Select applicants are invited to interview and their candidacy is further evaluated based on interview performance.

 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 and Supplemental Applications be submitted at the same time?

The CASPA Application and Supplemental Application can be submitted separately. Each must be submitted and received by end of day on October 1. The CASPA application must be in "Complete" or "Verified" status as designated by CASPA by end of day on October 1 to meet our deadline.

An application will not be reviewed until both applications are received and all requirements are met. Please see the How to Apply page to fully understand the application requirements. All else equal, applicants should submit application materials earlier in the cycle rather than later.

 Is the Supplemental Application sent to select applicants after submitting the CASPA?

No. The link to the Supplemental application will become available in the How to Apply section of the website on April 28, 2022. 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 end of day application deadline.

Applications will not be reviewed until both the CASPA Application and Supplemental Application have been received.

 My experience fits the CASPA definition of Healthcare Experience, not Patient Care Experience. Will this experience still be eligible to meet the 1,000 hour minimum requirement?

CASPA defines a distinction between the application Experience categories of Patient Care Experience and Healthcare Experience. When evaluating an application, we look beyond this binary definition into the actual care responsibilities held and tasks executed in each clinical role.

As such, hours accrued in most clinical roles defined by CASPA as Healthcare experience will meet our definition of patient care experience, and thus are eligible to meet our 1,000 hour requirement noted above. Our admissions committee will review experiences provided by applicants in both the Patient Care Experience and Healthcare Experience categories of the CASPA.

On our Class Profile page, you can view the clinical roles held by our current students prior to matriculation, all of which qualify as patient care experience for this Program. This list is not exhaustive and does not indicate an admissions preference for one clinical role over another. Please contact paprogram@northwestern.edu with questions about the eligibilty of a given clinical role to meet our requirements.

 How should volunteer hours be entered if they are patient care experience?

Direct patient care experience hours should be entered in the Patient Care Experience 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 Experience 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 Application and Supplemental Application.

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 2022-23 application cycle, all qualifying prerequisite coursework will have been completed on or after October 1, 2015.

CASPA Application:

  • 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."

Supplemental Application:

  • 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 a Supplemental Application fee waiver code?

Applicants who have qualified for an application fee waiver through CASPA may qualify for a fee waiver for the Supplemental Application, if the applicant requests a fee waiver before submitting the supplemental application.

Qualifying applicants should contact the Northwestern University PA Program at paprogram@northwestern.edu before submitting the supplemental application. We strongly recommend that individuals confirm their CASPA Fee Waiver status before submitting the supplemental application.

Refunds for already submitted Supplemental Applications are not retroactively granted.

 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 in the following instances:

  • Your application is complete: your verified CASPA application and supplemental application have been received by the Northwestern University PA Program.
  • During the application cycle if a required part of the application has not been received.

Once your CASPA application is verified and you have submitted the Supplemental Application, please allow up to 5 business days for application processing and notification as noted above.

Email notifications will not be sent to confirm receipt of each individual component of the application. If you believe your application to be complete and have not received a confirmation email from the PA Program, please check your junk email folders and contact us directly at paprogram@northwestern.edu 

 When will I know if I am selected for an interview or not?

The timeline between receipt of a complete application and the evaluation of that application by the admissions committee will vary depending on application volume, and is typically between 4 and 8 weeks.

While applications are reviewed in the order that they are received, all applicants who meet our minimum requirements will remain under consideration for the duration of the interview period and may be invited for an interview at any time during that period. 

The timeline between application submission and interview invitation can vary significantly for a given applicant. Thus, one applicant could submit their application in August and receive an invitation to interview in August, while another applicant could submit their application in May and receive and invitation to interview in December.

In almost all cases, applicants contacting us via email to check on the status of their complete application will be informed that their application remains under review. 

 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.

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.

We do not require applicants to send transcripts to our Program.

Completion of an applicant's official transcript record will be addressed upon an offer to interview.

 I have updates to my patient care or volunteer experiences. How can I update the PA Program?

For a current patient care role, it is not necessary to provide newly accrued hour totals. 

For all applicants, patient care experience hours are automatically projected forward based on the date of CASPA application submission and the provided weekly hours. Applicants who start new positions or experiences or who wish to report significant updates to their weekly hours and/or professional responsibilities may do so via CASPA. Alternatively, updates and modifications to patient care positions and other experiences may be sent to paprogram@northwestern.edu

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

 

 Are electronic transcripts accepted?

We do not require applicants to send transcripts to our Program.

Completion of an applicant's official transcript record will be addressed upon an offer to interview.

 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 during each admissions cycle. Our goal is to enroll 36 students each May/June.

 Realistically, what academic and clinical experience are needed to be competitive for receiving an invitation to interview?

We strive for a holistic approach to candidate evaluation and consider all components of an application.

The decision to offer an interview to a candidate is based on the following criteria: academic record, patient care experience, health care experience, professional references (evaluations), written personal statement, supplemental application essay responses, awards/honors, and all Experiences provided via the CASPA application (leadership, volunteer/community enrichment, PA shadowing, research, teaching, extracurricular, and additional professional experiences). 

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. Please see our Class Profile to better understand the academic and professional experience of our current students.

 Does your undergraduate academic major play a role in application evaluation?

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 of our current students, see our Class Profile page (scroll down).

 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.

 The GRE and Other Standardized Tests

 Is the GRE Required to apply?

For the 2022-23 cycle, the submission of Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test scores is not required and GRE scores will be not be evaluated during application review.

If a candidate desires to send official GRE scores, they should 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.

 Is the MCAT, PA-CAT, or CASPer required?

No, the MCAT, PA-CAT, or CASPer are not required and any such scores submitted will not be evaluated during application review.

 Pre-Admission Clinical Experience & Shadowing

 I do not yet have 1,000 hours of direct patient care experience. Can I still apply?

Not yet. Candidates must 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 fewer than 1,000 accrued hours of direct patient care experience are not considered further for admission.

Enrolling class cohorts typically average well over 1,000 clinical hours.

All else 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.

 My experience fits the CASPA definition of Healthcare Experience, not Patient Care Experience. Will this experience still be eligible to meet the 1,000 hour minimum requirement?

CASPA defines a distinction between the application Experience categories of Patient Care Experience and Healthcare Experience. When evaluating an application, we look beyond this binary definition into the actual care responsibilities held and tasks executed in each clinical role.

As such, hours accrued in most clinical roles defined by CASPA as Healthcare experience will meet our definition of patient care experience, and thus are eligible to meet our 1,000 hour requirement noted above. Our admissions committee will review experiences provided by applicants in both the Patient Care Experience and Healthcare Experience categories of the CASPA.

On our Class Profile page, you can view the clinical roles held by our current students prior to matriculation, all of which qualify as patient care experience for this Program. This list is not exhaustive and does not indicate an admissions preference for one clinical role over another. Please contact paprogram@northwestern.edu with questions about the eligibilty of a given clinical role to meet our requirements.

 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 qualify if direct patient care is a significant responsibility within the professional role. If the role has both patient-facing and administrative responsibilities, hours can potentially be split in CASPA between Patient Care Experience and Health Care Experience categories. To qualify, these roles cannot be associated either the completion of an academic degree or certification credential.

Please note that other PA Programs may have different rules or policies regarding these professional experiences.

 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 or other non-PA healthcare professional 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 or other non-PA health care professional, such as a Nurse Practitioner, are factored into the overall review of your application, but will not carry the impact of shadowing a PA.

 Prerequisite Coursework

 Can I apply before I complete all the prerequisite coursework?

Yes. In fact, this is a common circumstance, and it carries no advantage or disadvantage to an applicant during application evaluation.

As of September 1, 2022, up to three prerequisite courses may be in progress or planned for the future. In this scenario:

  • Up to three prerequisite courses may be in progress or planned to be completed between September 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022.
  • Only one prerequisite course may be in progress or planned to be completed between January 1, 2023 and May 28, 2023.

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 2022-23 application cycle, all qualifying prerequisite coursework must have been completed on or after October 1, 2015.

 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 courses are taken 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.

To be eligible, all prerequisite coursework must be completed for 3 or more college credits* and a grade of 'C' or higher must be earned in the course. We do not require lab coursework.

There is no advantage or disadvantage in admissions based on the institution at which coursework is completed.

Visit our How to Apply page to review our prerequisite coursework requirements, including course content, credit, and minimum grade guidelines.

*Medical Terminology, a required course, must be completed for 1 or more college credits.

 Can prerequisites be waived, like Medical Terminology, or tested out of with CME or CEU credit?

No. Applicants cannot test out of or earn a waiver based on previous academic, life or field experiences.

Prerequisites cannot be satisfied through Continuing Medical Education or Continuing Education Unit credit.

To be eligible, all prerequisite coursework must be completed for 3 or more college credits* and a grade of 'C' or higher must be earned in the course. We do not require lab coursework.

Visit our How to Apply page to review our prerequisite coursework requirements, including course content, credit, and minimum grade guidelines.

*Medical Terminology, a required course, must be completed for 1 or more college credits.

 International Applicants

 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.

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?

Official and valid TOEFL scores are required of all applicants who do not currently hold a baccalaureate degree from an institution of higher learning in the United States or english-speaking Canada, regardless of the official language of the country of origin or the predominant language of attended educational institutions. 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 in late May or early 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 (or higher level 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.

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