Admission to NP and PA graduate schools is highly competitive, and candidates need to differentiate themselves from others in the applicant pool. The ideal candidate for NP or PA school possesses several qualities that demonstrate a commitment to the NP/PA professions as well as the ability to become an outstanding health care practitioner.

Generally admissions decisions are based on a combination of academic performance, GRE scores (if required), current or previous healthcare experience, an essay, personal interviews, and personal, as well as professional references.

Assessing the PA/NP applicant criteria

An applicant’s undergraduate GPA is important, particularly in prerequisite science coursework such as biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology. Most schools require at least a 3.2 prerequisite GPA and an overall GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 grading scale for an application to be considered. According to the American Academy for Physician Assistants, competitive PA applicants should exceed minimum GPA requirements and have a minimum 3.5 combined prerequisite and overall GPA when applying to schools.

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Healthcare experience is another important factor as experience affirms the applicant’s dedication to the chosen profession. Potential NP/PA students can gain experience in a variety of settings. NP candidates may already be experienced RNs, which satisfies the healthcare experience criteria.

Most potential PA students need at least 1,000 hours of direct patient care experience in order for their application to be considered. This experience can be accomplished in a variety of settings including work as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), an RN, an athletic trainer, an EMT, a physical or occupational therapist, chiropractor or by volunteering at a healthcare facility. Work and volunteer experience provide perfect opportunities to obtain the outstanding personal and professional references required by NP/PA schools.

Importance of the essay and the interview

Because admissions committees review several applications daily the essay component is critical. Luckily, the essay is the one that applicants have the most control over. Grades, GREs and experience are already established upon application, so a candidate’s best opportunity to personalize his or her application is with a compelling personal essay. The essay gives you the chance to make an emotional connection with the admissions committee and can help distinguish you from otherwise similar applicants.

The most qualified applicants will be invited for a personal interview. Applicants should be prepared to explain the motives for their chosen profession, and specifically, the influential reasons for choosing NP/PA vs. MD or PA vs. NP. The interview is also an opportunity for interested students to ask questions of the admissions committee, faculty, and current students.

The scope of practice for NPs and PAs is similar. However, education for NP vs. PA differs and each NP/PA school has distinct admissions requirements. Interested applicants can contact schools of choice for specific recommendations regarding the application process.