So, this post is based off my knowledge of CASPA in previous cycles, and the way things were done back then. I also combed through the CASPA HELP CENTER to make sure I wasn’t saying anything grossly incorrect. My goal is to go back through this post and update it once CASPA does open (April 26).
Until the open date, I wanted to give you guys some ideas of what you need to have prepared for when CASPA opens. I’ve been seeing a lot of posts lately (PRE-PA BIG BROTHERS AND SISTERS, THE PRE-PA CLUB, PRE-PA ROCKSTARS) about whether individuals need to start a CASPA application now to fill in their information and whether or not it will roll over to a new cycle. In my experience, I’ve heard that only applicants who SUBMIT an application to a school will have their information transfer over to the new cycle. I’ve also heard of a ton of problems that occur when people then try to edit this information. So, I would really suggest holding off on opening a CASPA application until you are actually ready to apply (unless you want to go look around on the site and not fill anything in – this I totally suggest)
To hold you guys over until April 26, here are some of my ideas on what you can be doing to prepare until then! I go through my tips section by section based on how CASPA is set up.
This should be very self explanatory! My one recommendation here is to make sure that you use a permeant address, because it can be very challenging to change this address once you’ve submitted to programs!
Obviously you’re going to need to include all of your academic history. This includes what high school(s) you went to, what colleges you’ve attended, the classes you took, and the standardized tests you’ve taken.
I highly recommend getting together all of your transcript information. Inputting your transcript is probably the longest process of CASPA. It’s just tedious and annoying. Having all of the information ready before hand is really going to speed up the process!
Print out an unofficially copy of all of your transcripts (you have to input one from every college you attend). This includes classes that you took with Dual Enrollment during high school!! If you took a college class, it needs to be included!
You’ll need to select the correct subject for each class when you input it on CASPA. There is a couple methods to do this:
- Highlight on your unofficial transcript each subject a different color
- Make an excel sheet that has the course, subject, credit hours, date taken, etc
- Figure it out as you go through on CASPA
I definitely recommend having some sort of method for this. It will make the process slightly less painful for you when you do it on CASPA.
**You can pay a $65-140 fee for CASPA to input your transcript for you. Don’t waste your money on this (in my opinion)
Remember that you have to go onto the ETS WEBSITE to send in your official GRE scores. You can “self report” these on CASPA – but that doesn’t actually mean anything to the schools.
Don’t forget to figure out who your Letters of Recommendation are coming from. This can be more challenging than expected. CASPA gives you up to 5 letters of rec that you can submit. Most schools only require 3. I used all 5.
Talk to your letter writers beforehand so that they know this is coming! You want someone who knows you well enough to write you a great letter and someone who is actually going to do this within the deadline you give them
Make sure you have the appropriate writers required by the schools. Examples of what some schools want:
- Supervisor of your patient contact hours
**CASPA used to recommend that your letter writers had known you for at least 6 months. I can no longer find this on the site, but they do ask you how long the writer has known you. I think that this is still a very good rule of thumb to go by!
Any awards, honors, publications, or scholarships you have gotten will go under this section. I honestly found it incredibly hard to remember all of the things I had gotten during college (especially some of the more remote ones), so I really recommend making a list of this and adding to it every time you remember something!
Write a rough draft (or a dozen) or your personal statement. Here are some tips for it. I’m going to revamp these tips for next week!
These are memberships to PROFESSIONAL organizations, such as AAPA. Your other non-medical related memberships will go under Experiences: Extracurricular Activities
When doing your “Experiences” Section of CASPA, there are 9 categories: Volunteering, Shadowing, Healthcare Experience, Patient Care Experience, Employment, Leadership, Extracurricular, Teaching and Research.
For every experience listed, you need to put together a couple of things:
- You need to know how many hours you did this experience. CASPA asks you the number of hours you did each week and then the number of weeks and calculates it that way.
- example: 3 hours a week X 5 weeks= 15 hours total in CASPA
- You need to know the start and end dates
- If you didn’t do the experience every week, simple just only count the weeks you went
- example: I volunteered from 1/12/2016 to 4/05/2016 but I only volunteered every other week. I’ll mark down 7 weeks on CASPA.
- Who was your supervisor or the organizer of the event?
- What were the tasks you preformed
I’ve included the CASPA Definition for each, and then the things that I think you should do to be prepared to have ready.
Volunteer work done outside of the health care field; for example, working for Habitat for Humanity, tutoring students, participating in or working for a fundraiser walk or blood drive, etc.
Start making a list of every volunteering experience. In my opinion, you should only count things you did in undergrad. If you’re applying after some gap years, I would keep it within the last 5 years (kind of how most schools require prerequisites to be done within the last 5 years). Compile all of the necessary things (hours completed, start/end dates, supervisor, tasks preformed).
I was told at an admissions talk that any kind of volunteering was relevant, not just the medical type. They want to see passion about something. All of the volunteering I did involved children, but it was a wide variety of things.
**CASPA now has you separate out medical volunteering from other forms – which I think makes it even more important that you have some of these experiences! You want to be a well rounded individual, and the best way to do this is to show that you have interests outside of medicine.
Time spent officially following and observing a health care professional at work, preferably in the physician assistant field.
This is one of the most important things and one of the most difficult to find. You definitely want to be able to shadow a PA. That way, you can say that you know what a Physician Assistant does in the field. However, make sure to also include MD, NPs, etc. Having a variety and knowing the differences between all of these careers is a good thing. Often times you will be asked in an interview what made PA stand out over MD/DO or NP. Having a base of shadowing knowledge will allow you to better answer this!
Both paid and unpaid work in a health or health-related field where you are not directly responsible for a patient’s care, but may still have patient interaction; for example, filling prescriptions, performing clerical work, delivering patient food, cleaning patients and/or their rooms, administering food or medication, taking vitals or other record keeping information, working as a scribe, CNA (depending on job description), medical assistant, etc.
Healthcare experience is can be more difficult for people to define. CASPA has done a great job in updating this description since I applied. Basically, its hours spent involved in healthcare that is not direct patient care. So think more of the clerical things such as answering phones, making appointments, etc that occurs at a place where health care is provided.
However, a lot of confusion has arose from this change in description – especially since CNA and MA are now included as examples. Remember, the program is going to carefully read the entirety of your application, and that includes the task you list having done for an experience. They will formulate their own opinion as to what counts for HCE vs PCE!
**The same goes for scribing. Not all programs accept this as PCE, and according to the CASPA description this needs to be categorized under HCE. Please do so, and if the program you apply to accepts it as PCE hours, they will recategorize it for you!
Patient Care Experience
Experiences in which you are directly responsible for a patient’s care. For example, prescribing medication, performing procedures, directing a course of treatment, designing a treatment regimen, actively working on patients as a nurse, paramedic, EMT, CNA, phlebotomist, physical therapist, dental hygienist, etc.
Its one of the most important things that schools look at when they’re evaluating your application, so please make sure you have everything down correctly here! Double and triple check all of the hours you have, and the hours the school requires. Most schools will prorate the PCE hours to time of matriculation or at least to the time they actually look at your application (it might be 2 months later). However, not every school does this! Make sure you know what the schools you’re applying to are going to do. You don’t want to waste money on an application that you don’t even meet the minimum requirements for. CASPA is great in that it allows you to submit applications to different schools at different times. Take advantage of this.
If you’re unsure if something counts as patient contact hours, check the schools website. As a last resort, email the school. But keep in mind the golden rule that if you’re not touching the patient in a MEDICAL way, it does not count.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do NOT lie about your hours. I don’t care how desperately you want to be a PA, this is NOT the route to go about getting into school.
Paid work done outside of the health care field or a research lab; for example, a retail or restaurant job.
This is pretty self explanatory. I went back further in my employment career than I did on anything else in CASPA, because I wanted to show that I had the ability to maintain a job for multiple years. When in doubt, I would include it all.
Related activities you would like your selected programs to review; for example, academic clubs and competitive teams. Do not include paid work experience in this section.
I can’t even stress how happy I am that CASPA has created this section since I applied! I did a bunch of extracurricular activities during undergrad that I wasn’t able to include in my application because they didn’t fit in anywhere. This fixes that problem.
This is also another great opportunity to show the committee how well rounded you are, and the fact that you have interests outside of medicine.
Experiences in which you held a leadership role within an organization, such as the president of a club, fraternity/sorority, etc.
Also very self explanatory! A huge part of the PA field is advocacy, whether its advocating for your patient to get the best care possible or advocating for the advancement of the PA profession. Because of this, PA school committees are always going to value leadership experience in their prospective students.
As much as I don’t suggest doing “filler” activities to meet requirements, this is definitely a section that doesn’t look great to have blank.
Experiences in which you were in charge of instructing others, such as a teaching assistant, tutor, etc.
Another great expansion of the CASPA experiences. Remember, as a PA you’re going to be educating your patients on their medical diagnoses and the treatments they need to receive.
Research projects completed, preferably in addition to or outside of regular classroom work.
If you did research, great. Make sure to include it. If you didn’t, don’t stress. For a lot of schools, this is just something extra but not a requirement.
Licenses and certificates
Are you a CNA/EMT/MA/Phlebotomist (or something else)? This will go under certifications. I also made sure to include that I was CPR certified! I had a folder I kept of all the certifications I got, when they expired, how to renew them, etc. This was just to keep me on track with everything, but it ended up being very helpful for CASPA as well!
So, this section isn’t really one that you can prepare for all that much. Its going to be different for every school. Things that you could do to prepare:
- Make a nice, updated resume (some programs will also refer to this as a CV)
- Have a list of all of the prerequisites required for that program. I talk about a great way to do this back in my post on AM I READY TO APPLY?
- Have an idea of what you would talk about if the program asks you to explain any less than stellar grades
**The most important thing you can do is keep track of stuff! Make a folder on your computer, a binder of stuff, whatever makes you happy! Just keep everything organized and in one place!**
You want to be able to have everything prelisted before you start CASPA so that you’re just going in and filling things out and not trying to remember remote experiences.
And, most importantly….
RELAX and BREATHE
Hopefully this helps. These are the things that I wish I would have had ready before I started CASPA, so I wanted to make sure to share them with you! Comment below on your thoughts about getting ready to apply, and the ways that you kept track of all of your different adventures.
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