What is CASPA?

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The word "CASPA" gets thrown around a lot when the topic of applying to PA school comes up, so today we'll look at what it is exactly, and what that application entails.

CASPA stands for the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants.  So basically, it is an online application service that schools use to have students complete their applications.  The majority of programs use CASPA, but here is a list of who is currently participating.  It also shows all of the deadlines for particular programs.  In addition to the CASPA application, some programs will require a supplemental application as well, so it's important to check with the programs you're applying to.  The supplemental application is sometimes required with the CASPA application, or it can be done after submitting CASPA.  Occasionally, you will not have to do a supplemental until you are given an interview. The application opens during April, and stays open until the following March, but each program has a different deadline for submission that you need to pay attention to.

CASPA is solely a place to input information, so it does not provide the various requirements for each program, like prerequisites or healthcare experience requirements.  These are things you'll have to look at yourself for each program because you don't want to waste your money applying somewhere that you don't have the qualifications.   Most programs use "rolling admissions," which means that as soon as your application is complete it will be reviewed by the program, which means the sooner you get your application in the better!  It can take a few weeks for "processing," so don't wait until the last minute and communicate with your references the importance of getting their part in as soon as possible.

Information you will need for CASPA:

  • References - Programs have different requirements as far as the number of references and who they need to be from.  The choices typically include a supervisor from a healthcare setting, a PA you have shadowed, or a professor.  Sometimes they don't really care, but make sure to check each separate program to see if they are particular about this.  The references are done electronically, so you will need the e-mail address of your reference.  It's a good idea to let them know to expect the e-mail so they can check their junk mail and it won't get lost in their inbox.  You are able to have 3-5 references.
  • Transcripts - You will need to have a transcript sent from anywhere that you have done undergraduate coursework.  It's also helpful to have a copy of these for yourself to fill in that information on CASPA.  If you are still working on prerequisites, you will have to send another copy when you have completed them to the actual program.
  • Personal Statement- 5,000 character limit (about 650 words).  This is your chance to tell the programs about yourself, so they can find out if they want to know more about you or put a face to those words.  It needs to tell a story and paint a good picture of who you are and why you want to be a PA. If you need help with writing your personal statement or editing, please let me know!
  • Experience - And the categories are Patient Care Experience, Health Care Experience, Shadowing, Employment, Research, Volunteer.  This is why it's a good idea to keep very detailed records of where and when you did any of these, along with how many hours and any supervisors you may have had, as well as a description of what you actually did.

Although it was not working for the current 2015-2016 cycle, for the next cycle, if you were to have to reapply, CASPA will save all of your information so it will be a lot easier.  But we'll just stay positive about not having to reapply!

The fee for CASPA is $175 for the first program you apply to, and then $50 for each additional program during that cycle.  That can add up quickly, so make sure you have the qualifications for a program before you apply.  (**My only caveat for that is if there is a program you are extremely interested in, but don't quite have the requirements yet, it may be worth it to apply and then when you reapply the next year, you'll be a much more competitive candidate and a reapplicant.  Just my personal opinion though.)  There are some fee waivers available that are based on income, but they typically run out quickly.  This gives you a $175 credit for the first application.  If you are given a waiver, your application must be completed within 14 days of receiving it.

There's an extremely thorough site that goes through basically everything you need to know to set up a CASPA account and then all of the information you will need to fill out your application, so I would definitely recommend checking this site out at some point.  The earlier the better, because then you'll know a little better what to expect.

A blog post with some tips on completing CASPA.  

There's even a Twitter account and Facebook page you can follow if you want updates on CASPA.  I would love to hear about your experiences with CASPA and any tips you have for making it a smooth process!