PA School Prerequisites: The Ultimate Guide

December 12, 2022
When I was gearing up to apply to PA school, I remember feeling increasingly overwhelmed while reviewing prerequisite courses for programs. There was such a variation in required coursework from program to program that I had little idea of where to start. In some instances, the requirements listed on a program’s website differed so wildly from my degree audit that I had to omit the program as an option entirely.
If you’re in a similar position as a pre-PA student, the following guide is for you. Here is everything you need to know about the most common PA school prerequisites, the different types of requirements, and how to perform well to set yourself up for PA school success.

What is the purpose of prerequisite courses?

The purpose of prerequisite courses is to prepare you for the rigorous coursework of didactic year. Many of the prerequisite courses are in the basic sciences, which serve as an excellent foundation for graduate-level anatomy, pathophysiology, microbiology, and pharmacology. This knowledge will assist you in navigating higher levels of thinking within these areas of study.

What are the most common PA school prerequisites?

These are the most common prerequisite courses among PA programs:

  1. Biology* 
  2. Microbiology*
  3. Anatomy*
  4. Physiology*
  5. Chemistry*
  6. English composition or writing
  7. Statistics
  8. Medical terminology

Additionally, some programs may require or recommend the following:

  1. An upper-level biology course (e.g., biochemistry, genetics) 
  2. Organic chemistry*
  3. Psychology or sociology
  4. Foreign language (e.g., Spanish)
  5. Physics*

*Frequently require a lab component

Pay attention to the number of credits you need, semester vs quarter unit conversions, and whether there is a mandatory lab component.

What are the additional requirements for prerequisite courses?

Programs typically have a minimum accepted grade (e.g., B− or higher) in prerequisite courses. In some instances, programs will accept an upper-division course with a better grade in place of a prerequisite course with a grade that does not meet the minimum. For example, maybe you received a C+ in general biology freshman year but later earned an A in molecular biology. In this case, you may not need to repeat the general biology prerequisite.

Additionally, it is not uncommon for programs to put time constraints on prerequisite courses. Specific coursework may need to be completed within a set time frame (e.g., 5 years, 7 years, 10 years).

You will also have a deadline for completing your prerequisite coursework. Many PA programs have strict guidelines for the number of prerequisite courses that you can have “in progress” or outstanding at the time of application submission. For example, if you want to matriculate in August 2024, you may not have more than two courses in progress when you submit your application. Additionally, you may need to successfully obtain a B− or higher by May 2024. If you do not meet this deadline or if you obtain lower than a B−, your acceptance could be rescinded. 

Lastly, some programs will accept Advanced Placement (AP) credits for prerequisite courses, while others will not. If any of the above information is not explicitly delineated on a program’s website, reach out to them directly.

What is the difference between prerequisite and preferred courses?

Prerequisite courses are the courses you must complete prior to matriculation. In contrast, preferred or recommended courses are courses that are not required for matriculation but may make your application appear more attractive. Oftentimes, preferred courses will further prepare you for a specific program’s underlying curriculum or align with its underlying mission and goals.

What is the difference between prerequisite courses and major requirements?

While you must have an undergraduate degree for admission to PA school, there is no specific requirement for your degree’s field of study. You may gravitate toward majoring in the sciences, considering your major requirements will also often satisfy the prerequisites for PA school. However, this is not required! You may choose a major in any area that interests you.

Major requirements are the courses that are necessary to complete your undergraduate degree in your specific area of study. Your degree audit will provide a roadmap of what these courses are. Prerequisite courses can be completed in addition to the requirements of your major, often in the form of electives, a minor, or even coursework at another institution. 

How can I complete my prerequisite courses as a “nontraditional” student?

“Nontraditional” has many different definitions. It can include applicants who delayed enrollment to an undergraduate institution for years after high school graduation, applicants who work full time, applicants who graduated from an undergraduate institution many years ago, second-career applicants, or applicants with minor dependents. 

While being outside of the undergraduate degree structure could create additional barriers to completing prerequisite coursework, it is still possible. The options for completing prerequisite courses often depend on your individual needs, whether it’s an in-person, hybrid, or virtual course.

You may enroll in an institution as a nonmatriculating student to complete coursework without earning a degree. This is an attractive option for those who work full time, need direct patient care experience, or balance other personal obligations. You should closely review your desired programs’ websites to determine if there is a preference for four-year institutions over community colleges for your prerequisites.

Alternatively, you may choose to pursue an initial or additional undergraduate degree that also allows you to complete your prerequisites. This option may be particularly attractive to those with historically low GPAs or those that never attended an undergraduate institution. 

A postbaccalaureate program (also known as “postbac”) may also be a desirable option. A postbac may award a diploma, degree, or another certificate upon successful completion. There is a wide range of postbac options, including those with a premedical or health sciences focus, which allows applicants to complete prerequisites for graduate or doctorate programs while completing the postbaccalaureate program. 

How can I perform well in my prerequisite courses?

Earning good grades in your prerequisite courses isn’t just important for getting you into PA school, it’s also important for building a strong foundation of knowledge before didactic year. Additionally, programs may use your prerequisite GPA—not just your science GPA or cumulative GPA—as part of their admission review process. 

To perform well in these courses and set yourself up for pre-PA success, you should do the following:

  1. Budget your time (pre-PA students are often balancing many different duties, so allotting adequate time for class and studying is imperative)
  2. Create a study schedule
  3. Use your provided syllabus
  4. Take advantage of provided school and course resources (e.g., practice questions, office hours, tutoring)
  5. Make connections with faculty members as you may seek them out for future letters of recommendation (many programs require a letter of recommendation from an academic source) 

There are online repositories available that allow you to search schools by prerequisites, required GPAs, or direct patient care hours. These tools didn’t exist when I was applying! It is vital that you research to determine which schools may be the right fit and what additional coursework you need prior to applying to avoid wasting time and money. In many instances, ignoring a school’s prerequisites will get your application thrown out before it even gets in front of a faculty reviewer.

As you navigate this important phase of your PA journey, check out the Rosh Review Pre-PA Student Qbank to get a head start on topics including anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, and more!

More than 90% of PA programs in the U.S. use Rosh Review Qbanks to help their students prepare for their board review and beyond. Get a headstart as a pre-PA student with a free trial!

By Jennifer Comini, PA-C

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