What to Look for in Pre-Physician Assistant Programs

March 29, 2024

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Physician assistant is one of the fastest-growing careers out there, with a projected 27% increase in employment in the next decade. Due to its shorter education timeline, becoming a PA is a cost-effective and rewarding route to serving in healthcare, and it’s growing in popularity. 

The boom in demand for physician assistants (or physician associates—the terms are interchangeable) is leading to greater diversity in post-undergraduate university programs. With so many options for education, choosing the right pre-physician assistant program is critical. We’ve compiled the top factors to consider in your choice and our tips for success in your pre-PA program.

How to Become a Physician’s Assistant

Investing in high-quality education is the first step to becoming a physician assistant. From your bachelor’s degree to graduate school, the programs you enroll in can have a major impact on your road to career success. Look for programs with necessary life sciences prerequisites and appropriate accreditation.

The next step is building up clinical experience. Many PA schools require around 1,000 hours of experience before admission, so starting early gives you plenty of time to earn what you need. Once you’ve completed your PA program from a certified school, you can obtain your licensure requirement and begin practicing.

Click here for more tips on completing your PA school prerequisites.

Benefits of Enrolling in a Pre-Physician Assistant Program 

Choosing a pre-physician assistant program is a strategic step toward preparation for PA school. Enrolling in a pre-PA program can give you a head start on achieving your academic and career goals. 

Most programs offer extensive clinical experience and tailored mentorship to help you boost your academic credentials, complete required experience hours, and build strong interpersonal skills. The impactful nature of a pre-PA program makes choosing a good school vital for your career. Here are six important factors to consider in your choice.

6 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Pre-PA Program

  • Accreditation: Choosing an accredited program is crucial to ensure preparation for your PA school journey. Make sure the credits you earn during your pre-PA program apply to your next educational step.
  • Curriculum: Because most PA programs have extensive requirements for admission, choose a pre-PA school with a comprehensive curriculum that covers all of your necessary prerequisites.
  • Clinical Opportunities: One great benefit of enrolling in a pre-PA program is the hands-on clinical experience that helps you gather experience hours and prepare practical skills for your career. 
  • Faculty and Resources: A well-rounded program should be enhanced with experienced faculty and adequate applicable resources for students, both during your studies and after graduation. 
  • Location and Convenience: When researching pre-PA programs, consider practical factors like location, schedule, and the program's flexibility. If a program doesn’t fit your needs, look for alternatives.
  • Cost and Financial Aid: Review a program’s cost and available financial aid options when making your selection. If needed, contact their financial aid department and research the differences between programs.

Different Types of Pre-Physician Assistant Programs 

Traditional University Programs: Most universities offer pre-med programs as an undergraduate degree. Studying at a traditional university-based pre-PA program is similar to a typical college experience and offers a pre-PA education in conjunction with your undergraduate degree. These programs have many advantages, including more opportunities for mentorship and a faster road to licensure, but they are often less flexible and don’t always ensure that you will meet the necessary PA school prerequisites.

Online Programs: Online pre-PA programs are growing in popularity for many students. Earning an undergraduate pre-PA degree online means more flexibility and broader connections, with the drawbacks of fewer in-person interactions and less hands-on experience.

Post-Baccalaureate Programs: The lesser-known sister of a Special Master’s Program, post-baccalaureate pre-physician assistant programs are designed to enhance your academic credibility and knock out any remaining prerequisites before PA school. Post-baccalaureate programs are perfect for students without a pre-med undergraduate degree, those undergoing a career change, or any student looking to complete their pre-PA requirements. Many post-bacc programs will also offer an optional master’s degree extension to build up your education before entering PA school.

Tips for Success in a Pre-PA Track

  1. Stay Organized: As a student juggling coursework, clinical hours, and application requirements, staying on top of everything can be overwhelming. Start by creating strong organizational systems that work for you and your schedule. 
  2. Build Strong Relationships: Take advantage of your current resources by networking with faculty, peers, and healthcare professionals. Good connections now can boost your career in the future.
  3. Stay Informed: Keep ahead of the game by staying updated on PA school admission requirements and trends in the field.
  4. Seek Mentorship: You’re not alone in your journey—be sure to seek guidance from current PAs or PA students for insider tips and support.
  5. Maintain a Work-Life Balance: In many medical professions, it can be difficult to manage stress and create room for rest. Find tangible ways to balance academics with personal life, such as scheduling breaks, prioritizing friendships, and finding relaxing hobbies to alleviate stress.

Keck Graduate Institute’s Post-Baccalaureate Pre-PA Program 

The post-baccalaureate pre-PA program at Keck Graduate Institute is the perfect next step for any PA school hopeful. KGI’s program combines a life sciences curriculum with professional skills such as teamwork, public speaking, and an interdisciplinary approach. Complete your PA school prerequisites in a graduate-level environment with in-person classes and hands-on coursework. 

“At KGI... I retain the information. I feel like I’m truly learning.” –Vanessa Garcia, PPA ‘22, MS ‘23


The pre-PA program at KGI takes 9-15 months to complete and offers up to 560 clinical hours during the regular fall and spring semesters, with 800 total hours available for continuing the program through the summer. Students have access to experienced faculty, practical PA school prep, and numerous professional development activities. 

Click here to apply to KGI’s PPA program for a competitive advantage in your PA school preparation, or request more information.


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