Pre-Physician Assistant Studies program

What is a PA?

Physician assistant is the No. 1 ranked healthcare job, according to U.S. News and World Report's 2021 Best Health Care Jobs list. PAs are medical providers who are licensed to diagnose and treat illness and disease and to prescribe medication for patients. They work in physician offices, hospitals and clinics in collaboration with a licensed physician.

Pre-Physician Assistant Studies is NOT a major at UW-La Crosse. It declares your intent to apply to PA programs. You will still need to select a major to complete a degree at UWL.

Learn more about the profession on the UWL Physician Assistant Studies graduate program website and The American Academy of PAs "What is a PA?"

9 reasons to be a physician assistant

  1. Versatility
    PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty. 
  2. Work/life balance
    The PA profession offers the fantastic ability to have a life outside of your regular full-time job. 
  3. Competitive Salary
    According to the 2018 AAPA salary report, the median salary of PAs is $105,000. 
  4. Length of school
    Most PA programs last anywhere from 23-28 months, depending on the school, after you earn your bachelor's degree. 
  5. Ability to give back to the community
    Your PA training will allow you to volunteer in clinics in the U.S. and abroad. Many PAs go on to work with medical relief charities or volunteer in underserved countries.
  6. Develop relationships with patients
    You likely got into this field because you have a passion for working with others. As a PA, you will have the opportunity to truly make a difference in their quality of life.  
  7. Team-based care
    PAs are committed to team practice with physicians and other healthcare providers.  
  8. Continuing education
    PAs are required to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years. 
  9. Job market
    The Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees the PA job market to increase 38 percent from 2012 to 2022. 



  • General Biology (BIO 105)
  • Anatomy & Physiology I & II (BIO 312 & BIO 313)
  • At least one advanced Biology course, e.g. Genetics (BIO 306) or Cell Biology (BIO 315)
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology (MIC 230)
  • General Chemistry I & II (CHM 103&CHM 104) 
  • Fundamental Organic Chemistry (CHM 300) or Organic Chemistry Theory I & II (CHM 303 & CHM 304); plus laboratory (CHM 302 or CHM 305) 
  • Fundamental Biochemistry (CHM 325) or Biochemistry I & II (CHM 417 & CHM 418)  
    • For UWL, Cell Biology (BIO 315) also satisfies this requirement, but most PA programs require Biochemistry 
Mathematics and Statistics
  • Precalculus (MTH 151) or Calculus I (MTH 207) for UWL
    • Precalculus/Calculus are not common prerequisites among other PA programs
  • Elementary Statistics (STAT 145) or Mathematical Models in Biology (MTH 265) 
Social Sciences
  • General Psychology (PSY 100)
Additional requirements
  • Medical Terminology (such as HP 250, CHE 220, or RTH 355) is often required, or highly recommended for many PA programs
  • A few programs in the Midwest may require additional coursework in Psychology (Carroll, Des Moines, St. Kates) 

Make your intention to pursue a career as a Physician Assistant official by adding it as an "intended pre-professional track."

The following course list was designed based on the UWL PA Studies Program admission requirements. While taking these prerequisites will prepare you to apply to many other programs, requirements vary. It is important to consult the websites of the PA programs to which you plan to apply.

CASPA provides a GPA calculator here.

Many professional schools do not accept prerequisite courses that have been taken online or at non-U.S. institutions; AP, IB, AICE, and community college credit policies vary by school/program.

For advising, reach out to Josh Bench.

Grow through experience

Gain patient care experience

Each program has a different definition of patient care experience (ex. UW-Madison, UW-La Crosse) but commonly it involves "hands-on" care.

  • CNA, phlebotomist, EMT, resident assistant, and camp nurse are common roles held by Pre-PA students - many positions can be found on Handshake.
  • Many applicants to PA schools will have years of experience working in more advanced roles (x-ray technicians, cardiographers, etc.) However, gaining experience should NOT come at the expense of a strong academic record
Shadow or observe the profession

Shadow or observe the profession: once you are interested in the PA profession, shadowing is a good next step.

  • It can be a challenge to find shadowing opportunities in healthcare settings, but these tips can help.
  • Keep in mind, PAs work in a variety of settings and specialty areas - one shadowing experience probably doesn't tell you whether the profession is right for you.
Join the club

Visit the Pre-PA Club's website on MyOrgs to learn more about the advantages of being involved and when they meet.

Tracking your progress

UWL students can track their progress toward PA school using the Mappd app. Click the image below to check it out. Mappd

Prepare to apply


Most PA programs participate in the centralized application system "CASPA", where you can submit most or all of your applications.

  • The admission "cycle" generally starts in late April, and applicants should try to submit their applications as soon as possible after that (consult each programs' website to learn their application deadline).
  • The importance of GPA varies from program to program, but a strong GPA is expected.

Beginning with the 2023-2024 application cycle, UWL's PA Studies program will no longer require the GRE exam.

  • This was already the case for UW-Madison, but many programs will still require the GRE.
  • The PA-CAT, which was designed as a replacement for the GRE, rolled out in 2020, and some (but not many) programs use it.

The situational judgment test, CASPer, is required by UWL's program starting with the 2023-2024 cycle.

Selecting programs

To learn about the various programs where you might apply, the PAEA program directory is a good place to start. Always then consult the individual programs' websites for the most accurate and up to date info.

Application timeline

Assuming you apply in late spring or early summer, you wouldn't start PA classes until at least a year later (assuming you are admitted to a program).

  • In between are interview invites and decisions on which offer you will accept, if you are offered seats at multiple programs. 
  • See an example application timeline at the bottom of this page.

Pre-PA application year timeline

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December




Submit CASPA

Practice interviewing

Interview season

Personal statement writing process


Talk to letter writers (early/often!)

Update your letter writers

Finalize schools list (PAEA)

Note: “Forced” gap years are common (due to not getting an acceptance); “planned” gap years have become more common.