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Admissions Requirements


Applicants to the Atkinson Physician Assistant Education Program must complete an online application using the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA), and a program Secondary Application. Applicants must satisfy both the minimum and prerequisite coursework requirements by the application deadlines. Admission is highly competitive. Meeting some or all these requirements does not guarantee admission.

Minimum Requirements

  • CASPA application with official transcripts submitted by August 1; verified by September 1
  • Secondary application submitted by August 1
  • Evidence of U.S. citizenship, permanent U.S. residence, or current DACA recipient
  • Bachelor’s degree (or higher) from regionally accredited U.S. institution or equivalent prior to matriculation*
  • Completed prerequisite coursework
  • Minimum overall undergraduate GPA of ≥ 3.0 or overall graduate GPA of ≥ 3.0 (4.0 scale)
  • Minimum undergraduate sciences GPA of ≥ 3.0 or graduate sciences GPA of ≥ 3.0 (4.0 scale)
  • Minimum of 500 hours of healthcare experience (volunteer or paid)
  • Three letters of recommendation

Entrance Examinations

Entrance exams are not required, e.g. GRE, PA-CAT, MCAT, etc. If entrance exam scores are reported in the CASPA application, scores are not considered during the application review process

Prerequisite Guidelines

  • Completed at a regionally accredited U.S. institution.
  • International prerequisite courses not accepted.
  • Completed with a grade by the August 1 deadline and verified by CASPA before September 1
  • Letter or numerical grade on transcripts is required.
  • Grades of Pass (P) for 2020-2021 coursework will be accepted.
  • AP/CLEP and concurrent enrollment coursework documented on the official transcript.
  • Community college and online/distance courses from regionally accredited institutions are accepted.
  • Prerequisite coursework does not expire/time-out.

Required Prerequisite Coursework

Biological Sciences

  • 12 quarter credit hours/8 semester credit hours
  • In addition to the Anatomy, Physiology, and Microbiology requirements below.

Human Anatomy with Lab*

  • 4 quarter hours/3 semester credit hours Human Physiology

Human Physiology with Lab*

  • 4 quarter hours/3 semester credit hours

Microbiology with Lab

  • 4 quarter credit hours/3 semester credit hours


  • 4 quarter credit hours/3 semester credit hours

Organic Chemistry or Biochemistry

  • 4 quarter credit hours/3 semester credit hours


  • 3 quarter credit hours/2 semester credit hours

* 8 quarter credits/6 semester credits combination human anatomy/physiology with labs also accepted.


Recommended Prerequisite Coursework


General Psychology/Abnormal Psychology


Medical Terminology

Advanced/Upper-Level Biological Sciences

Medical Spanish/Spanish for Healthcare Professionals


Healthcare Experience

A minimum of 500 hours of healthcare experience must be accrued at the time of application and recorded as part of the official CASPA application. Healthcare experience is required and is an indication to the admissions committee of an applicant’s awareness of and commitment to a career in healthcare. Either paid or un-paid experience is accepted. Experiences in positions requiring autonomous, high-level, medical decision-making are scored highest. Hours obtained observing, volunteering, shadowing, or as part of an educational program will be counted towards the 500 hours experiences. Applicants should seek experiences that expose them to the patientprovider relationship. Healthcare hours/experiences are subject to verification. Applicants will be scored on quantity of experience. A maximum of 5000 hours will be scored.

Community Service

Evidence of community service/volunteerism with local programs or outreach initiatives in collaboration with community organizations is desirable but not required. When applicable, applicants will be scored on quantity of service. A maximum of 1000 community service experience hours will be scored.

Post-Baccalaureate Studies

The program values and encourages but does not require applicants to pursue graduate studies in other fields. Some applicants may benefit from coursework beyond the Bachelor's degree to demonstrate academic rigor and maturity. Applicants with less competitive GPAs may want to opt for post-baccalaureate courses rather than retaking undergraduate courses that can be costly, time-consuming, minimally impact the GPA, and seldom lead to practical life and career aspirations. The program will acknowledge Master's and doctoral degrees completed in the admissions decision. 


The program values and encourages but does not require PA shadowing experience. Shadowing hours with PA, MD/DO, and NP providers will count toward the 500 healthcare experience hours up to a maximum of 5000 hours. Shadowing other types of healthcare providers will not count toward the healthcare experience requirement.

Special Populations

Applicants from the following affinity groups will receive additional consideration:

  • Grant-funded scholarship and pipeline programs
  • Articulation agreement partnerships
  • Veterans
  • Federally-defined, self-reported disadvantaged backgrounds (educational and socioeconomic)

Types of Experience

Level 1: limited-level experience

  • Phlebotomist
  • PT/OT Aide
  • Volunteer
  • Shadow
  • Research Assistant
  • Medical Interpreters
  • Pharmacy Tech
  • EKG Tech
  • Psych Tech
  • Laboratory Tech

Level 2: intermediate-level experience

  • CNA or CMA
  • Dental hygienist
  • LCSW
  • Speech Pathologist
  • EMT
  • Medical Scribe
  • Radiology/US Tech
  • Med Tech
  • ED Tech

Level 3: advanced-level experience

  • Respiratory Therapist
  • Paramedic
  • International Medical Graduate
  • PT/OT
  • Athletic Trainer
  • Medic/Corpsman
  • Pharmacist
  • Dietitian
  • Perfusionist
  • Midwife

Letters of Recommendation

A minimum of 3 letters of recommendation are required. Letters must be submitted through the CASPA portal and should come from professional and reputable sources. Careful consideration should be given to clear conflicts-of-interest; i.e., personal, familial/kin, and marital relationships. Letters submitted to the program by email or postal mail will not be accepted. Applicants should consider garnering references from healthcare providers, professors, academic advisors, and employers/supervisors.

Applicants will be scored on tabular/numerical reference entries. If an applicant has submitted more than three letters, a mean score of all letters submitted will be calculated. Narrative entries will be judged subjectively by trained personnel and included in the admissions decision.

Personal Statement

Applicant personal statements must be submitted via the CASPA portal. Narrative entries should be clear, concise, well-written, and free of grammatical and spelling errors. Statements are reviewed and scored by trained personnel utilizing a predefined rubric.

Secondary Application - Questions

Questions are designed to collect information such as an applicant’s career aspirations, academic successes and challenges, and commitment to the program’s mission. Question prompts may be labeled either required or optional. Required questions must be submitted through the CASPA portal. Applicants are encouraged to submit narrative responses to optional prompts when applicable. Narrative entries should be clear, concise, well-written, and free of grammatical and spelling errors. Custom question entries are reviewed and scored by trained personnel utilizing a predefined rubric.

Criminal Background Checks

Several states have passed “Ban the Box” laws for higher education, which prohibit post-secondary institutions from asking applicants about their criminal history during the admissions process. The law further prohibits offering an applicant provisional acceptance to a program subject to a criminal background check. In 2020, California became the fifth state to enact this type of law (Cal Educ. Code 66024.5).

The Atkinson UC San Diego Physician Assistant Education Program does not require a criminal background check prior to matriculating into the program and will not have access to criminal background data submitted to CASPA for programs outside the state of California. However, applicants should review the following:

  • An admitted learner’s ability to complete the program successfully and gain the appropriate licensure could be negatively impacted by their criminal history.
  • Supervised clinical practice experiences (SCPE) are a critical part of the program’s requirements for graduation. Many clinical sites will not place a learner on a clinical rotation unless they have successfully passed a criminal background check. Background check results that limit the program’s ability to secure SCPEs may prevent a student from progressing or graduating from the program.
  • As a part of the licensing process, many states require that graduates undergo a comprehensive background investigation. This process requires graduates of the program to disclose all past criminal convictions, even if they have been set aside or expunged.

Applicants who have questions about criminal background checks should email the program prior to application at

California Residence

All learners, regardless of in-state or out-of-state residence, will be subject to the same cost of attendance.

International Applicants

The Program will consider applications from U.S. citizens, permanent residents of the U.S., and DACA recipients. Applicants that do not satisfy one of these three eligibility requirements will not be considered.

International Degrees

Applicants with international degrees equivalent to a U.S. Bachelor’s degree or higher may apply to the program provided all minimum and prerequisite coursework requirements are met. International degree transcripts must be translated and transcribed for U.S. equivalency and submitted to CASPA for verification. English-language proficiency may be required for international degree-holding applicants. Applicants should seek more information from the Division of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

DACA recipients are eligible to apply for and obtain a license to practice as a physician assistant in California. Prospective applicants should consult the requirements of the licensing authority in any state in which they consider practicing to determine qualifications for licensure. Information concerning physician assistant licensure in California is available from the Physician Assistant Board.

For more information, explore the following links:

UC San Diego Undocumented Student Services

Higher Ed Immigration Portal

Higher Ed Immigration Portal for California

California Physician Assistant Board