Supplemental PA school applications (and the essays that can go along with them) can add a significant amount of time and effort to the application process.
But, they can also be a serious opportunity to show a program what a great pick you'd be for their program.
While supplemental applications may feel like an extra, unnecessary step for you, programs are using them for specific reasons. This "extra step" ensures that you, as an applicant, have fulfilled a program's prerequisite requirements, which simplifies the application review process and can function as a mini pre-interview through program-specific essay prompts.
Supplemental applications can vary widely among PA programs, but there are a few strategies and things to know that can help you wade your way through them successfully.
1. Find out the who, what, and where of supplementals.
Not all PA programs require supplemental applications, but many do, and this number is growing.
If you're surprised by an unexpected supplemental application requirement, it may delay submission of your main CASPA application.
So, once you decide on your target schools, get to work on investigating the details of the supplementals. Programs may require that you identify the courses you've taken that fulfill their prerequisites, ask you to respond to additional essay prompts, or both.
Supplemental applications may need to be submitted with the CASPA application, have different deadlines than the CASPA application, or be an invite-only supplemental that a program sends out once they receive and review your CASPA application.
PA programs may be set up to receive the supplemental application through CASPA, have their own portal, or require that it be sent via email.
Get these details sorted out in advance. If you want to submit your main CASPA application as soon as possible, you might consider holding off on adding a program that requires submission of the supplemental application at the same time as the CASPA submission.
You could submit to other programs to get things rolling, then add additional program(s) to your application later (this is doable through CASPA). But, if you don't find out the requirements in advance, you won't know to do this, or you'll have to delete a program to submit your main application and re-add it later.
If you haven't yet picked up your Complete CASPA Checklist, which includes when and how to compile the details of supplemental applications, be sure to grab yours.
2. Selecting your required courses.
Selecting the courses that fulfill a program's prerequisites is, generally, straightforward. But, there are a few questions that can come up in the process.
If you've taken a required course, even if your grade wasn't optimal and you plan on retaking it, select it on the supplemental application if it meets a program's criteria. It's better to have fulfilled the requirements of a program than to have a bunch of classes outstanding.
If you've taken more than one course that could meet the program requirement and your performance in each course was relatively equal, choose the one that would be considered more difficult.
If your grade in a course does not meet a program requirement (like if B is required and you got a C) or if you have yet to take the course, it's okay to mark it as "planned/in-progress."
However, be sure that you know the specific program requirements — most programs allow for one to two prerequisite courses to be outstanding when you apply, but not all do.
If you're not sure if a course you've taken or plan to take meets a program requirement, contact the program! PA programs have people in place to answer questions like this. Don't assume that they'll be okay with a course that seems "close enough." Reach out and be sure.
3. Tackling the essays skillfully.
Essays are where the real extra effort comes in with supplemental applications. And while you might feel that you've already covered a topic with your main essay, this is your chance to let a program know more about you.
Don't waste the opportunity by copying and pasting parts of your main essay into the supplemental prompts. The CASPA essay isn't that long, and certainly you have more to say!
What kinds of questions, how many questions, and how much space you're allotted to respond is quite different from program to program. These differences can make the applications seem tedious and time-consuming.
But, there is a way to work efficiently when approaching the supplemental essays.
First, there is a fair amount of overlap in what schools might ask. While one school may ask you to explain any academic hiccups contained in your application, another program may ask what you feel are your application weaknesses.
Though schools may not be asking the same question, you might be able to write one essay that answers both questions.
Before you dive into answering the prompts for a single program, you should lay out the essay prompts for all of your programs. Look for the similarities and try to find the opportunities where you could write a single composition that could be repurposed for more than one school.
Second, start with the essays that have the highest character or word limit. Some essays have no limit, but most are around 250-500 words. This is pretty generous considering the CASPA personal statement, with a 5000 character limit, usually comes in around 700-800 words.
But the limits can be substantially lower. The lowest I've seen was 100 characters. CHARACTERS! Not words.
One hundred characters in action:
One hundred characters hardly allow for even a simple idea. This is all the space you get to reply!!
While being limited to just a sentence or two may seem like a gift, it's super hard to do well.
However, it's much easier to write very succinctly when needed if you've already written a response to a similar prompt and you're just working to boil everything down to the main point.
So, lining up similar essays and starting with the one in that group that has the highest limit will allow you to work most efficiently. Once you have the central concepts down and written out in a way you like, you can work to carve the essay down if needed to meet the word and character limits of other programs.
Lastly, supplemental essay prompts can be treated like PA school interview questions. Many of them are actual interview questions — Why did you choose to apply to this program? How has your patient care experience influenced your decision to be a PA? How will you contribute to the diversity of this program?
When crafting your response, consider how you'd respond to the question in an interview. You can use interview prep resources to help you. I'll give you a head start on the "Why did you choose this program?" prompt with this prior post on common PA school interview questions.
Like most things in PA school prep, a bit of planning and a strategy can go a very long way in tackling your PA school supplemental applications.
So, before you jump in, take a few beats to map out the supplemental application requirements of your target PA programs and plan your approach. Doing so will allow you to complete your applications faster, minimize surprises, and work through your supplemental essays efficiently.