clinical experience

How to Run a Last-Minute Quality Check Before CASPA Submission

If you're like most PA school applicants, completing your first CASPA application will take longer than expected.

Hunting down the contact information for your current and previous roles, categorizing each experience accurately, and corralling your references to write and submit your letters of recommendation takes time and focused effort.

When you finally get to the moment of hovering over the "submit" button on your CASPA application, it's a big deal. After years of academic and clinical work and weeks of application prep that lead up to it, there are no takebacks on a PA school application.

If you see a typo later, there's no fixing it. If you miscategorize an experience, you can't undo it. At least not unless you've got to reapply in a future cycle.

So, if you hope to make the most of this application cycle, running a final quality check of your application before you send it off is essential.

Here are the areas that deserve an extra look before you submit.

First step

Before you start a final check of your CASPA application, it's helpful to get a working copy where you can see all of the components of your application in one place. Go to the "Submit Application" tab in your CASPA portal and, without actually submitting your application, download a PDF draft.

Having this concise copy will make what comes next so much easier.

Academic materials

After submission, your application will be put in line to be "verified" by CASPA. Verification is when CASPA compares all of your transcripts to the academic data you entered on your application.

There are two major steps that you want to be sure not to miss.

First, list every class you've ever taken for college credit on your application. Even those AP classes from high school where you didn't get a grade but received college credit. And those study abroad classes from your junior year where you got a P on your transcript instead of a real grade. Or that retaken general chemistry course that your college "deleted" from your GPA calculation but still shows up on your transcript.

CASPA rules dictate that every class you've ever taken for college credit be included on your application. If you violate this rule, your application may be considered invalid by programs. If you're offered a seat at a program and it's later found that you withheld a course from your application, your offer may be rescinded.

Even if you feel the course is irrelevant, be sure it's showing up on your application.

Second, double check that you’ve requested transcripts from every college where you've taken a course for credit. Transcripts must be sent directly by the college to CASPA; you cannot be the middle man.

How to Do a Final Check Before CASPA SubmissionlBe a Physician Assistant

Most universities can deliver these electronically to CASPA, and CASPA accepts electronic transcripts from Credentials Solutions, Parchment, and National Student Clearinghouse.

If a university you've attended does not use one of these third-party options, you should request that your transcripts be mailed directly to CASPA.

Use your applicant ID number (CAS ID) when requesting your transcripts, which are automatically included on the CASPA transcript request forms if you use them.

You should be able to see transcripts posted to your application within a week of CASPA receiving them. If you cannot verify that they were received, contact CASPA customer service to follow up.

Once you've submitted your application and CASPA has received your transcripts (and at least two references), your application will undergo verification, after which you'll get your first glimpse of your CASPA-calculated GPAs.

These calculations do not account for grade replacement/forgiveness that your university may grant, and, as a result, some applicants are shocked by their final GPAs.

GPAs that are lower than expected may even mean that you no longer meet the required minimums for some programs that you've already applied to.

Because there's no reversing your submission (and no refund on the application fee if you later learn you don't meet the requirements), it's wise to know what your CASPA-calculated GPAs are before submission.

These might not perfectly align with the final CASPA calculation, but if you follow the guidelines on which courses are classified as science and non-science and use the GPA calculator spreadsheet provided, you can go in with a pretty good idea of what your final calculations will be.

Lastly, if you've taken the GRE, be sure that you've requested that your scores be sent to the programs that require it using the CASPA school code (this is different than from the school's regular GRE code).

If any of your GRE records or transcripts will show a different version of your name, be sure that you've listed the alternative name on your CASPA application.

For transcripts, keep an eye out for application updates to ensure that any academic records under a different name are connected to your account. For a past GREs taken under a different name, you'll need to contact customer service to connect your scores to your application manually.

Supporting information

The "Supporting Information" section of your CASPA application is where most of your activities will live. It's also the part where you have the most discretion.

So, as you check through your work, these are the significant elements to look for.

All of your entries serve a purpose.

CASPA recommends that you only include activities in the past ten years or at the college level and beyond.

But, these guidelines shouldn't be a free for all. You want to avoid "experience dumping" and putting anything that falls into these general parameters on your application. The crafting of your application should be more strategic, and, in some cases, break the suggested boundaries.

Each entry is appropriately categorized.

You'll make the call on listing an entry as healthcare experience (HCE), patient care experience (PCE), leadership, volunteer work, teaching, or non-healthcare employment.

Though you're the one doing the categorization, the goal is for schools to readily agree with you when they review your choice. Be sure you're not trying to sell HCE as PCE. Or that you didn't accidentally list an activity under the wrong category.

Time commitments are appropriate.

As with the categories, you're in charge of listing an experience as full-time, part-time, temporary, or per diem.

"Full-time" is not the equivalent of continual. If you were a captain of your soccer team, this wasn't a full-time commitment, even if it was continuous. "Full-time" should be reserved for roles that regularly required 40 or more hours every week.

Categorize those roles that were short-lived with a planned end date, like a week-long mission trip, 8-week internship, or day of shadowing, as "temporary." "Per diem" can be used to describe roles that occurred on an occasional but ongoing basis, like volunteering once-ish a month at a food pantry.

An experience that doesn't fall into one of these groups is most likely to be "part-time."

Contact info is included for each entry.

Work to include supervisor and contact information for each experience you list on your application. It seems strange when you have a reasonably recent activity but don't provide a program a way to verify your work.

This is less crucial for experiences in the distant past but, still, add as much as you can.

Contact is permitted for each experience.

At the end of every experience entry, there's a yes/no question that asks, "May we contact this organization?"

Always say yes, unless the circumstances are extreme. And, if they are extreme, like fearing that you might lose your job if your current employer found out you were applying to PA school, you can reply "no" to this question exactly once on your application.

Limiting a program's ability to verify your work for multiple entries seems less than transparent, which is not a good look for an applicant.

Listings are consistent.

For the ease of your reviewer, keep your "experience details" descriptions consistent.

As you're completing the CASPA application and become more comfortable with the format, how you describe your experiences often evolves between earlier entries and those you add later. So, on your final check, run through the descriptions of each listing and make sure they are formatted similarly.

Keeping the presentation of the experience descriptions consistent will help organize your application and guarantee that it's easily digestible to reviewers.

Final essay check

If you're nearly application submission time, you've undoubtedly spent plenty of time working on your personal statement.

So, there are two final essay checks to make while finalizing your application.

First, make sure you've answered why you want to be a PA — the essay prompt. Not just why medicine or why you want to help people, but be sure you've covered the primary purpose of the essay.

Second, ask another human to look through a final draft for errors. Not feedback on the content — you don't want to get sidetracked. Just a last check to be sure there are no accidental typos or forgotten words.

References check

When reviewing the individuals who will be providing you with references and letters of recommendation, first be sure you've covered any program-specific requirements.

Some schools require that one reference come from a PA, provider, professor, or supervisor, or they may have requirements for all references.

After meeting any requirements, check to see if you've got a mix of individuals who can speak to your academic ability, work ethic, and clinical skill or interest.

Be sure you've met the requirements for any letter writers first and then do your best to incorporate the voices of those who can give different perspectives on your abilities.

If you need more than three references to meet the different requirements of programs or to help speak to your varied skills, you can use them.

But you don't need five references for the sake of having five references.

Last step

Once you've done your final check on your application, pass it off to someone else to review for errors. An extra set of eyes, even if those eyes know nothing about PA school, will help catch things that you can no longer see.

Make your corrections from your final review, save it as a new PDF, and send it to a friend for feedback.

CASPA resources

Even when you feel your situation is unique, someone's probably been through it.

Over 30,000 candidates apply to PA school each cycle, so every situation, no matter how specific it seems, has come up before.

You can find answers to any lingering questions through the CASPA Applicant Help Center.

And, CASPA reps are also super helpful when you call to ask questions. So call, rather than email, when you want to explain your circumstances and get real-time feedback.