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A physician assistant degree prepares students for rewarding careers in the medical field. A physician assistant (PA) works with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers to provide diagnostic and therapeutic services in primary and specialty care in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other clinical settings.

The average salary of physician assistants is $130,020, and the field is growing much faster than other occupations, with a projected growth rate of 27% from 2022 to 2032. It takes approximately 27 to 29 months to complete the required 120-150 credits. While tuition can vary from public, private, and online institutions, the average yearly cost of tuition and fees is $20,513.

How to Choose a Physician Assistant Degree Program

Choose your area of study

As you research physician assistant degree programs, consider your career and personal goals — these will influence the type of program you choose. An aspiring physician assistant must first earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in a science or health-related field. Programs also accept students who have earned a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree, but you may need to complete additional biology or chemistry courses.

Physician assistants graduate with a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS), Master of Health Science (MHS), or a Master of Medical Science (MMS) degree. After completing the program, you can sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) to attain a certified physician assistant (PA-C) designation. PA-Cs diagnose and treat illnesses and provide care under a physician’s supervision.

Research schools and programs

Choosing an accredited program is essential, as it will influence your eligibility to sit for the licensing exam. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and determines the quality of education of physician assistant programs in the U.S.

Visit the school and clinical facilities to learn more about the institution or program. You can also contact an admissions counselor for details about the program and attend an in-person or virtual open house or information session.

Prepare for tests and applications

Most schools have a two or three-stage application process. First, apply through the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). The CASPA allows you to apply to multiple programs with one application. Students who receive preliminary acceptance must then complete a program application before advancing into the interview cycle.

Prerequisites for acceptance to the program include 200 hours of direct patient contact experience in volunteerism or employment in the healthcare industry and a bachelor’s degree in a related field.

Standard application materials include transcripts, letters of recommendation, and minimum GPA.

Select your program

If more than one school offers you enrollment, reviewing your goals can help you narrow down your decision. Set parameters for logistical needs like transportation and housing — most programs require off-site clinical hours with program partners.

Speak to faculty members, advisors, program representatives, and alumni to learn more. Their experience can help guide your decision toward the best fit. You can also make note of any supportive and complementary learning aids like the program lab facilities and technological integrations.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Students should consider completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine their eligibility for need-based aid.

If you’re employed, ask your employer about a tuition reimbursement program. These programs are usually performance-based and require an employment contract for a specified term post-graduation.

You can also explore scholarships and grants from nonprofit and community organizations. These include political organizations, schools, business associations, churches, and social clubs. Research the organization to ensure your values align before applying.

Best 50 Accredited Physician Assistant Degree Programs

Best Physician Assistant Degree Programs_2024 badge

Duquesne University

Springfield College

Wagner College

D'Youville University

University of Washington

Rochester Institute of Technology

Pacific University

King's College

St. John's University

Hofstra University

Pennsylvania College of Technology

Saint Francis University

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the best physician assistant programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education. The programs on our list are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), which assesses physician assistant programs for educational excellence.

We evaluated each school’s program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and the resources provided for on-campus students. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of physician assistant programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can You Expect From a Physician Assistant Degree Program?

A physician assistant degree program teaches students comprehensive medical knowledge, preparing them for a variety of clinical practice settings. Coursework stresses evidence-based medicine, including diagnostic techniques, therapies, and treatment protocols.

It can take two to three years to complete the requisite 120-150 credits. The first semesters focus on classroom instruction and formal lectures, with subsequent years adding clinical rotations and practical laboratory classes.

Before a graduate can enter the workforce, they must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) to attain a PA-C designation.

Potential courses you’ll take in a physician assistant degree program

  • Gross Anatomy. This course takes a comprehensive approach to human anatomy, utilizing lecture and laboratory components. Lectures cover general principles and detailed explanations of relevant anatomy, focusing on clinical relevance. The laboratory component takes a hands-on approach with dissected or prosected cadavers in plastinated specimens, models, X-rays, cross-sections, bones, and appropriate videos in a group setting.
  • Pharmacologic Concepts and Pharmacotherapeutics. Students explore the basic principles of pharmacotherapeutics, pharmacodynamics, and pharmacokinetics. Instruction focuses on infectious diseases, general pharmacological principles, and the mechanisms of action, toxicities, and interaction.
  • Medicine, Law, and Health Care Ethics. This course teaches medical ethics, basic medical law, and public health policy with a focus on jurisprudence, legal obligations, and the personal and professional ethical responsibilities of the health care provider. Also covered are the fundamentals of death and dying decisions, consent to treatment, organ donation, the impact of genetic technology, the fundamentals of health policy, and the commitment to patient welfare.
  • Radiology for the Physician Assistant. Students get an introduction to the field of radiology with basic knowledge of how the equipment works, how to use it, and how to interpret a variety of radiographic images. The course utilizes lectures, interactive technology, and case-based problems discussing a variety of diagnostic modalities to understand their application in daily clinical practice.

Physician Assistant Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a physician assistant degree program?

The application process for a physician assistant degree program will have two to three stages. Standard application materials include transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Prerequisites for acceptance to the program include 200 hours of direct patient contact, experience in volunteerism or employment in the healthcare industry, and a bachelor’s degree.

First, you’ll apply through the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Applicants who advance to the second round will submit another application directly to the program. Short-listed applicants move on to the interview cycle.

Contact the program administrator for the most accurate information.

How much does a physician assistant degree cost?

A physician assistant degree program costs an average of $20,513 per year over three years of study. Costs vary between public, online, and private institutions. These costs do not include textbooks, study supplies, instruments and tools, or uniforms, including scrubs and lab coats. Additional clinic, technology, and laboratory fees are also typical.

Your day-to-day needs, such as meals, housing, transportation, and personal expenses, also significantly affect your overall financial needs.

How long does it take to earn a physician assistant degree?

Most physician assistant degree programs require 121 to 150 credits, typically taking 27 to 30 months of full-time study. Students coming from a bachelor of arts degree without existing biology credits can expect additional credit requirements.

Many programs require about 200 hours of direct patient contact experience through volunteerism or employment in the healthcare industry. Applicants coming from careers as nurses, emergency medical technicians, dental assistants, and other similar fields will already have the necessary hours. Acquiring those hours can delay the start date of your program if you don’t have any direct patient contact.

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