In your preparation for applying to PA school, you have no doubt compiled a list of undergraduate prerequisite courses that you must take in order to apply. Many schools have similar core requirements and just differ slightly in the amount of additional upper division science classes needed as well as behavioral science classes required. As a general, these classes are going to be required by almost every PA school you apply to:
- General Chemistry with Lab (4-8 credits)
- Organic Chemistry with Lab (4-8 credits)
- Anatomy with Lab (4 credits)
- Physiology with Lab (4 credits) – or a combination of A&P together for 8 credits
- General Biology with Lab (4-8 credits)
- Microbiology (3-4 credits)
Most programs will also require at least one of the following:
- Behavioral Science (ex. Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology)
It is also becoming more and more common for programs to require biochemistry as a prerequisite course. Even, if it is not one of the required prerequisites, many schools list biochem as a “recommended” course which basically means you don’t HAVE to have it, but you really should if you want to be competitive at our program.
So obviously it is important to do well in all of your classes, and particularly your prerequisite classes to be a competitive applicant for PA school, but in my experience there are a few classes that PA schools pay extra attention to how you performed in.
The first class you need to do well in his Organic Chemistry, but more specifically Organic Chemistry 2, if the program requires both semesters. O-Chem is without a doubt, one of the most dreaded classes amongst pre-PA and pre-Med students around the country. Its one of those classes that makes you think in a different way then most of us Type-Aers are used to. Schools like to see that you can be adaptive and figure out a way to solve problems that are hard for you, which OChem is for most. They also want to know that you are willing and able to utilize the resources given to you. One question I was asked in an interview was why I did so well in OChem 1, but only mediocre in OChem 2? My response, in my opinion really saved me! (and I ended up being accepted at this school). I responded that in OChem 2, I did not use the additional resources provided to me by professor, nor did I seek tutoring or go to office hours. I knew I was struggling, yet I was too prideful to ask for the help I needed. But, getting my end of semester grade in OChem 2 was severely humbling. The next semester I took Biophysical Chemistry which was hands down the hardest class I had taken in all of college. I learned my lesson with OChem 2 and did not allow myself to get behind, I stayed after class to work through problems with my teacher, and I went to office hours every chance I got. I made it out of Biophys with an A- (yay me!). Ochem 1 and 2 are courses that are meant to show admissions committees that you can handle rigorous, graduate level course work. That’s why OChem in my opinion is the most important to be successful in, or you better be a real good talker and have a reason to show improvement or a lesson you learned about your study habits through OChem.
Biochemistry is another class that admissions committees want to see you succeed in. Biochem, while not required at all schools, is becoming the “new OChem.” If you can handle biochem, you can handle anything, or at least that’s the idea anyways. Biochemistry is a class that you will take again in PA school so it is crucial to get a good foundation and understanding of Biochem in your undergrad studies to make biochem in PA school that much easier. Taking biochem, even if it is not required at the school you are applying to is still a great idea! So many PA applicants major in nutrition, general health sciences, or some variation of the two. These majors, while still challenging, do not require a significant amount of upper division science coursework. If you majored in something that isn’t considered one of the “hard sciences”, like chemistry, biology, or biochemistry, then you definitely want to bulk your application up with one, if not multiple biochemistry courses to prove that you can take challenging upper division science classes and be successful.
And one final class that is important to do well in is microbiology. This class isn’t necessarily SUPER important to do well in to be able to get in to PA school, but I have been told by students currently in PA school that having a solid understanding of microbiology ad epidemiology will really help you have the foundation needed to build upon for your PA school courses!
Also a little PSA for ya! Many students think its super important to do well in undergrad anatomy and physiology. And while it is important to have a basic understanding of these topics, you will cover these topics again in PA school and in such a different way then your run of the mill undergrad BIO 201 and 202 class did. So don’t stress if you got a B+ in undergrad anatomy, you will be totally fine! You will be retaught everything in a way that is completely applicable to becoming a medical practitioner.