Getting into Medical Assistant School: An Admissions Guide

Learn what it takes to gain admissions to the medical assisting program you’ve been eyeing and get information on cost, accreditation, and prerequisite requirements.

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Kari Scare

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Kari Lynn Scare is a writer, editor, and instructor living in southwest Michigan. She has a master’s degree in English and uses her enthusiasm for learning to help others communicate through the spoken and written word. Kari also enjoys reading, being outdoors, travelling, and family time.

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Last Updated: 12/29/2021
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Do you want to work closely with patients and doctors in the medical field but don’t necessarily want to become a nurse? Do you like the idea of entering the healthcare profession quickly, then working your way into a more advanced position? Becoming a medical assistant (MA) may be the right path for you.

MA programs provide quick entry into the medical profession and a solid stepping stone to other healthcare careers. It’s an in-demand and well-paying career, too, with an 18% growth rate and a median salary of $35,850.

Before you can start earning, you have to get the right education. With so many medical assisting education programs out there, you’re probably curious about what it takes to gain admissions to the school of your choice. Learn if you’re eligible to enroll in a medical assisting program, find out about prerequisites and requirements, and discovers how you can pay for your healthcare education program.

General Admissions Requirements

MA programs at community colleges often begin with admittance into the school itself and move toward entry into an MA program after you meet certain criteria. This is especially true for schools offering MA associate degrees. Some programs offer direct entry into an MA certificate program that does not result in an associate degree. The general admission requirements for any MA program, then, really depend on the goals of the program.

Medical Assistant Certification & Associate Degree Programs

Before applying to a medical assistant—or any—associate degree program, you’ll want to understand community college requirements, line up your finances, and identify prerequisites. This sets you up for success as a new college student and ensures you’ll be ready for your next steps, whether you’re entering the workforce, obtaining further education, or becoming certified.

Community College Requirements

Most community colleges have the same general requirements for acceptance into their schools. In addition to being at least 18 years old, you’ll most likely need to provide or complete the following:

  • Admissions application
  • Official transcripts
  • ACT/SAT scores
  • Placement test
  • FAFSA application
  • Proof of immunization
  • Proof of residency

Transcripts can indicate either a high school diploma or a completed GED program. Your GPA and standardized test scores typically do not affect admissions, but they may impact the types of courses you can take. Usually placement tests determine if you can take freshman-level courses or if you need remediation, but some schools use ACT/SAT scores to decide this. Your residency status often determines your tuition rate, though online courses may cost the same regardless of where you live. Keep in mind that some programs have costs in addition to or in place of standard per-credit tuition, so make sure you understand what you’ll be paying.

Students whose first language is not English may also need to take an English proficiency test. Some schools, especially programs under the allied health umbrella, also require certain immunizations before you are accepted.

Lining Up the Finances

The cost of attending a two-year institution like a community college is about $11,400 per year. Some programs, such as those within allied health, may have separate fee structures where you pay a per-credit tuition rate for general education and prerequisite courses before paying a program fee once you’re accepted into the MA program. Additionally, some schools have programs that accept you into both the program and school simultaneously. Cost also depends on factors including the type of program, who’s offering it, if it’s online, and what your residency status is. MA certificate programs, for example, can cost $1,000 to $3,000 in total, while associate degree programs usually cost $6,000 to $15,000 per year.

The best funding options for any program through a community college include scholarships, loans, and work-study. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step to obtaining this funding. Some programs, especially lower-cost certificate programs, offer payment plans to help you pay for the program out of your pocket. Additionally, some employers offer tuition reimbursement for employees wanting to further their education. Private loans are another option but should be a last resort.

Identifying Your Prerequisites

Community colleges want you to have a high school diploma or GED. GPA typically doesn’t factor into acceptance since most schools have open enrollment and use placement tests like the Accuplacer to decide which courses you can take. If you do well on placement tests, you’ll be allowed to take college-level courses. If you don’t, you’ll probably need to take some remedial courses first. Most community colleges don’t require that you’ve taken specific courses before admittance.

Medical Assistant Program Admissions Requirements

Admission requirements for MA programs depend greatly on whether it’s a certificate program or associate degree. Additionally, getting accepted into a school like a community college doesn’t automatically mean you’re accepted into your program of choice. General admissions requirements for acceptance into a community college are discussed above. Below, we discuss the requirements—application process, GPA, entrance exams, and prerequisites—specifically for MA certificate and associate degree programs.

Requirements for a Certification in Medical Assisting

Certification in medical assisting is one of the quickest paths, sometimes just a few months, to work in the medical field. You can also often add to this certificate program through additional testing or coursework if you want another certification or even a degree. While every certification program is unique, most have similar admission requirements. Those requirements are usually minimal and include the following.

Completed Application

You must submit a completed application to the program and/or school that offers it. This is oftentimes two separate processes, with application to the school coming first. Applying to and getting accepted for an MA program might only happen after you’ve met the program prerequisites.

Diploma or Certificate

Pretty much every program requires a high school diploma, GED certificate, or another equivalency diploma. GPA is usually not a factor.

Placement Evaluation

Some programs require you to meet minimum scores on placement tests in areas like basic math and English. Other schools use your ACT/SAT scores instead. If you don’t meet the minimum scores, you may have to take remedial classes before proceeding.

Prerequisites Courses

Some programs do not have prerequisites beyond a high school diploma or GED. Others require basic medical terminology or other courses before you’re admitted into the certificate program.

Requirements for an Associate in Medical Assisting

An associate in medical assisting deepens your knowledge in patient care, lab procedures, and administrative applications and can lead to a higher-paying position. Many even build upon the training received in a medical assisting certificate program. Every associate program is slightly different, but most have many of the same admissions requirements.

Completed Application Form

Admittance into a school’s MA associate program often requires an application form separate from the one for the college itself. This application will ask you to verify that you’ve completed school and program prerequisites and any other program requirements such as a background check or physical examination. Some programs also ask you to verify that you have medical insurance.

Minimum GPA

The minimum acceptable GPA for most MA associate programs is a passing grade, usually a 2.0 or a C average. This usually applies to all general education and prerequisite coursework. If the program is competitive and spaces are limited, some programs require a higher GPA in your prerequisites.

College Entrance Exams

Since entrance into an MA program often occurs after your general education courses and prerequisites are completed, you probably won’t need additional entrance exams since you’ve already met the school’s requirements in this area. Some programs may require the TEAS exam (Test of Essential Academic Skills), a standardized test often used to determine readiness for allied health programs, to help make their selections from a large pool of applicants.

Prerequisite Courses

Admittance into an associate degree program in medical assisting typically requires the completion of general education and program prerequisite courses. These often include:

  • English
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Behavioral science
  • Math
  • Communications
  • Medical terminology

Some programs also require you to have CPR certification before they’ll admit you into program-specific coursework or allow you to attend practicums.

Other Things to Think About

The process for applying to an MA certificate or associate degree program can feel overwhelming. Knowing what to expect throughout the admission process and understanding everything involved ahead of time helps ease the anxiety. In addition to the admissions processes detailed above, consider the following key points regarding transfer credits, accreditation, and certification.

Transfer Credits

Not all schools accept transfer credits, and you most likely won’t be able to use transfer credits in a certificate-only program. For an associate degree, however, transfer credits can shorten the time it takes to complete the program. If you’ve taken any general education courses (e.g., English, math, etc.) at another community college, perhaps even while in high school, those credits may count toward the courses required for your MA associate degree. If you’ve participated in a medical assisting bridge program in which you’ve earned a certificate but not a degree, the courses you took during that program may apply toward an associate degree. This is more likely when the programs are both at the same school.

Talk with an admission and/or program advisor during—or even before—the application process to find out if your transfer credits will be accepted. You’ll probably need to submit official transcripts for evaluation, and courses will need a minimum of a C grade to be eligible. Some schools subtract approved transfer credits from your tuition, while others give you course credit.

Accreditation

Accreditation ensures that a school or program meets national standards as defined by the U.S. Department of Education. Any college you attend should be regionally accredited and will likely indicate this status on its website, but you can also find accreditation info through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Programmatic accreditation means a specific program provides quality faculty and content and is consistently and systematically evaluated. Any MA program you attend should have accreditation through the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

In addition to receiving a quality education, a main benefit for MA students attending an ABHES and CAAHEP program is eligibility to become a Certified Medical Assistant. Other benefits to attending an accredited school and program include eligibility for financial aid through the government and an increased likelihood that your credits will transfer to another program or school. Lack of accreditation disqualifies you from receiving employer tuition reimbursement and may even prevent you from obtaining work since many healthcare employers won’t hire graduates of programs that are not accredited.

Certification

Currently, certification isn’t required for MAs. However, obtaining certification does make you more competitive for obtaining work, and some employers won’t hire you if you aren’t certified. Certification also allows you to take on duties like drawing blood, taking x-rays, and entering orders into computer systems. Being certified also means you’ll likely be paid more.

Becoming a certified medical assistant begins with graduating from an accredited medical assisting program that prepares you to take the certification exam. There are five certifications for MAs:

Resources

American Registry for Diagnostic MA Day in the Life of a Medical Assistant

This article runs through a typical day for a medical assistant in a small office shared by three physicians.

American Associate of Medical Assistants (AAMA)

Among other offerings, the AAMA provides education, certification, networking, and advocacy for certified medical assistants.

American Medical Technologists (AMT)

AMT certifies medical assistants and other healthcare professionals and promotes quality practice in the workplace.

American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA)

With a goal to promote and sustain podiatric MAs, the ASPMA provides certification, enlightens the public, and offers scholarships.

Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO)

Offering certification, continuing education, and grants and scholarships, JCAHPO supports ophthalmic allied health personnel.

Medical Assistants Resources and Training on Immunization (MARTi)

This group gives access to credible and current immunization information specifically for medical assistants, educators, and practice managers.

National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)

Providing multiple qualifying paths, NCCT certification includes medical assisting and medical office assisting.

National Healthcareer Association (NHA)

NHA offers a plethora of certifications, including those for medical assistants.

Texas Society of Medical Assistants (TSMA)

TSMA advances professionalism and continuing education, encourages the formation of local chapters, and inspires quality service for medical assistants in Texas. See if your state has a similar group.