CWRU MSA Shifts to More Holistic Admissions Process

Seven school of medicine students sitting in auditorium

The Master of Science in Anesthesia Program at Case Western Reserve University is happy to announce a transition towards a more holistic admissions review process for the 2020 cycle, which officially opened in CASAA on Thursday, March 14, 2019.

A holistic review, simply put, emphasizes the student as a whole person. According to Inside Higher Ed, a holistic review “helps an institution assess applicants as individuals and create an overall class of students through which it can achieve its mission.” While CWRU and the MSA Program have always taken a student’s whole application into consideration, the Program has made significant changes to its admission requirements for the new cycle in an effort to expand access to this important healthcare profession to a more diverse applicant pool.

Admissions Tests

The MSA Program will now accept both the MCAT and GRE. Several Master of Science in Anesthesia programs have already transitioned to accepting the GRE, and we believe this transition will allow us to attract strong prospective students with more unique backgrounds.

The MSA Program recognizes that qualified applicants have a variety of individual strengths that cannot be measured exclusively or completely by one admissions test. Research across graduate education shows that applicants who have taken either admissions test are able to perform competitively within their respective academic programs and in their resulting professional fields. In light of this research, we believe that moving to the GRE will allow us to open our academic program to a more diverse student population that will thrive in the profession.


The Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics, or the CASPer test, is an online situational judgment test that presents each student with realistic, hypothetical scenarios to which they must respond. The test assesses for non-cognitive skills and interpersonal characteristics that the MSA Program believes are important for successful clinical practice and patient care. Furthermore, CASPer has been shown to increase fairness in applicant evaluation by providing admissions committees with an objective measure of professionalism.

The test is comprised of twelve sections. Each section contains either a video- or word-based scenario, followed by three open-ended questions. The applicant has a role in each scenario, and will have five minutes per section to respond. The format allows for a wider spectrum of possible approaches to a problem, and the time limit ensures authentic and genuine responses from each applicant. Each section is scored by a unique rater, who is “blinded” to any demographic information about the applicant to avoid biases.

In the MSA Program, CASPer will be a new requirement for each of our applicants. The test will be used to gain a whole view of the applicant, and will be reviewed alongside each student’s GPA, admissions test score, and other aspects of their application such as their evaluations and personal statement to ascertain each prospective student’s interpersonal skills, personal ethics, and judgment.

An applicant’s commitment to professionalism, effective communication, and teamwork are fundamental to success in not only the Program but also the profession. From a holistic point of view, CASPer is fundamental—allowing us to reduce unintentional biases and to select more qualified candidates who are better suited to work within and contribute to the anesthesia care team.

Early and Regular Decision Deadlines

Implemented last year, the MSA Program will continue to utilize an early and regular decision deadline structure. The change was made to ensure the Program was open to more qualified students annually.

Following nationwide changes in graduate student demographics, we are more often seeing non-traditional students and career changers applying to the Program. While some are able to meet the early decision deadline, others may need to take a missing prerequisite or to study for the admissions tests. The regular decision deadline provides additional time for those candidates to meet the program requirements for admissions while balancing against their other responsibilities.

Additional Changes

The Association of Anesthesiologist Assistant Education Programs, or AAAEP, has moved to launch new sections within the CASAA as well. These changes mirror and align with the MSA Program’s shift to a more holistic structure. The application now asks prospective students to provide more biographical and demographic information, which will be used to create a more complete picture of the student’s background. For example, students will be able to report if they grew up in a medically underserved area, any economic disadvantages they may have experienced, and information on their family situation. Additionally, students will be able to report any leadership experience they have as well as other healthcare or medical professions they have applied to in recent years.

These new features will allow the admissions team to assess applicants individually and to better understand the unique abilities, experiences, and perspectives that each could bring to the MSA Program at Case Western Reserve University. The application materials will now provide the admissions team with insight into the context in which each student grew up, and how those socioeconomic and geographical factors may have impacted the individual experience of each student.

Not all of these fields are required; however, if the applicant offers this information, it will be considered within the holistic review—and weighed alongside the other requirements, such as admissions test score, academic performance in prerequisite coursework, and other experiences.

The MSA Program is committed to training the best anesthetists in the world. At CWRU, we value excellence by advancing diversity through inclusive thinking, mindful learning, and transformative dialogue. Adjusting our admissions requirements and application structure enables the MSA Program to invite a more diverse candidate pool, which we believe will allow us to build stronger cohorts each year. Ultimately, we believe a more holistic approach will strengthen both the MSA Program and the certified anesthesiologist assistant profession.

More information on our admission requirements can be found here.