You’re passionate about becoming a PA but you’re worried that your GPA could be an obstacle to achieving your goal. A difficult transition to college, a rough semester, or another challenge that affected your GPA doesn’t mean the end of your plans to become a PA. Many successful PA applicants started out with less-than-optimal applications, but were able to gain admission by strengthening their applications and/or applying strategically.
Below is guidance to understanding GPAs in PA school admissions and options for addressing a low GPA.
Understanding GPAs and the Application Process
Cumulative and Science GPAs
- PA schools look at both overall (cumulative) GPA and science GPA. The cumulative GPA includes all the coursework you’ve taken at any college or university, so the GPA on the transcript at the school where you received your bachelor’s degree may be different than the GPA CASPA calculates
- CASPA (the PA school application service) also calculates a separate GPA that includes only the science coursework you’ve taken. PA schools are interested in both, but when an applicant has a GPA issue, it’s often the science GPA that’s the culprit since those courses tend to be the more challenging ones.
Minimum GPAs and Competitive GPAs
- Many PA school have a minimum GPA requirement for both the overall and science GPAs that an applicant must meet to even be considered for admission.
- 3.0 is the most common minimum although some are as low as 2.75 or as high as 3.2.
- Extensive patient care experience, great letters of recommendation, and other strength won’t compensate for a GPA that doesn’t hit the minimum because your application will not be qualified for consideration, so those non-numerical factors won’t even get looked at.
- Accepted applicants typically have GPAs that are significantly higher than the minimum. A 3.5 cumulative GPA and a 3.4 science GPA put an applicant in a competitive position for admissions to PA programs, although a higher GPA will make admission to a broader range of programs/more competitive programs easier.
Note: some PA schools calculate GPAs for the most recent 60 units (credits) of coursework an applicant has completed. These schools may use this GPA in addition to or in lieu of the GPAs for all coursework. This can be beneficial for applicants who had an upward trend in their GPAs, since courses taken earlier in college won’t be included.
Raising your GPA
Now that you understand the principles of the GPA within the PA school application process, how do you fix a low GPA to at least meet the minimums, and better yet, get in the truly competitive range.
The good news is that even if you if didn’t hit the mark with your grades in college, it’s not too late to raise your GPA. Here are a few ways to accomplish that:
Retake Prerequisite Courses
- If you received a C- or below in a prerequisite course, you’ll need to retake it because most PAs schools require a C or above for the class to be accepted. Some PA schools require a C+ or even a B- for prerequisite courses, so check that information for each schools you’re interested in.
- CASPA does not do grade replacement, so if, for example, you took a class and got a C and took it again and receive an A, it will average out to a B on CASPA
- Prerequisite courses can be taken at a community college or a 4-year college/university as a non-degree seeking student.
- Not all PA programs accept online coursework for prerequisites, so take the classes in person or check with the schools before taking the classes online. This is especially true for lab classes.
Take Additional Science Courses
- In addition to retaking prerequisite courses as needed, take additional “fresh” science courses to raise your GPA and prove to PA schools that you can excel in science coursework on the first try. Take advanced biological science classes such as:
- Cell Biology
- Histology (neuroanatomy)
- When taking classes, try to take two at once to demonstrate that you can handle multiple sciences classes together and do well.
Complete an Academic Enhancer Post-Baccalaureate Program
- Instead of taking classes on your own, you may prefer to complete a post-baccalaureate program focused on academic enhancement. These programs are designed for pre-PA, premed and pre-dental applicants who have already completed the prerequisite coursework for a health professions program, but need to improve their academic standing.
- When researching programs, make sure you look specifically for academic enhancer programs These different than career changer post-bac programs. Career changers offer the basic prerequisite courses for students without a science background who desire to go to PA school.
- Some post-bac programs lead to a certificate. Others are master’s programs that lead to a master’s degree in biomedical sciences or a similar degree. The latter are called “special master’s programs” or “SMPs” because they are master’s programs designed to help students get into a health professions programs rather than being research focused science master’s degrees and last only one academic year, rather than 2.
- An advantage to these programs is that they involve taking multiple science classes at once, are rigorous, and will give ample opportunity to show PA schools that a student is ready to succeed in their program. Drawbacks is that they are often expensive, and often are full time, which makes working during them infeasible.
Here are several examples of post-bac programs:
In addition to looking at ways to raise your GPA, also think about how to apply strategically if you have a lower GPA. Newer PA schools tend to be less competitive than more established ones and can also be a good option for applicants with lower GPAs.
You can identify these schools because they have been granted Provisional Accreditation, rather than Continued Accreditation, which more established schools have. You can use our search tools to find those that have Provisional Accreditation.
For a list of the newest schools for 2023, check out our blog post Seventeen New PA Programs for 2023.
Also include other less competitive schools on your list, even if they are well established (have Continued Accreditation). You can look for schools that have lower average GPAs using the our search tools. You can also search for schools by minimum overall GPA and minimum science GPA.
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Not all data is available or applicable for every program. While we review and update each program’s information annually, there may be errors and schools may make changes at any time. PreHealthAdmit is not affiliated with any school or application service.