A HELPFUL ARTICLE
How to Get Into PA School with a Low GPA
Understanding the Hard Truth and What You Can Do About It
One of the most common questions I receive as a pre-PA counselor is regarding GPA and how to be considered a “competitive applicant” for PA school. The hard truth: Whether we like it or not, as of today, GPA is the best predictor of how you will perform in PA school, which is why many schools apply a lot of weight to this number. Depending on the type of applicant you are, you many not feel your GPA accurately reflects your academic potential. Maybe you struggled your first few years of undergrad (which many people often do) but have since made a 4.0, yet your GPA isn’t where you want it to be. Trust me, after barely passing General Chemistry as a freshman, I feel your pain. But don’t be so quick to cast your dream of becoming a PA aside as there are some ways to strengthen your application that can help balance that low GPA.
In 2019, the overall average undergraduate GPA of matriculant students (those who were accepted to PA school) was 3.6, with a standard deviation of 0.3. Does that mean if you have a 3.8 you are guaranteed to get accepted to PA school? NO. Does it mean if you have a 3.2 you will be rejected? NO. But it is important to know where you stand and what you need to do to gain an interview to a PA program. The minimum GPA required for most schools is 3.0 (both overall and science), with some being slightly higher or lower. I recommend against applying to any school if you have less than the minimum GPA required as your application will not be considered. In fact, many schools use GPA as the “first cut” as a way to narrow down the applicant pool given the number of applications per year. Doing your research on programs you intend to apply to using a tool like myPAbox that will match you to school based on your statistics is a great place to start.
What You Can Do
In the last year I have had the opportunity to work with clients that have a lower than average GPA, meaning anywhere from 3.0-3.3 overall that were offered interviews to PA programs. Here’s how.
1. Take or Retake Classes?
To Take or Retake Classes… that is the question! I get this one all the time. When thinking about re-taking classes to boost your GPA, there are a few things to consider. How long it has been since you took those classes, have you taken upper level science courses since then, and are you showing an upward improvement. If you suffered a few bad grades in your freshman or sophomore year of college but have since kicked ass in all your science classes including upper level courses like anatomy or genetics, then I would say NO to re-taking classes. Why? Because what you have done most recently you have excelled in and it proves you are able to handle complex science content similar to what you will see in PA school. In general I typically recommend taking upper level science courses to improve your GPA rather than re-taking old courses, however , if you failed courses or have a GPA that needs to improve significantly to reach 3.0, then I would say YES. It is also important to note that if you do retake classes, your grades will be averaged in CASPA, you do not have the option to select only the higher grade. Lastly, many schools look at the last 60 or more credits meaning the most recent grades you have so be sure if you take courses, to kick ass in them!!
2. Make Your Experience Standout
Make your Experience a Standout. Outside of your GPA, patient care experience (PCE) and healthcare experience (PCE) are heavily weighted. Work to gain as much PCE as possible in positions such as an MA or CNA where you highlight not only your clinical skills but also functioning as an important member of a healthcare team. Healthcare experience (HCE) is considered indirect patient care such as a pharmacy technician or lab tech where you are not directly involved in patient care. Schools vary on what they consider to be PCE versus HCE so be sure to check the program information. Most applicants have well over 1000 hours of PCE with the median in 2019 being about 4400 hours, however this carried a very large standard deviation (meaning the range was anywhere from 1500-6000 hours). Regardless, having strong PCE and HCE can help to off-set a lower than average GPA.
3. Shadowing and Community Service
Shadowing and Community Service. Let’s be honest, it is NOT easy to find a PA to shadow. but doing so will add value to your application. It will show the admissions committee you truly have seen and understand how a PA functions within the healthcare team. You can also translate these experiences into your personal statementI typically recommend a minimum of 40 hours but some programs have a minimum of 100 so be sure to check. As far as volunteering and community service, the more hours the merrier! Showing your passion and dedication to serving others through volunteer work can only make you more of a standout in my opinion. In 2019, the average applicant had about 44 weeks of volunteer experience. In the description section for these areas in CASPA, make sure you convey to the committee what you have learned from these experiences and how they will shape you as a future PA.
4. Leadership and Teaching
Leadership and Teaching. Showing you are a future leader in the profession is one of the most important things you can convey on your application. If you have trained coworkers, started a pre-PA organization, served as a board member on a sorority, these are all leadership positions. Be sure to highlight your position and what you were able to accomplish in the description section. Similarly, as a PA you will be an educator to your patients and perhaps even future students. If you have any teaching experience even if it is not medical, it is important to highlight and translate how this will help you in the future as a medical provider.
5. Your Personal Statement
Personal Statement. Even if you doubt your chances of getting through the first cut with your GPA, it is still important to have a kick ass personal statement because you just never know!!! Some ask whether or not they should address their GPA in the personal statement and well, that decision is… personal. I do not feel it is a place to make “an excuse” for a low GPA but rather highlight recent academic achievements and what you learned from the challenge that make you ready for a rigorous PA program. In fact most schools already provide an area for you to explain low grades (C or lower) or academic probation. In my opinion, the personal statement should be about the journey, experience, achievements and strengths that make you ready to take this next step rather than your GPA.
What’s Most Important to Get into PA School with a Low GPA?
Most importantly, be sure to stay focused on YOU and not everyone else. It is so easy to get discouraged or feel “less than” during this process! Talk to a coach or counselor like ME to help guide you along the way and make your application a standout. I highly recommend using myPAbox to help you track your progress along the way and match you to the schools you have a high likelihood of obtaining an interview from. Use my code POSHPA15 to get 15% off!!
Book a time to speak with me one on one HERE. Let’s do this thing!