How to Get Into PA School With a Low GPA
PA school administrators from nine top-ranking PA programs answer your questions on how to get into PA school with a low GPA.
A low GPA is probably the hardest area to improve.
This makes sense – it was years in the making, and can’t be undone without time. It can take about a year in advanced level science courses to bump a high 2.x GPA over 3.0. The lower your GPA, and the more classes you’ve taken, the longer it will take to reflect improvements in your academic record.
What is your CASPA calculated GPA?
Before you do anything it is important that you have this number in hand. You can view your CASPA GPAs once your application has been Verified. You can read about that here on the CASPA website.
When I applied to PA school I had a cumulative GPA of 2.9, a result, probably like many of you reading this, of some early misdirection. I got my act together in the second half of my undergraduate career, finishing on the Deans list with a 3.8 GPA. But my overall GPA did not fully recover and was lower than the 3.0 minimum of the school where I was accepted.
Indeed this is not the norm, but you should not let a lower than average GPA stop you from finding a path to PA school if this is truly your passion.
Fortunately, you are not alone. Every year PA programs from across the country come together to answer questions posed by aspiring Pre-PA students like yourself. Not surprisingly, questions regarding PA school admissions and low (or lower than average) GPA topped the list.
Below are the answers to these questions.
Admissions Directors Tell All: Your PA School GPA Questions Answered
This post is part one of a two-part series focused on steps you can take to mediate a lower than desired GPA and the first in a multi-part series of posts exploring questions asked by PA school applicants and answers provided by the PA program admissions directors from seven PA programs.
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PRE-PA Questions are in bold
With answers following each question and a reference to the corresponding PA school admissions director who provided the answer.
Q: If I were to retake classes and get better grades but not yet reach a 3.0, would the upward trend in my grades be considered?
Q: I am right at the minimum GPA and healthcare experience I was wondering if it would be more beneficial to do a year master program to increase my GPA or to focus more on HCE?
Q: If I got a C in an upper-level Organic Chem course would that lessen my chances at getting in?
Q: What is a competitive GPA?
Q: How can one make other parts of their application look competitive if their science GPA is on the lower end? More HCE hours? High GRE score?
Q: I am a recent graduate holding a biological science degree, I am currently volunteering at a lab and working at a dermatology office as a medical assistant. I am working on my extra-curricular activities and building on my resume. Unfortunately, I did not do so well in undergrad. My GPA is very low, so my question to you is, is GPA considered as highly valuable? I plan to go above and beyond with my recommendations, HCE, volunteering and personal statement. If I do very well in all of those, will that still give me a chance?
Q: I graduated a long time ago. I didn't always do so well in my undergraduate GPA, but it's impossible for me to repeat all the prerequisite courses again. How is the GPA requirement for admissions calculated? I have taken classes since undergrad and have done stellar.
Q: If I took the GRE, can it offset a lower GPA? Or does AT still not factor the GRE at all?
Q: My first couple years of college I did very poorly and was eventually dismissed. I did attend another college and ended up graduating with honors(woot-woot!), however, the way CASPA calculates cumulative GPA; despite graduating with a high GPA CASPA reflects it much lower. How much would that affect your review of my application?
Q: Do you consider each GPA individually, the overall GPA, or is the undergrad GPA weighted more heavily in your decision?
Q: I have a low GPA and plan to retake a few science courses that will boost up my prereqs/science GPA. I was hoping to do this online that way I can work/take classes. Would I still be considered seeing that I am not retaking the lab? Also if I don't meet the overall GPA requirement but do meet the science/prereq GPA will my application still be looked at?
Q: My undergrad GPA suffered due to extenuating circumstances that will be discussed in my personal statement. Since graduating, I have worked to improve my overall science GPA. This was why I previously asked if you considered each GPA individually, the overall GPA, or if undergrad GPA weighted more heavily in your decision. When speaking with other programs my undergraduate science GPA is the main GPA discussed. In other words, it appears that my post-baccalaureate and new overall science GPA isn’t considered as heavily as my undergrad GPA. Additionally, during interviews this cycle, it was suggested to take master's level science courses instead of continuing to take undergraduate courses. Therefore, I am aiming to improve my chances and overall competitiveness as an applicant by enrolling in master's level science courses. Thank you for your advice in this decision as to which program is best for me!
Q: Does post-baccalaureate GPA get weighted if it's significantly higher than undergrad GPAs?
Q: I graduated a long time ago. I didn't always do so well in my undergraduate GPA, but it's impossible for me to repeat all the prerequisite courses again. How is the GPA requirement for admissions calculated? I have taken classes since undergrad and have done stellar
Q: If your GPA is not strong but your work experience is, is that taken into consideration?
Q: You said that there is no minimum GPA, but how important is GPA when considering applicants?
Q: If my GPA is not the highest, but I volunteer consistently, go on medical volunteer trips, and have leadership positions in on-campus organizations, as well as over 1,000 hands-on patient care hours, could that be enough to still make me a competitive applicant to your program?
Q: If I am a candidate, who does not have a competitive GPA what other things can I do? I am involved in research with my chemistry professor, I tutor biology, and I have 2500 clinical hours.
Q: If I took a non-pre requisite class my freshman year and got a D the first time, the second time a B, I know CASPA calculates both and averages the two. How do you guys view/value someone's application with a D and not so good grades in the beginning of Undergrad?
Q: I have a 3.7 science GPA, but Caspa calculation overall GPA 3.2. GRE 320 would I be a competitive applicant?
Q: I graduated school with a Biochemistry degree in 2012, but I have not pursued anything related to medicine or science since then other than becoming an EMT-B. Also, my grades were considerably less than stellar for some of the prerequisite classes. However, I have been recently thinking of applying for PA school again. If I decided to enroll in the local community colleges to raise my GPA and reapply, is there a decent chance that I may be accepted?
Q: I am curious about how strict the GPA requirement is? I know the website says 3.0 and I have read above that 3.4 is required to be considered? Will an application be reviewed if GPA is 3.37 but other aspects are very strong?
Q: I have the minimum GPA for admissions but I want to be more competitive. Do you recommend that I take a one year masters program to increase my GPA or possibly focusing on more HCE?
Q: How can one make other parts of their application look competitive if their science GPA is on the lower end? More HCE hours? High GRE score?
Q: I have my bachelor's in Biology from Penn State Berks and all the prerequisites for the PA program. However, My GPA was under 3.0. Is it worth applying, or do you suggest a way increase my GPA in order to apply? I am an OIF combat medic Veteran.
Q: If I received poor university grades in 2008-2011, and then gained work experience as a CNA and now have been back at University since 2014 earning a 3.7 average GPA am I still an eligible candidate if my overall GPA is about a 2.9?
Q: I am a unique candidate with a low undergrad GPA unique degree with significant HCE. I was hoping to get a better understanding of how holistic your application process is. My undergraduate GPA was affected by immaturity, my father having two heart surgeries and missing school. I have been the lead exercise physiologist at Boston Medical Center for 4 years now, with over 4000 HCE hours. I am a medical volunteer at the Boston Athletic Association for the 10k, half, and full marathons for the last 5 years as a medical sweep. I've been a dedicated volunteer at the Salvation Army since November 2016 and I have committed myself through the end of this year before I begin school wherever I get in. I really want to fess up to my poor GPA due to immaturity coupled with significant familial health problems, I show how hard I've worked to overcome those flaws in my academics. Recently while working 60 hours a week in 2-3 healthcare roles (1 full-time, 2 part-time) I’ve averaged B’s in many courses at BU MET college. My greatest fear is that I submit CASPA and I'm not considered because of my low GPA which was reflective of circumstance w/ immaturity 10 years ago. I want to show you I'm not a high-risk candidate, but high reward. My current HCE, Leadership, volunteering, and GRE, and strong recommendations are reflective of this.
Q: You mentioned you look at all admissions criteria holistically say early on in my college career I had no direction and my grades suffered because of that, but for the last several years my grades have been all As do you take that into consideration when looking at my application or just look at my overall GPA?
Q: If there is a chance of not meeting the 3.0 GPA, what do you recommend doing to make up for that?
Q: I will be graduating from undergrad in May with a GPA of a 3.3. I am considering retaking a class over the summer. Would you recommend retaking a prerequisite course, like Biology which I got a B in or OCHEm which I got a C in, or an upper-level course in Physiology which I got a B in but is very important for PA level classes?
Q: I come from a system where GPA was never used, hence a low GPA, but I have a lot of clinical experience as an International Medical Graduate, what are my chances?
Q: Does the admissions committee look at applicants from a holistic perspective or is GPA weighted as the most important factor?
Q: Will my application still be considered with a low GPA? This is the only thing I am lacking on my resume. I plan to excel in my HCE, volunteering, personal statement, and recommendations.
Q: If I obtained a 1-year masters degree while working, would that change how my GPA is evaluated during the program as opposed to someone who just went to school?
Q: I would like to start by explaining my background: I have thousands of hours of phlebotomy experience, I have been a phlebotomist for four years. I have completed over 200 hours of shadowing under an internal medicine PA. My science GPA is a 3.5, however, I have a cumulative GPA of about a 2.8; due to my grades while completing my associate's degree being factored in. During this time I was not very dedicated to academics. Would my GPA derail my acceptance?
Q: My undergraduate GPA through CASPA is a 2.8 cumulative and science. I am currently completing a Master's degree in Basic Medical Sciences where I have completed 20 credits so far with a cumulative and science GPA of a 3.6. Will this be looked at on my CASPA application or are admissions decisions based solely on the cumulative undergraduate GPA's?
Q: Through CASPA my undergraduate GPA is a 2.8 cumulative and science. I am currently working on my Master's in Basic Medical Sciences where I have completed 20 credit hours so far with a cumulative and science GPA of a 3.6. How will my last 40 credit hours be calculated? I want to ensure that my application will meet the 3.0 GPA requirement in order to be reviewed.
Q: My overall GPA is not great, haven’t taken the GRE yet "currently studying", but I served in the Navy as a Corpsman with the Marines for 8 years, so I exceed all requirements for patient care, Letters of Recommendation are excellent, planning on scoring high on the GRE, but I was working 3 jobs while going to school full-time, probably not the best idea, but I got through it. But my fear is that I won’t get the "sympathy" vote. What advice could you give a person who will have everything else but a low GPA 3.0?
Q: If you do not make the minimum grade requirement in a prereq course, is it still worth applying?
Admission Directors Summary and Recommendations
Here are some of the key messages:
1. Upward trends are the rule downward trends will likely lead to a rejection:
We look for an upward trend in grades. We understand that some students have a hard transition to college, or they do not find focus until later. All of your grades will be averaged together, however, we still look for an upward trend. You do want to be somewhat close to the average GPA though. For example, if your total GPA is a 2.8, that is going to be hard to overcome. If it is a 3.0 or higher, with significant other experiences, we can work with that to an extent. - A.T. Still University PA program
2. One low grade is not going to be of much concern, but if you have a lot of them, Houston, you're going to have a problem:
One C is not going to be a concern, although a very recent C is not ideal. If all other grades are As that will help. If you have a lot of Cs that is a concern. - A.T. Still University
3. In the face of a low GPA, the GRE may become your ally:
GRE's tend to be lightly weighted but in the presence of a low GPA it can be of service: Candidates with a lower GPA can benefit by submitting competitive GRE scores. Certainly, high levels of work and volunteer experience can help as well. - Carroll University PA program
4. Recommendation letters matter:
It's not quantity, it's quality. We value a MEANINGFUL HCE experience and we definitely look at the GREs. Beyond that, we are strongly community-oriented so love to see community involvement. We also give a fair amount of weight to the personal narrative and even more to the letters of reference. Know your recommenders! Make sure they know you well! - Case Western Reserve PA program
5. Postgraduate work can be used to build up a low GPA:
CASPA lets us know your GPA for your masters as well as undergrad and we look at both and would be delighted to take them both into account. - Case Western Reserve.
6. Postgraduate work is not weighted higher:
Postgraduate work is not weighted higher. But we do look at trending, so a stronger post-baccalaureate can make up for a weaker undergrad - Duke University
7. If you fall short often you can still apply, but you better be pretty impressive:
The 3.0 is required but if you do fall just short, you are welcome to continue moving forward with the process. - Marist College.
We do require a 3.0 cumulative science and cumulative overall GPA for full consideration. You can still apply but I can't make any guarantees that your file would receive full consideration not having satisfied the minimum requirement. - Penn State PA program
8. Even if you have excellent work and volunteer experience this may not be enough to counter a low GPA. You may still need to retake some classes:
We look at the entire application and consider everything, but I will say that GPA is a big part of it and if given the opportunity to improve I would suggest taking some extra science classes to improve it. But yes, work experience is highly valued as well. - A.T. Still University
9. You can retake a course but remember it's the average that matters:
You can retake a course but CASPA will average the two grades to come up with a number: If you don't make the required prereq grade, you might consider retaking the course. - Case Western Reserve PA program
10. The personal statement can be the deciding factor
When I applied to PA school I received more than a few rejection letters. So I went back to the drawing table and rewrote my personal statement, this was the only thing I changed on my entire PA school application. That single difference got me an interview and with a GPA of 2.9, I stepped ahead of many other 4.0 applicants who were placed on the waitlist. I am not bragging, I am simply trying to point out the importance of not just your personal statement but the entirety of your application + an extremely well-written personal narrative. It can make all the difference in the world. If I can do it, you certainly can.
You have some decisions to make
- Are your stats so low you should push off applying to PA school for a few more years while you work on improving your profile?
- Should you alter your list of schools? Apply to developing programs or apply to programs with lower average GPA stats?
- Should you retake some classes or apply to a postgraduate program to show the admissions committee you mean business?
We will address the answers to these and many other questions in part two of this post series, so stay tuned!
Stephen Pasquini PA-C