gpa

What is the Easiest PA School to Get Into?

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Alright, I’m going to be honest. There is no physician assistant program that is “easy” to get into. This is a question I’m asked almost daily, and I understand why. Not to be harsh, but I want to discuss what is necessary for gaining admission into a PA program so you can have realistic goals. After researching the PA profession, most people agree that it’s a great career for someone who wants to work directly with patients and have the responsibility of diagnosing and treating without going to medical school. It makes sense that any hopeful PA would want to get out in the field as quickly as possible, but there are some common roadblocks to consider before just applying. 

Getting into PA school is very competitive. It’s becoming more popular every year, which means more applicants. And not just any anyone, but more qualified applicants. The first roadblock to overcome is just meeting the admission requirements of a PA program. This includes taking necessary coursework (and doing well), gaining patient care experience, shadowing, volunteering, and obtaining letters of recommendation. These requirements are non-negotiable and there is no “wiggle room.” Part of the accreditation process for PA schools requires adherence to certain admissions parameters to maintain the quality of the program. It gets tricky because each school has their own specifics to consider. Think of each requirement as a checkbox for you to fulfill, and if you can’t mark something off as complete or in progress (if allowed), don’t waste your time applying. Schools have to narrow the playing field by removing applicants who are not qualified, so the easiest way is to weed out the applications that don’t meet the most basic of requirements. If you check out the Files in The Pre-PA Club Facebook group, there’s a great template for recording what you need for each school. 

What does this mean for you? You can’t assume a course or experience meets a requirement if it’s not exactly what they ask for. A good example is statistics, which is required for almost all PA programs. Some programs are flexible and willing to accept a variety of statistics courses, from intro to statistics to biostatistics to statistics for behavioral science. Other programs are strict and will only accept an intro course within the math department. It’s so important to take the time to meet the exact prerequisites of a program so you don’t waste your time or money. Patient care experience is another example. I get asked frequently whether a certain type of position will “count” as hours, and while I can give you my opinion based on your job description, it’s ultimately up to each program to decide. Some schools think scribing is great PCE and for others it is HCE. 

Beyond making sure you can “check the boxes,” just meeting the minimums is not the best mindset to have. You need to make your application as strong as possible and keep working to make yourself more competitive until you’re accepted. Don’t give up and think you’re smooth sailing after you click submit. It’s a good idea to go into PA school applications with the mindset of having to reapply. Evaluate your application and see what areas are weak and continue working on them. If it’s GPA, take more classes. If you’re lacking hours, look for another position or get additional certifications. 

GPA seems to be the most difficult minimum to achieve. 3.0 tends to be the magic number for hitting the requirement and getting your application evaluated, but keep in mind this is the minimum. The average GPA of a class of accepted PA students tends to be around 3.5 or higher, and even programs touting a “no minimum” requirement will have these numbers because they get more applications. GPA is tough because it’s much easier to lower it than raise it. (If you want to try to calculate your GPA, check out this post.) Essentially, you start with a 4.0, and the only way it can go is down. Schools put so much weight on GPA because academic performance has been found to be the best predictor of whether a student will be able to complete PA school successfully based on the PAEA’s Annual Reports. While it’s frustrating that mistakes from years ago may follow you into your PA school applications, it’s an unfortunate reality. 

I don’t want this post to be completely discouraging, so keep in mind that there are students who go through many application cycles, continue working on their application for years, and eventually gain acceptance. Aaron and Jazmine are great examples of students who got bad news, worked hard, and were successful in gaining admittance. When looking for the schools that will be the easiest for YOU to get into, make sure you’re meeting all of the requirements. If you’re unsure, reach out to the program and ask. And the more specific the requirements of a program, the more likely your chances of acceptance. Don't give up, and don't be afraid to ask for help. If you would like some guidance on making yourself a competitive applicant, consider a Pre-PA Assessment

What is the most difficult part of your PA school journey?


What is my CASPA GPA?

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There's no way to get around the fact that your GPA is extremely important for gaining acceptance to PA school.  When it comes to calculating your overall or science GPA, it is much more involved than taking a simple average of all of your grades.  In this post, I'm going to explain how your GPA is calculated for CASPA since that is what the schools will be looking at.  Nothing stinks more than to do the wrong calculations, think you have a 3.2, and then CASPA calculates at a 2.9.  That completely alters the plan of where you'll be able to apply!  The reason CASPA does these extensive calculations is to standardize GPAs across all colleges and universities is so PA programs can compare students as fairly as possible. 

CASPA takes into account how many hours each course was, as well as the grade.  This is called "Quality Points."  These points are calculated by multiplying the amount of credit hours by the grade you received.  For example, if you took a 4 hr course, and made a B, this would count as 12 quality points (4 x 3.0 = 12).  To calculate your overall GPA, you divide the total amount of quality points by the total amount of credits.  If you have 50 quality points, and 20 credits, that would result in a 2.5 GPA.  All calculations are done based on the semester system.  If you have quarter hours these will convert at 1 quarter hour = 0.667 semester hours.  

There are multiple categories that are calculated separately.  Each year is separated (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, post-baccalaureate, and graduate) and then there is science and non-science.  The subjects in the science GPA include Biology/Zoology, Inorganic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, and Other Sciences.  You will choose what category courses fit into when you enter your courses, but these may be changed during the verification process if it appears that a course was entered incorrectly. 

Pre-PA Assessment
from 75.00

Send your credentials and we’ll evaluate your strength as a candidate and help you come up with a strategy to become an even more competitive applicant. Great for high school students, undergraduate students, any first-time applicant or reapplicants! 

What's included: 

  • A pre-assessment of your current GPA and experience by a practicing PA

  • CASPA GPA Prediction and calculator

  • A written summary and plan

  • 20 minute Video session with a Pre-PA Coach

  • Unlimited e-mail follow up for questions

Once information is received, turnaround time is 7 business days for the pre-PA assessment.

**For CASPA GPA estimation ONLY - use code GPAONLY at checkout ($25) and receive an Excel spreadsheet with your Overall and Science estimations based on transcripts provided**

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CASPA includes all grades in it's calculations, including courses that have been repeated.  When some undergraduate programs calculate GPAs on transcripts, they will sometimes only include the grade from after the course has been repeated, which will result in an inaccurate number.  Withdrawals are not included in the CASPA calculations unless they are "WF," which will count as an F.  Pass/fail and AP credits are counted similarly to the W, and just as credits without associated grades.  On the website with information pertaining to GPAs, CASPA has some great charts pertaining to how they count different letter grades and how grades are converted in both the US and Canada.  

PA programs use these calculated GPAs differently.  Some will take exactly what is calculated by CASPA with no modifications.  Other programs will recalculate the GPA based on the highest grade after retaking courses or based solely on the last 45 or 60 hours of coursework.  They may still look at the overall CASPA numbers, but they will place different weight on these calculations if they do their own.  

If you want to try your hand at calculating your own GPA, this link to this GPA calculator is the best I've found, and calculates the same way CASPA does.  

For any questions I haven't answered, check out the CASPA FAQ page on GPAs.  


Getting into PA School with a Low GPA

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So the question comes up a lot about whether it is possible to get accepted into PA school with lower grades or an overall low GPA.  If you work hard enough and apply widely and realistically, there is almost always a way to reach your goals, but that can be difficult when you're staring at some C's and D's and a number that is lower than you had hoped.  It is discouraging to know you are going to be quickly judged and maybe not even considered because of some mistakes in school or a really difficult schedule.  I hope to encourage you and provide some hope and tips for how you can still make your dreams happen.  And thanks to Bhmbl from Reddit for some of the ideas in this post.  Make sure to check out the Pre-Physician Assistant page for an active forum with other Pre-PA students.  

When it comes time to apply, you have to look at your overall application and determine how competitive of a candidate you are.  The main factors to take into account are GPA (overall and science), grades in prerequisite courses, GRE (if necessary), healthcare experience (HCE), other work or volunteer experience, and shadowing.  Most schools will have a cut-off for the majority of these categories.  I'll go ahead and say that if you do not make the minimum requirements, your application will likely never make it to the PA department.  They use those numbers to weed out applications, and so that they can get the candidates that are most qualified.  So if you have a 3.02, applying to a program with a 3.25 minimum will likely be a waste of your time and money.  

GPA is the best predictive factor of how well a student will do in PA school.

One of the best ways to make up for a lower GPA is to make the rest of your application shine.  Thankfully, PA school places a huge emphasis on patient care or healthcare experience (PCE/HCE), so that gives you the opportunity to show that your experience makes up for where your grades fall short.  In comparison, medical school focuses on GPA and the MCAT, and they often don't even require HCE, so if you don't make the grades, the chances are much lower for finding a medical school that is realistic.  You want PCE that is going to be valuable and show that you have had good patient contact, so look into taking a class to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), medical assistant (MA), or EMT.  Although it may take you longer to get to the point that you feel comfortable applying, try to be patient, and know this process is a marathon.  

I also recommend doing some extra shadowing and trying to get really strong letters of recommendation.  You want people who are familiar with you and who will write something that is both personal and positive.  

Pre-PA Assessment
from 75.00

Send your credentials and we’ll evaluate your strength as a candidate and help you come up with a strategy to become an even more competitive applicant. Great for high school students, undergraduate students, any first-time applicant or reapplicants! 

What's included: 

  • A pre-assessment of your current GPA and experience by a practicing PA

  • CASPA GPA Prediction and calculator

  • A written summary and plan

  • 20 minute Video session with a Pre-PA Coach

  • Unlimited e-mail follow up for questions

Once information is received, turnaround time is 7 business days for the pre-PA assessment.

**For CASPA GPA estimation ONLY - use code GPAONLY at checkout ($25) and receive an Excel spreadsheet with your Overall and Science estimations based on transcripts provided**

Add a copy of PA School Interview Guide?:
Quantity:
Add To Cart

Your personal statement is going to be one of the most important factors in landing an interview.  This is what will make the program really interested you, and your goal is to show them who you are in a way that makes the admissions committee want to meet you in person.  While there are differing views on what to talk about in your personal statement, you can choose to discuss your lower grades or GPA if you feel like not addressing this may prevent you from getting an interview invitation.   It's not a bad idea if you feel like you can address it in a way that does not look like you are making excuses, and shows how you have improved and overcome the situation.  Your GPA or a bad grade should never be the sole focus of your essay.  For more tips on how to address this, check out the free personal statement workshop offered by myPAresource.  

If you are applying with a lower GPA, be prepared to reapply.  PA school is getting more competitive every year, and it is common to not get acceptance the first year of application. You can use that year to prepare more for PA school, and to improve your application.  If you feel like your GPA was the only thing that prevented admittance, then take some additional courses to both raise your GPA and show that you are capable of rigorous coursework even though you may have had some stumbling blocks in the past.  You can repeat courses you had lower grades in or take some more advanced science courses.  It is very important that you do really well in these classes because you do not want to further jeopardize your GPA or your application.  If you do repeat some prerequisites and do better, it's important to note that CASPA averages all grades in their calculations.  Here is a post all about calculating your CASPA GPAs.  You may want to consider schools that recalculate your GPA based on the higher scores or look closer at the last 40 or 60 hours of coursework.  Here is a list of some schools that have post-bac classes you may want to look into. 

While in a gap year, you want to be improving your application in other ways as well, such as volunteering and HCE, but not at the expense of your coursework.  It's important to find a good balance because you want to be able to show how your application has improved during the next application cycle.  

When choosing which schools to apply to, you'll need to check their minimum requirements before applying.  It's not worth your time or money to get an instant rejection based on your GPA.  Most programs list this on their website and you can find it in our Program Spotlights as well.  

An interesting option that has come up for students with lower GPAs is to go the nurse practitioner (NP) route, as opposed to the PA route.  While I am in no way the expert on all things NP, it's a reasonable option because depending on the state, most NPs and PAs operate quite similarly.  I think a lot of that has to do with who you are as a person.  This path would mean going to nursing school to get an RN, and most are 2 year programs once you have the correct prerequisites.  Some NP programs require experience working as a nurse before applying, and there are some accelerated programs as well.  There are many more nursing programs than PA programs, and they are typically easier to get into to at the BSN level.  

If you are struggling to decide if you should apply to PA school, where you should apply, or what courses you may want to take or re-take, make sure to get some advice.  Whether that's a PA, a student advisor, fellow students on Reddit, or through a Pre-PA assessment here, it's always better to have a neutral party evaluate where you're at and offer their opinion. 

Comment below with any advice or questions about GPA!