Applying to Physician Assistant school with a low grade might seem like a recipe for rejection, but this isn’t necessarily true.

Of course, the best way to maximize your chances of acceptance is to have only outstanding grades, but things happen, and it isn’t always possible.  There is nothing about having a low grade (or two) that means you won’t be a great physician assistant.  So what do you do?

We consider a “low” grade to be:

  • Any grade less than a “B” in any science or medicine course, particularly those that are required for admission,  OR
  • Any grade less than a “C” in any other kind of course.

When applying to physician assistant school with a low grade, address it directly

Low grades attract unwanted, critical attention to your application.  Failing to speak to the circumstances surrounding them is a grave error.  Addressing it is usually accomplished by speaking about it in your CASPA narrative/essay/personal statement.  This is yet another example of why writing a strong essay is so important.

What to say about a low grade

First, be honest.  You don’t have to say “I hated organic chemistry so I had usually with friends instead of cracking the book.”  You can present it in a positive (or at least neutral) light.  Second, tell them how you know it won’t happen again.

Why did you get that low grade?  Here’s a sample list of explanations that (as long as they’re true) can be overcome, along with how you might explain them.

  1. You went through a divorce, personal medical crisis, or a family loss – you have dealt with it emotionally with therapy, self-reflection, time, etc.
  2. You had an addiction that took you away from your studies – you are now solidly in recovery and the experience has helped you to grow as a person and as a candidate
  3. You were younger and less focused/motivated/organized when you got the bad grade – in the years since it happened, you have matured.
  4. You missed/bombed a particularly important assignment /exam due to an oversight – explain it briefly and what you learned from it

Notice that all of these are chances not only to reduce the impact of that low grade in the minds of your application’s readers, they are chances to explain how that problem has helped you to grow/persist/improve.

Don’t for applying to physician assistant school with a low grade

  • Don’t blame anyone else for your low grade – take the responsibility.
  • Don’t write more than two or three sentences on it.  More than that can make things worse
  • Don’t leave out how you have fixed the problem.  The committee will have an easier time overlooking it if they know it won’t be repeated in the future.
  • Don’t chalk it up to being “bad” at a particular subject.  Why would you would be any better at it in PA school?

Harder Cases

If you are applying to physician assistant school with bad grade you received for a reason that isn’t flattering, just explain it in the most positive and accurate light that you can.  Ask some friends to read your explanation and tell you which one looks/sounds the best.  If you can’t explain it convincingly, consider retaking the class. 



  • Arjun August 18, 2011, 1:11 pm

    I find this very encouraging. Thank you.

    • Paul August 18, 2011, 6:02 pm

      Glad to hear it. Nobody’s perfect, and I think that even the best PA schools try to look beyond grades, which are pretty one-dimensional to find the “diamonds in the rough.” If you watched Sundance’s video on the PA student interviews page, you saw that she dropped out of highschool, then remediated at community college before going to UC Davis Medical School as a medical student, and then as a PA student. It can be done!

      • Stacy B. March 12, 2015, 8:16 pm

        Hey Paul. After meeting with my advisor today, I’ve been feeling discourage and feel like I will never graduate. A year ago, I finally decided that I want to take the PA path. I’ve been working incredibly hard in my classes but I have been coming up short. Of course I get upset at myself about it. In my meeting, today I was basically told that “it is great to have dreams but think of something else.” For the first 2 years of my college career, my grades weren’t the best because I was all over the place. But as soon as I realized what I wanted to do I got focused. My current GPA is a 2.6. I’m doing my best to push it up but I feel defeated. Being a physician assistant is my ideal job. Please help advise me where I can go on from here. The person that I could help direct me didn’t do anything to help me see another light. He just discouraged me.

        • Paul April 5, 2015, 4:59 pm

          Stacy – I’m sorry that you had such a bummer sesh with your advisor. They sometimes focus more on what is realistic and neglect dreams altogether. If you aren’t doing well now, you might consider stopping school. People freak out when I tell them that, but often people just aren’t ready. Why force it just to keep up with your peers. I say take a year off and see where it gets you. Then if and when you decide to follow that path, you’ll be more focused, ready, and hungry to excel. If that’s not an option, consider slowing down so that you can take the pre-requisite courses with fewer other courses at the same time. This takes longer, but it improves your grades and therefore your chances.

          Here’s what a college advisor will rarely tell you: if you REALLY want this, there is a way, but you may need to consider doing things a little differently to pull it off.

      • Dave October 11, 2015, 11:20 pm

        Hi Paul,
        I am freshly out of the military, Corpsman, and started back in school after so many years of taking classes online while serving active duty. Well I am going to a physical college now and it is certain that I will fail general chemistry. I am a senior in college, but I still have over 2 more years of school before I receive my bachelor’s. On top of that, the reason why I am failing is partially due to the DUI I was charged with over the summer. I was not in school during this time but it has been a very difficult year. I am very passionate about becoming PA, and would be very grateful to any advice you may have. I can still withdraw from he course, but it will be expensive.

        • Paul November 8, 2015, 12:02 pm

          Sorry you’re struggling, Dave. If it’s not too late to withdraw without it being a withdraw failing (WF), then that’s definitely what you should do. If not, then you should do everything you can to bring your grade up to a D. Sorry to hear about the DUI. That and an F will make it hard to get into PA school anytime soon. But if you think of PA as a goal that is worth working toward, then a year or two (or more) off from school to reset, get clear on what you want, and ready yourself to get A’s will be time well spent. It will also allow you to show them what you’ve learned from your DUI. New DUI = you are not ready and have personal things to work on. Old DUI with a genuine, thoughtful explanation of what happened and what you learned from it = a strength.

    • Iapplied September 15, 2014, 11:48 am

      Do not be fooled. I like Paul’s Blog, but it is not reality. Yes you may get by with a bad grade (C, if you can call it that), may be another, but there are so many applicants to PA School that the initial Supplemental application is tossed if it is below 3.00. Your best bet is to avoid those colleges requiring them. I have found it odd that the CASPA asks for “all” college records and then gives an overall score. This does not reflect recent performance, or experience unless the college of your choice looks at the full application. The college looks at just the GPA. Below 3.00 you can kiss your money goodby. I went from a 1.2 GPA (I was younger) and brought it up to a 2.57 (This is very difficult) and received my BA in Biology (I was at a 2.99 standing at my University). The only thing I can do is go back and take classes over and receive straight A’s. It may, or may not bring me back over the threshold, but I cannot afford to do this. I’m not trying to be negative. I want you to truly think about what your are doing academically and are you really prepared to pay the price.

      • Paul September 17, 2014, 8:27 pm

        I can’t really agree, though I understand your frustration. Schools don’t usually toss applications without reviewing them. They are actually given a very detailed breakdown of applicant GPAs by semester, year, degree, postbacc, etc. Context is everything. I think it’s still very possible for you to get in – particularly since you have made such progress on your grades. Really.

        • Terry September 18, 2014, 5:00 pm

          Hi Paul, I agree to disagree..LOL. I can show you an email from a recent college I applied to. It is their policy to screen applicants just based on their GPA and I am sure this happens quite frequently. I enjoy your blog and visit it quite often. It is refreshing to view and gives a lot of insight. I’m just saying that not all colleges look at the history of the applicant.

          • Paul October 7, 2014, 11:16 pm

            We are in agreement that not all colleges look at the history of the applicant. But many colleges make admissions decisions on emotion more than stats — it plays a bigger role than most people think.

        • Matthew July 18, 2015, 9:29 am

          So Paul so do think it is still possible to get into a PA school that requires a 3.0 GPA even if your overall GPA is lower but you have made substantial progress to improving it in the past few years by taking prerequisites and redoing classes?

          • Paul July 20, 2015, 4:46 pm

            It’s a long shot. But I’ve heard many stories of people being told that they are not candidates for a school or a job, applying anyway, and getting in. My sister got rejected from UCLA and was told that there were no appeals. She wrote a letter of appeal, and was accepted! Who knows, really. But if there’s something you really want, you only assure you won’t get it by not trying. You think they don’t have the power to make an exception if they want to? No way. They can accept whomever they want.

      • S. Lauren roberts March 27, 2015, 5:28 pm

        I agree. My initial grades were horrible before I transfered and knuckeled down. I began as a bio major as a teenager, switched to psychology, got more engulfed in corporate America and only decided to get back on track after being laid off. When I made the decision to be a bio major again I had to start from scratch. In a span of 2yrs I took all of my required biology course. Many at the same time which is extremely difficult. I went it with a 1.7 and left with a 3.0. Again remember this was in all science classes. I have 3 c’s (all from chemistry) and lots of B’s and A’s. However when Caspa bundled everything I only received a 2.0. I know my application was no looked at because of it was they would have seen my extreme hard work in sciences. I feel quite discouraged. I feel my essay was quite strong as I mentioned hardship (seperation from fiancé with a small child, moving on my own and caring for us both on little to no income). I just received my last rejection letter from a school I know looked things over and it still wasn’t enough.

  • Lee August 21, 2011, 2:06 pm

    First of all, thank you for your web site, it is very informative and insightful. I am working towards completing some prerequisites.
    I’ve a question regarding poor academic history:
    Early on in my academic career, I had multiple dropped courses and earned 2.0 over a (gasp) ten year period. I do have a very good reason: caring for an chronically-ill parent, working full-time, and taking on 6-9 units a semester.
    My GPA is far better now, although it is barely a 3.2.
    My question is, how do ackowledge these previous mistakes without sounding as if I am blaming the circumstances surounding my poor academic performance?
    Thank you for your answer.

    • Paul August 21, 2011, 7:02 pm

      Thanks for the compliment! I think your situation is easier to deal with than you might think. You are lucky that your lower grades are in your past, and you should make this clear to the admissions committees by briefly explaining the circumstances of your weak period, and then follow by sharing your more recent GPA. For example, you could say something to the effect of (make it prettier):

      Although my academic performance suffered somewhat during the period/year/semester when I was caring for a chronically ill parent and working full time, in the last X years/X units I have a GPA of (or) I have not received a grade below X.

      My own undergrad grades weren’t the greatest, but I was able to state honestly that in the 18 years since, I had taken many prerequisite and medicine-related courses, and never received a grade below an A. It painted a picture of a student who had matured and gotten serious about his academics – which is pretty much what I was.

      So, as with the article on the low grade, make it clear that the problem is solved, and will not be repeated. Then move on.

      • Layne August 4, 2012, 8:13 am

        This response was the most reassuring thing I have read/heard in a long time. In college, I had high anxiety because of familial issues that have been a part of my life since I was very young. It has since lessened, but I am hard on myself for not putting myself in a great position, academically speaking, to apply for Master’s, PhD, MD, or PA programs. Reading your response, I realize that I don’t have to apply right now (I just graduated in May); I can give myself a chance to improve my standing.

        • Paul August 6, 2012, 10:11 pm

          It sounds like you took home the take-home message. For many, PA is a path that comes with long-term work – think of the tortoise and the hare story. The older I get, the more I realize that there are no true shortcuts, as much as we want them when we are young. 99.9% of the time, what’s required for success is putting in the time and effort over a period of years. If you accept this, you can virtually guarantee that you will one day become a PA. If you’re looking to get in next year or else, you are much more likely to be disappointed with the outcome.

    • Asha June 24, 2013, 12:04 pm

      How do you spin CURRENT low grades because it IS a subject you are “bad” at? Personally, I struggled with chemistry courses, for one reason or another; it didn’t come easy for me. Though, I worked hard at it my grades don’t reflect that.

      • Paul June 24, 2013, 5:45 pm

        That is really tough. If you struggle in chemistry recently (they will wonder), how will you handle PA classes that call on chemistry, such as acid base disturbances and reaction kinetics. You need to find some way to prove to them that you have overcome this “Achille’s heel.” If they don’t think you have made peace with chemistry, they would be unwise to select you for an expensive, two-year-long program that will require knowledge of chemistry. Retake it if you must, but you need to put their concerns at ease, and just explaining that you’ve never been good at chemistry in an essay is not enough to do that.

  • Dustin J September 1, 2011, 12:03 am

    Great article Paul. I can attest to describing a poor grade I received for a chem class early in my prerequisite courses as something that was received while I was younger and less mature and since that time certain events (which I enumerated as getting married, having children and going through many years of Army Leadership schools) have helped me become much more focused and disciplined as well as attentive to detail. This was used during my interview for PA school and the interviewing panel seemed to like my answer indicated by the lead interviewer replying, “that’s a good lesson to learn” and we moved on with other subjects. Luck for me I happened to have previously conceived and practiced answering this exact question as I suspected it would arise during the interview.

    • Paul September 1, 2011, 6:46 am

      Hey, Dustin!

      For those of you who don’t know, Dustin isn’t just a member of my class at UC Davis School of Medicine, he’s also our class president.
      Dustin’s comment brings up an important point. If you were on a PA school admissions committee, and you were interviewing a student with a questionable grade, what would you want to hear them say? if you use it as an opportunity to show them that you might have a degree of maturity that others lack, or that they haven’t yet witnessed, you’ve turned a potential weakness in to a true strength.

  • sheenadesiree October 26, 2011, 8:06 pm

    this semester (15 credits ) has me extremely stressed out. My school is a pretty small yet very competitive . I feel a lot of pressure to get straight “A”‘s and although i am doing very well i feel like I should be doing better.The stress is disheartening and draining.This article puts things in perspective. Thank you so much for this blog . You have no idea how inspiring it is to return here and build with like minded individuals .You and your efforts are MUCH appreciated.

    • Paul October 26, 2011, 10:40 pm

      Thank you so much for the compliment, Sheena. The pressure to perform can be truly intense. Don’t forget to take a break every now and then, and reflect on all that you’ve accomplished! May I suggest you visit our medical humor page if you haven’t already?

  • Joy November 2, 2011, 12:28 pm

    i was also a high school drop out in 1998! i did get my GED the summer i should of graduated and went to community college. I did not have a clear plan on what i was going to do as a career or on how even to get there. With no plan, i was just wandering through general classes and not getting great grades. When i learned of the PA profession, i started to take classes that would get me there, but i was not attending a college that would get me there and i was in a horrible relationship with a developing alcoholic. Through the years, i had a lot to deal with and school was put on the back burner. I took a couple of classes here and there for many years and did not put everything into it. After changing my life around in 2006, i started to get serious about school. Still only took 2-3 classes per semester since i was working full-time to support myself. The grades came up and i ended up graduating finally with a 3.5 in Biology. Now, i have applied to 6 PA schools and am waiting anxiously to hear back from them. My GRE did not go well over the summer, but with it changing, i could not take it again and get my scores in on time. I also do not have any HCE because i have been working as a server/ bartender to pay my bills. I have taken a phlebotomy course and have a certificate, but a job has been hard to find since i have no experience. I have my fingers crossed and am just hoping they will see what i have to offer to the program. I know i can do it! If i do have to reapply, i will retake the GRE. Not sure what i can do with the HCE though….going to shadow more and start volunteering as soon as the paperwork goes through. I just don’t know what else to do! I’m 31 and i want to start PA school as soon as i can. i eventually want to have a family. Thanks!

    • Paul November 2, 2011, 1:07 pm

      Hi, Joy –

      I sounds like you’ve developed a lot as a person in recent years, and I wouldn’t discount the power that can have when you apply to schools. But if you don’t get in, don’t feel bad – many PA students applied 2 and 3 times before getting in. As for HCE, I think shadowing and volunteering are great ways to start. I also think that quality of HCE can mitigate some of the lack of quantity. Do what you can, and concentrate on getting closer to your goal, even if only in steps that seem too small/slow. My opinion: if you’re looking for a job as a phlebotomist, you should use those connections as much as you can – most people today get jobs with the help of a personal connection of some sort. Maybe shadowing and volunteering will get you started in that area. So make friends and have a strong work ethic and people will take notice. Then again, maybe you’ll get into PA school, and you can start a whole different kind of networking! Let us know how it goes, ok? -P

    • Lucia Mesa January 10, 2012, 3:57 pm

      Hello! I love this blog! it is very inspiring,
      I have a question, I am graduating this spring and I have 2 Cs (Ecology and Organic Chem II). Do you think I should take Biochemistry this last semester or do you think I should take 2 easy classes and focus more one getting a great GRE? My GPA is 3.4… But I don’t know if I should take Biochem or if it better to focus on the GRE. Thanks!

  • Kara November 5, 2011, 4:50 am

    This article was so inspiring. I felt like giving up until I read this. I have a few C’s as well as I had retaken classes that were less than C’s and have gotten higher scores. Do you believe that it is still possible to recover from this? Also, I wanted to ask your opinion. I would like to take classes after my bachelors to increase my GPA as well as make my transcript look better. Is this a good idea? Also, how do most schools factor GPAs when you have transcripts from different schools?
    Thank you for giving me new hope! :-)

    • Paul November 5, 2011, 8:43 am

      I think it’s possible, but it’s going to take time and work to prove to PA schools that you’re out of your slump. Have you thought about taking some time off from school to regroup? You could get an EMT or do some other health care work. If you’ve struggled in school, I highly recommend that you sit down with a good guidance counselor to figure out what kind of support you’ll need to get on track.

      It won’t be quick or easy, but it can be done. Be patient and work hard. That’s where the best things in life come from.

  • Jay December 3, 2011, 12:05 am

    How bad does a D or F look on a transcript? If PA schools see a D or F is it guaranteed rejection? Currently, my overall GPA is 3.68. I have had 1 c in general bio 1 but retoook the course received an A. Currently, I am taking organic chemistry and I am receiving a D. It is possible to still salvage a c but it will be extremely hard (I practically have to ace the final). I was thinking about just giving up on the course but after reading this post I’m hitting up the library right now to stud. so i thank you greatly for that and who knows maybe i will salvage a decent great but if i don’t I was just wondering how badly PA schools view a D or F and do i still have any chance to getting?

    Thank you in advance.

    • Paul December 3, 2011, 12:22 pm

      I won’t sugar coat it: a D or an F is a bad signal to send to a PA program. PA courses are tough, and there’s no dropping them if they go poorly – they just drop you. But in the end, it depends on a lot of factors. Probably the worst D or F is a recent one that is in a key subject. Some programs don’t require organic, but many do. The problem with repeating classes is that although you show that you can do much better at a subject, when it comes to the calculation of your GPA with CASPA and most PA schools, the new grade does not replace the old one. Instead it serves as an additional grade. This raises your GPA, but not like it would if it replaced the low grade.

      My suggestion is to bust your ass and see if you can pull it out. If you end up with a D or an F in the class, your essay should explain if briefly and convincingly, and they move swiftly to other areas that make you amazing, dynamic, and worth interviewing, despite the grade glitch.

      Maybe others will have suggestions for you as well…

  • Phuong January 4, 2012, 10:40 pm

    Your site is so informative and helpful! I’m so glad I came across it. I’ve pretty recently decided concretely to apply to PA school, unfortunately I am a senior and in my last semester for my BS in Biology degree and have not completed a couple of pre-requisites for PA school. Should I graduate this semester to get my bachelors degree, then go back to take the rest of the pre-reqs or should I extend my undergrad and take the pre-requisites in the fall? Would it matter if I took some courses after I graduate with my bachelors degree?

    • Paul January 4, 2012, 10:53 pm

      Thanks, Phuong! It really doesn’t matter either way, as long as you get them done. Do it however you’re most likely to get A’s. If that means graduating and taking a little more time, then take it.

  • David January 6, 2012, 6:14 pm

    I like what you’re doing here Paul. Keep it up! I am a third year nursing student and will graduate with a BSN RN degree. I know that I don’t want to stay in nursing and PA is definitely something I would love to do after an experience in the OR with a PA student. I have gotten Cs in A&P and been receiving B- in my major nursing courses from a very competitive program. Would this hinder my chances of getting into a PA program with a 3.1 GPA?

    • Paul January 8, 2012, 11:40 am

      Thanks, David! I think it could. Grades are very important to PA school, because they demonstrate that you have what it takes to succeed in accelerated classes. Do whatever you can to show that you are capable academically. If that means taking some time to regroup and improve yourself as a student, do that.

  • Bryan April 12, 2012, 2:11 pm

    I’m currently a 3rd year junior majoring in medical science and microbiology. I have Crohn’s disease and until last summer was undiagnosed with ADHD. During periods of great amounts of stress my Crohn’s is at it’s worst. Fortunately my university offers accommodations for test taking, however during my first two years I was not aware of them and had several cases during my final exams where I would have to turn in my test so I could leave the room to use the bathroom. In one instance I had to leave a 3 hour exam after 20 minutes. Because of this my grades have suffered and my cumulative GPA for my first two years was a 2.5. However since starting new therapy for my Crohn’s, getting treated for ADHD and using the special accommodations provided through the university I have had a 3.3 GPA (While taking classes such as virology, immunology, hematology, infectious disease related microbio courses, body fluid analysis, epidemiology etc.)

    I have independent research experience and I spent a summer completing a clinic rotation at a top 5 US hospital. I have not taken the GRE yet, however during a “real” sit down practice test sponsered by my school and ETS I scored in the equivalent of the 74th percentile. I also served as a Resident Advisor for 2 years in a dorm and volunteer with a disability organization

    I think I can barely bring my GPA above a 3.0 before I graduate. If I continue to improve, perform well on my GRE and have documentation of my Crohn’s disease do you think it would be possible for me to be a competitive applicant into a PA program ?

    • Paul April 12, 2012, 2:48 pm

      Yes. You have a compelling story that makes sense when youre explaining your grades.
      IMHO, your essay will be the most important factor in your application. Take your time and do an awesome job on it. Your letters will be important too; if you can, let your letter writers know about your chron’s.
      Keep us updated on your progress. -P

  • E.J. Nunez April 20, 2012, 1:17 pm

    You have no idea how much of an alleviation this is to me. I am a 5 year Respiratory Therapist. I got an AA and AS and finally started working on my B.S. last fall when a few Doctor friends of mine and P.A.’s started getting in my ear about how much easier of a transition it would be for me to become a P.A. than I thought. Once I looked at it, all I need are the Chemistry course (which I am taking now) and complete my B.S. But then came the doubts of my GPA not looking so good. I’m not going to lie, when I graduated RT program in 2007 I had a cummulative 2.58 GPA. This is due to the fact that before RT I was a young kid (dating back to 1999) who had no idea on why I was in school and finally found a passion. Also, I worked full time while having to help my family make ends meet. While in the RT program, I was able to boost it from 2.30 to 2.58 and now after two semesters I am at 2.76. Obviously, in two semesters I have averaged a 3.7 within four classes, but my overall has kind of brought my energy down.

    I am in a different situation. 31 years old (compared to 17 when I started college), married, two children, and focused on fighting hard for what I desire and believe God will bless me with. Also, I have about 12 more classes to finish before I am done with my B.S.R.T. (including Chem 2 and Organic Chem). Do you see a possibility of me bringing my GPA up if I keep at the pace I am going now? I am blessed to have a full line of medical directors that are ready to write letters and make calls in my behalf when I apply, but still this doubt tries to darken the great path this has become and will blossom to be. What do you think?

    Thank you in advanced.


    • Paul April 20, 2012, 9:48 pm

      Sounds like you’re a different person now, and when you write your essay, you’ll want to convince them of that. As for your grades, getting your GPA up is the most important thing you can do. So focus like a laser on your classwork. Even if your cumulative GPA isn’t so great, if you smash those 12 classes, you will prove that you can handle PA school now that you’ve matured. But try to ace each one, even if it means you need too spread them out a little more. I suggest you take a look at our article, PA School Application Tip: Protect Your GPA. You should find it helpful. Keep us posted on your progress… -P

      • E.J. April 22, 2012, 1:03 pm

        Thank you much, Paul. This is highly appreciated. I will let you know of my progress as I move along this path. Thanks again.

  • june April 30, 2012, 3:25 pm

    My son has done a bang up job while in college keeping his GPA up (3.91) with a 4.0 in his core subjects. He is a Health Science major/pre-PA. He is a licensed EMT, has shadowed a surgical PA for three weeks, and plans on spending the summer at Penn State immersing himself in an intense Nanotechnology program which will afford him with A.S. in Nano. He has called all upset because he was reviewing the requirements for CASPA. They state you need to reveal your transcripts. Here is where the problem lies. While in high school he took several AP and ECE (Early College Experience) classes. Not having the same mindset as he does now he didn’t do very well and feels those grades will pull his GPA down. My question is does he have to report those grade?

    • Paul April 30, 2012, 10:19 pm

      Hi, June!

      This is a hard one. I want to be totally above board here so that I don’t encourage anyone to do anything unethical or that might upset CASPA. SOME people who have a low grade or two at on college (and few other or no other grades) “forget” to send that transcript. As far as I can tell, if you don’t notify CASPA that you’ve attended a particular school, they really have no way of knowing.

      But your son’s situation may be different. If he relied on those college-level credits from high school to skip taking certain requirements while in college, then they’re probably going to expect to see them. According to CASPA’s instructions, here’s there answer to this question:

      CASPA must receive an official transcript from EVERY U.S. and English-speaking Canadian institution you received college-level credit from, including colleges which granted you credit for high school work.

      But to reassure your son, I don’t think this is the end of the world. He has a stellar GPA, and it should be easy for him to make a convincing case that he didn’t get his act together until he got to college, which seems pretty easy to forgive. I mean who do you know who actually HAD their act together in High school? I doubt PA schools will lose much sleep over it. But just to be on the safe side, he can (probably should) speak to it very briefly in his CASPA essay. I wouldn’t give it more one BRIEF sentence, and return to how awesome he is. If he needs more support, he’s welcome to post to the forum and get others’ opinions. He can do that at

      Anyway, stay proud of him. -P

  • Malcolm May 13, 2012, 5:51 pm

    hello i just have to say GOD bless you Paul for creating this forum for answering different questions and providing newfound insight into each of our circumstances. I’m currently getting my science courses out the way and im in the pre-professional phase of the major at my school, but having finished this semester i didnt do too well in Anatomy, i received a D, there were extenuating circumstances surrounding this entire semester, and bad things beyond my control but im going to retake it in August. my mother had taken an anatomy and physiology course almost 30 yrs ago when she was like 23, and she said when taking the course they had a learning supplement they had used in the class by the name of dean vaughn, she said that dean vaughn learning techniques for anatomy helped her retain the info so much that she earned a 93.5 in it and she still knows the stuff to this day so im going to order it when i retake the A&P course in august, my question to you sir is since i havent taken a&P since high school about 8 or 9 years ago should i order a few supplements to assist in my studies for the course or no?

    • Paul May 13, 2012, 6:50 pm

      Thanks so much. I really can’t think of any reason not to use supplements, as long as you don’t overwhelm yourself with material. To succeed in anatomy, more than anything, you need time in the lab with either a cadaver or good set of models, and your text. Time and repetition are key. I had good luck writing down the location of each structure in words, and then working backwards to name it while picturing it. Of course, anatomy is more than memorization of structures – there’s actually a fair amount of physiology in it, even if you’re taking a straight anatomy (without physio) course. Above all, do what works for you. Everyone has different learning needs. Since you struggled before, I would suggest you get with a tutor or TA for some extra time. Most colleges have learning centers where you can get extra help for just about any course. Good luck!

  • Terry May 22, 2012, 1:55 am

    Hi, thank you for writing this article, it’s been very informative. I’ve been feeling really down on myself because my gpa is too low for any pa program. I graduated with a 2.95 and to make matters worse my GPA is even lower than that because I’ve also been to two other schools which I did terrible in during my younger years. I got a 2.0 in the first school and a 2.5 in the second. So I have a total of 3 different GPA’s. When I place all my grades in CASPA my gpa is calculated to a 2.45.
    The first low gpa was due to my guardians death and the second was due to my chronically ill grandmother that I took care of. And finally, the reason for my 2.95 was due from taking 20 credits of all science/math courses for fall and another 18 credits of all science/math for spring that year. I probably should have taken my time but I really just wanted to graduate and move on, instead I hurt my chances to get into any PA program. I retook two of the classes that hurt my gpa and I received an A and a B respectively, but because CASPA calculates every grade my GPA can’t be improved.
    I’m currently working at a doctors office where I have a lot of experience working with patients and I’m hoping that would count.

    • T June 14, 2013, 10:07 am

      Hi Terry, I have a very similar situation. Did anyone ever reply to this question?

  • Jodi May 29, 2012, 8:37 pm

    I’m on my third year of college and i was really motivated on becoming a PA after doing some EMT work over the summer in the ER. my last GPA was a 2.3 and my over all was 2.0 and this semester i received a 1.3! my overall dropped to a 1.7! is there any chance i can get into PA schools because it’s my dream. would it help if i first went to grad school first then apply to PA schools? Please help. and i also switched majors a lot from pre- dentistry to art to finally pre- pa. but i wasn’t really motivated till now and my GPA is low but i don’t want to watch my dream slip away. Is there anything i can do to boost my chances besides to get A’s which is what i try to do.

    • Paul May 29, 2012, 8:47 pm

      Jodi – It will be extremely hard to get into PA school with the grades you are describing. Nothing is impossible, but in order to make your wish more likely, your mission is simple: take as many courses as you can that are relevant, and get excellent grades. This will allow you to make the case that — even though your cumulative GPA will not be high — you have made a serious turnaround in your academic efforts, and are ready for the rigorous demands of physician assistant school. If you really wan to do this, dedicate your future to crushing every course in sight. If you aren’t sure you are ready to promise yourself success in the courses you will be taking, then you should take some time off from school and get clear on your priorities and your motivation. This can also help to refocus you on your goal. Consider staying for an extra year to accumulate more academic experience. If you apply to grad school after your get your BS/BA, choose a program that is academically very relevant to medicine, such as microbiology, physiology, etc. I wish you success in your efforts.


  • E June 3, 2012, 1:36 pm

    Paul, thank you for all the information! It’s really helpful!
    I was wondering what your opinion is on my chances of admission to a PA program. My undergrad was rough- I had difficult family- and financial-related situations, and worked 30-40hrs a week while being in school full time. I graduated with a 2.97, and I repeated many classes. Subsequent to graduating I took one class (A) one semester and a few more another semester (3.19 gpa though I withdrew from one class).
    I just finished my second semester in a master’s program with an overall gpa of 3.535, my first semester I received one C (GPA of 3.25) and this last semester my gpa jumped to 3.91.. straight As. What I have been trying to show since graduating is that I am a dedicated student and resilient, with my gpa being much higher now than in undergrad. My concern is the withdrawn class and the one C since graduation. I still need to take 1year of anat/phys which I plan to get As in, in addition to the remaining classes I need for my degree and other pre-reqs for PA school. Again, with the mindset of getting all As.
    Do you think all this shows that I have become a more serious, dedicated, and resilient student/person? Thank you for your help!

    • Paul June 3, 2012, 3:35 pm

      Not to be flip, but this is a very subjective question. I don’t mind you asking at all – it’s almost universal to wonder what your chances are. So hear me when I give you the best answer I know how:

      It really doesn’t matter what I think.

      I’m not the one who will make the decision, and whether you believe me or not, admissions committees are all very different. An applicant whom one school might jump at might not get so much as a second glance at another school.

      The question that really matters is: do YOU think all this shows that you have become a more serious, dedicated, and resilient student/person? Do you believe that you are more of those things than you were before you started this journey? If you are honest with yourself and you aren’t more of these things, then you have more work to do. If you believe you are, then you are well positioned to convince them. You aren’t trying to snow them; you’re trying to prove to them what you already know to be true, and if you believe it, perhaps they will too.

      Your job is to put together the best application that you can, and submit it. At this point, it’s out of your hands. What they do with it is about them, not about you. As tough as it sounds, your job is to wait and let them decide. In the words of Terri Cole-Whittaker, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” If you don’t get in and aren’t giving up, then it’s back on you to improve yourself to the point that they will change their mind, and/or show them why they screwed up the first time around.

      If all this sounds simple, it’s not. But my strong advice is to concentrate NOT on what they’re going think, but on showing them your best, and then let it go.

      • E June 4, 2012, 10:55 am

        Thank you so much for your advice.. It hits close to home and will help me more than you know!

  • Danny June 18, 2012, 6:56 pm

    First of all…What a great blog! This is very inspiring information.
    I am a second time applicant for PA school and am trying to figure out what to do in the meantime. I picked up new letters of reference, had my narrative strengthened and edited, and am now trying to figure out what I should be doing while applying to schools. Thanks to my mother being a dentist who would always volunteer (and take me along with her), I have over 1,200 hours of documented health-care experience (in other areas besides dental, too), and have shadowed a PA as well. I also had a great internship at U.Va’s medical school which will result in a paper being published with my name on it, which I am hoping will help…The thing that I cannot figure out is- should I find a job working as an EMT, or in another health-care profession directly related to medical treatment, or would it be sufficient for me to take a research job since I have already acquired far beyond the necessary amount of “health-care hours” to apply to most programs? The research position will present me with a better opportunity to make a larger amount of money, which I would like to have saved up prior to entering a program. Also, I have a degree in Biology and am trying to figure out what other classes I could take to make PA schools know that I am still working to make myself a better applicant…If I take biochemistry I lose the opportunity to take a job because of the scheduling of the class time and lab. Would taking a medical terminology class suffice? I think that it would also be beneficial, too. I graduated with 140 credits and have taken every bio class related to the body that was available (my major had emphasis on molecular and cellular bio). Thus medical terminology and biochemistry are really the only two that I have left.
    Thank you so much for your time. Your knowledge and willingness to answer these questions is greatly appreciated.

    • Paul June 18, 2012, 9:16 pm

      Hi, Danny!

      First off, if you’ve taken all the bio, then I would only take medical terminology for your own benefit, and I think it was a huge benefit to me (still is). Having a paper published is great, but I think health care experience with patients is much higher on the preference list for PA schools than research. A paper shows you understand the scientific method, but a job doesn’t help you much beyond that. What they want is people who have lots of experience with patients, and in your case, I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much (you have a relevant degree with plenty of bio – don’t spend valuable patient interaction time taking more).

      EMT is great, volunteering in a clinic or ER is good. Shoot for experiences that put you into the process of assessing and treating patients, at least a little bit.

      Beyond that, if your essay is awesome and interesting, you should be in good shape.

      I wish you luck.


  • Olivia July 1, 2012, 10:23 pm

    I am applying to PA schools and recently took the GRE and I did horrible and I am really freaking out. My undergrad GPA is a 3.5 and I had a really bad semester once (I made two C ) but I got my act together, I volunteered at hospitals, I am currently shadowing a PA, and doing research. Becoming a PA is my dream and I really messed up! My question to you is there still hope for me? I plan on taking the GRE again but I would like to know what you think of my predicament.
    Thank you in advance.

    • Paul July 2, 2012, 12:53 am

      There’s always hope, Olivia. Have you taken a review course for the GRE? They can help A LOT. If that’s not in the cards, I suggest you get a Princeton Review or Stanley Kaplan review book (or similar), and work on it yourself. Then there are plenty of PA schools that don’t require the GRE. They might see your scores (not sure about that) but they won’t be very interested in them. The other thing you need is a knock-their-socks-off essay. If you really want to go to PA school, you’ll need to power through obstacles like these.

      • Olivia July 4, 2012, 6:44 pm

        Thank you so much. I really appreciate it and am so grateful that you take the time to back. I have enrolled in a prep course. Thanks again!

  • Laura July 6, 2012, 11:50 pm

    I have a lower GPA (2.81 overall and 2.4 science) due to an undiagnosed neurological disease that was diagnosed late into my undergraduate career. I am struggling on how to talk about this in my personal statement, without making an excuse. Since graduating college, my disease is being treated and is under control, and I have 3 years and counting of full time experience as a cytogenetic medical technologist. I also have mid to high GRE math and verbal scores (I didnt do so well on the writing section), and really strong references. I am hoping I can relay this information clearly into a personal statement. I am worried schools will see my low GPA and immediately disqualify me. Would it be wise of me to wait another year or so to apply, or should I just apply and see what happens? Is it possible to raise your GPA with classes after getting your bachelors?

    • Paul July 7, 2012, 12:11 am

      Hi, Laura! I suggest you strongly consider making your illness a main focus of your narrative essay. What have you learned from it? How has it influenced your desire to become a PA? This will take your “weakness” and reframe it as a strength. It will also give you a chance to explain why your GPA is lower that is believable. The essay will be important for you – you need to help them see that there’s a great candidate behind the less-than-stellar grades. Give a brief (1-2 sentences) explanation, and then move on to more positive stuff.

      Sure, you can always raise your GPA by taking more classes. But the more classes you take, the less impact any one class has on your cumulative GPA, so you really need A’s!

      If it were me, I would apply for two reasons: 1) it’s good practice and will help you improve your application next time if you don’t get in, and 2) what the worst that can happen? Not getting in? No big deal. If you do get in, you’ve saved yourself a year!

      • Laura July 7, 2012, 12:31 am

        That makes sense. I am also worried about them disqualifying me immediately because of the GPA without reading my personal statement. Does that happen?

  • Amena July 8, 2012, 1:22 am

    I’m currently 19 and my grades in high school were horrible, I didn’t care about them I just cared about passing. I’m now attending a community college working towards an associates degree in medical management, I have about six more courses to complete until I’m done and move on to a university and work towards my bachelors, I’ve become more serious about my grades and try to always get higher than a C.. My gpa is currently 2.6. If I get all A’s and B’s would I still have a chance to get into a PA program? Also I have no extra curricular activities or community service, but I plan to do some community service. As for the extra curricular activity, what are some that would increase my chances of getting into a PA program?

    By the way very helpfully article, I thought I had no hope and would have to settle for a different career.

    • Paul July 8, 2012, 9:33 am

      Your high school grades don’t matter. PA schools won’t ask for them.

      Getting into PA school with a low grade is one thing; getting in with a bunch of low grades is another. It would be possible in theory to do what you are saying, but a lot of breaks would need to go your way. You would pretty much need all A’s from here on, which would give you about a 3.3 cumulative GPA. Some people get into PA school with that, but many don’t. And based on your track record, it’s unlikely you could pull off all A’s from here out.

      I suggest you step back and take a hard and honest look at yourself as a student. What’s getting in the way? Lack of motivation? Poor study skills? Not enough time put with the books? A learning disability? Relationship stress? If you’re getting bad grades because you aren’t happy studying what you are studying or you just aren’t motivated to be in school right now, you might be better off taking some time off to regroup before you worsen your GPA even more. Though it takes longer, some people find that taking two classes or one class at a time helps them to focus on their material and make sure to get the A.

      If PA is still something you are set on, sit down with a career or academic counselor and chart out a long term plan. Make sure you are ready to make the commitment it will take to achieve it. If you are, then GO TEAR IT UP. This plan should include working in a health care job (EMT/paramedic, nurse, respiratory therapist, etc.) for several years after school to build experience.

      Health care experience is THE necessary extracurricular activity, but you shouldn’t be focusing on that until you are finished with school. First grades and degree, THEN health care experience, THEN PA school.

      I hope this helps.

      • Amena Hamada July 9, 2012, 9:47 am


        Thanks for your response! Wow it sounds like I have no hope, I thought I might because I am still young and have a lot of school ahead of me and could improve my gpa.. Taking less classes at a time would definetly be a better option I guess, I was just trying to get some sort of degree as soon as possible to get a higher paying job to help out my family but I guess it’s worth the wait with less classes. I originally planned on getting some sort of clinical management/medical assistant degree and try to open up my own clinic, but I recently sat in on a surgery with a Nero surgeon and I was astonished, I spent one whole day with a bunch of doctors in a hospital and fell inloved with it. All the knowledge and power they have, to be able to truly help and save someone is what made me change my mind. I know there’s no way I could become a doctor because my grades are too low from the start and I am impatient, so PA sounded like the next best thing. Maybe I should consider nursing, but that does not really interest me too much, I want more than that. At the moment, my associates in medical management does not deal with anyone’s health or blood or anything, it deals with their paperwork.. I thought this would be a good start to get into a clinic or hospital and start working in a health environment. I think after I finish up with it, I will stay at this community college or try to get into an accelerated nursing program or medical assistant program or just start taking science classes because as of right now I have taken none!

        I really need to probably sit down with a counselor and find different options or something, I’m just so lost and the conslors are not too helpful so I really do appreciate your feedback!

        • Paul July 9, 2012, 7:28 pm

          I didn’t say you had no hope. I just said that it would be very tough, particularly right away. If you really want to become a PA, you may need to put it off until you have more time in a medical profession and are serious about school enough to demonstrate that your C’s are a thing of the past. Some people get in after a slow and determined progression to overcome past habits, like the tortoise in the tortoise and hare fable.

  • Amena July 8, 2012, 12:28 pm


    Thanks for your response! Wow it sounds like I have no hope, I thought I might because I am still young and have a lot of school ahead of me and could improve my gpa.. Taking less classes at a time would definetly be a better option I guess, I was just trying to get some sort of degree as soon as possible to get a higher paying job to help out my family but I guess it’s worth the wait with less classes. I originally planned on getting some sort of clinical management/medical assistant degree and try to open up my own clinic, but I recently sat in on a surgery with a Nero surgeon and I was astonished, I spent one whole day with a bunch of doctors in a hospital and fell inloved with it. All the knowledge and power they have, to be able to truly help and save someone is what made me change my mind. I know there’s no way I could become a doctor because my grades are too low from the start and I am impatient, so PA sounded like the next best thing. Maybe I should consider nursing, but that does not really interest me too much, I want more than that. At the moment, my associates in medical management does not deal with anyone’s health or blood or anything, it deals with their paperwork.. I thought this would be a good start to get into a clinic or hospital and start working in a health environment. I think after I finish up with it, I will stay at this community college or try to get into an accelerated nursing program or medical assistant program or just start taking science classes because as of right now I have taken none!

    I really need to probably sit down with a counselor and find different options or something, I’m just so lost and the conslors are not too helpful so I really do appreciate your feedback!

  • Angela July 10, 2012, 7:47 pm

    Hey Paul!
    I am really grateful for your blog! It has helped me so much!

    I am a senior this year and planning to graduate May 2013 from undergrad. I wanted to ask, I have a C+ in biology 1, general chem 2, and organic chem 1, and received a B+ in general chem 1 and B+ in biology 2 and organic chem 2, should I retake those classes over the summer before I apply for PA school or should I just focus on my CNA job, volunteering, and shadowing?

    And for Microbiology, I got a D+ the first time around and got a C+ the second even though I tried really hard but it just did not go my way, what do you think I should? Retake it again for a third time?

    And else do you think I should do to better my chances for PA school???
    Thank you so much for your time and help! I greatly appreciate it!

    • Paul July 10, 2012, 8:43 pm

      I wouldn’t advise a third time.

      If you got anything less than an A, it would make it clear that you might not be able to handle PA school classes. I’m a little concerned with the grades that you’ve shared that maybe PA classes would be hard for you. Are you sure you’re up for it? If so, you might be one of those candidates who should spend some time in the medical field, working on the health care experience, and go back to school to crush all those classes in a few years. As it is, either your motivation or your academic skills are in question. It will be hard to get into PA school if they are questioning your academic ability, because they know that PA school is hard, and that if you can’t handle it, you’re going to wash out. If you do, you have wasted their time and yours, and taken up a seat that someone else might have taken.

      Maybe it’s time to take a step back and evaluate your options with a little objectivity. I’m not saying you can’t do it, but it looks to me like you can’t do it NOW. Anything’s possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s likely.

  • Sarah July 12, 2012, 5:33 am

    Hi Paul!

    This is a great resource for those of us trying to get into PA, thank you for your work. Like many others who have written I have a terrible undergrad gpa (2.45). I worked full time to support my family all throughout college and did not place school as a priority. Now of course the grave mistake I made as it feels nearly impossible for me to be accepted to PA school. I have been taking prerequisites and have managed a 4.0, but I still have many more to take. What’s more, it seems like I will need about 50+ additional credit hours (all A’s) just to bring my gpa up to a 3.0. Will I stand a chance at PA school with a 3.0 gpa?

    • Paul July 14, 2012, 10:09 pm

      Get the A’s. Then write an amazing essay where you show (not tell) how you are a different student than you were back then and why. If your performance is as strikingly improved as you indicate, it’s the truth! If you can handle science courses consistently with A’s now, then it’s clear that you can handle PA school. Just make sure to find a way in your essay to reassure them (again, showing, not telling) that if you undergo similar hardships while in PA school, you will be able to handle them differently than you did when you were an undergrad.

      • Joshua July 16, 2012, 6:54 pm

        Thank you!

      • Jordana October 15, 2014, 8:00 pm

        Hey Paula, I wanted to know if you ever got in to PA school?

  • Joshua July 13, 2012, 2:26 pm

    Thanks for the advice! I have a question regarding the narrative that is not directly related to low grades. I applied to one PA school last year and did not get in due to low undergraduate science grades (2.7 science GPA). However, my GRE was a 1270 (above the 1150 average that they accept). In addition to my GRE score, my narrative was good enough to get me an interview (they got 600 applications, selected 150 for interviews, filled 48 seats). After I learned that I did not get in i followed up and they said they’d like to see me reapply after I took a few upper level science courses as indicators of my present academic capabilities and as refreshers since I had a low GPA and graduated 10 years ago. My question is this: my narrative got me an interview last time, do I REALLY need to completely redo my narrative for this application cycle? Is that a “cardinal sin” to merely tweak/update last year’s narrative and submit it again?
    Thank you!
    (PS – I’d be happy to send you the previous and updated narratives if you’d like… I know you’re probably very busy though so please don’t feel like you need to read them if you don’t feel it’s necessary to give your opinion.)

    • Paul July 13, 2012, 2:49 pm

      Some may see it differently, but I think you would be very foolish not to do exactly what they have suggested. They usually aren’t so kind as to tell you what you need to do to get in – it’s like they gave you the combination to their vault! They’ve told you what they will need to see to feel good about accepting you, and it’s very likely that this is what other schools would like to see from you as well. Yes, it’s work, but if you could guarantee yourself a spot, wouldn’t that work be totally worth it? I would take their opinion as great advice that you ignore only to your own detriment.

      I know, that’s pretty strong advice, but I feel strongly about it, and if it were me, I’d be RUNNING to take those classes!

      • Joshua July 13, 2012, 3:30 pm

        Thank you for your speedy reply. I have taken classes (as they suggested). I’m sorry if my question wasn’t clear but what I’m wanting to know is if I should completely rewrite the narrative that I used last year or if I should only tweak/update it. It was a good narrative and I got an interview (in essence, I got “past” the narrative/application portion). I have updated the narrative to include the classes that they suggested I take and a few more slight changes but, for the most part, it is the same narrative that i used last year. It is, though, at the risk of sounding boastful, a good narrative that I would like to reuse. I am only hesitant because I have heard that that can be a big “no-no”. Thank you, again, for your quick reply and thoughts.


        • Paul July 14, 2012, 12:41 am

          Sorry I misunderstood.

          Hmm. Your three options: 1) use the original essay, 2) write a fresh one, and 3) update the original. I’m for option three. Reading the same thing might invite them to think that you aren’t trying hard enough, or haven’t done much to improve your application, though it sounds like you have. But starting another one is risky – it takes much time, and abandons that which got you an interview before. So I would update and improve the old one. They will probably remember you, which will invite them to think about your previous good app, and it will inform them about what you’ve done since they saw you last.

          If you can improve how it reads any as well, that’s a nice thing to do now that you have the chance.

  • Ali July 17, 2012, 9:37 am

    After reading all of these comments, I feel as if there is no hope for me. I’m currently a senior and intend on graduating may 2013. My GPA is about a 2.98, and ALL of my “hard” science classes are out of the way, and my senior year is basically taking enough hours to be considered a full time student and working on my minor. With that being said, I have received multiple Cs in my 3 years at this university. Most of my prerequisite classes are at least Bs if not As with the exception of microbiology (C) and biochemistry (D).
    Unlike most of the people who have commented, I don’t have a great excuse minus the fact that I simply got caught up with the other aspects of college. I wanted to get involved in things around campus and ended up letting my grades suffer. Since then, I have taken a step back and realized that although extra curricular activities are good to relieve some stress, my future as a PA student is most important. Since spring of my junior year, I have managed to make nothing below a B and I anticipate my senior year being all A’s. However, even with that, I don’t know if it is enough.

    I currently work / volunteer at the neurology department at a local hospital a few times a week. I also have over 200 hours of shadowing experience of PAs and doctors who are more than happy to give me amazing letters of recommendation. On top of this, Im in a service sorority and have logged about 100 – 200 hours worth of community service in multiple different areas of concentration.

    I am extremely passionate about this career choice and passionate about the well beings of others in general.

    If I don’t get into PA school the first time around, I am assuming its because of my low grades in my undergrad.
    After graduation, would you recommend me taking more classes so that my grades will reflect that I am now focused and mature enough to show PA schools that I have what it takes to be a PA student? Or should I become more focused on getting in all the experience that I can to show them that although my grades don’t accurately reflect my abilities, I am still qualified for this career path?

    -Thanks for all the help / advice that you have provided thus far.

    • Paul July 17, 2012, 11:17 am

      If I were in your shoes, I would take at least a year off from school. I would spend this time aggressively accumulating health care experience hours, since you need them anyway. After that year (or more if I felt it made sense), I would go back to school and 1) retake any PA school prerequisite science course that I got a C+ or lower in. If that only ends up being one or two courses, I would then take a few more upper division science courses to demonstrate that I could handle them, and to broaden my knowledge base. Important: I would be gunning for A’s in all of these courses, not B’s. If I had a questionable GPA, the best thing I could do is show that there is no longer any reason to question it. Then I could make a powerful argument that I had matured as a student, gotten serious, found my true passion/calling, etc.

  • hugh July 31, 2012, 1:05 am

    Greetings Paul,
    Thank you for this very helpful source of information. Similar to many of the previous posts, I graduated with a mediocre undergrad GPA of 2.8. I completed my first two years of undergrad in a U.S. accredited University in Nicaragua, and then transferred and graduated from a University here in the U.S. with a B.S. in biological sciences. Those first two years in Nicaragua were rocky times, ranging from tragic family events to an overnight unexpected loss of livelihood. My focus and determination unfortunately shifted away from school, and my GPA fell terribly. By the time I transferred, things were looking brighter and I was determined to ace every class, but…my roommate got into a fatal car accident on our second week of class. After all the support from everyone, and my sheer motivation to succeed I pulled off excellent semesters all the way up to graduation. These experiences have made me stronger and I am more motivated then ever to pursue PA school; but the 2.8 cumm GPA is holding me down and I can never change that. What can I possibly do to become competitive for admittance? How can I prove myself even though I have already graduated? Are there post bacc programs I can do? Go back for another major? What options do I have?
    thanks in advance!

    • Paul July 31, 2012, 10:29 am

      Hi, Hugh! That’s tough – life can really get in the way of our plans. I suggest you think of this as a long term project, and not as one with a “secret” that you must uncover. Any classes you take from this point forward – for another degree or not – will be averaged in with your older grades, so making a significant change in your cumulative GPA is hard. But some students have luck taking some time off and working in the health care field to develop experience and regrouping. Then down the line when things are more in order, you can begin taking classes again and make sure to CRUSH every course you take. Then you can make a good argument to PA schools that you have reprioritized/matured/changed/gotten serious/whatever, and you can honestly state something like “I haven’t had anything less than an A in the last three semesters” or the last X years, or whatever the stat is. You’re basically saying, “Hey, I was a weaker student back then, but you can see from my recent performance that I’m out of that phase and it will never be a problem again.”

  • hugh July 31, 2012, 9:06 pm

    Thanks for the response and advice!
    Thankfully I have had the great opportunity to shadow a few physicians along my college years; and have also volunteered in many charitable healthcare organizations in Nicaragua. Loved the experience and knowledge I gained from it and will continue to do so. As far as taking classes again before applying for PA school, how do I go about taking them if I already graduated? How will these extra credits be reflected in my transcripts? Is it possible to take extra classes even though I already majored? Would PA schools be able to see, and accept these classes? And if so, what classes should I take? so many questions! haha. Thanks for the great help!

  • Alex August 1, 2012, 5:28 pm

    I have a cumulative GPA of 2.8 as a nutrition major, and a 3.0 GPA for my science courses. A/A in biology, C/B in chemistry, A/A in human anatomy and physiology, F in organic chemistry. Taking microbiology and biochemistry in these next couple semesters before I graduate.

    I founded a Pre-Physician Assistant Organization on campus, I’ve gone abroad to provide medical care for a week, a founding officer for that abroad program, the treasurer for a cultural organization.

    I worked as a receptionist to a doctors office for years, so it’s been logged as experience.

    I’ve yet to shadow a PA, but I’m definitely planning to in the next year.

    Taking the GRE in the next month. How much does the GRE effect your overall application to the university?

    What can I do to make myself a better candidate for the following year (fall 2013 or winter 2014)?

  • Tim August 2, 2012, 3:15 pm

    Hi Paul!

    I just wanted to tell you that this is a great forum and I appreciate you posting valuable insights on everyone’s situation.
    I am currently applying to a few PA programs right now and was hoping if I can get your insight.

    I graduated college last year with a 2.99 GPA. Since then I’ve been working as a part-time EMT, full-time on the lift team at my local hospital and going to community college full time to take more courses on chemistry & psychology. I’ve gotten A’s in all my courses so far so that should give me a little boost in GPA. My only concern is whether I should include my fraternity (non-professional) in my volunteer experience section on CASPA. I climbed up the ranks in my club to become VP before I graduated. I’ve set up a few community service & fundraising events during my time. I can definitely turn my fraternity experience into a highly positive attribute on my narrative. However, I am very hesitant on putting fraternity related experience on my application because of stereotypes. What do you think about this?

    • Paul August 2, 2012, 4:37 pm

      I think fraternity activity shows you are social, and in your case, a leader. I might handle it the opposite way: add it to your volunteer experience, and leave it out of your essay. I say this because it’s probably not crucial to “Your motivation towards becoming a physician assistant,” which is supposed to be the topic of your essay.

  • Reese August 2, 2012, 7:50 pm

    Hello Paul and thank you for all of your insightful and wonderful blog posts!

    I started college with a 3.5. My sophomore/junior year my father was found guilty and sentenced to 6 years in prison. I had to work full time while going to school full time to help raise my family back home. The next semester I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I spent two years battling this illness. I was hospitalized four times. During those two years my grades dropped tremendously. I pulled three semesters of straight F’s. My gpa dropped from a 3.5 to a 2.6. I moved back home and decided to take a year off from school to recollect myself and treat my illness. It took some time, but I finally found the right meds and coping skills. I decided I wanted to become a physician assistant. I still have two years of undergrad left to go before I graduate. I’ve been working part time as a phlebotomist and I volunteer regularly in the soup kitchen at a homeless shelter and in the ER at a neighboring hospital. I plan on shadowing more PA’s in the near future too. My question is how would adcom’s view my particular situation? Do I even have a shot at becoming a physician assistant? I know I have to bring my gpa up to the 3.0 mark and I’m going to try my hardest to finish undergrad strong. I guess I’m just nervous because my gpa is so incredibly low.

    • Paul August 2, 2012, 8:35 pm

      Hey, Reese!

      I pretty much think everyone has a chance, but it depends on how you deal with it. In your situation, you have the makings of an amazing CASPA narrative essay, and I think that’s the best place to explain how you got where you are and why they don’t need to worry about your academics if they admit you. For that reason, you should draw from your experiences and make it clear to them just how much you have overcome. You can treat what you have been through as a problem, or as proof of what you have overcome, something that can be very impressive when shared the right way.

      Yes, you should do all you can to bring your grades up. You should also be sure to speak with your college’s center for students with disabilities. Some are reluctant to do this, not wanting to consider their diagnosis a disability, but they are missing out on accommodations that can make all the difference. In some cases, when you are diagnosed by such a center with a qualifying disability, it may even be possible to have your older grades erased when the failed courses are retaken. I need to stress here that many schools don’t do this – it just depends on each school’s particular academic policies. But isn’t that worth looking into?

      If the grades stand, your job is to make it clear that you are no longer the same student who received those F’s. If you do well when you retake the courses (shoot for A’s, of course), you might even tally up your own cumulative without them and share that in your essay to draw a clear distinction between the you you used to be and the you you now are.

      All this depends on many factors, but there may be many things you can do to influence those factors. So do your research, get good grades in your remaining work, and write an essay that makes your struggle and your resilience shine through.

      At that point, leave it up to the adcoms.



  • bailey August 8, 2012, 8:38 am

    Hi Paul-

    Your site is a breath of fresh air and has really helped to keep me excited about the profession!

    I was captain of a D1 women’s soccer team in college and during one semester specifically I did poorly on few science classes. I was taking organic chem and phyics. During this time our team did very well and went on to the championship which resulted in having to miss almost 15 days of class. I worked closely with my professors, however still struggled to keep up when unable to attend so many lectures. What are your thoughts on how i should address this in my personal statement?


    • Paul August 8, 2012, 9:35 pm

      I say be honest and brief, and then move on to good stuff – ideally no more than two sentences.

  • Hanna August 10, 2012, 8:16 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I’m starting graduate school this fall semester “2012” for MPH program but I am little hesitated to follow through. Ever since I recieved my undergraduate degree my interest in pursuing a healthcare profession only grow further. But there is one major problem thats holding me back My Gpa. I went through a lot during my undergrad such as caring for family back home and my grades suffered the most. Couple of years later I enrolled in community college to take some science prerequisites. I maintain good grades in few classes except for couple of courses which I received C’s. While taking these courses I manage to get a job as Patient support assistant and volunteered at American red across. Based on the requirements most PA programs are looking are people who have high gpa and strong science background.

    I still want to pursue my dream but because of the events that led me to have low gpa is what’s holding me back. At this point I can’t afford to retake courses due to financial hardship. I guess I joined this blog because we are all looking for some kind of advice. What’s my next step? How do I accomplish my dream to become a PA? Or should I give up and pursue something else. Thank you and I hope to hear from you soon.

    • Paul August 12, 2012, 1:24 pm

      I’m not the type you’ll ever hear say “You should give up and go into something else.” That’s really up to each person. I haven’t heard a scenario yet that means a student will NEVER get in. For many it will be hard, but it can be done. If you really want to become a PA, it’s possible to do.

      1) It will take time. You will need to generate some good experience in health care and return to the PA admissions later (2-5 years, depending on how things go).

      2) You will need to retake courses – there’s no way around that. Why? Because with a low GPA and multiple C’s in required courses, you’ve demonstrated that as the student you are currently, you’ll have a heard time with the PA curriculum. Retaking courses shows that you can master that material. They don’t want to let you in and watch you wash out. They know what it will take a student to succeed, and so they’re holding out for that.

      I suggest you take a step back and regroup. Do some health care work that interests you. Take a break from school. Once you’ve learned about health in the context of your health care experience, you’ll probably be more motivated. And with time off, you may have a new energy and commitment to kick ass in your studies. It’s funny, but once you decide in the direction you want to go and that nothing will stop you from going there, you’ll be willing to do whatever it takes. You’ll get the A’s because those classes will mean something different to you.

      PA schools aren’t looking for students who have NEVER made mistakes. They just want students who are definitely not making them NOW.

      If all that scares you away and makes you say, “I really want to become a PA, but I don’t want to do all that,” then you probably should consider something else. In the Olympics this year, gymnast Beth Twiddle finally got a medal after 12 years (three Olympic Games!) trying for one.

      I even remember reading this article about a guy who took the bar exam 47 times before passing. He’s now a lawyer.

      So yes, you can become a PA. The question is, how badly do you want it?

  • Hanna August 12, 2012, 3:54 pm

    Thank you for all your input. I will definitely take them to consideration and those were very good examples . If I have anymore question I’ll know where contact you. Thank again.

  • Angela August 16, 2012, 1:14 pm

    Hi! Thank you for this site. It is very useful and has been very helpful for me since it’s hard to find good guidance, even at my school.

    I was wondering if PA schools take into account where I went for my undergrad. If I’m not going to a top tiered school, or a big name school, will that honestly hinder my chances for getting in?

    • Paul August 17, 2012, 9:57 pm

      I doubt it’s a huge factor. But other things being equal, it could make a difference. If one student went to Yale and another to University of Phoenix, for example.

  • Hong August 20, 2012, 12:11 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Thank you for starting this site, this is vey informative and helpful. Like many people on this blog I am applying to PA school with a lower gpa (2.6) not sure what my science alone are( it’s been too long). I have a chiropractic degree and have been practicing for about 6 years. What are your thoughts about my chances of getting in? Also, while in practice I volunteer in a third world country Provo ding chiropractic care. Hopefully the comititee will overlook my low gpa.


    • Paul August 20, 2012, 7:38 pm

      I generally shy away from “what are my chances” questions. But I can say that their primary interest in your GPA is determining how well you will fare when taking PA classes. If your science GPA is low, it might make sense to retake some classes to prove that you can now handle what they will throw at you. In terms of health care experience, providing care in a TWC will look great!

  • Lyn August 21, 2012, 12:55 am

    Thanks so much for this article! It came at just the right time. I’m editing my personal statement, and have been worried about how to address my low undergrad GPA. It’s definitely been an emotional roller coaster applying. I have so many people supporting me, including doctors and PA’s at work, but then I get doubts when I look at my undergrad grades. I am so ready to work hard and become a PA, but I just need to that adcoms won’t automatically trash my application when they see my GPA. Trying to keep the faith! :)

  • Lee August 22, 2012, 9:47 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I was wondering what your feedback would be based on my situation:

    I just completed my undergrad. The first three years I was working fulltime or more, straight out of highschool. I could not work anyless due to financial status etc…There is no excuse for poor grades because time management can fix these things. However, I was unorganized and managed my time poorly. My cum GPA is a 2.7. My last year of college I decided that I could NOT put myself through further academic sacrifice. Working 40 hours a week and taking 16 credit hours left me lifeless…and no energy to study. Therefore, I cut back to part time and moved back in with my parents. I made Dean’s List…and three semesters later attained the highest “term” GPA at a 3.92. I have taken all the pre reqs for the PA program. I am also worried because I recieved a C in organic chemistry and a C in my A/P II lecture course. I am taking two post bacc classes this fall: pharmacology and molecular bio/biochem. These are completely applicable classes to PA school as they are medicine oriented. I also have 1,000 plus hours working as a Nurse Assistant at the Cleveland Clinic. I have also interned in public health and recieved two certificates (gerontology and Bioethics).

    I am heavily doubting myself due to my cumulative GPA.

    I would truly appreciate any feedback you have to offer. Thank you!

    • Paul August 23, 2012, 7:13 am

      It sounds like your GPA is your biggest weakness. You might want to think about repeating some of the basic sciences that you didn’t do so well on. This won’t change your cumulative GPA much, but it will show that you have mastered the material. If you want to get into PA school, my advice is this: from here on out, you should get nothing less than an A in any and all classes you take.

      After you’ve done that for a while you, can make a solid argument that you’re a different student than you used to be.

  • Ashle August 24, 2012, 2:27 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I have a troubled track record in college. I changed my major to biology when I was a junior(began college in 2007). Before then I had a 2.8 due to 1 F and 2 Ds(all other grades were As and Bs). Now I have a 2.1. I have not failed anything since I changed my major but I have been getting pretty much a C in every course. I have just recently quit my fulltime job (56+hours), and I am very focused. I was unable to do my best due to my very demanding job,and I worked to help my mom who lost her job due to the economy. I am able to graduate in May but I know by then my gpa will not be to much higher than a 2.6 if I make straight As from here on out. What do you suggest I do?Stay in school and retake the courses over or take new courses that I know I can get an easy A out of(bio related)?My dream feels impossible at this point, although this article is very inspirational I feel like my career and dreams are too far fetch.

    • Paul August 25, 2012, 7:50 am

      If you have many grades that are lacking, I suggest you do your best until you graduate, then go and work in the medical field for a while. Take some time away from school until you are ready to recommit yourself to your studies. Then, when you’re ready, go back and retake the prerequisite courses that you didn’t do well in. Get nothing but A’s. Then write an amazing essay. It’s an uphill battle, but it can be done.

  • Angie S. August 26, 2012, 7:45 am

    Hello Paul,
    I have been reading through the comments section on this page, but have yet to see someone with the same academic ‘issues’ as mine. I have attended 3 different schools within the last 5 years. At my first two schools I received fairly good marks and I have never dropped below a cumulative 3.0 GPA. However, I took a lot of prerequisite science courses at my first two colleges and earned average or slightly below average grades. Despite this, I was accepted to my current school, which happens to be a technical college. I am currently pursuing an associate’s degree in medical assisting, but have dreams of one day becoming a physician’s assistant. My current GPA is excellent, I have a 4.0 and am in the running to be my class Valedictorian. I suppose my two main questions are: Is there a chance that with only an associate’s degree I may still find a physician’s assistant program that will consider me? and Will my past college performances and indecisiveness in choosing a school make me look unappealing, despite my current achievements?
    Thank you for your time,
    Angie S.

    • Paul August 26, 2012, 10:14 am

      You may be able to find a school that does not require a masters (certificate only), but there aren’t many, and they are rapidly disappearing. Since your past grades are in question, it might be a better course for you to complete your bachelor’s degree. This would open up many more schools where you would be eligible and give you another chance to show that you can shine academically in the prerequisite coursework.

      Most PA schools aren’t looking for students who have NEVER made mistakes. They are looking for students who 1) aren’t making them now – right as they are applying to PA school, and 2) can convince them that they are unlikely to repeat those past mistakes once they are in PA school. This means you need to demonstrate to them that you are a small risk, not a big one.

  • Keri August 29, 2012, 12:09 pm

    I Originally wanted to attend the school I am at now, but my mom convinced me to go elsewhere so I could live at home and work. I ended up having barely a 2.0 after 2 years. I had C’s in almost every biology course. I failed General Chemistry 2. I almost failed physics. I failed calculus too. I got so fed up with the horrible quality of the teachers and living at home that I made a phone call and the school I’m at now still had my application record and accepted me over the phone. I retook some of the classes. I got an A in genchem too and a B in Ochem 1&2. My GPA at school 1 was 2.597. My GPA at school 2 which I have been at for 1.5 years is a 3.67. My science Gpa is above a 3.5 and those include classes such as: Gen Chem, Ochem 1&2, Anatomy and Physiology 1&2, and genetics.

    I worked at a veterinary hospital for 4 years in their kennel caring for animals and administering medications such as insulin, heart, siezure, thyroid, and pain meds.

    I just got a nursing assistant job at a psychiatric hospital for my patient care hours. My professors really like me and say I am a great student.

    Am I screwed?

    • Paul August 29, 2012, 9:40 pm

      No, of course not.

      But you need work on both fronts. You need to improve your GPA as much as possible. You also need health care experience with human patients. Vet experience is helpful, but without human medicine, they just won’t give it much credit.

      Finally, you’re going to need to make a good argument for why you are a better, more capable student than your early grades suggest. Do this in your essay – a strong essay is crucial here.

  • naf September 1, 2012, 9:41 pm

    Maybe someone can help me with this…. during my associates I had taken some of the required pre reqs for PA school and accuired some lack luster grades…C’s.( anatomy, statistics, bio) Since then I have turned the boat around and have done quite well with not only my Bachelor courses but my science pre reqs as well. Do I still stand a chance even with some C’s on my transcript? Will they look at the trend of my grades and make a decision based on that or is a C terminable?

    • Paul September 3, 2012, 9:58 am

      It depends on several factors: your cumulative GPA, your science GPA, how many courses you had a run of C’s on, how many and which courses you’ve had a run of good grades on, where you’re applying, etc. I suggest you do your best and apply. The only way to know is to apply. Do you have a chance? Yes. Will you get in? There’s only one way to find out… :)

  • Terry September 6, 2012, 3:48 pm

    I always wanted to be a PA, had work as med asst for many yrs., went to comm. college and had to repeated some core bio/chem science & math classes, later got my BA in soc science now in a grad program in soc science. But I like to see if I had a chance for PA program across the US with no GRE or ok with repeats courses? thanks.

  • Megan September 9, 2012, 7:48 am

    Hey I think this article is the best I have read on grades, so thank you so much! I had a question I spent my first few years not super focused and acquired a few bad grades, but I retook the courses and have a 3.5. I am really getting serious about school and volunteering and I was just wondering how bad those past grades will hurt my chances I still have a couple years of school left.

    • Paul September 9, 2012, 11:14 am

      The things that influence how much emphasis admissions committees will give your low grades:
      1) how long ago they were (more recent grades are more reflective of your current academic performance)
      2) how poorly you did (a D or F is much worse than a C)
      3) how you did on similar coursework since you did poorly on those courses
      4) How much total coursework you have (if you have a BS and a masters, one low grade is less influential than if you have an AA, for example)
      5) how you explain your lower grades in your CASPA essay.

  • Megan S September 10, 2012, 7:32 pm

    Hi first of all this forum is great! I will give you my situation. I applied for PA school right out of college in December of 2010 at 21 years old. I got turned down and I am sure it is because of my grades and GRE score. I have a 3.2 GPA and it is low because after my first year in biology I decided the quickest way to get into the medical field was nursing, so I got into the program a quickly realized I did not want to be a nurse, I wanted to be a PA or doctor. So I have 2 Ds in nursing, that can’t be changed. After I went back to biology I made good grades and brought my GPA up and still was able to graduate a semester early. My GRE score is an 840 (on the old scale) due to the verbal part. I have 250 hours of hands on patient care and shadowing. I am currently working in a neurology practice and will have 2 years there when I apply. The doctor does not have a nurse so I get to do want they normally would do. I am going to start volunteering at our local hospital to get more hours. And start studying really hard for the GRE and take it this time next year. So with all this said do you think I have a chance at getting in to the program?

    • Paul September 10, 2012, 9:29 pm

      Welcome, Megan. You will find that I’m particularly non-committal on “What are my chances” questions. There are just too many factors involved. I don’t see any reason why you have no chance at getting in, but that doesn’t tell you much about your odds. Every school is different. I think your best chance involves a great essay that helps them see why your grades are what they are. It’s really the only other thing that you have control over between now and when you hit transmit to CASPA.

      If you don’t get in, I suggest you continue to accrue patient contact hours while you work on your next application.

  • Marcy September 10, 2012, 10:32 pm

    This is a lot of great info and very encouraging but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to get back into school. I transferred into a CSU and majored in Bio-Chem since my ultimate goal was to get into med-school to be a Physician. But, well, I did very poorly and was disqualified in 2006 with an overall 2.1 GPA and even lower bio-chem GPA due to dropped classes. I still dream of being a Physician and started considering PA but dont know what I need to do to get back in school (continuing at that CSU is not a reasonable option). Being that I’ve been out of school for over 6 years where am I supposed to start? All the courses that I did poorly on were major courses… I got A’s and B’s in all courses that were offered at the community college level and C’s, D’s, and F’s in the university. How do I take these courses over?… Am I expected to start over again?.. help, I just dont know where to go from here and any direction would be appreciated.

    • Paul September 12, 2012, 8:15 pm

      That’s a tough one. If you intend to become an MD, you should do all of your retakes at the university level. If you want to become a PA, community college is usually acceptable. I suggest you meet with an academic counselor. To be safe, I would do it at a university so that their advice will be valid for both paths.

      My biggest piece of advice: first decide what your goal is. Are you set on becoming a PA, or an MD? We have articles on this topic in our PA vs MD section. Being a PA isn’t a second best thing to being a physician – in fact, their training is fairly different. In the end, you will do similar work.

  • Steve September 16, 2012, 5:58 pm

    Hey Paul, I first want to say thank you for all you do here and all the time you certainly must be investing to help others achieve their dreams! Good things are certain to come to you for that. Now that that’s out of the way it’s question time… I have recently decided that a career as a PA is something I feel will be very fulfilling to me, while at the same time allowing me to have the life/family/career balance that I know I want. My story (to be brief) is that while in my undgrad I really had no idea of what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” (To be honest, at the time I didn’t even know what a PA was). Due to family connections and influences I decided to pursue dental school, even though my heart was never in it. My grades reflected that. My first couple of years in school I recieved very poor grades, around a 2.4. Later on I stepped things up and pulled a 3.65ish the last 60 credit hours or so. Unfortunately some of my core science classes were included in that earlier block. My cumulative GPA therefore is somewhere around a 3.1 (both total and science). I applied to dental school but luckily did not get accepted to any program (easy to say now, devastating then). Since that time (about 6 years), I have accumulated about 12,000 hours direct patient care experience (dental assistant, CNA, and a little bit as a personal trainer). I know that I have great patient care skills and experience, but I am worried that it will be nearly impossible with my lackluster GPA. Any thoughts as to what to do? How competitive can I REALISTICALLY be with my credentials? Also, having recently decided upon the PA route I realize that I missed the early application that is so crucial, but I also know that some schools are still accepting applications through CASPA. Would it be worth my time to throw a Hail Mary pass for this cycle just to see, or should I take the next few months to get more volunteer/shadow/etc experience and apply as early as possible next cycle (even though it could potentially delay my start for a year)??? I’m 34 now (better late than never, right?), and being a bit older I know myself much better than when I was an undergrad. I understand the challenges ahead and am now willing to make the sacrifices in my life that at one time I probably couldn’t. And I know that I really do have much more to offer than my transcript may show at first glance. Thank you in advance for any help or advice that you can give me!

    • Paul September 16, 2012, 11:53 pm

      Hi, Steve. First, you have a lot of HCE. That’s good. It helps you to know where to put your energy – I mean into your grades. I suggest you retake the science prerequisites that you did poorly in (C or less). Crush them. Put HCE on the back burner for now, as you have TONS of hours.

      If I were in your shoes, I would try the Hail Mary pass. It’s only $130 + a little more for each additional school you apply to, plus the time it takes to prepare an app. Applying is work, particularly when you factor in letters of recommendation, but 1) you might get in, and 2) if you don’t you’ll be much more knowledgeable about the app process when you reapply.

      Also, your essay will be a key piece. Impress them.

  • Anna October 11, 2012, 3:58 pm

    I am in my sophomore year of college and I thought I wanted to switch my major to Political Science but have realized that it is not for me. I plan on going back to Biochemistry next semester. So far in my college career I have a 4.0 GPA with difficult classes such as Organic Chemistry. This semester, however, I am taking a Political Science class (3hrs) that is impossible and doing an independent research class in PoliSci (1hr) that is super difficult and uninteresting. What will look worse: making a B or C in these classes or withdrawing from them?

    • Paul October 12, 2012, 6:18 pm

      Withdraw, as long as it’s withdraw passing, and not withdraw failing.

  • Adriana October 16, 2012, 10:42 am

    Dear Paul,

    I am a Junior at UNC-CH. The fall semester of my sophomore year, my mom passed away from cancer. That year ended up being kind of a wash, and I got a C in analytical chemistry and a C+ in evolution and ecology, one of my core bio courses, though those haven’t been prerequisites for any program I’ve found. I’ve had some time and am doing better this year academically, and even landed an internship in a clinical trial at the hospital. Is this something I could explain or would it hurt my chances of getting into PA school?

    • Paul October 16, 2012, 10:25 pm


      While you’re at it, if you can handle doing so emotionally, talking about the experience of losing your mom might be good for an essay if it has informed your decision at all to become a PA. Any performance that radically departs from your typical should be explained – not to make excuses, but to give the programs to which you apply some context with which to view your performance.

  • Christine October 16, 2012, 12:10 pm

    Reading all these testimonials gave me some hope but I still feel a little lost. I obtained a BS degree in Biology but graduated with a 2.63 gpa with C’s and D’s on my transcripts. I had a lot of family obligations while I was an undergrad that kind of hindered me from fully focusing in school. Now that I graduated, I feel as I’m stuck and don’t know exactly what I should do to get into PA school. I’m currently taking pre-req classes at a community college for PA school that I never took as an undergrad and I’ve been getting A’s. Also I’ve been going on medical missions every 3 months, which made me realize that I do want to become a PA. I was thinking of applying to post-bac programs to improve my grades. Is this a good idea? Anything can help me at this point.

    • Paul October 16, 2012, 10:23 pm

      I generally discourage starting a new degree – it will have you getting new grades in courses that aren’t the ones that PA schools need to see to feel good admitting you. The prerequisites are what they are because they are the foundational courses that demonstrate mastery of key subject matter that PA school will build on. Retaking classes you didn’t do well in the first time around may sound dull/discouraging/humiliating, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the wrong way to go. In fact, I tend to be believe in the tortoise and the hare moral: there are no shortcuts.

  • Ana October 20, 2012, 11:23 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I recently graduated from college with my undergrad in Biology. I would like to start applying to P.A. schools, but I am afraid to because of a few bumps along the road. First off, I didn’t do so well in a physics class and had to retake it, I am not sure if P.A. school focuses too much on this ? Second, I also had to retake Orgo II, but luckily I aced it the second time around, and lastly I had to to drop gen chm in the beginning of college because of family issues. I’m not sure how I can justify all of this. I’ve done shadowing on and off for the fast two years, I worked in a cancer research lab for two summers, and I am currently working for a non profit organization (not health care related). Can any of this help me in the admissions process? Also, should I consider doing another masters program before applying to P.A. school.

    • Paul October 22, 2012, 8:40 pm

      All of the things you are doing are good, but perhaps it’s time to put your focus (like a laser) on the prerequisite courses. There isn’t much talk about physics per se in PA school, but it’s one of the courses that they want to know that you have the basics in. Same with General Chemistry.

      NO, I don’t recommend a postbac program – that would just be taking classes OTHER than the ones that you have yet to prove you can handle. You may not want to hear this, but it sounds like your best move would be retaking these two courses. click this link for our article on the topic.

      I wish you luck!


  • Greg October 25, 2012, 9:33 pm

    This is my current situation:

    I am in my final year in finishing up my B.S. in Biology with a 3.1 GPA. Throughout my undergrad I was heavily involved in MANY extracurricular activities: drum major in marching band (2 years), senator for student government, worked part-time as a pharmacy technician (still am at the local hospital), rush chair (2 years) for my music fraternity. To make a long story short, I had minimal passion or focus on what matters to me most now. After being less involved I’ve maintained a 4.0 for the past two summer sessions and I’m currently taking a course-load in the more difficult courses in my major (Cellular Biology, Pathophysiology, etc.). The thing is, I’m doing fantastic in all of my current courses (all A’s thus far) and falling in love with my academics. I truly wish I had the focus and passion earlier on in my undergrad, but hindsight is indeed 20/20. I have shadowed a NP, Physician, and work 30+ hour weeks at the local hospital and I’m currently in the midst of finding a PA to shadow for a couple of weekends.

    I suppose I am merely looking for some type of self-assurance in my times of uncertainty. Is it unreasonable for me to apply to PA school with C’s in general chemistry and genetics?

    • Paul October 25, 2012, 11:37 pm

      All you can do is apply. Make your best argument for why you would be a good PA and should be admitted. The let go and let them decide.

      That’s really all you can do.

      • Greg December 16, 2012, 2:14 pm


        Thank you for your encouragement. I always find myself returning to this web page because of its frankness and “real-world” attitude. I will apply this coming May with a 3.3 GPA cumulative and lots of healthcare experience, a healthy mind, great letters of recommendation, and a fierce determination!!



  • Dominic October 26, 2012, 12:56 pm

    Hello Paul…

    I want to find a way into PA Training. Your writings have raised my spirits and dramatically increased my sense of encouragement. But I have some obstacles and here’s what they are:

    I am going to be 50 years old in Feb ’13.

    I work for United HealthCare in M&R – Pharmacy Ops and have worked for years in and around the health care industry. My father was a surgeon who started a chain of ambulatory surgicenters back in the early 80’s. I worked for my dad from my mid teens through my mid 20’s in both clinical healthcare (assistant) roles as well as administrative.

    I suffered with undiagnosed ADHD and depression until the early part of 2012. My grades and my life were tumultuous because of an abusive parent relationship and other logistical issues. Consequently, no matter how hard I tried – there was no chance of me reaching my potential academically back then. And I blame no one but myself.

    However, my absolute passion is medicine. I am well versed in most related subjects, and a SME with respect to healthcare reform. To this day, my peers and my physicians ALL keep encouraging me to find my way back to clinical healthcare where I wanted to be in the first place. My science GPA is 3. something. My cume is around 2.8x. I’m an extremely strong test taker and always have been and so, not to be overconfident, things like the GRE don’t worry me. I know now that with my newly-found ability to focus and thrive I will do well in anything I commit myself to. I have been offered letters of recommendation from friends to physicians to people in my own industry.

    I’m trying to decide if I should go back and try to take more undergrad courses to increase my GPA, etc. I have read that some schools want my science courses within ten years of application and that absolutely is not the case. The most recent sciences I took in college were back in 1992-3…O-Chem and Bio Chem. A’s and B’s. I’m married with grown kids and a 13 year old. My wife is beyond supportive – literally telling me to go for this.

    Your advice?
    Thank you.

  • F October 30, 2012, 8:51 am

    Hi Paul-
    I am currently a registered dietitian and recently completed my Master’s in Public Health (MPH). In the next couple of years I plan to apply to PA school. Like some have described above, my science grades weren’t stellar my first 2 years in undergrad, mostly B’s and C’s. I had a tough time adjusting to college life, but going into my third year was when I pulled myself together and started getting 3.5-4.0 GPAs. Unfortunately, most of the prerequisites (A&P, Ochem, etc.) I took in my earlier undergrad years (2004-2006). Do you suggest that I re-take those classes for a better score? I also have not taken genetics, microbio, and organic chem lab, so I can hopefully pull A’s in those classes to raise my science GPA. Also, since I was a nutrition major, do classes like medical nutrition therapy, cellular and molecular nutrition, etc. count towards the science GPA in CASPA? I feel like I am obsessing over GPAs because I took most of the prerequisites “back in the day” and I feel like I can’t do much about it. After undergrad, I was accepted into a very competitive combined dietetic internship and graduate program in Houston, TX. I was able to complete my rotations (1050 hours) in the Texas Medical Center, finished my program with a 4.0 GPA, and recently finished my MPH thesis this year. I am currently working as a registered dietitian for a major organ transplant program where I am exposed to various chronic diseases, hands-on experience with patients, and work in a very multi-disciplinary setting. By the time I apply, I will have had about 5-6 years of healthcare experience. Will this make me a competitive applicant? Any suggestions on what I can do to be a better candidate?

    • Paul October 30, 2012, 9:33 pm

      I would think your work experience should carry over. I suggest you retake and science prerequisites in which you received a C+ or less – not to raise your GPA, but to show you have mastered those subjects. Your recent grades demonstrate your commitment as a student. What you need to show them now is that you have the science foundation to succeed in the required areas.

  • Nicole November 3, 2012, 6:47 am

    So listening to everyone’s comments have made me feel a little better but still unsure. I graduated from college in 1999 and 2002 I have an associate and a bachelors I think I was 23 when I graduated. I was really in school because I was an athlete for one and I had no idea what I wanted to be. I came from a very impoverished background from Brooklyn, NY and never thought then I would complete college anyway, Needless to say my GPA was not great at all. Low 2.2 something like that. Still having no idea what I wanted to do with my life I did get a job as a Human Resource Manager for 5 years when I realized that I really didn’t like that so I was still seeking for the right thing for me. So I figured this time I would go back to school and try and do better. In 2009 I was accepted in a Masters Degree Program for a MBA my GPA was 3.79 for the program. The next year I was introduced into becoming a firefighter/paramedic which I love. I was a certified EMT and then took an accelerated paramedic course and absolutely love what I do. I was told by a couple of doctor friends of mine that I know at the hospitals where I did my clinicals that I should become a PA. I told them I did not do well in my bachelor program an they are still encouraging me to apply. I have taken most all of my prerequisites from biology, chemistry, biostatistics, organic, biochemistry A&P etc. I have aced them all with the exception of 2 B’s. My GPA from this state college is a 3.69. I took more than the required prerequisites because I needed to make my application stand out because of my bad grades early on. Being a paramedic on the street I didn’t have as much trouble in the classes because I had a good working knowledge about some of these things the other classes I just studied hard! Do I stand a chance or am I in over my head.

    • Paul November 4, 2012, 11:31 pm

      Yes, you do. I suggest you write a strong essay, and be sure to make the case that you’ve become a much stronger student, as proven by your more recent grades.

  • Komal November 4, 2012, 12:22 pm

    Hey Paul,

    This is very reassuring. I have had 3 D’s so far in courses that do matter. I know this isn’t a good sign but I plan on retaking these courses and working my hardest to improve those grades to an A. I realized I didn’t take things as seriously I should have in the beginning but now all that has changed. What do you suggest I should do to play my cards right ?

    • Paul November 4, 2012, 5:05 pm

      You’re doing it all – retake them and show that you can do better. Your argument will be strong as long as your repeat performance is consistently strong.

  • Liz November 15, 2012, 6:29 pm

    You’re website for one is amazing! Very informational. I do have a concern, I go to a school luckily where grades are replaced and the bad grade removed from your transcript which is nice. What im concerned about is I have one C in my sciences, it is Organic Chemistry 1. I am a Cellular Molecular Biology major and Im currently in Organic 2 Its concerning to me if I get another C do you recommend retaking at least one of them? I figure if between going from 1 to 2 and showing improvement would show them that there is improvement. Would this be a smart approach to retake 2 if a B is not attained?

    • Paul November 22, 2012, 11:44 am

      If you can have your grades replaced, you are very lucky. It’s more work, but I suggest you capitalize on it. Retake the course(s) you did mediocre on and you will be in a great position to put your best foot forward. Others would KILL for such an opportunity.

  • Ruth November 17, 2012, 12:54 pm


    My BS in biology degree was very low to get into a PA program so I decided to get masters to show another side to me academically, and I got 3.8 with my masters so can I still apply to a PA program

    • Paul November 22, 2012, 11:39 am

      Of course you can apply. I don’t know what they will think. Hopefully, you have retaken the PA school prerequisites, or done well in them in the first place. They require them not because they are “hard enough to prove you are smart enough,” but because the material in those classes is directly related – foundational – to what you will be learning as a PA. Hopefully you graduate work will demonstrate that you have those skills.

  • Haley November 26, 2012, 6:52 pm

    Hey there,

    I’m not sure if you are still answering questions or comments here but I thought I would try anyway. I’m very interested in becoming a PA and I’m concerned that I won’t get in because of my past grades. I entered college at a very young age and I screwed around quite a lot. Well, now at the age of 25 this path is calling to me and I can’t ignore it. My grades from the last two semesters have been pretty decent and I’m pretty sure this semester I’ll make it with a B average.

    My question is if I’m doing extremely well now, do PA’s look at my past and judge me solely based on that or if I show tremendous improvement does that count for anything? I know you said if someone had an outstanding circumstance then that would be considered, but my only excuse was immaturity.

    I was thinking about majoring in Nursing, but learned today because of a “D” in Psychology several years back I’m not eligible at all even if I retake this course and make an “A”. I was pretty discouraged because I know Nursing would be great as a “fall back” if I wouldn’t be accepted.

    Can I get your thoughts on this matter?

    By the way, I absolutely love your blog, very informative and encouraging.

    • Paul November 27, 2012, 6:39 am

      Thanks, Haley! It’s tough. Our past can always come back to haunt us. It’s good to be able to show improvement, but to make it more convincing, you sometimes need to go the extra mile. In other words, if you did poorly in the past, you need a 180 – A’s if at all possible. It sounds like you’re doing better, but you can do better still.

      As for nursing, we don’t generally recommend it. If you want to become a nurse, go to nursing school. If you want to become a PA, go to PA school. There are many types of work experience that you can do to learn about medicine without going into nursing. When admissions committees see your application, nursing can make them wonder how committed you are to a career as a PA. “If she wanted to become a PA, why did she go to nursing school?”

      In other words, riding the fence by doing a career that could be a “good fall back” can call your interest in doing either one into question. Check out our forum on health care experience for more ideas.

  • Alexandra December 4, 2012, 6:15 pm

    HI, I am in a very difficult situation and I need help. I was in the OT program and I was kicked out because I got 2 C’s in my courses. I never truly liked it honestly and I was planning of getting into PA school ASAP. I am not sure how much damage I have done to myself and if I will ever be accepted in any other Masters program. I don’t know what to do with myself. Can you please give me advice on how to start over??

  • Alexandra December 4, 2012, 6:17 pm

    I forgot to add that I have all credits needed for PA school just my moral is completely finished.

    feeling depressed in FL

    • Paul December 4, 2012, 9:24 pm

      Two C’s doesn’t mean you’ll never be a PA. But you will need to prove yourself to PA programs academically. Have you completed your prerequisites for PA school? If not, you should focus on them instead of another major/degree. They require the “prerequisites” for a reason; it’s not to show that you are a good student. It’s so you can prove to them that you have mastered the necessary material on which PA school will build.

      Take a step back and reapply yourself.

  • Luis December 12, 2012, 3:02 pm

    only one solution to low grade requirements, you have to repeat them and get a B+ or better, dont worry about a D in intro to sculpture but we worry about a D in General or Organic Chemistry

  • Tina December 13, 2012, 1:27 pm

    Hi Paul
    I had a quick question. I am currently a junior in college with a 3.4 GPR. However, during my freshmen year, my mother passed away which caused me to drop Gen Chem 2. I retook it the following semester but because of laziness/being unfocused/still grieving, I ended up getting a D. I retook Chem 101 the previous semester and recieved an A and now I’m planning on retaking Chem 102! However, do you think my chances are screwed simply because this would be my third time taking it? ( I’ve done well in all my other pre-requesites, or taken them over to recieve an A)

    Thank You

    • Paul December 13, 2012, 7:33 pm

      Be sure to speak about it in your essay. I don’t think you’re screwed – you’ve just got some ‘splainin’ to do.

  • Mary P. December 23, 2012, 8:46 am

    Hi Paul! I just had a few questions.
    I am currently a Sophomore in college with a 3.34 GPA. My lowest grade on my transcript is a C+ in Organic Chem. 2 (which is not a required class for most PA schools). Apart from that, I received a B- in General Biology 1 and General Chemistry 1. I received a WF the first time I took Biology 1. How do you think this looks to the admission’s committee in grad school? And should I retake any of these classes..if so, which ones? I still have a lot of time to bring up my GPA, but I don’t want these classes to make me look bad as an overall student.

    Also, I am having a difficult time in choosing my major. Right now, I am set on a psychology major simply because I love the subject and it interests me very much. However, I know for a fact that some colleges consider this as an “easy” major and look down upon it compared to someone with a Biomedical Engineering major with the same exact grades. Do you think a nutrition major will look better when applying to PA schools or should I just stick with Psychology? An honest opinion from you will be very appreciated! Thanks!

    • Paul December 23, 2012, 12:08 pm

      General bio and general chemistry are really important courses! Yes, I suggest you retake them, but only if you can be sure to ace them. If not, don’t.

      See our podcast episode on majors – it should answer all your questions.

  • Chris December 23, 2012, 5:54 pm

    How important is the prestige of the school where you obtain your undergraduate degree?

  • Angie January 1, 2013, 11:36 am

    Hey Paul. First off, happy new year! and great site.
    I know you receive tons of questions for your opinion regarding chances of getting into PA school and I have read the above posts but am curious to know what you think of my situation.
    I graduated in the summer of 2011 with a 3.555 GPA with honors (I was in an honors program at my school). I double majored in neuroscience & psych and had a minor in biology. I worked under a grad student in a neuroscience lab for 3 years and wrote my senior thesis on our research. In the second half of my junior year, I began working part time as a medical assistant. Since graduation, I began working at the doc office full time. I wanted to take a year off after school to rack up experience hours and I know that I have enough at this point.
    My grades overall are high and the science grades are a few B’s and the rest are above that except for one class I bombed – organic chemistry. I received a D+ and am pretty embarrassed to admit that. During that semester I was at the end of a bad relationship. I know that you have advised others to turn a negative into a positive but I just feel that trying to explain that bad grade due to the effects a bad relationship had on me seems lame. The next semester though I received all A-‘s and above. And the remaining semesters had similar grades with the exception of a few B’s.
    I feel discouraged applying with that D+ looming over me. I know that not all PA schools require orgo as a pre-req but a few of the schools I am interested in require it.
    I am studying for the GRE and plan on taking the test in the upcoming months. I have contacted a PA to shadow once a week and will be taking a CPR certification class to increase my chances of a candidate.
    Sorry for the lengthiness lol. What do you think about my situation?

    • Paul January 1, 2013, 12:07 pm

      You’re doing the right things, I think. As for O-Chem, whether or not you retake depends on how much the schools that require it interest you. They require it because they want to know that you have mastered that material before they begin to build on it.

      For the schools that don’t require it, you may get away with it. It’s the kind of thing that you will probably be asked about if/when you interview, and that’s a much better place to discuss it. Given your good overall GPA, this grade will look like evidence of something out-of-the usual that happened, which is better than their thinking of it as a weakness in your academic ability.

      With that said, if you want to do everything you can to seal all the cracks in your application and maximize your chances of getting in, you should definitely retake it.

      I know that’s riding the fence, but your situation is kind of “fenceworthy” if you know what I mean (and have seen the famous Seinfeld episode!)

      Good Luck.

  • Minhaj January 3, 2013, 3:16 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I am currently a senior at small liberal arts schools. I while be graduating this Summer of 2013 with a degree in Health Science. I have taken all the pre-reqs and even more advanced science classes like Cell bio, micro bio, biochem, and so on. I was a bio major freshman year 1st semester, then switched to business 2nd semester, then switched back towards science to health science 2nd semester of sophomore year. By switching my major around, I have been cramming classes to graduate in 4 years. Also, throughout college I played football, indoor track, and outdoor track for the college team at the varsity level. I also, volunteered one summer as an assisted living home because I have my CNA certification. Currently I have a 2.88 gpa and a 2.75 science gpa. I still have 22 credits left till i graduate and 19 of those credits are upper level science classes. Playing sports year round in college kind of brought my gpa down because I wasnt able to manage my time wisely like I should have. Also, I was just young and not really that motivated. Since, college is coming to an end and reality is starting to hit me. I’m starting to realize my priorities and am more focused. I truly want to be a Physician Assistant. Except, with my low gpa I cannot go anywhere. What would you recommend I do to keep my dream of becoming a physician assistant become a reality? Any advice will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Paul January 5, 2013, 4:27 pm

      1) MAKE YOUR ACADEMICS YOUR PRIORITY FROM HERE ON OUT. Get the very best grades you can in the classes you have left. If that means dropping some activities, then you may need to consider that. If your dream (above all others) is to become a PA, then it shouldn’t be that hard of a choice.

      2) ONCE YOU GRADUATE, LOOK AT WHAT COURSES YOU MIGHT WANT TO RETAKE. We generally recommend you retake any courses that are science prerequisites in which you received less than a B (anatomy, physiology, micro, etc.)
      Then considerretaking relevant sciences that you did less than a B and are not prerequisites. Emphasis on consider

      3) ROUND YOUR APPLICATION. Whatever you can do to appeal to admissions committees in others areas may help take some of the scrutiny off your grades (this does not always work, but sometimes it does, and “interesting” candidates tend to get interviews). This might be becoming fluent in Spanish, getting some great HCE, mission work, etc.

      4) WRITE A STRONG ESSAY. You want to deliver an essay that will engage the admissions officers and get them curious about you. The essay is also your chance to explain mediocre grades and convince them as to why they won’t happen in your future.

      5) WHEN YOU WRITE YOU ESSAY AND WHEN YOU INTERVIEW, BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR SHORTCOMINGS. The best strategy is always honesty coupled with a mature, adult-like acceptance of responsibility, and a plan to prevent further problems in the future.



      • Minhaj January 5, 2013, 9:18 pm

        Thank You Paul,

        That is kind of what I had planned to do, finish off strong and retake the classes I got C’s in. Also, get some good HCE. This just reassured me. Also, I had another plan, which was join the air force for a few years, retake the pre-req classes I did bad in and then apply for their IPAP program. This option seemed appealing to me because it was financial affordable because of the student loans I have accumulated and after college I will be living on my own. What do you think about the IPAP Air Force option?

  • Jamie January 8, 2013, 9:55 am

    Hello Paul!

    First of all, I have to thank you so much for this incredibly informative site. I’ve spent hours reading through all of the knowledge that you share. Thank you, thank you, for pouring out so much of yourself to many people!

    Here’s my situation:

    One of the hugest things I want in life, is to be a PA. I’m willing to work hard and do whatever is necessary to get there.

    I just graduated with a bachelors in Molecular Biology. My GPA is not so good…barely 3.2. I got 5 C’s in undergrad–4 of them in chemistry, and one in human anatomy lab. I wish that I had a great excuse for this, but it was mostly being young and irresponsible, and not devoting the time needed to these classes. I’ve learned my lesson. Retaking anatomy lab is a no-brainer. My question is about the chemistry courses…should I retake them, or instead, take classes (i.e. more physiology, biology, etc.) that are more related to the medical field?

    As far as experience, all throughout college I worked as a (paid) medical assistant at the campus clinic, and for the past two years have been working full-time as an EMT at the Children’s Hospital Colorado–a year in the PACU, and a year in the ED. I’ve shadowed one PA. My volunteer experience all mostly has to do with mentoring youth, as well as being a church youth pastor for a Chinese speaking church. My questions with this are, what can I do to beef up my resume more? My ideas are:

    1. Start volunteering as an EMT with the local fire department.
    2. Shadow 2-3 more PAs.
    3. Go on a medical humanitarian trip to Brazil.
    4. Getting certified as a medical Spanish translator (I’ve been informally translating for my department for the past 2 years)

    Are these good ideas? Or would something else be better? Ultimately, I’d like to be a rural PA, so is there something I should do now to start heading towards this?

    And ultimately, if I do all of these things, do you think I have a chance of getting in? (I just applied to 6 PA schools this period, and have already gotten rejections from 3…I plan to apply to more this year.)

    Thank you for your time! It is incredibly appreciated.

    • Jamie January 8, 2013, 10:00 am

      Also…I scored a 310 on new GRE (159 in verbal, 158 quantitative, 4.0 writing.) Would this be worth retaking?

    • Paul January 8, 2013, 10:09 pm

      It’s really to hard to give odds. I’m not a big fan of them anyway, because no one wants to know their odds so much as if they will get in, and the only way to know for sure is to apply. I think all of your ideas for enhancing your application are sound. Looking at the strengths and weaknesses of your application, which of these would help you to improve your weakest area(s)? Go with the one or ones that will reduce your weaknesses.

      As for the GRE, you are shooting for 150-170, (50th-99th percentiles). I think your scores are good enough that I probably wouldn’t retake it. But it’s true that only a small improvement in your raw scores can increase your percentile ranking more than you think. For instance, increasing a score by one point can sometimes mean a jump of 5% points. So if you have the time, patience, and money, it might make sense to take another swing at it. But in my opinion, schools don’t put much emphasis out on GRE scores.

  • Jamie January 8, 2013, 10:36 pm

    Thanks so very much for taking the time to reply, Paul! I really appreciate your insight and thoughts. Thanks again!

  • Tiffany January 9, 2013, 6:50 pm

    Hi Paul,

    First, I want to say your page is amazing! I have referred others who want to become PA’s to it because it has soo much information. In 2010 I was starting focus on if I wanted a career in higher education or healthcare. Once I started taking courses and working in healthcare I knew my passion was alive more than ever. My goal has been since to become a PA and I have been whole heartily working towards it and now I take the GRE at the end of the month and start applying to schools for a Jan. 2014 start date. As I start this process I have one major concern.


    I graduated undergrad in 2008 with two majors biology and psychology my GPA is 2.6 overall.
    I don’t have individual GPAs on each major. Then after undergrad I went straight into a master’s program and graduated with a GPA of 3.0 with consistent B- to A’s as grades non science program.

    Other information:
    I have worked full time at a university since 2008.
    I became an EMT in 2006 and volunteered for two years in undergrad on an ambulance service.
    In 2011 I began working in a Intensive care unit part time, retaking courses, while working full time, and being a single parent and in fall 2012 I finished my last course, organic chem with a B+.

    In my narrative I address my undergrad grades (very long story short I am the legal guardian to my now 11 yr old brother who during my undergrad years was chronically sick who I raised while in undergrad) and what I gained from those four years. Mostly about hard work , determination, and learning what it means to dedicate yourself to helping someone become healthy.

    My references are from people who have known me a substantial amount of time, 5 years is the least. One is a MD, two are PhD’s and my current supervisor.

    My question is:

    Is there anything else I can do to show I can achieve academically to PA programs?

    In my opinion I know I am strong in many other aspects of my life that will come across in my application. PA programs are competitive academically due to the popularity of our profession and rigor of the programs. So I completely understand that this is a huge critical hurdle for me to overcome in order to gain just an interview.

    Any advice is much appreciated

    • Paul January 9, 2013, 9:49 pm

      I always suggest that you look at what might be the weakest area of your application. What can you do to improve it? Retaking courses, GRE, finding some HCE in a very different area from the rest of your HCE, etc.

      If you don’t come up with anything, then I suggest you look at how you can become a more interesting applicant. What can you do to be different from others? How can you broaden your life experience by supplementing with something you haven’t done before?

      Ultimately, you need an interview. In my PA school class, on day 1 they had us all interview someone else and then introduce them to the class. You wouldn’t believe some of the amazing life experiences my classmates had had!

      -overseas mission work
      -starting programs
      -working with people with AIDS, drug addictions, disabilities, etc.
      -Biking across Italy
      -Raising/birthing guide dogs
      -Mobile clinic work
      -Sign language, foreign languages

      You name it. Some of it wasn’t medical, but it made everyone interested in who these people were.

      What gets you interested about other people? What would make you say “Wow!” about someone who was providing you with medical care?

      Go out and do it.

  • Diorechell January 28, 2013, 5:23 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Thank you for such a great source. I have the same problem. My Bachelor degree was earned from China majored in Chinese literature with an overall GPA 2.31 eval by WES. It wasnt because I didnt work hard. I t was simply because I had no sense of literature like writing or appreciating a poem or article. My goal wad to become an English-Chinese interpreter after college and I made it even though I was not majored in English.My condition was missed my favorite school for English major by a few points and could not afford re taking a whole year class to take the another college entrance exam. You know education was totally different in china. we had to pay out of pocket from elementary to college,and there was not much student loan available back to 15 years ago. I stuck with a major I had no interest and was not good at all. Anyway I succeeded in English but failed in Chinese. How would you suggest me explain this?Literature is not like something else,as long as you work hard, you can be a creative writer. I tried,but I believe my brain just doesnt have the cells for appreciating literature.I had been always good at studying from elementary to high school,and two year community college for medical assistant,plus prr reqs for PA programme,my overall GPA for post bachelor courses taken in u.s. is 3.96. The only A- was psychology. I do not believe one who is not good at literature cannot become a competent PA. Just how do you think I should explain this?

    • Paul January 29, 2013, 10:49 pm

      Diorechell –

      I think your explanation is okay. You make it clear that it says less about your ability as a student and more about your level of interest (or lack of it) in your field of study. Your language skills are a plus, and your cultural experiences as well. If write about them in your essay, be candid about them.
      BUT: since you will be talking about your weakness in literature, make sure you essay reads extremely well – like art – and they will find it easier to respect and forgive you for it. They may even admire you for your candor. Don’t apologize. Just explain.

  • Isiah Duggan February 14, 2013, 7:34 pm

    Hey Paul, I am a college student and I was looking down the path of PA and currently following an exercise science major I am a freshman, and have so many interests and alot of curiosity towards medicine I watch alot of it on tv house, trauma, greys anatomy etc. I am a genuine curiosity of wanting to learn more about medicine in general, and my question for you is I want to become a working paramedic, and then go back to PA school what is your take on that?? I have heard that it is a good idea and cant help strengthen my application. I also have a question about what if you have historically been bad at taking standardized test for example the GRE, I have trouble focusing (ADD), but tests medically based and situational based such as PANCE I feel like I would be extremely better at. I was also thinking about improving the culture aspect of my application during this time like spanish (I have the eqivalent of 8 years of spanish as a freshman in college) I also would want to do something out of the ordinary to make me well-rounded and different maybe go to a different country for a relief effort of something do all of these things help for PA application, especially if you arent the cookie cutter 4.0 GPA I currently have a 3.775 and I am just beginning my Chemistry with intro to chemistry I have currently 2 chem classes (w/discussion groups and lab) so 5 days a week.

    • Paul February 15, 2013, 11:15 am

      YES. The first PAs back in the 60’s were (military) medics returning from the Vietnam War. Paramedic medicine has always been one of the best forms of pre-PA experience. It gives you a survey of how to keep a person from dying or becoming permanently disabled, disfigured, etc. It doesn’t focus on the nuances of primary care that you will see as a PA (you don’t worry about a patient’s cholesterol numbers when they’re in SVT in the back of an ambulance). But paramedic is a GREAT jump-off point for PA school.

      As for the GRE, for folks who don’t excel at standardized testing, the key is PRACTICE. Plan to spend more time than others getting ready for the exam. Buy a good prep book and/or take a course. The more familiar and practiced you are with the test, the better you will do. You don’t need to ace it – you just need to do reasonably well at it (above the 50% hopefully).

      You GPA is definitely strong. Protect it. Don’t launch into health care experience if it could jeopardize your grades. There will be time enough for EMT and paramedical school after you finish your classes.

  • Heather A. Schmidt February 18, 2013, 9:17 am

    Dear Paul,
    First, I would like to thank you for taking time out of your life to create and maitnain this website/forum which I have found to be immeasurably helpful in a multitude of ways.
    Ok, here’s my story — I am a 27 years old single parent planning to apply to several PA’s schools on the east coast in the next year. I am very concerned, and moreso nervous when I think about applying, which mainly stems from my fear of rejection. My story, like most others is complicated. I started my college career at a small community college where I did well; I completed almost 60 credits in 2 years and acheived an overall GPA of around 3.3. Following CC I transferred to a large state school where I completed maybe around 35-40 credits and I did poorly – obtaining several C’s, B’s and 1 F. I left the State School in 2008 when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter (Surprise!). After taking almost three years off from school, I recently began taking classes again at a small private university where I am doing well (3.2 gpa) and I am graduating this May with a Biology Degree. I am concerned that 1. It has taken me longer than the average indivual to obtain a bachelor’s degree. 2. My GPA from the state school is awful. 3. My GPA overall isn’t fantastic
    A few months after my daughter was born I obtained a full-time job working in the ER as a medical scribe (for 2 years) where I gained a tremendous amount of experience and clinical knowledge, as well as forming numerous contacts for future networking. I loved my job in the ER and this is how I knew that I would truly enjoy being a PA. During the 2 years working in the ER I simultaneously held another position working as waitress/bartender every Friday-Sunday evenings.
    At the university I am currently studying at I have worked as a TA for the Anatomy and Physiology for 1 semester. Luckily, I know I will be able to ask a few professors for letters of Recommendation. While I was in state school I was very distracted, immature, and clearly not motivated whereas now, flashforward almost 5 years later I don’t feel that I could be anymore motivated. Having my daughter has taught me more about life that I could have ever imagined. I did shadow a surgical PA about 2 years ago and recently contacted her to see if I could complete a long-term internship (experience based education requirement) with her. Luckily the PA agreed and thought it was a great idea, so I am scheduled to shadow her for around 3 months (in the summer) totalling approximately 135 hours followed by a 15-20 page paper on the experience.
    So after my exacerbated story filled with complicactions and explainations, Paul, do you think I have a shot of getting into PA School?

    • Paul February 18, 2013, 5:15 pm

      Dear Heather – I make it a practice to stay neutral like Switzerland on “What are my chances” questions, since PA school admissions are complicated, subjective, and ever changing.

      But your story is not unlike many PA hopefuls. Being what I would call a “returning student” isn’t such a bad thing. In some ways it lends credence to your story of being more mature. You can help yourself by getting the absolute best grades you can from here on to demonstrate to PA programs that you are a different kind of student than you once were.

      Getting plenty of great HCE and letters of reference that speak to your experience will also be helpful. I suggest you really throw yourself headlong into the essay-writing process, as this is where you will likely be either noticed and given a shot, or passed over.

      Tell your story well – make it clear that you have more to offer than youth and perfect grades. Sometimes making the “anti-argument” can work; rather than minimizing your weaknesses, own them and make it clear how, in a roundabout way, they may have helped you to be a better person, and ultimately a better PA. Our ebook discusses these strategies in detail, but you don’t necessarily need our ebook to write a good essay – just know it’s there if you need it.



  • Alisha February 18, 2013, 9:50 pm

    Hi Paul,
    So I am wondering what I do now. I am applying for PA school for the 2014 cycle and wondering what my options are if I do not get in. Currently I have a 3.0 (chemistry is not my best subject, so I received Cs in chem II and my mom died on finals week so I received Cs in biochem and o chem and a C in trig, B’s in mostly everything else with A’s spaced about) but am taking courses this semester to raise my GPA to 3.14 or so. I am not sure of my chances getting in because it is a low GPA for PA school, but I am going to try anyway since it is all I want to do.
    I would love to take courses over again, but I pay for my school out of pocket since I cannot get financial aid and I just cannot do it anymore without foreclosing on my house. If I do not get into PA school this time around, which seems unlikely, do I just go to grad school for my major anthropology, and show them that I can do grad school and apply every year until I get in? I have volunteered for a lactation clinic that is very hands on with mothers and newborns for more than three years and very hands on medical receptionist for ten years. I have great recommendation letters and will rewrite my essay to make it more personal. I just want this so bad like everyone else, but am running out of money due to trauma and struggle in the past. Should I take the GREs too if the school I am mainly applying for does not require it? Thanks, anything helps; I just want hope when everything seems so discouraging at times. I have had a rough couple of years and it shows on my transcript, what I do now to show I will be amazing in PA school. I obviously have not given up yet, it should show I wouldn’t in grad school either.

    • Paul February 18, 2013, 10:25 pm

      Dear Alisha –

      It’s not uncommon for students to have life whap them on the back of the head sometimes, so don’t panic. First off, NO – don’t go to grad school in anthropology unless you want to be anthropologist. Doing so will not impress the PA schools any more than getting your private pilot’s license or learning to ballroom dance. It’s just not relevant.

      People sometimes ask me, “If I don’t get into PA school this year, should I start a graduate program in biology or something to show that I can handle hard classes?” My answer to them is always the same: no. They don’t want to know that you can ace psychoneuroimmunology; they want to know that you can handle the subjects on which PA school is based. These are biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and microbiology, and perhaps a few others.

      If you can’t retake classes for financial reasons, then that simplifies the matter. Go and get a job in the medical field. Begin the process of accruing medical experience. It won’t replace good grades, but it will sometimes make the admissions committees less concerned about them. If you need to go back and take/retake some classes in the future, you can do that, and in fact, I tend to think that if you’ve had some struggles with academics, it really pays to take a step back from school and get some perspective. When you return to school, your priorities will be straight, your life will be in a better space, and you’ll be more motivated and focused than ever.

      If this is what you want to do, I promise you that you can, as long as you accept that it may take some time to get there.

  • Fowad February 21, 2013, 12:38 pm

    Hey Paul
    First off i want to thank you for posting such an interesting and supportive forum. A lot of what you speak about has inspired me and makes me feel better about myself and my current situation. i recently graduated from a 4 year college with my bachelors of science in health sciences my overall GPA is a 3.3. i have been applying to PA programs since November of last year. i did fairly well in my pre-reqs the only problem that i have had which is giving me trouble landing an interview is some science courses i took in the past which i failed i took Chem 2 in spring 2009 and received an F however i retook the course and received a B+ the same occurred with calculus i received an F retook it and got a B+ throughout my college career i did not really have a sense of direction i started out as a freshman wanting to go to medical school. i spent my first two years of college goofing around and not taking my courses seriously. at one point in my college career (due to these two F’s ) my GPA was a 2.3 i worked hard in my last two years and as of my junior year knew i had a passion so immense for becoming a physician assistant. I worked hard then on and made deans list twice once in spring of 2010 and the other in my last semester as an undergrad (Spring 2012) i have taken gen chem gen bio micro bio human physio micro bio microbio lab stats calculus and about 9 courses in the humanities also abnormal psych and intro to psych i have about 80 hours of PA shadowing and about 500+ hours working/volunteering in private clinics/nursing homes/ hospitals and i plan on doing more! i went back this semester to take organic chemistry as well as human anatomy my last two courses i believe i have applied to several PA programs and have gotten rejections up until this point. i don’t know why but I feel PA programs never give us a chance we have made mistakes in the past and learned from them. Paul we all make mistakes and we strive to learn from them especially when trying to get into such rigorously competitive programs. I made the mistake of not addressing some of this stuff in my CASPA narrative. I get frustrated at the fact that these PA programs are looking at those F’s that i received and make their decision based on that. My last semester of my undergrad studies i got 2 A’s 2 A+’s and a B+ and these were micro bio microbio lab physio lab and some health science courses my semester GPA was a 3.78 i worked really hard towards the end and i KNOW if i get a chance at a PA program i can succeed and i have learnt my lesson from my previous mistakes. Yet im afraid that these programs wont look past my previous grades and reject me. It is a dream of mine, my passion to become a PA and for the sole purpose of patient care, to help people, to see that smile on their face upon receiving proper care. Its frustrating to receive rejections but i intend on applying in the new cycle for 2014 if you can provide me with advice on how to strengthen my application Paul please do so i highly appreciate your time and effort in helping me and all the others. people like you don’t come across often in life and when they do they are appreciated may god bless you in all your endeavors.

    Fowad Butt

    • Paul February 22, 2013, 10:38 pm

      Hey, Fowad! I can definitely relate to your concerns. Think if the narrative as your opportunity to give CONTEXT to the numbers on your application. The story is much more complicated than 2.3. There’s a story that goes with it, and that story can help schools to understand that one 2.3 is much different from another.

      Yours is a story of learning humility and becoming a new type of student (and person) than you once were.

      I suggest you consider using LEARNING FROM MISTAKES or something similar as a theme for your essay. Rather than minimizing your past, draw from it. Hold it out there with pride and show your depth as an applicant by demonstrating what you have learned from it. Not just that – but what you learned from it that makes you an amazing, mature, dynamic candidate for PA school. FORCE THEM TO SEE YOU DIFFERENTLY.

      I wish you luck.

  • Jessica February 25, 2013, 8:11 am

    Thank you so much for this. I’m close to ending my first year in college and I have wanted to be a PA for as long as I can remember. I’ve never been really smart but I have a passion for helping people and this is what I really want. This article really gave me some hope. Thank you!

  • Shari February 26, 2013, 2:26 pm

    All of these comments are so helpful. I recently decided (perhaps in fear) that PA may be a bit out of my reach. I am going back to school years later for a career change in the healthcare field and quite easily forgot how much studying it takes to pull just B’s in these courses. My GPA is only a 2.9, although I am sure I can rock the essay and my HCE is great! However i have been hearing stories of people who get rejected from certain schools with a 3.8 GPA. By no means am I trying to be a dream squasher to anyone reading this, I just wanted to get more opinions to validate this and know if the competition is really that fierce. I also heard someone say that the program they are applying to has a staff psychiatrist on site for the students since the studying can be so grueling. Is this true too? I understand why a high grade is valued and makes you a more competitive applicant. They need you sharp for the intense classes you will endure. I have huge concerns as to whether I am ready, or even capable of meeting these challenges. I have decided to become an RN first, and hoping that route will help prepare me should I choose to further my career one day and become a PA? Also, would they factor in my GPA from nursing school if its very good? Any feedback on the things I mentioned is much appreciated. Thanks again!! This website has become my saving grace! :)

  • Ella March 1, 2013, 3:35 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I am about to start applying to PA schools this year as I’m approaching my senior year in college. I’ve gotten quite a few C’s (5 total over the 3.5 years), but I do not know how I would explain my situation. I got those C’s because those classes were difficult for me. I honestly gave it my all and still received a C. And a couple of those C’s were borderline 79% to 80% but it just wasn’t enough for me to get the B. I feel as if I won’t get into PA school because yes they look at other things, my GPA is just not on a competitive level at all.

    • Paul March 2, 2013, 9:00 am

      I think you might want to avoid explaining them by saying essentially “that’s as good as I was able to do in those classes.”

      I suggest you focus on all you have accomplished while in school – any other accomplishments, such as HCE, awards, honors, internships, writing, working, etc. If you have a disability, that might be a good thing to discuss. You want your focus to be on how WELL you were able to do, despite your challenges and commitments. I assume if you think about it, you will realize other pressures that you were under while taking those classes. Family counts too! Be honest, but give context.

  • AJ March 11, 2013, 9:54 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Genius website! I would appreciate any feedback that you may have regarding my situation.

    Essentially, its the all too common immature 18 year old who lacked the mind-set to excel in college as a Biochemistry major. I also lost 3 family members very close to me survived the attacks of 9/11 first hand. I had a number of D’s and W’s which were in my harder science courses and failed Organic Chemistry twice, before getting C’s. I graduated with my BS in Biology a decade ago and about 3 years ago went back to school and earned a 2nd BS in Accounting with a 3.5 gpa, while working full-time and commuting an hour each way to campus. The last 2 years I’ve also retaken all of the pre-req’s for most PA programs with straight A’s (granted it was a local community college a mile from my house) and was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, where I’ve maintained a 3.7gpa. Despite having straight A’s in pre reqs and a 2nd degree, CASPA, however compiled my 13+ years of higher education and derived a science and overall gpa of under a 3.0. I applied to a number of programs all of which rejected me, without even opening my application. Half of which physically told me because the CASPA GPA isn’t at 3.0 we cannot consider your application. I’ve shadowed PA’s and physicians, volunteered at a local hospital in the ER, and worked as a medical assistant volunteer at a large medical practice. Is there anything I can do or any advice you can offer? I’m now 31 now and finally reaching the end of my line, more so when I read posts of people who “forget” to submit poor transcripts.

    Thank you and please keep doing what you do!


    • Paul March 18, 2013, 10:53 am

      Hi, AJ! I could be completely off here, but I think what they’ve told you is no reason to think you can’t get in. That may fly directly in the face of what you’ve been told, but so be it. They have all the power in the world to admit someone who has a low GPA – if they choose to.

      But to do so, they need to be properly motivated. They need to feel that they are finding a diamond in the rough, and not taking a chance on someone undeserving. How do you get them thinking that?


      Your essay.

      The essay is the nuclear powered, take-no-prisoners, unparallelled equalizer. It is your chance to shock them, impress them, to stand out. It is your forum, the place to give them all the context they need to say, “Wow, we need to grab this one before somebody else realizes he’s here.” And don’t think for a second that they don’t say such things – they absolutely do.

      Sure, some schools may not take such a risk. Some schools are happy to have their cookie cutter applicants. They may actually fear how the world will see them if they accept anything less than the traditional perfect applicant. But you and I both know that there is more to being a great health care provider than being a straight A student. How many medical providers have you been treated by during your lifetime who had no social ability, no depth, no drive? Plenty, I’m sure.

      Some schools are ACTIVELY LOOKING FOR CANDIDATES LIKE YOU, provided you motivate them properly.

      Not to bait you, but all about how to do this is in our ebook. It can definitely be done without our book, of course. But Crafting a Winning PA School Application Essay – Tipping the Odds in Your Favor is all about how to take what you have and make it enticing, unforgettable, and effective. If you aren’t confident that you know how to accomplish that, you should definitely check out the ebook.

      Good luck,


  • Matt March 12, 2013, 12:08 am

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for this article. I’m finishing up my pre-reqs now will be applying with one not finished. I received my undergrad in journalism which at that time in my life is what I wanted to do and was to be completely honest young and very immature and my undergrad grades show it. After working in the journalism field for awhile I decided to move back home and dip my feet in healthcare working as a CNA. I fell in love with it and wanted to pursue it further. Long story short I started taking the pre-reqs and so far I have received A’s and B’s. But my overall gpa is at a 3.15 and my science is around the same. I know a lot of this is due to my immaturity as a undergrad and knowing I had a job once I graduated. Should I apply this cycle or wait for another one. I will be going in with 1500 hours as a CNA, 150 hospital volunteer hours. Still haven’t taken the GRE. Thank you.

    • Paul March 18, 2013, 10:57 am


      To qualify my answer a little, here are my reasons:

      – You have plenty of good health care experience.
      With a good essay, you can communicate to them what you have to me.
      – If you don’t apply this year, I can guarantee you won’t get in this year.
      – Don’t shy away from failure – embrace it. I’m writing my article for this week right now, so if you don’t know what that means, you should stay tuned to the blog to find out what I mean when I say that.



  • Taylor March 12, 2013, 2:17 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I am a senior Biology major and I have a 3.2 cumulative science GPA. Unfortunately the only thing keeping that as low as it is was one semester during my junior year when I took Physics and Organic Chemistry at the same time, resulting in a C and C-, respectively. With the exception of those, I have been consistently in the B to A range in my other science courses. Do you recommend I retake Physics I and Orgo I elsewhere? or just try to explain that I had a ton on my plate that semester and could not dedicate enough time to those difficult subjects? Thank you so much for all your help!

    • Paul March 18, 2013, 11:05 am


      But while you are waiting, yes, retake them. It doesn’t much matter WHERE you take them, just that you do. It will give you the confidence that you can rock these subjects, not to mention have a better understanding of torque on the elbow joint and the difference between the antidepressants citalopram (racemic) and escitalopram (enantiomeric s-citalopram).

      But don’t let retaking them stop you from applying and possibly making the question irrelevant right now.

  • Sheela March 15, 2013, 11:58 am

    I have applied twice and one pa program sent me a letter to finish one of the required course. It mentioned that I didn’t take Biology II and i NEED to finish it before the cycle. I really don’t know if I should take that course now. Do I have a chance of getting into the program? I also have an advisor that I keep in touch with that program. I am just curious how to approach from here. Do I need to take that course? Just apply to other programs and focus on getting into. What should I do?

    I have read all your comments for other post and I feel very helpful.

    • Paul March 18, 2013, 11:13 am


      Take any specific feedback such as this that you receive while applying to PA school as an encouraging sign. The are essentially saying “But for this one specific thing that your application lacks, we would very likely accept you.”


      If you application were a no-fly for other reasons, they probably wouldn’t have given you this critical “hint.”

  • Pirate Pilla March 15, 2013, 12:42 pm

    My GPA is low for science and overall. I did take upper level courses to bring up the GPA and also fulfill the within 5 years policy. I have been working has a nutritionist for a while. I have way more than min required hours for PA program. I just need something to show that I am dedicated to become a PA. I need some strength to show in my essay. How can I show that in my paper where weakness can overshadow.

    • Paul March 18, 2013, 11:23 am

      While you apply, continue retaking science prereqs that you didn’t do well on.

      The first step to showing strength in your essay is to NOT APOLOGIZE. That doesn’t mean to “NOT EXPLAIN.” But don’t go to them thinking you aren’t worthy. You are. Give them a brief explanation of your low GPA and move on to more positive material that separates you from the crowd.

      Our ebook covers how to turn your weaknesses in to strengths – you might check it out.



  • Catherine March 16, 2013, 12:01 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I experienced a sexual assault early on in my college career, and the emotional trauma took a toll on my grades. The assailant was suspended, any my grades improved. However, a year later he returned to my college and that semester my grades dipped again. I have overcome it now, and my grades improved drastically. How specific should I get in describing what happend to me in my application?

    • Paul March 18, 2013, 11:40 am

      Hi, Catherine. I’m a PA, but I’m also still a Marriage and Family Therapist. If there’s one thing I know about survivors of sexual assault, it’s that they need to be the ones to decide how (and if and to whom) to tell their stories. An argument could be made for sharing yours in your essay if you are comfortable with that, but it would need to be handled thoughtfully.

      Whatever you share, the admissions committee will first and foremost be concerned with the question “Is she emotionally strong and healthy enough to be a good PA student and PA? Only you (and possibly your therapist with you, if you have one) can make that determination.

      If you decide that you aren’t you shouldn’t apply. If you feel you are, you should.

      I don’t routinely do this, but if you decide to apply and you choose to share with them what you have shared with me, I would be glad to help you with your essay. I offer to do so because 1) I don’t consider myself an expert at many things, but writing essays is probably one area where I can and should, and 2) it’s a way I can give back.

      Whatever you decide, I wish you a ton of luck.



  • Jessica F March 18, 2013, 8:19 am

    Hi Paul.
    I am a girl that likes to have a plan B. I am in my second year of college and on the verge of transferring to a different school. I will need to choose a major. My question for you is.. what would be the best major for me to possibly get a decent job if I don’t get into PA school. I’d love to major in Kinesiology or Nutrition but would I be able to find a job with those degrees?
    Any advice will be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks :)

    • Paul March 18, 2013, 12:02 pm

      It’s great to have a backup plan. Why not consider a Plan B that might improve your chances at your Plan A?

      What do I mean? Why not choose a major that will provide you with another career if you don’t become a PA, but will improve your chances of becoming a PA if you one day decide that you would really like to go that way?

      In my mind, those are good careers that can also lead to PA careers. Here are a few:

      Radiology Tech (majors in physics, anatomy, kinesiology)
      Hospital administration (majors in communications, health)
      Biotechnology (majors in chemistry, biology, etc.)
      Physical Therapy (majors in physics, anatomy, kinesiology, athletic training)
      Athletic trainer (see above)
      Pharmaceuticals (majors chemistry, biology, communications, business)
      Medical Engineering (majors in engineering, physics, design)

      I hope this gives you some ideas.

  • Alisha March 18, 2013, 5:10 pm

    Hey Paul,
    I would like some advice on when I should apply. I am currently trying to raise my GPA from a 3.0 to a 3.1. I will have the 3.1 gpa if I stay on track by the end of this semester which is mid May. My question is this; I know it is super important to send an application in early, the deadline for the first application is June, but they are opening application acceptance April 15th. Since my GPA will still be around 3.04 should I just submit it early or should I wait for my final grades and then submit which would be with everyone else? I was number 98 out of 200 applicants they were considering to interview and I know not so much my grades ( of course I know that hurt my chances too) but my essay really did not explain the reason for my grades and was strong enough. I just want some guidance on what would be more beneficial.
    Alisha M

  • Mariusz March 18, 2013, 7:54 pm

    I am thinking about moving to US and becoming a PA. I live now in Europe in the Netherlands (I am Polish from origin), where I am currently working as an MD (I got my MD diploma in Poland and my PhD in the Netherlands). Since I havent finished any education in the US I am wondering how my application would be rated in terms of grades? Will my experience be taken into account (I have now few thousands of hours as an MD on my CV – day, evening, night and weekendshifts – mostly in cardiology) since I didnt work in US?
    Thanks in advance

  • Kevin R March 21, 2013, 12:56 am

    Paul, thanks for writing this article and responding to people’s questions so much. You give a positive yet realistic outlook on many people’s questions which is what prompted me to post. I’m convinced I’m ready for PA school, but how do I convince these schools I am after my poor academic performance?

    To put it short I failed out of college during my junior year of college in 2007 as a physics student. I switched schools and finished with a degree in biology, I graduated with a 3.0 but obviously my cumulative GPA was much lower, around a 2.4. Many of my problems stemmed from trying to cope with an alcoholic father, but I don’t want to stress that in my essay as if I’m trying to blame him. He no longer drinks and we’re actually really good friends now, he also helped convince to go back to school.

    Anyways no one ever told me I couldn’t get in, so I decided to throw myself at this full force. I’ve taken 38 credits past my bachelors including pursuing a MS in Biology with nothing but straight A’s. I’ve gotten experience in several jobs in and outside the hospital. Currently I have 6,000 of hours experience and my cumulative GPA is 2.81. I should have a 3.0 by the end of 2013 along with my Masters. I have A’s in all my pre-reqs and in extra courses such as medical genetics, immunology, brain anatomy, virology etc.

    I’m not expecting to get in this year (it’d be nice though!), but I hope to eventually.

    Any advice is very appreciated!


    • Paul March 24, 2013, 6:39 pm

      Hi, Kevin – Impressive. You’ve gone about this the right way. My advice is to explain your previous failings (briefly) and then make sure to share that your have had “nothing less than an A for the last X units,” or whatever. This will draw an even more striking contrast between your previous work and your current work. Clearly, you have made yourself into a completely different student than you once were. With that said, your cumulative is not nearly as important as your complete 180 degree turnaround.

      In your essay, I also suggest you give them ample reason to think of you as a real outlier among the applicants – that you are the one they have been looking for – the diamond in the rough, so to speak.

      I bet your chances are better than you think.



      • Kevin R July 25, 2013, 6:33 pm

        Paul ,

        I recently had an interview with the University of Bridgeport and was accepted! It was my number one school and I accepted their offer for the class of 2016 starting this coming January.

        The interview went great! I was asked by two of my interviewers about my academic dismissal during undergrad and did exactly as you said; explained it briefly and then stated that now I’m in the right environment to succeed and have done so for x many credits with y GPA.

        I’m very excited and thankful I found your article and advice! Thank you very much!


  • Justin C March 21, 2013, 2:29 pm

    Hey Paul I love the site by the way, it’s very inspiring to read your story. My question for you is similar to some questions I’ve read in here but not the same, I was hoping you could answer for me.

    For years I’ve wanted to become a physician assistant I’ve done 150 hours of job shadowing and fell in love with the career. The PAs that I job shadow said I was “meant to be a physician assistant”.

    The thing that worries me though is that I’ve been going to school for about five years now part-time and full-time, I’ve acquired 2 degrees, one from a community college in Liberal studies and the other a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology. But during this time. I’ve retaken a full semester worth of classes that I didn’t do so hot on (six to be exact). Four of them were C’s to C+’s and two D’s.

    I’ve retaken all of these classes and gotten A’s and B’s. My current GPA is a 3.3, which I know is some room for improvement.

    In your experience as a PA student would you think that this would be frowned upon as myself not being a fast enough learner?

    As far as real world experience goes I joined the Army after high school for three years, and I’m currently he registered Phlebotomist, And I also volunteer for a search and rescue group that is led by a physician I met while I was job shadowing PAs. I also have plenty of references including physicians as well. This is just something that I’ve wanted for more than five years and I hope that I can still get there..

    Thanks for reading this Paul and I hope to hear from you soon!


    • Paul March 24, 2013, 8:18 pm

      Hi, Justin – if you’ve read through these posts, then sadly, you know what I’m going to say: I have no idea. It’s near impossible to estimate anyone’s chances beyond saying “Don’t bother” or “It’s in the bag,” and I would say neither of these would apply to you. Programs are fickle, different from one another, and there are way too many variables to predict. Just do your best and let them decide.

  • Kimberly Potter March 27, 2013, 6:13 am

    What if you have a few low grades but they were over 20 years ago and music-related? You know, being an ‘older’ student this is possible. My current grades are almost solid A’s with 2 B’s. Should you take up space on your essay to address these?

  • shru April 23, 2013, 1:32 pm

    Hi Paul,
    you are doing a great help and beyond that.A quick question,I am a physician assistant from India,I have done my Bachelors in physician assistant (4 year course) from one of the most renowned university in India.I have about 3.5 yrs of full time cardiac surgical(first) assistant in one of the best cardiac hospital in India. I do not have any licence as my country require one.My CGPA was 7.49/10 scale,recently moved to USA.I gave my score for evaluation, to ECE, they calculated it to 2.74 /4 scale equivalent to 120 credit hrs of USA bachelors. I cover all the prereq courses for PA degree.
    My GRE is 294/340( quants 150 and verbal 144).I have excellent letter of recomdations from few surgeons and physicians. Do you think I can apply for universities here?….I cannot go back to my UG degree as they wont allow me take the courses again. Can I do some associate degree in medical sonography?…medical assistant etc?…please help me….I am worried.

    • Paul April 24, 2013, 12:01 am

      You can definitely apply. But I think you need to show that you can do well in American classes. If you retake some of the science prerequisite courses that you didn’t do so well on in India (but take them in the US), if you do well, you will show them that you can handle it. Your health care experience is terrific, but they usually won’t let mediocre grades slide just because you have experience. Prove to them that you can excel in school and you will have more luck.



  • Lauren April 28, 2013, 1:21 pm

    Hi Paul! Thank you for this blog! It makes things a little easier during the application process. I have my BS in Health Science my undergrad GPA was a 3.6 however, once I put my coursework in CASPA my GPA fell to a 3.42 with a science GPA of 3.2 because I made a “F” in organic 1. I did retake it and made a C. I also made a C in Genetics. I also work in an Oncology office as a Lab Assistant where I take blood, assist with bone marrow biopsies, and work very closely with 6 PAs and MDs. I work about 35 hours a week, and have accumulated about 2500 hours there so far. I also was a phlebotomy instructor for 6 months teaching adults and college students alike. I also have volunteer hours and PA shadowing hours, about 80 with each). I applied to PA school last cycle but was not interviews nor was accepted to any of the 5 schools I applied to. Since then I have gone back to school as a non-degree seeking grad student to improve my grades, I was able to get into Genetics and bumped my C up to a B, but was unable to get into organic again because it is such a popular class. Now Organic is my only C on my transcript. I made A’s in all of my core classes such as micro, A&P, and general chem. I am also still shadowing a PA twice a month. I have great recommendation letters from a PA and MD I work for and one from my Lab Manager at the office. I was wondering if you think there is anything else I could do to increase my chances this cycle?

    • Paul April 28, 2013, 2:47 pm

      Is there anywhere else you might be able to retake organic chemistry? An F in this class is a major blight on your record. Retaking it won’t change your grade, since your old grade will be averaged with the new. But if you do well the second time around, you will show them that you can handle that material, and they need to know that you can. You should also start thinking about how your essay will change since your first application. But overall, from what you have shared, your organic grade appears to be the problem.

      • Lauren April 28, 2013, 3:00 pm

        Thank you for your reply. The second time I took it I made a C. Do you think taking it a third would be beneficial? How well do you think my HCE, recommendations, and a strong revised narrative will help me this cycle?

  • JohnyD May 1, 2013, 8:59 pm

    Ok I need positive and honest feedback. But I will tell you about me.

    PA has been my goal since I was a sophomore in college. I love that profession and felt committed to it. I majored in biology. I have nearly a 3.1 in bio (the more tougher advanced classes brought me down) and have nearly 1000 hours of HCE. I did apply to PA school and one of the schools I applied was honest with and admitted that though I did not make it through the program for this cycle, they offered me admission for nursing. I saw it as a golden opportunity to help me get into the PA program later on. (And it was considerate of them too). I joined the nursing program and though it’s only 3 months that passed since I joined, I am drained, however I am committing myself to get through. I don’t find nursing difficult, however the tests and those dreaded HESI exams are a killer. Since it’s an accelerated program, it’s very fast paced. We had frontloading this semester with five courses slamming us to life. I have no issues keeping up with the coursework and understanding the material, but the testing part throws you off for good. In a way it’s good b/c it gives an indication of what PA school is like, but in addition. I am fearing b/c I was told by my instructors NOT to expect any A’s and it’s true (unless you are a genius). It’s been very difficult to pass these exams and hence the courses, so I felt fortunate to be passing. We’re almost done with the semester and I made it with a C+ in one course and waiting for the others…however I petrified now b/c I feel like if I don’t A’s for the rest of the sequence that PA schools may turn me off later on b/c I got C’s. I know and understand the material, but the tests are very challenging (one thing I need to improve is test taking as well). I struggled a lot but am surviving due to intense studying and being committed. I was stressing out at first b/c I strove to get A’s to show PA schools I can handle the coursework with ease, but it’s been nearly impossible b/c you just can’t get perfect 4.0’s and I feel not getting 100’s on these exams means I can’t be a PA. I do admit that I did learn ALOT from the nursing program and from my struggles, but I don’t know nor think I would be a good fit for PA b/c I’m not excelling with superior grades, however I am surviving the program and learning. My question is should I even bother to apply for PA later on? I am willing to go through all the stress and endless studying another two years, however the fact that I am not doing perfectly fantastic in nursing school may not mean I can do PA school and that’s what I’m fearing. I want it so bad and I know I can do it, but I feel so pressured to achieve perfection just to get a chance, which is not a option in a program like this.

    • Paul May 4, 2013, 2:30 pm

      So if I understand you, 1) you want to be a PA badly, 2) you know you can do it, but 3) you aren’t sure if you should apply because (you believe) you may not get in?

      – If you don’t apply you DEFINITELY will not get in (this is one of the few 100% certainties of life)

      – If you only attempt things in life that you are sure you will succeed in, you will miss out on many great opportunities and experiences, not the least of which is the chance to surprise yourself as to what you’re capable of.

      I think you’re over thinking this. If you want it, give it your all, apply, and let them decide.

  • Jessica May 7, 2013, 3:29 pm

    I am 26 years old, and just finishing my freshman year of college. This is my second attempt at higher education. I originally went to college right after high school, I was only 17 years old at the time. I was young had a different major, and was completely unfocused. This is how bad I did: out of the ten classes I took, I failed all except for one, in which I got a D. My GPA since going back to school is a 3.8 (without counting my original grades). What is the best way for me to overcome that horrible first year?

    • Paul May 14, 2013, 10:33 pm

      You can’t. That year will be there until you’re in a coffin. But take heart – you can do better – much better and hopefully convince them that it wasn’t representative of your real ability. Address this head on in your essay. Get the absolute best grades you can in anything you take from here on out. I mean protect your new grades like a flock of baby harp seals. Write an amazing essay.

      Don’t waste your time and mental health bemoaning your past – there isn’t a thing you can do about it. Look forward and do your best.

  • Carina May 10, 2013, 7:49 pm

    So I have a few questions,

    I have had PA school as my primary career pathway since I was a junior in highschool. Now, 6 years later, I have graduated from a UC school with a 3.33 GPA and just about a 3.O in science courses. I started out with 3.6, 3.5, 3.4 GPA’s for most of my first two years in college. I have gotten a few C’s (5 C+’s with the skin of my teeth just missing the B) and did have 2 quarters where I had 2.7 ish GPA’s. The two quarters were the spring and the following fall sequentially in order, and then afterwards I proceeded to have a steady increase in grades again per quarter 3.0, 3.7 and 4.0. I graduated in three years and along with some family stress (attributed to spring) / trying to find myself in college (fall bad grades) seem to be what caused me to struggle. Is this recoverable?? Now I am taking a few courses I need for my application at a community college. I just got my EMT certification and my phlebotomy certification to work as an ER tech for the most well rounded health care experience hours. I also am taking a few classes like A&P, and micro at the community college because they are offered with lab courses, and were not offered with lab portions at UCSD. I have a 4.0 from the year of coursework I have taken here. I want to know if I am really in a position to be competitive. Any advice on what to do to strengthen my chances? I have been in and out of hospitals with different experiences since I was in high school. Hospital volunteer for several years, I did mitochondrial disease research in my undergrad for about a year and they want to publish a paper I wrote on our progress, graduated and got a job doing research in many disciplines while getting my certifications for EMT, phlebotomy, and last minute courses. , Hopefully soon to be working in the hospital there. I plan to take a prep course to get the best GRE scores I can. Its tough, feeling like the next few years will be spent working and waiting to have enough hours to be competitive to apply. Anything you can say/ advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. Great site.


    • Paul May 14, 2013, 10:44 pm

      Hi, Carina –

      I don’t like to weigh in on “what are my chances” questions. I will say that those grades don’t kill your chance to become a PA. But you should do whatever you can to show them excellent, recent grades. You can argue in your essay that you are now on track and doing what you love, etc.

      Worry less about being competitive and more about doing your absolute, blow their socks off best. Give them reason to see you as more than your GPA and GRE and hours. Aim high – make it clear that they would be stupid to look at your application so one-dimensionally. Don’t argue for yourself; just be the best you that you got.

  • Wes May 14, 2013, 12:46 pm

    Hi, I am reapplying this year after applying for the first time last year. For the narrative, is it a bad idea to write about having a psychotic episode, but how it turned my life around in a positive way? I’m writing my second narrative and I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to let the school know about that right off the bat. Thanks so much for all of your information, I love this website!

    • Paul May 14, 2013, 10:56 pm

      That’s a tough one. My inclination would be skip it unless sharing that is crucial to understanding some aspect of your application, such as a semester with very uncharacteristic grades. But if you do it thoughtfully, it could work. Overall, you need to make sure that they believe you are emotionally stable, capable of handling stress, and self aware.

  • Sara May 19, 2013, 9:24 am

    This such an informative forum.

    I was accepted into an early assurance PA program right out of high school, but was basically kicked out for not keeping a 3.2 each semester.
    My current undergraduate degree is clinical laboratory sciences and I have an overall 3.0 after my first year.

    I received a C and C+ in general chemistry I & II, respectively as well as a C- in statistics.

    I’ve only completed my first year and I still definitely want to go to PA school. Would it be worth my time to retake these courses this summer?

    Would it be worth my time to speak about this in the future in a narrative as long as I get decent or excellent grades in the rest of the prerequisites?

    • Paul May 25, 2013, 5:55 pm

      I think yes on both questions. You really really need to show that you can do well where you have previously not done well in order to reassure PA schools that you have what it takes to succeed in their programs. The essay is a good place to speak to this.

      Just make sure that when you retake those courses that you do well in them – whatever it takes for good grades, including tutors, time in the learning center/lab, studying like a reclusive, obsessed statistics fan, whatever. If you retake them and do poorly or even so-so, you may prove to them that you aren’t worth risk.

      The only reason to retake courses is to do very well in them. If you aren’t in a position in life and in your motivation to do really really well in them, then don’t retake them.

  • Ali May 26, 2013, 10:00 am

    Hey Paul. I’ve written before but I’ve come across some new questions. I recently graduated from a 4 year university with a BS degree in biological sciences and a minor in psychology. After doing a ton of research, I have decided to wait a year before applying. I’m planning on retaking some classes I didn’t do great in and recently got a job working at a hospital to get the clinical experience I need. With that being said, should I retake ALL classes I didn’t do well in or just the prerequisite classes that the PA schools are looking for? For example, I didn’t do too hot my freshman year in a philosophy class (found out later that the class was an upper level philosophy class for philosophy majors not the general education class tat I thought it was). Should I retake that class because I got a C in it or not worry because my grade in philosophy doesn’t reflect my ability to do well in science classes?
    Also, I took 3 levels of calculus before finding out I needed statistics for PA school. I got a C in the highest level of the 3 classes. Should I retake that even though I got an A in statistics?

    Also, what’s the best way to study for the GRE? I have a GRE book and I do fine on the practice test but I want to do awesome. Any tips?

    Thanks for all your advice!

  • dntwant2giveup May 26, 2013, 4:30 pm

    Paul – you really have some great advice and I thank you for all of the postings you have written. I’m not sure why my situation might be so different from the others but nonetheless here is my issue… :
    I am a very motivated person but am starting to reach a point where I don’t know how to improve my app. I went into college with little support and someone who was a surrogate mother to me committed suicide my freshman year. Shortly after, auto immune issues began to surface and I was working two jobs, involved in many activities, and had many committments and for some stupid reason I continued to stack up difficult classes semester after semester but was falling short everywhere. I should have slowed down to process what I was going through but I didn’t and it is unfortunately reflected in my 2.5ish GPA. I have a higher GPA when retaken classes are considered but CASPA doesn’t consider that. Reading this surely paints a picture for you of me in a negative light but is it the opposite of who I am. I didn’t want to give up and that’s why I tried for so long to prove that I could push through it all but I was handling it all the wrong way. I realize this now and am having a really tough time fitting this into 600 characters… you think I shouldn’t mention the suicide or auto immune issues?

    Without that information, I feel that I show a completely different character of myself. I have a large amount of medical experience starting at 17 spanning 10 years and work as a neurophysiologist in brain and spinal surgery. I have taken classes over the past year and a half getting all A’s but given that it doesn’t move my GPA I really don’t know how else to get admissions attention. Regardless of what I do, it seems that my application gets overlooked. Do you have any suggestions for standing out? I feel that I want to and need to be bold and more aggressive – IE contacting program directors was suggested to me by one admissions personnel. I don’t want my application to be disregarded just because of my GPA which is nearly impossible to move due to the number of classes.

    • Paul May 31, 2013, 3:55 pm

      You’re in a tough position. First off, I think you need to let go of your cumulative GPA. You would need another degree with all A’s to get a 3.25 cumulative GPA. This should make it clear that at least in the short term, you will not change your cumulative GPA much.

      Instead, I suggest you focus on getting the best grades you possibly can. Your chance at admission is through showing them how much better of a student you have become, and the place to talk about it is in your essay. Yes, many PA schools will screen you out before they have a chance to read it. But some won’t. If your more recent grades are consistently A’s and your essay really grabs them, you will have a shot.

      Should you or shouldn’t you include mention of the suicide and the autoimmune health problems? The answer to me is that you need to think of your best, highest functioning self – the one that will make an amazing PA like no other, but who just needs someone to give them the chance. The pearl among swine, if you will. Now, as that person, think about the experiences that have made you so. What challenges have you had to overcome? What unique gifts do you and you alone have to offer the profession. I promise you that you have several at least. If those experiences are key to making you into that applicant, then you should speak to them in your essay.

      Our essay ebook talks about how to do this if you need help. Obviously, having a good essay is not a substitute for proving to them that you now have what it takes. But once you have that, you need to convince them, and that’s where your essay comes in. Having some good essay readers to give you feedback will also help. Plan on putting a lot of time and energy into your essay, just as you have your recent coursework.



  • Matt June 18, 2013, 10:21 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for all of your help. I have a few questions.

    I attended a well-known academically rigorous liberal arts school and did not do particularly well with any of the natural science pre-reqs (basically Cs and C+’s) and, sadly, this brought my cumulative GPA down to around a 2.4. When I look back on those four years (I graduated about 4 years ago..,sigh) I realize I had no idea what I was doing in undergrad, why I was there and was depressed from year 2-4. I have considered a career as a PA as I worked for a non–profit health care company in SoCal for about three years after graduating from undergrad (mainly in administration) and found that the PAs were good people that enjoyed their jobs and were committed to making a positive difference in their patients’ lives. I would like to pursue a career as a PA but am worried that my low undergrad GPA pretty much bars from ever getting in. I can retake the pre-reqs at my local state university branch and try to get all As, but I don’t know if that will be enough to raise my cumulative GPA to a competitive level for PA schools.

    In addition, I was an EMT for about a year during my junior year of undergrad (which was about 6-7 years ago). I do not know if PA admissions committees will consider that as hands on patient work experience or if the experience was too long ago to count.

    So my question is this: should I seriously consider even trying to go down this path if my undergrad GPA effectively bars from getting in to any schools and my hands on patient work experience was too long ago to really matter?

    • Paul June 20, 2013, 11:18 pm

      To seriously consider applying or not is really up to you.

      I will say that you should let go of your cumulative GPA – it’s not going to change much. Think about it: if you did another degree altogether and got a 4.0, you would have a cumulative GPA of 3.2. So I don’t encourage you to do that. If you decide to apply, take your prereqs and get A’s. Then write a compelling essay that invites them to look at you as something of a Phoenix – not the student you used to be, and with recent excellent grades to prove it. I tend to think that overcoming adversity (grades, in your case) is a great way to show them you are worth a second look.

      I’m sure they will count your year as an EMT. But if you really intend to apply, you will need more and more recent HCE. Consider health care jobs that will put you with patients. Respiratory therapy makes a good living and might be a good way to show them that you have skills and time in health care that would make you an attractive candidate. There are others, of course.


  • Jim June 24, 2013, 11:43 am

    I am a 49 year old retired FDNY Certified First Responder/Defribrillator-Firefighter. I have lived through the tragedy of 9/11, performed CPR countless times, delivered two babies and have seen the worst the medical profession can dole out. I have an Associates degree from 30 years ago where I only had a 2.8 average. However, in the 3 semesters that I have gone back to the same college for my bachelors and all my PA prerequisites, I have a 3.9 average GPA. This gets combined with my old average from that college to make my total GPA about 3.2 However, after I received my Associates 30 years ago, I went to a 4 year school and did horrible, never graduating and receiving a 1,4 GPA. This factored in to my current and other grades leaves me with less than the 3.0 minimum GPA average most PA schools require. I’m afraid to list these credits on my CASPA app as I feel I will be overlooked when in fact, I am more than qualified. What shouid I do?

    • Paul June 24, 2013, 5:42 pm

      I would recommend you complete your bachelor’s degree. You have excellent health care experience, but the BS/BA is fast becoming the norm for admission into PA training. But don’t freak out. Your cumulative GPA won’t change much, but your ability to share your more recent grades (excellent) shows that you have probably turned a corner as a student. Complete your bachelors with an excellent GPA, and write a compelling essay that explains your academic struggle and revival, and you have a good chance at getting an interview, which is the first step.

      Again, don’t focus on your cumulative GPA – focus on your recent academic history in the context of your complete academic history.

  • Matchew June 25, 2013, 12:37 pm

    Paul, how does CASPA calculate GPAs regarding grades such as B- or C+? Do you just round a B- up to a B and a C+ down to a C?

  • Vincent June 26, 2013, 12:09 am

    Great advice given. I am planning to apply this cycle, and just finished some fall quarter classes. Although I am ranked #2 in my general chemistry class, I am also taking an online medical terminology class, which I though would boost my grade. Unfortunately, the class has very strict times when exams can be taken, and I did not realize that I had time conflicts with the final exam. As a result, I received an F for missing the final exam.

    Any advice? I am planning on retaking it as soon as possible, but I am not sure if the retake will appear on my transcript, and also I am wondering how this F will affect me. In general, all of my prereq courses I have received good grades in, and this is the only F I have ever received.

    • Paul June 27, 2013, 5:38 pm

      I doubt CASPA would ever know that you took it, but I can’t encourage you to not share it. CASPA guidelines are pretty specific about the importance to reporting any and all academic grades. Failure to do so is cause for invalidation of your application. You can call CASPA and ask their customer support department if you need details:

      Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm Eastern Time
      Phone Number: 617–612–2080
      E-Mail: When contacting via email, please include your full name, CASPA ID number and detailed question.

      • Vincent June 28, 2013, 8:22 am

        Paul, thanks for replying. I actually have no intention of leaving the grade off of my application. I was just wondering what would be your advice in terms of how to recover from it, and perhaps any advice of how and where to explain it to the admissions committee in the best light possible.

        Thanks again.

  • Anna June 27, 2013, 10:30 am

    Well my situation is this. Let me say I”m pretty descent in academics and I want to be a PA, however I feel like my one “D” in Physics that I got in my sophomore year of college will backfire and I will never get in no matter how great the rest of my application is, even through I retook it and got a B- the second time around. I will tell you the truth that I am sure the reason for my D is because of my instructor who lacked the teaching skills and did not provide any support or help for his students, hence the fact that our class did so poorly. Whenever I asked for help in whatever I was struggling with, I was told that I “should” know it. So I struggled and stressed myself out. I hope you know that part of doing well does also depend on the instructor and their teaching. Students need to do their part, but also the instructor, but if there is no balance, then it won’t go well. It was the only really bad grade I got. However second time, I had a really much better professor who was more involved (with still very challenging tests) My overall GPA is 3.1ish and I did much better in the much harder classes (bio major) than I took than in Physics. I have good HCE experience and recommendations, and though I didn’t make it in this time, I was admitted into the nursing program and decided to do this now, and perhaps after some time, reapply to the PA program (Am doing quite well in the nursing program). But I’m so scared my D I got once will hinder everything that I have no chance, despite no matter how hard I work.

    • Paul June 27, 2013, 5:43 pm

      I don’t think that a single low grade (that was later repeated for a B-) means you can’t get in. Instead, I suggest you kick butt in nursing school so you can wave your excellent grades at them if you do choose to apply to PA schools in the future. Everybody screws up once in a while. Don’t give up over this.

  • Jen July 6, 2013, 6:47 pm

    Hey Paul, Love your site and have been reading a lot. My own ditch is quite different than most in that I already have an MS in Oriental Medicine and have successfully been maintaining a 6-figure practice for more than a decade (and am in my mid-40s). My interst in the PA program is a long story but how on earth do you reconcile a BS with mediocre grades 25 years ago with a more recent MS (summa cum laud while working full time) And then full time clinical practice? Do these programs consider the non- traditional returning student or is GPA the main consideration? Sadly I have to retake a/p and micro and hope that everything else would be fine since I worked as a clinical toxicologist for 5 years before grad school. Any thoughts about this? Thanks!

    • Paul July 8, 2013, 10:07 am

      I would plan to retake most, if not all your science prerequisites. Most schools won’t accept coursework that is older than 5 years. Even if you got excellent grades a while ago, you need to prove to them that you are currently able to hang with the academics. Even if you breezed through physiology long ago, for example, they can pretty safely assume that you are rusty, and that material will be key for being successful in PA school.

      I think your work experience and other education gives you a strong plus, but you still need to show that you can meet the more basic reqs.

  • M July 10, 2013, 7:09 pm

    Hey Paul!
    You’re website so reassuring and so so very helpful!! I would love some pointers and advice from you though…
    I made very bad decisions during undergrad and didnt put in effort needed to make good grades, and therefore ended up with a 2.9-3.0 gpa. I knew I had to do better, so I completed a Masters in Medical Science where we took the same class as first year med/dental students. I did well the first semester, and after that my grades went downhill. In an attempt to pull up my grades, my overloaded my classes per semester. At the same time, I was going through an arranged marriage process at home and was under a lot of stress and pressure, so therefore my grades suffered as well. I also had a major health problem that severely brought down my grades for a semester. I graduated with a M.S. with a 3.0 gpa. I know that PA schools will consider the masters as my second chance and will think i bombed it. Do I still have a chance this cycle?

    I have great rec letters and good community service and volunteer hours and shadowing hours. I’ve been working as a ER tech for the past month and half to gain more patient care hours. Do you think I stand a chance??

    • Paul July 20, 2013, 1:12 pm

      Everyone stands a chance. But you missed some opportunities. Sometimes when you fall behind, pedaling faster to catch up makes you less efficient and hurts you in the long run.

      Our advice: Take a step back. You clearly have a lot going on in your life. Is your life ready for the stress of PA school? You also need to assess if you are academically a strong candidate.

      If you feel the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you need to regroup. Stay out of school for at least a year and perhaps two. Get your life solid and stable before you head back to your goal.

      At this point you probably stand the best chance by going and working in the health care field for a few years to get clear on what you want, what you need, and how to make it all happen. You will know that you are ready to reapply yourself to your goal when you HUNGRY for it and ready to do whatever it takes. From your comment, that doesn’t sound like it’s the case right now.

  • Karla July 14, 2013, 4:25 pm


    I find all of your feedback extremely helpful! I read a few of the questions above and none look similar to mine. I have extreme red flags, and i truly would like to find a way to patient care. I would love to hear what your experience tells you my chances are at PA school. My background is the following:

    1) I have a bachelors in psychology and Spanish
    2) I went to medical school in Guadalajara Mexico ( Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara)
    3) I am fluent in Spanish
    4) I finished 4 years of training in Guadalajara, but I have been unable to pass USMLE step 1. I have missed it by a 2% and 3% mark. With a passing grade of 75% on this exam.
    5) as you can see, my first 2 years of medical school were not awesome therefore my failure to pass USMLE step 1. I do believe my lack of focus and possibly age within the first 2 years could have contributed to that to my current struggle.
    6) my last 2.5 years of medical school seem to have changed and I have grades that look better with the majority of them being in the B range.

    Given the above, how can I make myself a top candidate to interview?

    Your feedback is greatly appreciated!

    • Paul July 20, 2013, 1:33 pm

      Do you want to become a physician or a PA?

      If what you really want is to be a physician, my take is you are close enough to make it happen. I remember reading an excellent article by the American Bar Association about a man who didn’t pass the bar until something like his 49th time. That last one made him a lawyer! There are excellent USMLE classes that I think could get you over the bar, but it may require you taking some time off from school to study and really get over the top. If that’s what you want, then I think you could do it.

      If, on the other hand, what you want is to become a PA, then I’m guessing you’re in pretty good shape. Being a student at University of Guadalajara, as I understand it, you have had much time with patients. You also speak Spanish more or less fluently. I think the challenge for you will be to prove to the PA admissions committees that you truly want to be a PA and that you aren’t just doing it because you can’t pass the USMLE. And from what you’ve told me, that could be hard to convince them of – it isn’t true!

      Get clear on what you want, THEN figure out how to get there.

      SUCCESS. (In whatever you do!)

  • Mary July 17, 2013, 8:35 pm

    Hi Paul!

    Thank you so much for sharing all this advice with us! I’ve been reading a lot of what you have written and it’s been very helpful.

    I’m currently writing my personal statement and wasn’t planning on discussing anything “negative” but after reading this article I feel that I must incorporate a mishap I had in my undergrad except I haven’t found a way to express it in a good light. I failed a course due to absences (stupid move, I know!) Made an A on all my exams and the final but I had a few too many absences and the professor failed me. I appealed it to no avail and retook the class; got a B. Any suggestions on how I can present this in my PS?

    • Paul July 20, 2013, 1:40 pm

      Hi, Mary – that’s hard luck. We discuss this topic in some detail in our ebook on PA school application essays.

      A super short version?

      – if the mistake is bad enough to possibly prevent you from getting an interview, you MUST address it. (Judgment call there, I know)
      – address it directly
      – be brief and don’t blather on with a long list of circumstances
      – find a way to show that you have learned from the experience (this answers for them the question “Will this happen to this person again?”
      – move on to more positive topics.

  • Yuri July 30, 2013, 8:13 pm


    Your story is beyond compelling. I am at a crossroads with my academics and feel like finding this website was meant for me. I finished with a staggering 2.2 GPA from undergrad in the spring semester in 2012. I started college at the young age of 16 and struggled with being a young adult and a student. I dealt with the loss of my grandmother who raised me and did not do very well because of these factors. I am aware of the importance of GPA and am now contemplating abandoning my PA dreams and getting a new degree. If I really take my time and retake the courses necessary for PA school as well as kick butt on the prereqs, what do you think my chances are? I am now 23, married and have matured so much. I feel like I can now tackle college and am at a stable point in my life. I guess I am just looking for a glimmer of hope and since your story is so encouraging, I just want to hear it from the source. Thanks

    • Paul July 30, 2013, 11:09 pm

      Yuri – all things are possible if you are willing to put in the time and the work. It takes some folks years to make up for bad grades, but they do it. It usually comes from doing well in enough classes (which takes time) to prove that their performance has changed and they have “figured it out.” But once they can show others that they are in that place, why wouldn’t they want you? I secretly believe that they like to admit people who have overcome challenges – kind of the same way that underdogs are so popular.

      I have no idea what your chances are – there are way too many factors for me to weigh in on that. But it sounds like you are clear on what you need to do, and if you’re like me, you realize that going back to school and getting from it what you should have gotten from it the first time around will benefit your life whether you become a PA or not.

  • Matt August 24, 2013, 9:06 am

    Paul, it has been well over a year since I was on this exact page asking you questions on getting into PA school. I had a low GPA, 3.1, but tons of HCE being a corpsman in the military. I applied to several programs and got into my first choice, George Washington University. I just finished my first semester. I love everything about it. I’m challenged, but excited everyday. Thank you for the support on this site. For those going through the process of getting in prepare yourself for an emotional roller coaster ride, but it’s all worth it when you get that golden ticket into the program! :)

    • Paul September 1, 2013, 9:49 am


      That’s terrific news, and it makes things come full circle for me every time I learn about readers who get in. You are proof that GPA problems can be overcome, if handled well. If you have a chance, I’m sure everyone would love to hear what if anything you did to make your GPA less of a problem. Did you speak to it in your essay? Did you retake classes?

      Thanks for letting me know what happened. And again, congrats.


      • Matt September 1, 2013, 10:46 am

        I hinted at my GPA in my essay and convinced them that I was qualified and shouldn’t be judged solely on that number. I didn’t take any classes over. That was going to be my backup plan, but I never had to worry about it. They saw my drive and dedication in my essay and HCE. I am so grateful to be where I am today. One semester down 2 more to go until I start clinicals. Can’t wait.

  • Jim September 29, 2013, 5:39 pm

    I attend a state university now that I also attended 30 years ago and got an Associates degree with a 2.8 GPA. Now that I am re-attending to earn my Bachelors, I have a GPA of 3.9. Combining the 2 I have an overall GPA of 3.3, with a science GPA of 3.8. However, I attended a different university 30 years ago where I had some problems and only had a GPA of 1.5. Do I have to report this institution to CASPA or is there some sort of statute of limitations? This will bring my GPA down to about a 2.6 or 2.7 and I don’t know if I’ll be considered for PA school with less than a 3.0. How do I erase/fix bad grades from 30 years ago? It doesn’t seem fair. What should I do?

  • HDH October 13, 2013, 10:17 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I love this site! Thank you! I have the website booked marked and read it often. It has been a great tool. I am currently earning my bachelors and plan on applying to PA school. I also work full time as a Dental Assistant and have been for 3 years. Do you think that will count as HCE? I know it is a different field of health care but I work hands on with patients and assist the doctor in surgeries. I also might have the opportunity to go on a dental mission to Cambodia this summer. Do you think that will matter een though it is dental?

    • Paul October 14, 2013, 11:06 pm

      Some schools flat out will not count dental experience for the health care experience requirement. If this sounds arbitrary, it is. I expect you will get some credit for it, but you would be wise to find some other non-dental HCE to spice up your application.

  • KJ October 17, 2013, 9:50 pm

    Hi Paul
    I stumble upon this side as I was reading about getting into PA school. I must admit, this is very interactive site. Let me start this way, English is my fourth language as such I struggled greatly in my early college days in the US. I graduated from a community college with an associate of science in respiratory care with GPA of 2.6, so far I have been working since 1999. While working full time and being a parent and husband full time, I decided to complete my BS in biology full time and finished with 3.1 GPA; thereafter, I completed my graduate study full time with MPH and 3.7 GPA. As you can see, my academic trend has been upward progress, and with full support of my wife and children, I decided to apply to PA program. BTW, I also volunteered with many institutions namely Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity as data analyst and local department of public health as an Epidemiologist. Currently I am a President of community organization with over 20 thousand members all over the US and Canada (non-paying job). Great recommendation from three attending physicians that I have worked with for long time, one of them is the director of pediatric intensive care, and the list can go forever.
    Any how, I am in transition from a RRT to PA and very excited with challenges ahead of me, however, my GRE is not that strong. My question to you is what’s your take on my chance of getting admitted

    Thanks in advance.

    • Paul October 19, 2013, 12:49 pm

      Hi, KJ!

      I generally don’t weigh in on “what are my chances” questions. Admissions are subjective, and there are just too many factors. It does sound like you’ve had some good experiences that could help you get in. My advice in these situations is usually to just apply and let them decide. Because if it’s what you really want to do, concern about your chances shouldn’t keep you from trying.
      Let me know what happens, okay?


  • RJA November 7, 2013, 3:52 pm

    Hi, Paul,
    You are definitely knowledgeable and seem to be aware of all the rules and regulations. I am just wondering if you have any info as to how “W”s get calculated by CASPA and how they are viewed by admissions committees. I have scoured the internet for a straight answer to this question with no luck. I have several from a rough patch in my life, and how they calculate into my CASPA GPA (as an F?) could truly ruin my cumulative GPA.
    Also, this is a regular “W” as in withdrawal I’m talking about here, NOT, the “WF” (withdrawal when failing) (the rules regarding WFs are stated plainly on CASPA).
    Thank you for any info you have for me.

    • Paul November 10, 2013, 1:39 pm

      I did a little search over CASPA’s GPA calculation page and found the answer (not exactly jumping out for easy finding):

      Q: What types of courses ARE NOT included in my GPA at all?

      A: Professional and foreign coursework will not be included in the GPAs. In addition, any course in which a grade of withdrawal (passing), pass/no-pass, audit, incomplete, exempted or not yet enrolled is indicated will not be included in the GPAs.

      By my reading, then, as long as you are talking about withdraw-passing grades, you’re okay. BUT PA schools may have questions about it if you have multiple WP’s. “Why did s/he withdraw from 4 courses?”

  • Liv November 12, 2013, 5:10 pm

    Hi there! Great article; thank you for sharing! I am graduating college with about a 3.6 overall and a 3.29 science gpa. My science grades are:

    Bio 1: C+
    Bio lab 1: B
    Bio 2: C+
    Bio lab 2: B+
    Gen chem 1: B-
    Gen chem lab 1: B
    Gen chem 2: B-
    Gen chem lab 2: B
    Orgo 1: C
    Anatomy: A
    Physiology: A
    Genetics: A-
    Microbio: A
    Cancer bio: A
    Biology of sexual behavior: A
    Cell Signaling: A
    Darwinian Medicine: A
    Needless to say, my first two years were full of Bs and Cs, but the second half was all A’s. I have a near perfect GRE score and many EMT hours. Do you think my 3 Cs and 2 B-‘s will bring down my chances? Thank you!

    • Paul November 14, 2013, 10:17 pm

      Yes, it will bring down your chances. But don’t let that stop you.

  • Eric November 26, 2013, 7:26 am

    My undergraduate GPA from over 10 years ago was a less than ideal 2.76. After a lot of patient care experience and years of “growing up”, I decided my calling is to be a PA. I took 9 post-bac classes to complete my pre-reqs and came out with a 3.78 GPA. With over 7 years of ALS EMS experience in a variety of settings, non-profit professional and leadership experience, strong recommendations, a convincing essay and persistence with admissions, I got only one interview from all the schools I applied to. I prepared for weeks, crushed the interview and was accepted into their program. My point is- don’t let a low GPA from your past keep you from going back to school and turning it around. PA schools are incredibly competitive but people like a comeback story as long as you can prove you’re in it for the right reasons. If you do decide to go back to school for those pre-reqs, A’s are your only option. Good luck.

    • Paul November 28, 2013, 4:44 pm

      Eric – I agree 100%. You summed up my thoughts better than I could. People who are considering PA after being away from school should take these words to heart.

  • Maria December 19, 2013, 10:57 pm

    Dear Paul,

    I would like to begin by thanking you for making this website and spending the time in helping us to achieve our goal.

    I am currently in college and still have my major PA requirements to take (both Anatomy 1 & 2, Microbiology, Orgo 2, Medical Terminology and maybe Biochemistry). However, I am not sure what I should do because I feel like I am will never be able to get into a program due my gpa. It is currently a 2.75. For 3 years, I suffered from extreme depression and anxiety which damaged my gpa from a 3.4 to a 2.75. I took a year off while sick and slowly began taking classes ( one or two classes per semester). With time and therapy, I regained my strength and now know that I can over come anything. However, because of my low gpa, I do not know if I will even be able to bring it up to the minimum of 3.0 even if I were to get A’s in my remaining classes. Some people have said to my major, but I am not sure how that will help.

    I have been working for a doctors office for about 7 years and just recently got my certificate to become a phlebotomist so I can begin to accumulate some “experience” hours.

    If I were to get all A’s in those remaining classes, will a PA school consider my application even if my gpa is a 3.0 or lower?

    Thank you!

    • Paul December 22, 2013, 9:53 pm

      Well, it’s pretty simple, really. If you are applying to schools that require a 3.0 cumulative, then that’s what you will need to be considered. Sure you can apply and hope that your application will catch their eye and the will take a chance on you, but it’s doubtful. Instead, do your best and apply to schools that do not have such a rigid requirement. Then in your essay tell them about your more recent grades – “I haven’t had below an A in 4 semesters or 6 classes” or whatever. Use your essay to help them understand why you had such trouble and make it clear that you are a different person/student than you were before. If you aren’t successful, apply again, or take some time off and continue to work on your GPA with other classes.

  • Kathy December 29, 2013, 2:12 pm

    Paul, My story is similar but different enough that I am hoping to get your guidance for the next few years of my life. I am 46 years old with a B.S. in Biochemistry/Biophysics from a state school and a M.S. in Molecular biology from an Ivy League school. The problem is my undergraduate GPA which according to CASPA is 2.8. I lacked focus as an undergraduate twenty years ago and got several D’s in Physics and a C in Organic and Calculus. My GPA as a graduate student was 3.9. I never used either of those two degrees and raised a family instead. For the last 11 years I have worked in a pediatric office first as receptionist, then billing clerk, then clinical assistant and now as triage nurse. I take all the sick phone calls into the office and help the doctor with his prescriptions and paperwork, In addition, I have quite a bit of experience hands on with patients while assisting the doctor, giving vaccinations, running tests and administering breathing treatments. Our office is big on parent education so I spend a lot of time educating parents about their child’s illness before they leave the office or over the phone. Since I decided that I wanted to be a PA, and went back to school 1 1/2 years ago, I have received two B’s (Pharm and A&P I) and As in two psychologies, A&P II, sociology and medical termininology. I want to be a PA badly. Badly enough that I am willing to do whatever it takes to get my GPA up If that means that I am going to get another whole degree (an RN) then so be it. The only problem that I have is time. Im working full time and taking 10 credits a semester. This next semester I am taking Statistics, Microbiology with Lab, and Nutrition. Im sure I’ll get at least a 3.75 continuing my recent GPA. I can start in the RN program next January 2015 after I retake Chemistry and a few other prereqs. At the same time I have applied to PA school last year and this year. Last year I got an interview and made the waitlist at a very competitive program here but this year I haven’t even gotten an interview even though I expanded my search to schools 2 hours away. Some wouldn’t even look at my app because of my GPA. My specific question is how do I find out which schools will look at my application which I feel is strong without my GPA being a 3.0? And do I make my focus getting into PA school which I really want to do, or getting an RN at my age that I feel is only a stepping stone to a PA program? If I could shine in nursing school, then I suppose that my app would be stronger. By then, though, I will be 50 years old. It seems that programs are preferring the younger straight out of school types with stellar GPAs and some volunteering experience. It gets discouraging! I have some contacts with other PA’s but the local ER where I volunteer just uses me to clean rooms and observe. I dont really get to interact with the PA’s, who anyway change every week and I’ve worked with the same one maybe twice in six months! So what do I do? I will continue to take as many classes as I can and at the same time work toward the RN, but I would really rather be in PA school. Should I make less focus on school and more on my hce? What do you think my chances are of getting in any time soon?

    • Paul December 30, 2013, 10:03 pm

      I have no idea what your chances are, but that’s irrelevant anyway. You want to become a PA badly, so you need to at the very least try damn hard to become one.

      I’m going to give you what is only my opinion: don’t get a nursing degree. There is nothing inherently wrong with a nursing degree, but you probably don’t need one. You have excellent recent graduate grades. These are good evidence that you are a different student than you once were. Getting a nursing degree will not change your undergrad grades. Just take the classes you need for PA school and do as well in them as you possibly can. Then write an essay that highlights your strengths, which from your comment appear to be unknown to you.

      You have had many clinical experiences, plus the one that is (in my humble opinion) the best one: life experience. Older applicants rarely play this card enough or correctly. Don’t try to convince them that you are like a young candidate. Draw a stark contrast between you and someone who is wet behind the ears. Don’t say that, but make it clear that you know your value.

      In short, do your absolute best in your prerequisite coursework and apply. Have a REALLY good essay and impress them as someone that they really shouldn’t pass up. We offer coaching on all these things (CASPA applications, essays, and interviews) to maximize your success.

      If you want this, keep at it and it will happen.

  • Kathy December 31, 2013, 9:31 am

    Thanks so much for your honest opinion Paul. I really appreciate it. I’m just going to keep plugging away at what I really want and since I just found this website I will use it and it’s wonderful resources! Thanks again.

  • Joey January 22, 2014, 9:04 pm

    Hey Paul,

    Thank you for the story you have provided for all of us here on this site. I have read almost all of these comments yet I’m not sure if I can relate it to mine. I am currently a senior in college with an overall GPA of 3.0. During my first two years of undergraduate, I worked full time to support my parents in a financial issue and studied full time to apply to nursing school. I eventually quit my job and got my license as an EMT. I decided that nursing was something that did not fit my personality. I did more research on PA and it is a profession I would LOVE to embark on! My first two years of undergraduate were a bit shaky, however, my last two years sufficed and received a grade of B or higher. Do you think I should retake classes that I received a C in such as general chem I and II? (My university doesn’t allow retakes in grades that are C or higher so it would be at a community college). I acquired a B in organic chemistry and an A in organic chem lab if that’s enough not to retake general chemistry classes.

    • Paul January 25, 2014, 3:11 pm

      That’s a tough decision. If you retook them, it wouldn’t be with the goal of improving your GPA. It would be to prove to them that you can handle general chemistry material – which will be a needed for PA school. I think I would recommend you retake them. But you could always apply while your retaking them and if you get in you don’t need to go any further. If you don’t get in, you will be on your way to proving to them that you can handle it so that when you reapply they will know that you can.

      • Joey January 25, 2014, 5:11 pm

        Thank you Paul. I was also considering going for a master’s degree in science if anything, then applying. Hopefully the admissions committee will see that I can handle the tough science courses with no problem.

  • Dayna Tang February 3, 2014, 6:39 am

    Hey Paul,

    First off, I’d like to say thank you. I’ve been reading around the internet EVERYWHERE to find a very informative site like this to help me bring myself courage and strength to not give up on PA school.

    This has been my second time applying to PA school and this last time I applied to about 7 different schools. I just recently graduated from the University of Arizona and after cumulating all my grades on CASPA (community college and university credit) my overall gap turned out to be 3.16 and my science was a 3.07. As a undergrad I also worked 1-2 jobs my junior and senior year trying to obtain a high number of patient care hours for me to apply (by working 2 jobs this definitely affected my grades due to the time I put in at work.) Also my GRE scores weren’t the best. I have taken the GRE twice now and it is still not the score I would like (the GRE is just not the test for me…). In addition, applying this last time around I accumulated 700 patient care hours with great experience working at a dermatology office and volunteering at a hospital. I also have different work experience that is non medical as well, like tutoring kids. With all of that I sadly got rejected by every school I applied to due to my GPA. Since almost a year has past since I applied this past time, I sadly still have my sad GPA (due to me graduating this past May) but I have been focusing more on my patient hours. I have obtained my medical assistant certification and CPR certification and accumulated a little over 2000 hours of patient care experience. Also, I am trying my hardest to improve my grade on the GRE and plan to take it in 3 months.

    With this Paul, I am still feeling like I am not good enough due to my GPA and I feel like that is the only thing bringing me down but what is someone supposed to do? Retake their whole college career? It’s just very time consuming and expensive (especially right now because I have student loans to pay off) I’m just wondering what route I should aim for. Should I take a year off this next cycle and not apply and focus on going back to school? I was thinking about retaking the prereq courses that I have obtained a C in (Gen chem 2 and Genetics) but then there are also courses I have obtained a C in for the classes I had to take to get my degree (Calc 2, and Ecology). Everything else I have received A’s and B’s. Should I take a few other science courses to help raise my GPA while I take a year off applying? (even though its going to take me more than a year to raise my GPA to a decent GPA that schools actually look at)? I honestly don’t know what to do besides going back to school and trying to raise my GPA from a 3.1 to a 3.4-3.5 which seems unideal due to the amount of time and money. Also, is it okay if I retake courses at a community college? It’s just cheaper than going back to a university to retake classes after I graduated.

    I just want to now your view on how I am doing and what you think I should do. My passion is to become a PA and the only thing that I think is stopping me is my GPA.

    Thanks for your help!

    • Paul February 6, 2014, 8:07 pm

      Hi, Dayna.

      First, yes, community college is fine.
      Second, forget trying to raise your GPA. After 4 years of college, you would need so many classes with A’s to significantly raise your cumulative GPA that it really just doesn’t work. Instead, you need to show them a period of sustained academic success. This means retaking some of the classes you got less than a B in. Start with the courses that are SCIENCES and PREREQUISITES. These you need good grades in. Take them one or at most two at a time, so you can focus on getting AWESOME grades. You might wan to take a step back and get some perspective. Some time away from school can help to recharge your batteries and put you in a new frame of mind. Then reapply yourself to school and prove that you are now a better student. With 2-4 semesters of good grades like this, you should be able to make an argument in your essay that you have become a better student and you are ready to take on the challenge of PA school. In your essay, find a way to tell them “I haven’t had less than an A in X semesters/years/courses.” This is your task.



      PS – I am available for coaching if ever want some more specific 1 on 1 advice.

  • Bee February 5, 2014, 8:57 pm

    I had a pretty good gpa in undergrad and ended up going into a competitive phd program at a really good school. However, I absolutely hated it, went into a depression, performed poorly and eventually left to pursue a PA career. This was a couple of years ago. I was too young and naive when I went to grad school the first time around. I have clarity now since working in the medical field that it is what I want to do. I’m just afraid that my grad school transcript will make me look bad.. maybe an A, a couple B’s and even a C… which is like death to a grad student. Do you think it is going to have a large affect? What should I do in my application?

    • Paul February 6, 2014, 8:10 pm

      Your undergrad GPA is usually more important to PA schools. But your RECENT courses are also important. You might want to take some courses that you will need (has it been a long time since you did your science prereqs?) to show them that you are still a good student. Write a strong essay that explains why you choked and convinces them that such performance is firmly in your past. I do offer pre-PA coaching if you decide you would benefit from that.



  • Tyler February 6, 2014, 10:25 am


    First off, great blog. I’m amazed I haven’t found anything like this previously. I finished my undergrad with an exercise science degree and a cumulative of around a 3.2. I had a C in an upper level bio, and about a 3.0 in the major sciences across the board. I am planning to take organic chem and microbiology this summer and fall. I was a division 1 wrestler for 5 years and that heavily contributed to my interests. I was okay with getting B’s and B- grades when I was younger and have recently been kicking myself for not being motivated to push for the A. I’m worried my application will not be taken seriously since I hover around a 3.0 with most of my studies.


    • Paul February 6, 2014, 8:12 pm

      Show them what you have told me: that you weren’t very committed to school back then and that you are now. Some new, relevant, good grades and a strong essay would go a long way. I also do pre-PA coaching if you think you could benefit from that.


  • Ivy February 7, 2014, 10:19 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this article.

    I have to calculate my CASPA GPA. I just remembered that I did not do well in Physics. My school was on a quarter system, I took Physics A & B, and I can’t remember if I withdrew from Physics C or if I failed it (I need to find my transcript to double check). All of the schools I am considering don’t require physics, but should I still retake it since it is a science course? I’ve been focusing on retaking other prereqs instead, such as Ochem II and taking new classes such as Anatomy, Microbio, and Physiology. I am currently working full time to get clinical hours, so I can only take 1 science class per semester without overloading myself.

    • Paul February 19, 2014, 7:38 pm

      I don’t think I would wait on applying to retake a course that isn’t required. It also makes little sense to take Physics C if you haven’t recently taken A & B.

  • Kacey February 11, 2014, 6:45 am

    It’s very encouraging!!!

    My cumulative gpa for undergrad is 3.1. I know it is not at all competitive. I got mostly As and Bs in all of the prerequisites. However, I got 1 D in quantitative analysis (not a prereq for Pa program) and 2 Cs in genetics and biochemistry because I had some personal problems that year. When I went for my internship in Medical technology, I got A’s and B’s in the high level science courses like in clinical hematology, coagulation, immunology, immunohematology, clinical chemistry, and clinical microbiology. Does one D and 2 C’s present me as a less attractive applicant? Does getting good grades in the science courses of my internship reflect me as a competitive applicant because this shows I can take harder courses?

    Thank you,

    • Paul February 19, 2014, 7:36 pm

      Not really. They don’t want to know that you excel in “hard” courses, they want to know that they you excel ion the material that is foundational to PA school.

  • George February 24, 2014, 6:34 pm

    Applying for the first time.

    I have a BS in building construction from UF and finished with a 2.68. After years of being in the construction industry I decided to become a paramedic. I have received nothing less than an A in EMT, paramedic and every science class pre-req required for the PA programs. My latest cumm. gap is a 2.975 and my total science gpa is a 3.33. The last 32 hours (classes I’ve taken the past year since graduating in 2005) are my pre-reqs and I have a 4.0. My GRE is a 1220. I have about 1050 hrs of experience from EMT and medic school as well as volunteering. I would like to stay in FL but it seems like I’m at the bottom of the pile. Due to the amount of credit hrs I have (204) it is extremely difficult to raise my cumm. gpa…….Any advise? shooting for UF.

    • Paul February 24, 2014, 11:44 pm

      Don’t get fixated on your cumulative GPA. Think of yourself as a “returning student.” You are clearly a much stronger student now than you were before. Make that case to them in your essay, telling them “I haven’t had below an A in a course in X semesters/years/whatever.” They should see that your 2.68 is not representative of who you are now.

      Not going to be easy, but it can be done. You will need an eye-catching essay.


  • Suzanne February 27, 2014, 7:26 pm

    Thank you so much for this article!
    I am a 3rd year undergraduate college student and I have been passionate in becoming a PA since high school. However, my gpa right now is a 2.98. I have around 1100 patient contact hours working as an ophthalmic technician for the past 3 years and I continue to work there. Although I have been retaking some of my science classes that I received a C in, I still feel that I would not be a good applicant because of my overall gpa. I also receive a D for the first time in my life in genetics. Some PA schools require genetics and some don’t. I contacted some of the schools and told them my concern about that class and they advised me to continue through in applying early on CASPA, but wanted me to retake that class as well. I am hoping that they would still consider my application even if my genetics class is on pending.

    • Paul March 2, 2014, 10:54 am

      Hi, Suzanne – that’s hard. Genetics if helpful, but not directly relevant to PA school. But getting a D in anything isn’t good. You should definitely retake it and study very very hard to make sure you get an A. Your GPA cannot be overcome in the short term, so you would do well to stop worrying about it. Just make sure that you get an A in any class you take from this point forward. If you do that for long enough, you will have a great argument for them that your GPA doesn’t represent who you are as a student anymore. That’s about all you can do.

  • Nicole February 28, 2014, 5:40 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you so much for your great posts– they are all very insightful.

    I am currently applying to PA programs this cycle. I currently have a GPA of 3.02 with a science GPA of a very underwhelming 2.8. I am currently taking on 18 credits post-bac., mostly retaking courses. I have calculated that if I make straight A’s this semester, it will bump up my science GPA to a 3.0. So far, I have made A’s on all my exams this semester.

    My main concern is how to mention my low grades in my essay (which is the only thing I have left to finish for my application.) I started out undergrad with a 4.0 my first year and only a few B’s as a sophomore. Then I began a tumultuous relationship with a person completely unmotivated to study… I know that the low grades were ultimately my fault. Even after the relationship ended, I was left unfocused and my grades did not improve..

    This is all pretty personal information and I don’t want to blame someone else for my poor grades, but at the same time I know I need to address them. How would you suggest mentioning them in my essay? Should I give specific reasons for my grades or just state that I am currently a focused and driven individual who has (finally) matured?

    Thanks so much for any response you can give.

    • Paul March 2, 2014, 10:56 am

      1. Be brief
      2. Explain but take responsibility
      3. Provide evidence that it won’t happen again
      4. Move on to more positive matters.

  • Russell March 30, 2014, 5:32 am

    I was wondering if you knew when most PA programs make their final selections? I interviewed for West Liberty where I’ve gone to school for four years and haven’t heard anything back. Its been three months. My GPA for the last four years is a 3.78, but my grades from over twenty years ago drop it to a 3.01. I thoroughly explained that there is an enormous difference between the student I was twenty years ago and the student I am today. I also managed to get straight A’s for the last two years. I did this while working fifty hours a week. I also took vacation from work so I could sit in on PA classes and observe. I don’t know what else I can do to make myself an attractive candidate. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Also, thank you for taking the time to answer everyone’s questions. You’re providing a wonderful service to people.

    • Paul March 30, 2014, 10:07 am

      The timeline for final acceptances depends on the school because they have very different application pools, requirements, numbers of seats, etc. I would say that most PA programs have their final decisions made by March of the year of matriculation, but many have them completed earlier.

      You sound like you have done a lot to further your application. If you still aren’t having luck then I would be curious to see your application, particularly your essay. We do offer pre-PA coaching (see resources in the main menu). Did you send a thank you card for your interview?

      I think it’s very reasonable to call them and politely say “I am an interviewee and it has been several months. I am trying to make plans for the coming year – should I have heard anything back yet?” and if not, then “When should I expect to hear something?”

      • Russell April 7, 2014, 2:42 pm

        Thank you very much for the advice. I applied to Shenandoah University and West Liberty University. I only received an interview from West Liberty University. I sent them an email thanking them for interviewing me and reminded them that they said I would have an answer by the end of March. I still have received no response. I will be looking into signing up for the coaching if I’m not accepted. I’m also going to take organic chemistry this summer so I will not be so limited in the programs that I can apply for. Are there universities out there that place an equal or higher value on “non-traditional” students? I’m 41 and not getting any younger:). Thank you again so much for your help!

        • Kathy Tallo April 7, 2014, 4:16 pm

          Just so you know you are not alone- I am 47 and not getting any younger. I am on my THIRD Caspa cycle of applying and taking classes, etc. Don’t give up. Kathy Tallo

        • KR April 7, 2014, 6:34 pm


          Congratulations on getting the interview, that’s fantastic regardless of the outcome! I’m a non-traditional student myself (failed out of undergrad) and was accepted after a few attempts. I found that calling up programs and asking this to be helpful. It can be discouraging at times but keep at it!

  • Margot April 3, 2014, 12:36 pm

    Hi Paul!
    I was wondering what you think my chances of getting in with a 3.28 gpa? I have an A and B average except for in chemistry and organic chemistry which were C’s. I’m thinking of retaking them, but the other problem is I don’t have any work experience in a hospital. I’ve mostly worked as a lifeguard/assistant pool manager, and I have some volunteer hours teaching swim club. I’m thinking of taking a year off to take my EMR, retake the chemistry courses, and maybe improve my volunteer hours. Do you think this is a good idea?

    • Paul April 6, 2014, 2:16 pm

      Yes, I think that would be a good plan. Between the GPA you have described and your health care experience, at this point I believe your lack of health care experience would hinder you from getting in more than anything else.

  • Alisha April 6, 2014, 5:46 pm

    Hey Paul,
    Thanks for this website, it has helped tremendously while applying over the years. Sadly, this is the third year I will be applying, I have volunteer hours and medical receptionist/patient hours (I work close with patients, the only thing I don’t do is administer shots and BP). I also do community service and have gotten my GPA to about 3.2. Which I cannot raise anymore because I no longer have the funds to pay for school.
    The problem is, my spouse states that if I do not get in this year, I will no longer be able to apply. It will either be I go get a job that is most likely will not be medical related and I save our marriage or I give up my dream and live with regret. It has been ten years of school and applying so I understand his frustration, but I am heartbroken I am being forced to choose.
    Is there anyway to put that in my essay(which I doubt there is) that I am at the point of desperation to get in and will give everything I got to succeed? Most of my friends have gotten in and dropped out which is very frustrating to me because I know I want this more than anything and know exactly what goes into being a PA. I just need some sort of guidance on how to show that yes my grades are not the best, that I did struggle, but I will no longer and that getting in this time around is vital and either way will be life changing.
    Thank you,

    • Paul April 6, 2014, 7:45 pm

      Hi, Alisha! Here’s my take:
      You will just need to pull out all the stops and get in this year. Let this be your finest hour. I’m sorry you have an ultimatum from your spouse, but finances can sometimes require us to shelve our dreams for the time being. On the other hand, whether you “give up” on your dream for good is not up to your husband, or your finances, or the price of tea in China. It’s up to you.

      And your essay? No, your instinct is right – you should definitely NOT share your desperation. Like any club you want to join, it’s members will only be less likely to want you if you sound desperate. What you CAN share with them is your resolution, your perseverance, and your impressive positive attitude. I suggest you think carefully about how you will project the Alisha that everyone will want in their program when you pull out all the stops and give this next application everything you have.

      Just to put in a good old fashioned plug, I’ll say that we offer Pre-PA coaching, and situations like yours are one of its best uses: helping people for whom it really matters to improve their chances of getting in. You have the makings of an impressive essay and interview – if you want help bringing those to fruition, let us know – we would be glad to help.

      “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
      ― Nelson Mandela

  • Kathy Tallo April 7, 2014, 4:19 pm

    I know how you feel ALisha, this is my third year of applying as well. I think a good tack for your essay would be to describe how you are different from your friends who were accepted and dropped out in terms of your resolve, outlook, experience etc.

    • Alisha April 10, 2014, 7:14 pm

      Thanks Kathy!
      It does make me feel not alone hearing others who are deserving are having the same problems as I am. I wish there was more opportunities to apply instead of once a year since I feel like I am wasting my life waiting. It just feels like I am stupid (I know I am not) and rejection is so hard to take. Hope we both get int this year…third times a charm, right?

  • Kristin April 10, 2014, 6:59 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I am currently doing my undergrad in Biology graduating this May 2014. I had originally received an Associates degree from a community college and then transferred to a University. My transfer GPA was 3.1 and my cumulative now after taking all of the classes required for Bio degree it was brought down to 2.7. I still have 4 more classes this semester to graduate with. I have a lot of college hours about 364 total credit hours. I am currently volunteering with a PA, enrolled in an EMT course. I am planning to take Biochemistry and medical terminology over the summer as prereqs for PA school. I plan on taking the GRE’s over the summer and also work as either an ED tech or an EMT. Due to my overall GPA I am scared that I won’t be accepted. I really want to get into PA school, but the D i received from Organic Chemistry II dropped my grade and I have couple of C’s in some of the science classes. Do you think I still have a chance?

    • Paul April 19, 2014, 1:41 pm

      Kristin – I really don’t know what your chances are. We shy away from such questions because there is so much about the application process that is subjective. Also, the little summary you’ve given is too small of a snapshot. Anyone who tells you that they know what your chances are should be avoided – they’re wrong. Instead, I suggest you concentrate on making your application the best that it can be. Then apply, and let the decide.

  • Kathy Tallo April 12, 2014, 11:32 am

    There is one program in my town. The first year I only applied there and took the prerequisites for that school. Got an interview but didn’t get in. Second year I applied there again and didn’t even get an interview. Second year I also applied to any program within 2 hours since my husband has a stable job and isn’t moving! Now I have expanded my search to more states. I am going to apply to about ten schools altogether. The most frustrating part is the prereqs being different from school to school. As a returning student by bs was out of date and I had to retake a lot of classes. It’s enough to drive you insane!!!!!

  • Jessca Walker April 13, 2014, 9:55 pm

    Hey, my name is Jessica Walker. I am a Junior biology major with a minor in psychology. I have always wanted to be a doctor but I have many health issues including muscle problems in my legs, seizures, diabetes and hypertension plus gastroparesis. My grades have recently improved in the last year to a 3.1 once I registered with the disabilities office on campus. I have retaken classes that I received a low grade in. However, Because of all of this my g.p.a is too low to apply to a medical school so I was thinking of PA school. I am involved in the preprofessional society on campus along with many other clubs/ organizations. I also do tons of volunteering both on my campus and in the community. A couple of questions. Do you advise me to take all of the required courses that are not in my curriculum before I graduate or do I go back and take them separately. Also, I will begin an internship and shadowing in the summer and will look for a job in the fall semester. Do you think I have a good chance of getting in to PA school? Also, do I need to take the MCAT and the GRE? my advisors don’t really give the bio students much guidance on pre professional schools.

    • Paul April 19, 2014, 2:08 pm

      Hi, Jessica –

      It’s really too hard to tell you what your chances are, and therefore, we generally abstain from doing so. There are far too many factors to make such a determination here. If you do one-on-one coaching with us, we will collect more information and may be able to tell you how your application is looking, what you should do to maximize your chances of application success, etc.

      Your low grades are only slightly less of a problem with PA school than medical school. Med school is totally unforgiving of low grades; PA school is slightly more flexible, but since it is so competitive, it’s a problem there too. The best you can do is to get the best RECENT grades that you know how and make clear to them in a well-written essay that they don’t need to worry about you academically in the future.

      You can take your PA school pre-reqs as part of your bachelor’s or after. During will allow you to count them toward PA school as well as your bachelor’s degree, which is great, but it’s also more complicated to coordinate. If you plan carefully, that’s probably best. But if those pre-reqs don’t fit into your BA/BS curriculum, then it makes sense to get your degree and then crank them out after. Either way is okay, as long as you don’t delay too long from your bachelor’s to your PA app, or you run the risk of your pre-requisites being too old when you apply to PA school and needing to take some of them over. Most schools take courses that are no more than 5 years old, some older. Talk with the PA programs that interest you to get clear on their cutoffs.

  • bnicole April 22, 2014, 7:52 am

    Hi Paul! I love that you continue to check this forum! I know how I felt when I didn’t know where to turn to make things better and you truly do inspire people to help themselves.
    I am currently applying for my third cycle, and have opened up the list of schools I am applying to but I am also reconsidering my short academic essay-discussing my GPA shortcomings etc. I have read posts on what I am supposed to convey, but I am looking for someone to critique it who knows what I should and should not include (that doesn’t cost $1,000). Of course I would love for you to review it if you would be willing, or do you have any suggestions of how I could have this reviewed?
    Thank you kindly!

    • Paul April 24, 2014, 10:34 pm

      Hi, Nicole – yes, it’s tough to get good critique. I do offer essay critique for a fee (and not anywhere near $1K!). To learn more, click on our “Resources” link up top, and pull down to “Coaching.”

  • Lior May 3, 2014, 9:50 pm

    Hope you are well! I am anticipating my Psychology BA at the end of this year. My GPA is 3.26… hoping to graduate with a 3.35. My Science GPA has been in turmoil. It is by the 3.0 mark. I am struggling with confidence at this point. I took all the prereqs such as Gen Chem, Gen Bio, Orgo, and Anatomy & Physiology.
    These are my grades:
    Gen Bio I – B+
    Gen Bio II – A-
    Gen Chem I – C+/Repeated: B
    Gen Chem II: C
    Orgo I: B+
    Orgo II: B
    A&P I: C+/Repeated: A-
    A&P II: C+/Repeated: B+
    Microbio: B

    P.S. I am taking my GRE in July.

    Any advice? I would really appreciate it. :)

    • Paul May 4, 2014, 11:07 am

      Repeat General Chemistry II. And get an A.

      • Lior May 5, 2014, 10:11 pm

        Thank you very much! I appreciate the response. :) I also wanted to ask you… do PA programs look at when a student does research? I didn’t want to be a “come in and take my classes and leave” kind of a person. I am also a Biology tutor at my college for students who need help with courses such as Gen Bio, A & P, and Micro to keep myself fresh with the material and preoccupy myself with something. What do you think?

  • Jason May 6, 2014, 7:40 pm

    Hello Paul !
    I sometimes wish I could restart college and be a better student, my grades haven’t been amazing. I withdrew from Chem 1 my freshmen year and retook it to get a C, i also got a C in Chem 2. I got a C+ in bio 1 and a B in bio 2. I received a B+ in anatomy 1 and a B in anatomy 2. I got a F in organic chemistry 1 but retook it and got a B+ and got a A in organic chemistry 2. And finally got a C+ in microbiology. I have around 500 HCE and plan to take my GREs soon, what advice would you have for me in retaking courses? Also can I retake them at a community college? Lastly, in my narrative, i have many bad grades to explain but my only excuse is lack of focus, how could I convince schools I am capable of attending their program?
    Much appreciated!

    • Paul May 10, 2014, 12:30 pm

      You will be most believable if you are honest. Unfortunately, as they are now, your grades don’t demonstrate that you are academically ready for PA school. I’m not telling you give up, but understand that it may take a lot more time and work to get into PA school if that’s what you really want. In situations like yours I think your best bet is to take a step back from school to get some perspective. Work on your HCE and maybe start a “parallel” career. A parallel career is one that can provide you with good HCE and teach you lots that will be helpful for PA school while you give yourself time to develop yourself as a candidate. Respiratory therapy would be a good (and good paying) parallel career to consider. Then when you feel more ready and have some time in the HCE “trenches,” go back to school to get the grades you need to really impress them. You don’t need a second degree – you just need to do well in some classes like the ones you did poorly in before (chem, bio, organic chem). Think tortoise, not hare.

      • Bnicole May 23, 2014, 4:47 pm

        I would like to add that I have done just what Paul has suggested and assure you that it is possible if you are motivated enough! It won’t be easy, and it will likely take years. It can be very frustrating, but in speaking with many PA schools, overall they care that you have had time to “mature” and prove that you can handle rigorous course work. Don’t shy away from taking the harder classes as this shows them you can handle it as I have been told just make sure you set yourself up for success grade-wise! In working in a “parallel” career, I have really been able to affirm my desire to work as a PA and that has helped to keep me motivated. You can do it if you are willing to put the time and effort in, Good luck!

  • Tyler May 9, 2014, 1:00 pm

    My GPA is still above a 3.0, but I’ve gotten mulitiple C’s, D’s, and WD’s throught my junoir and senoir years. I can explain why this happened in my essay. Also, I’m taking the summer off to regroup, and I plan on making nothing but A’s my 5th year. What are your thoughts? and Should go ahead apply to PA school this summer, or should I wait until next summer? I come from a strcit cultural background, so my mind wasn’t at rest most of the time.

    • Paul May 11, 2014, 1:09 pm

      It’s up to you. It’s going to be hard getting in with multiple C’s and D’s, so your essay will be critical. I usually feel that it’s best to apply when you feel you have a chance of getting in. If you don’t apply, you definitely won’t get in. Plus if you don’t get in this time, the application process will help you prepare better for a subsequent application.

  • Tyler P May 10, 2014, 11:23 am

    I’ve got multiple C’s D’s and WD’s . If I get all A’s the next two semesters, could I make it? I think I should wait and apply for PA next summer so they can see my improvement. I can explain my poor history in my paper (I come from a strict cultural background and need to regroup)

  • Paul May 10, 2014, 11:30 am

    My GPA is ok about a 3.3 and a good science GPA with A’s in classes like Physics and Microbiology and have good HCE and LOR however I didn’t do very well in the GRE exam or close to the needed 50% tile that most schools seem to be looking for. I want to apply early so should I just submit my application now and possibly retake the GRE I am honestly not sure if I can dramatically increase my score.

    • Paul May 11, 2014, 1:11 pm

      To “dramatically” increase your (or anyone’s) GRE score takes several months of preparation. Knowing this, I suggest that you apply now and see what happens. If you don’t get in and you think it may relate to your GRE score, then take the time to prepare and do much better for your next application cycle.

  • Alison May 10, 2014, 10:42 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I just finished up my freshman year of college and am doing exercise science on the pre-pa track. But I have a problem with my gpa. I failed chemistry and calculus and retook both and got just a C. Science, especially chemistry, comes hard to me but I really do love the anatomy and physiology and other health science classes and am really interested in the PA profession. My gpa is not great (roughly 2.5-2.7) and I know things will only get harder. Am I a lost cause for PA school? Do I even have a chance? (I’ve accepted I probably wouldn’t get in my first time applying)

    • Paul May 11, 2014, 1:15 pm

      I think it’s unlikely that you will get in with grades in that range. You might do well to take some time off from school, begin working on HCE, and then return in a year or two to do significantly better. Or you can just apply and see what happens. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  • Ivy May 12, 2014, 3:57 pm

    Hello Paul,

    I am thinking about applying for a respiratory therapist program. I have a lot of work ahead of me to bring up my science GPA. Will classes from the respiratory therapist program be calculated into my undergraduate GPA? Or will it be entered in as graduate school GPA? I have not applied to PA school yet, because I know my application is not close to being ready and do not see the point in wasting money.

    Thank you,

  • Rae May 15, 2014, 5:50 am

    I’m terrified to apply. I have about triple the patient contact hours, awesome recs, good GRE, but my prereqs are all B’s and C’s. Also i believe my personal statement will blow them away..hopefully.

    Do you honestly think I have a chance to apply to PA school?

    • Paul May 17, 2014, 6:39 pm

      The ONLY way to find out is to try.

  • Rachel June 2, 2014, 7:44 am

    Hi Paul!

    I am currently applying for this cycle and was looking for some guidance and help on my essay and application. I was wondering if there was a program or time to have one on one help? I’m even willing to look into programs that need payments.


    • Paul June 4, 2014, 6:59 pm

      Sure, Rachel – we do one-on-one help. Just go to our contact page and fill out the email form. We’ll send you details on whatever form of coaching you’re looking for.

  • Ashley June 4, 2014, 9:00 am

    This will be my 2nd year applying to PA schools. I only applied to one school last year and did receive an interview, but did not get accepted (I know it was due to extreme nerves and feeling very uncomfortable/lack of confidence on the interview day). This year I plan to reapply to the same school as well as a couple more. I was wondering if I could reuse my PA narrative? I believe that it is very well written and would really like to just change a paragraph to include my growth this past year. What are your thoughts?

    • Paul June 4, 2014, 7:06 pm

      I usually recommend a new essay, since you didn’t meet with success the first time around, even if you did get an interview. Why not revamp it? Make it an updated version (not just adding a new paragraph).

      Nerves are exceedingly common in the interview process. It’s something our interview coaching can help you with if you’re interested. Just go to Resources at the top of the page and click “Coaching Services”).

  • Andi June 4, 2014, 9:08 am


    I really appreciate this article! I have read it a few times in the past 2 years. I got a C in General Chemistry, so my question is do you think that getting an A- in Organic Chemistry and an A/A- in Biochemistry would make up for this bad grade?

    Thank you!

    • Paul June 4, 2014, 6:53 pm

      Not really. They need to know that you have mastered the basics of inorganic chemistry.

  • Daniela June 10, 2014, 9:14 pm

    Hi There
    First of all let me congratulate you for this wonderful page, it has helped me clear many of my doubts about the whole PA application process.
    I need your opinion on my case. I’m a foreign medical graduate (US citizen) I want to start a career as a PA in the US. My studies are evaluated as a bachelor degree with a GPA of 3.64. I have plenty of paid patient experience as a doctor and as a patient care technician/medical assistant. I have 3 good recommendation letters (1 from a PA, 1 from a doctor who I worked with, and 1 from a doctor in Mexico) I’m currently taking Anatomy and physiology at a comm college and I just took the TOEFFL exam. My only concern at this time is that I did not did too good on the GRE exam; I’m trying to study for it but with everything that is going on in my life, its getting kind of hard. Not to forget, that to retake the test is an additional 250 dll. So, this is my questions, should I just stay with the low scores that I have, or delay my application to try to get a better score?
    Thank you
    Dany Pompa

    • Paul June 20, 2014, 9:56 pm

      Hi, Dany!

      This is a tough one, but it’s really up to you. If you feel like your application is not so competitive, then it would be worth another $250 to try and improve your GRE score. The other option would be to apply to schools that do not require the GRE, and there are quite a few of them. You sound like you have some good experience and obviously good coursework, so this might be the best way to go.

      I usually tell people that there’s no reason not to apply now – things might go your way, and you haven’t lost anything by applying, except for time and money.

  • Patrick June 19, 2014, 12:06 am

    Hi Paul!

    Thank you so much for this article. Finishing up all these prerequisites is really taking a toll on me. I graduated from college with a 2.07 GPA, with an unrelated degree to biology. Within the past 3 years, I’ve found my calling to become a PA. Since I’ve now found some direction in my life, I’ve quit my full-time job, and started working part-time as a Physical Therapist Aide, (a job which I’ve been working at for the past two years). I’ve also been shadowing a PA (accumulated 30+ hours so far), and have more importantly, gone back to community college in order to finish the prerequisites needed for PA school. Since coming back to school, these are my science grades:

    General Bio – B
    Anatomy – A
    Physiology – B
    Microbiology – B
    Gen Chem 1: C / Retook it and got an A
    Gen Chem 2: B
    Genetics: C

    I actually just found out that I got a C in Genetics, and that really worries me, and makes me think that C will be the reason I don’t get in. I’ve also taken other courses such as: Sociology, Spanish 1 & 2, Stats, College Algebra, Psych 1, etc. and received A’s in all those courses. Since going back to school, my GPA in community college has been a 3.70. But combined with my undergrad GPA of 2.07, I now have a cumulative GPA of 2.70. I feel really discouraged about that C, and am wondering if I should retake the course. I’m taking the GRE later this month, and am planning on applying this summer. I’m contemplating whether or not I should still even apply this year. Will that C in Genetics kill my chances?

    • Paul June 20, 2014, 10:35 pm

      There’s no way to know if that one grade will take your chances, but it doesn’t sound super likely that it would. Remember, after you have a degree, if your GPA was 2.0, for example in order to bring your cumulative GPA up to 3.0, you would need another entire degree with a GPA of 4.0 for those to average out. This means, for the most part, it’s impossible to increase your cumulative GPA significantly. Instead, focus on your more recent grades. You don’t need to show them that your grades average out to a 3.5 but it would be nice to show them that your more recent grades were about 3.5. They want to know what your grades are going to be when you get into PA school!

      This means, the best thing you can do is get good grades NOW! You don’t need to prove that the other grades were any higher than they are, you just need to show that they aren’t as relevant as your new grades. So keep your head in the books and be sure to write an essay that emphasizes what a good student you have become.

  • 2bePA June 19, 2014, 10:25 am

    Hi Paul-
    I really think it wonderful that you continue to answer posts on this forum- as I’m sure it means a lot to those looking for just a glimmer of hope or reassurance that it will work out :)
    I would just like to add for those who have overall low GPAs that maybe won’t stand a chance when compared side by side with someone who doesn’t have any such considerations- there are a handful of schools around the country that will reconsider your most recent credits. Some of these programs will replace your overall cumulative with per say your last 40 credits- and compare you equally to other applicants. Some programs you have to be approved and apply very early to do so- and they don’t always advertise this outrightly- you may have to search deeply into the small print of requirements or email the program.
    Harding university; bethel university; a program in michigan; Idaho (not sure if they still do); EVMS; missouri state are a few that I know of that allow such grace to be given.
    That’s not to say you won’t have explaining to do- but it is helpful for those who feel it is impossible to overcome- know that it isn’t!

  • Geryel June 26, 2014, 10:09 am

    Hi Paul!
    I have a huge concern and hopefully you can clear it out a bit. I am entering my sixth year of undergrad. I am a Psychology major and Biology minor. About a year ago I decided to turn everything around and head towards a P.A career, I have been shadowing and volunteering and currently applying for hands on HCE. My gpa is very low and I am retaking all my sciences to ‘start from scratch’ since some would hit the 5-year expiry by the time I would apply to programs. Although I know GPA is extremely important I am giving it my all to turn it around this next year while I balance semesters of only sciences. I just would like some advice on this.

    Thank you so much,

    • Paul July 5, 2014, 10:19 pm

      You didn’t say how low your GPA was, so it’s hard for me to say exactly. But if you’re under 2.8, you may end up needing to do a post baccalaureate degree or a second bachelors. That won’t even bring your cumulative GPA up a lot, but it will allow you to demonstrate that your more recent grades are better than your older ones. Barring that, you may need to take a few years off of school and then return with a new mindset when you are ready. This is why grades are so so so so important. If you don’t get them the first time around, you put yourself on hold for sometimes years at a time.

  • Geryel June 26, 2014, 10:09 am

    Hi Paul!
    I have a huge concern and hopefully you can clear it out a bit. I am entering my sixth year of undergrad. I am a Psychology major and Biology minor. About a year ago I decided to turn everything around and head towards a P.A career, I have been shadowing and volunteering and currently applying for hands on HCE. My gpa is very low and I am retaking all my sciences to ‘start from scratch’ since some would hit the 5-year expiry by the time I would apply to programs. Although I know GPA is extremely important I am giving it my all to turn it around this next year while I balance semesters of only sciences. I just would like some advice on this.

    Thank you so much,

  • John July 4, 2014, 2:14 pm


    I applied to 8 PA school this year. Forth Worth, Baylor, UAMS, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Tulsa, LSU Shreveport, Tennessee, and CBU. I graduted from the University of Arkansas with a BS in Biology with a 2.9 GPA. Since graduating I have completed 24 science hours with a 3.87 GPA and I am also in graduate school in my second semester with a 3.5 GPA. I am getting my master of public health and should graduate May 2015. How do you feel about my odds with the schools that I applied to? I meet all the requiremnts as far as GPA is concerned. Most of the schools have no GPA minimum or have a 2.75 minimum. I also work as a scribe in the ER at Baptist and also as a tech on the ortho floor. I have over 100 hours of volunteer work at Children’s Hospital as well. I am afraid that my grades will hurt me. I would love to be a PA and I have done everything that I can since graduating. I have spent the past year boosting my GPA, working, volunteering, and I have also shadowed a few surgeries. I’m hoping that a master in public health, post-bach science courses, and work experience may push me over the edge. I have done everything I can think of to be competative. Any comment or advice is welcome. Thank you in advance.

    • Paul July 6, 2014, 1:14 pm

      It’s hard to say for sure. But you seem to be doing all the right things. Yes, your original undergrad grades are probably hurting you. You can counteract that problem by writing a sharp and appealing essay that addresses the grades issue (briefly).

  • Linde July 17, 2014, 8:48 pm

    I have read through many of these and hopefully am not a repeat question. I will have about 2000 hours of paid medical experience from working in a clinic at a camp for people with disabilities and being a physician assistant scribe. I also have my EMT license. My cumulative GPA should be around a 3.0 by the time I apply for grad school. I will have a lower science GPA since I got a few Cs in Organic, Biology, and Gen Chem. However, my GPA from my last 3 semesters before I apply is significantly (as in 3.7) better. I looked up all the schools that will accept applicants with a weaker GPA (3.0 and under). I understand my situation looks bleak for getting accepted into grad school, but by finding these programs that I may have a chance in I feel there may be a shot. I guess my question is, if I am sure this is what I want to do (be a PA), yet my science GPA suffered (freshman and sophomore year I lacked effort and dedication and was over involved on campus, sick frequently due to my Crohns, and overloaded myself with more difficult coursework than I could handle at the time), should I be looking to apply at schools that have lower standards since I am pretty much a low standard? I really do not want to spend more money retaking courses and I will already be spending an extra year after graduation working and finishing a few extra courses as it is.

    • Paul July 27, 2014, 9:23 am

      I think it makes sense to apply to primarily schools that you think you can get into, but you should also apply to a few “reach” schools as well. The main thing is that I think you need to be realistic about what it’s going to take to get you in. I’m sure it’s possible for you to get in, but it may not happen right now. This is really what you want to do, be willing to repeat the course is that you need to, and take more time to make your application strong. Remember if you have a weaker GPA, your argument eventually will not be your overall GPA, it will be your most recent course work. So make sure you get excellent grades from here on out.

  • Nichole July 28, 2014, 10:32 am

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you for the comments, they are very helpful. I do have a GPA under 2.9 from a BS degree I received 5 years ago and most of those science classes are from even 7 years ago. I didnt really know what I wanted to do. I never studied or put a lot of effort into my school work. Most of my science courses that I did take, I received around a “B” and sometimes a “C”. Now I am 27 and greatly regretting my young college years. Is it best for me to get a Master’s in a science related course or to take a post-bacc program in order to bring my grades up? I have started taking some of the pre-reqs and I have brought my GPA back up a little, but given my age I want to take the best route possible. Thank you!

    • Paul August 1, 2014, 11:31 pm

      We rarely recommend an entire new degree. Instead, do what you’re doing. Get AWESOME grades. You then can make the argument that you are a much different student than you once were and that you “haven’t had less than an A in ___ semesters/years/courses.”

      Forget your cumulative GPA; impress them that you are an A student “these days.”

  • Rinzin Dolma August 6, 2014, 5:41 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I am so glad I stumbled upon this page. First of all I want to thank you so much for taking time answering the questions which are all very informative. In my case, I had a 2.98 g.p.a with a degree in multidisciplinary studies from stony brook university. While in undergrad, I was also a premed student largely from my family’s insistence. Without a doubt, I did horrible. Following are my grades:
    Microbiology: B-
    Gen Chem I/II: B
    ANP I: C
    ANPII: C+
    PHY: D (retook it while in undergrad and go the same grade.)
    Stats: A
    Organic chem I: A-
    Organic II: B-

    I take full responsibility for the bad grades but I truly believe that I have matured since then. I am planning on retaking all the courses I got below a B – in. But I was wondering if you think retaking physics again would be beneficial on my end even though it’s not a prerequisite for most pa schools.

    • Paul August 9, 2014, 12:03 pm

      If it isn’t a requirement for the PA programs that interest you, I think I would avoid it. You have bad track record there and you wouldn’t be taking it for a strong enough reason to justify the risk.

  • Jesse August 6, 2014, 7:57 pm

    I submitted my application to CASPA in August and was disappointed by the GPA that I received. Something along the lines of a 2.53 Science, 2.8 non science, 2.7 total. When I graduated with my bachelors in biology i had a 3.3. At a previous college I had a 2.5 I believe and a 2.97 at another one. I’ve moved a bit. I have taken along the lines of 1.5 yrs of additional courses such as Patho 1 and 2, retook chemistry, AP, Micro and in post grad I have about a 3.8. I have been in the medical field for around 5 yrs as a medic and have accumulated more than 10,000 hrs of HCE, volunteered for different programs around the community. I understand the lower than expected GPA because my first years in college were riddled with family obligations. Im besides myself and wonder if there is hope.

    • Paul August 9, 2014, 12:06 pm

      There is always hope. But you need to prove to them that you are now able to handle tough science courses. You should apply and argue in your essay that you are a different student than you once were, with no grades below X for the last X semesters/years. You may not get in at first, so keep taking courses so you can build your case.

  • D August 27, 2014, 12:38 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I graduated with a degree in Biology and an overall GPA of 3.1 and science GPA slightly over 3.0. I have a B in physiology, an A in biochem, A’s and B’s in General Chem/ General Bio courses, BUT I have C’s in Anatomy, and Organic I/II. I had some personal issues toward the end of my college career and did poorly, but later retook some of the classes I had done poorly in and received better grades.

    Should I apply this cycle with grades and healthcare exp. as is or should I wait and retake organic chem and anatomy and apply next year? I just started working as a CNA and would have about 400 hrs of HCE by the time I would want to submit my application for this cycle. I am almost 25 and don’t want to prolong getting started with a career longer than I have to. Also, many PA programs want HUMAN A/P courses but mine were not. The main question is: apply this year as is or wait another year, get more HCE, and retake A/P and organic? Thanks so much.

    • Paul September 7, 2014, 12:01 pm

      If you meet the minimum qualifications to apply, I would suggest you apply. I mean what would be the reason not to? At the very worst, you would not get in and you would be where you are right now. At the best you would get in and not need to worry about more preparation. I also think applying for PA school prepares you, since some people need to apply several times in order to get in.

  • Susan September 1, 2014, 11:05 am


    I am currently in the application process for PA school. My GPA is low (2.7) because my father unexpectedly passed away my sophomore year of college. I’m having problems with my personal statement because every time I write I feel like I’m harping on the subject. I have read online to make your personal statement a story that the selection committee will want to keep reading. As of now I have written a story of how I overcame the loss and myself. Should I focus less on this or keep it that way?

    • Paul September 7, 2014, 12:07 pm

      The main thing here is that you don’t let your essay degenerate into sadness, darkness, or depression. Even if that’s your experience, PA committees don’t want to read that sort of thing. Instead, I encourage you to take a positive “Here’s what I learn from this” approach.

  • Emily September 5, 2014, 12:23 am

    Hello Paul,
    I recently graduated with my bachelors degree in health sciences, and was fortunate enough to have the majority of my undergrad paid for with the assistance of my parents. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my first few years of college seriously what-so-ever. I effortlessly made a C+ in Biology, a “C” in physiology, and a “B” in Anatomy. My fourth year of college I made an effort to take school more seriously and thought I could handle 18 credits, a volunteer position, an EMT class, and a part-time job (bad idea)… After a about a week into the semester my parents informed me that my dad was losing his job & they were unable to pay for that semester. I picked up more hours at work in order to afford tuition, which resulted in me neglecting my studies and getting a D in Gen Chem 1.
    I am now graduated, but shy of a few pre-requisites for P.A. school. I am a perfectionist, and realize that my grades are far from. I have considered changing career paths, but I have become so passionate about this particular profession that it is hard for me to give up on the dream. I need health care experience, so I think some time away from school is definitely in order. However, even if I complete the additional pre-requisites, and retake some classes, I don’t know that I will get in with my grades. I understand that CASPA “averages” the old & new grades. Would PA schools even consider accepting someone in my position?

    • Paul September 7, 2014, 12:14 pm

      As I said before, everyone has a chance. PA schools don’t require perfection, but they do want to know that you are strong student at the time they admit you so that they don’t need to worry about you failing out. This means that if you have low grades in your past, you need to do other things to prove to them that they won’t happen in the future. Usually this means taking other classes and doing very well for a time so that you can say “see, I’ve done all of these classes and I haven’t had a grade worse than an a in X semesters.” For people who bombed most of their undergrad, it may make more sense to look into a postbaccalaureate degree.

  • Kat September 16, 2014, 9:31 pm

    Paul, I’ve been following your site for about 6 months. I’m so impressed that you still keep up with this thing. More than anything I think you give people a better outlook and hope in pursuing their goal of becoming a PA. Kudos man…I apply this coming April with a 3.45, some unique HCE, tons of volunteer hours, and a fire under my ass. Wish me luck!

    • Paul September 17, 2014, 8:24 pm

      Luck luck luck!

  • Jenn October 7, 2014, 6:38 am

    I need your advice! I just recently applied for this last cycle of PA schools. I applied for 3 yes I know that’s not a lot. I was going to apply to chiropractic, but then I switched and dedicated myself to PA school this last summer.
    I recently heard back from one school as of yesterday (the more competative of the two– one rejected me already because I wasn’t getting my bachelors soon enough) and they let me know I wasn’t a competative applicant. I have a GPA of 3.27, one of my semesters was sub par (my step-dad passed away) I mentioned it in my personal statement. This semester I’m doing so much better in my classes and I know this will help my GPA.

    I am going to call that school and see what exactly they didn’t like on my application and what they’d like to see better. I know that’ll give me more help along the lines of if I need to retake my classes, the GRE, etc. I mean I still have one school, but I don’t know how confident I feel about it all now.

    What I want to know. What can I do for this gap I’m going to have? I finish my Bachelor’s in May and we wanted to just move to PA school. Should I do anymore of a type of school? I want to get a job as a phlebotomist somewhere because I already have my certification, but would it be worth it to get a CNA? I had previously worked as a Chiropractic Assistant. I would also volunteer and get more hours in this area. I had already had enough volunteer and experience hours, but more couldn’t hurt right?

    I am just worried they’ll not be impressed with working a medical type of job and volunteering for a year, but do I need to do more than that? (Other than retake GRE, etc.) Also when is the next time I can apply? Do some accept people in the regular Spring semester? Or will I have to wait for around this time next year to re-apply? Any other suggestions for re-applying? How many schools do you recommend I apply for next go around?


    • Paul October 7, 2014, 11:29 pm

      That’s a lot of questions, Jen.

      You will need to reapply next cycle, starting in April.
      CNA is a good way to get health care experience, yes. EMT would be better. But remember, it’s the hours you spend with patients using your CNA or EMT that matters, not the certs themselves.
      It’s uncommon for students to get into PA school right out of undergrad. I don’t want to deter you, but it helps to have realistic expectations. The average age for new PA school matriculants is almost 27! That’s because it takes a few years to accumulate good health care experience. Your GPA is not a showstopper, so I would recommend you get some great HCE. Look into a respiratory tech program — they make EXCELLENT money, and are among the best prepared for PA school. Read our other articles on HCE for more ideas.

      • Jenn October 8, 2014, 6:24 pm

        I called the school and they let me know that my patient exposure hours looked great along with my volunteering. But because I had a 2.8 cumulative science GPA they automatically said no. They told me to work on that GPA and to take the rest of the classes they recommend and to reapply the next year.

        So thanks for your advice, but I feel like this is more of what I will do along with getting more volunteer and health care experience, even though I already have a bunch. Plus I’m only 21, I know I’ve got time to figure all this out.

  • Matt October 7, 2014, 1:29 pm


    I took Gen Chem 1 and received a B after a ton of hard work and while working full time with a full course load. That was two years ago! I am picking my pre-requisites back up with Gen Chem 2, Organic 1, A & P 2, and MicroBio being the major ones left. My only worry is that splitting Gen Chem 1 and 2 (over two year apart) could cause me to struggle and possibly get a poor grade in Gen Chem 2 and/or Organic. Would you suggest that I retake Gen Chem 1 prior to taking Gen Chem 2? Or would retaking Gen Chem 1 while taking Gen Chem 2 be beneficial? Or I have also looked into getting the Gen Chem 1 textbook and attempting to self study.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks for the blog, its great!

    • Paul October 7, 2014, 11:33 pm

      Matt, I’m VERY passionate about this question.

      TAKE GENERAL CHEMISTRY I FIRST. Why? Well, let’s look at what happens if you do. You will be ready for the second semester, and to get there, you have sacrificed a semester of your life. That sucks a little, yes, but let’s look at what happens if you DON’T take Gen Chem I first. You might do fine. But if you don’t, let’s say you get a C, or worse, a D in the second semester, you might have pushed PA school more than a semester down the line. I would ALWAYS prefer to spend a little more time for the sure thing than rush and take a chance. Remember the tortoise and the hare? THE TORTOISE ALWAYS WINS. Be a tortoise. You won’t regret it.

  • Joseph October 9, 2014, 3:00 am

    Hey Paul, just wondering, does it matter in terms of salary and finding a job if you have a PA certificate as opposed to a BS or Masters?

    Do PAs with Bachelors make more than PAs with just the certificate? Are there also more job opportunties for job those with a Bachelors degree?

    Like wise, do those with a Masters have a noticeable advantage in the medical field than those with just the Bachelors?

    Thanks for your time!

  • Adrienne Joi October 11, 2014, 1:22 pm

    Hi Paul!

    I am thinking about going to California for my PA studies, I found quite a few programs that I’m very much interested in. However, I’m not too familiar with out-of-state PA certification/licensure. How would that work? For example if I got my PA license/certificate in CA, would I need to stay and work there? Or could I move back to AZ? Is there an additional exam that I would have to take to be licensed in AZ?

    Thank you so much!

    • Paul November 2, 2014, 2:22 pm

      Here’s how it works:
      1) You graduate and take the PANCE, which is the national certifying exam. You are then medically qualified to work just about anywhere. Then #2) go to the state in which you wish to practice and apply for a license. This usually is a simple application, verification materials from your schooling and PANCE, and pay a fee. Voila! You can now practice in that state.

      Going to another state? Repeat step #2 for that state.

  • Shane October 13, 2014, 3:00 pm

    Hello! I’m wondering what my chances are of getting into a PA school with sub-par Ochem grades. I’ve gotten a C in the first semester and doesn’t look like it will be much better for the second. My gpa is hovering around the 3.2 range which is on the lower end of the spectrum. That is due to my beginning yrs in college. As a freshman I became homeless and because of this I fell into an unfortunate situation. I had no where to go and a relative finally took me in. Unfortunately however because of this I have an F on my transcripts, I never dropped the course so the F is there. 10yrs later I returned to school. The classes in which I received the F in I obtained A. I have a large amount of work experience as I’ve been a phlebotomist/lab tech for over 10yrs in a local hospital and I’ve worked in Dr’s offices as well. If I obtain another C this semester in Ochem does that ruin my chances of getting in?

    • Paul November 2, 2014, 2:16 pm

      No, I it doesn’t. Obviously, an F doesn’t look good. But you can explain what happened, and parlez it to say something positive about you. Imagine the story you can tell in an essay for PA school that emphasizes that you have overcome to be where you are. Some schools will pass on you, but some will be intrigued, and I would venture that you have had some life experiences that carry over into medicine nicely.

  • Neil Madisen October 28, 2014, 6:48 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I need your advice. During my undergraduate career, I received sub-par grades. My mother battled breast cancer for two and a half years and my father suffered a hemorrhagic stroke due to an AVM that required brain surgery, as well as subsequent speech and occupational therapy. These experiences were my inspiration to become a PA. Both of my parents have recovered and are doing well today, but in turn, I achieved a 2.51 cumulative GPA during my undergraduate studies. To date, I am nearly finished with a Master’s in Biomedical Sciences. My research thesis is related to mechanisms of prostate cancer and obesity. My graduate GPA is a 3.9 and I have repeated both A&P I and II achieving As in both. I plan to retake biochem next semester. Additionally, I am working part-time (~20 hours/week) as a Microbiology/Research Technologist and have previously worked as a phlebotomist (~2800 hours). I have three manuscripts in preparation for publication between my graduate program and work. I also volunteer once a week at a women’s shelter. I applied to 8 PA programs this past cycle with a 2.75 cumulative GPA and a 2.63 science GPA. I was denied by all of the programs. What is your best advice? I have taken a lot of credits between undergrad and my graduate program, and it seems impossible to push my GPA much higher. I am an intelligent, driven individual, but had to persevere through some family hardships. Any input would be greatly appreciated!



    • Paul November 2, 2014, 3:11 pm

      It sounds like your situation is unique. Talking with a Pre-PA coach might be a good use of your time. A coach can help you figure out where you are falling short and give you direction so that you can course-correct.

      • Sean November 25, 2014, 9:17 am

        This blog has really eased some fears in applying to PA school, but I am in a very similar place as Neil, minus the family tragedies. I hope all is well in the Madisen family.

        My first college year was spent as an athlete at a small university, where I received straight A’s. I transferred to a large state school, after being declared medically ineligible to play sports, and proceeded to watch my GPA/science GPA fall to a 2.75/2.81. At this school, I did poorly in math (2C’s, 1A) and had to retake Chem 1 a few times. I was a bit unfocused because I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life other than soccer, and I was working ~60 hrs/week as a student trainer. I graduated with a degree in Sports Medicine.

        After undergrad, I obtained my Master’s of Public Health from a small private school in GA. I was head athletic trainer for 4 sports, retained a 3.5 GPA, and performed research/community service. Since grad school, I have been systematically taking down the prereqs. Chem 2/Bio 2/Microbio/Organic 1&2/Biochem/Genetics/Medical Terminology have been finished in the past 2 years with a 3.0 GPA, bringing up my overall/science GPA to 2.99/2.98. The issue with my GPA is that I have a total of 232 total hours and cant make good grades bump up my GPA in any significant way. I have ~3.3 GPA (in only graduate/high level science classes), 6500+ HCE hrs, and a Master’s degree since 2010. The problem is that programs don’t seem to notice/acknowledge it even though my essays bring attention to this fact.

        I am hoping to gain any understanding as to what I should do to make my resume/application more desirable to the PA programs that I have been applying to. I have scheduled PA shadowing with a group of PAs, I am planning on talking/meeting with an advisor once this application window closes, and I am planning on retaking science classes from undergrad that I did poorly in (A&P 1/Bio 1). Some specific questions:

        Would it be better for me to retake classes or take an Advanced Biochemistry-type class (a high level science class-yet not a prerequisite)?

        I have about 7000 hrs of direct patient care as an athletic trainer, would getting a different health certification (phlebotomist/CNA/respiratory therapist/etc.) change the way my application is looked at?

        Sorry this post was long but any advice would be greatly appreciated. I have been reading the posts/blogs in this website and there’s loads of information. I wanted to say thank you for all you are doing!



        • Paul November 30, 2014, 7:19 pm

          I think you need to retake the courses that you did poorly in (C+ or lower) that are also prereqs. Don’t bother taking a higher level Advanced Biochemistry class — that doesn’t prove to them that you have mastered the material that is foundational to what they will be teaching you. Until you can prove to them (with good grades) that you will be ready for their curriculum, they will be reluctant to admit you. Remember: those prerequisites are prerequisites for a reason; not because they are “hard,” or scientific, but because they are the material that you need to be handy with in order to get by in PA school.

          You can vary your HCE by doing something new — it seems that you’ve gotten as much out of training as you are likely to, in terms of your application. But overall, with 7K hours, HCE should probably not be your focus. Your focus needs to be on proving that you have what it takes with Chemistry, Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, and Microbiology (and whatever other science prerequisites that they want you to take. Focus your energy there. With focus you can move mountains.

          • Sean December 1, 2014, 10:05 am

            Thank you so much for all of the information/advice! This blog has been a ton of help and I appreciate everything you’re doing!

  • Alison November 5, 2014, 2:41 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Someone told me that schools disregard your performance on PA prereqs if they were taken 5 years before you apply, is this true? I’m not doing so well academically and I didn’t know if I should not continue taking prereqs and finish and retake all of them after I get my B.S or if I should keep going. I know I want to be a PA more than anything else but the academics trip me up every time. I retook gen chem cause I failed but only managed to get a C, should I retake it a third time? I don’t have Cs in all my classes, but I don’t have any As in science classes either, just Bs and Cs. Is it just a matter of retaking classes and getting As in all of them?

  • Jim November 20, 2014, 1:51 pm

    Definitely some interesting reading here. I’m very strongly considering the PA route for a career change, but freshman year 10 years ago left me with two Cs in general chem and a D+ in a college algebra course. I ended up with a 3.3 GPA in total, but in something completely unrelated (business/engineering).

    I have no doubts that my study habits now as a 29 year old are vastly improved from then, but I worry about going up against fresh undergrads who’ve never received anything lower than a 3.8 in their lives. Even if I can pull out As and Bs in every prereq I take from now on, that’s a lot of time to invest in classes and HCE if the payoff won’t be there.

    • Paul November 30, 2014, 7:31 pm

      Life is full of risks, Jim. The things that are most worth it often seem the riskiest. I would add that at 29 you’re still very young, only two years older than the average new PA student. And the average GPA for PA school is not 3.8. There are more people with high grades that get in than those who don’t, but my GPA was about 3.3. FYI.

  • Samuel December 10, 2014, 3:36 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Thank you for your informative article.

    I recently graduate from my local undergrad college (NYC) with a 3.2 GPA in Psych. I took Gen Chem I/II, Gen Bio I/II, Microbiology, Orgo I, AnP I/II and Forensic biology (for fun). My current sGPA stands at 2.75. Overall I did average for my science classes (upper science classes are B’s) but my first 2 years in college I got a C+ in both Gen bio and Gen chem. This is primarily due my negligence during my early college years. Afterward, I got my act together but started working part-time (about 30-32hrs a week) during my last 2 years of college. I graduated a year ago and but now works about 72 hours a week, 40 of those with HCE. The reason why i work so much is due to my family’s financial circumstances (mom is a single mother of 2 living in nyc). I also got my EMT certification 3 years ago which is now expiring. In total, I obtain 1200hrs of HCE from my currently job as an medical assistant (Paid) and 350 hours from EMT (volunteer)

    My questions is, how should should I proceed from here ? should i give up on being a PA or bring up my GPA? and if i should bring up my GPA, should i retake Gen chem and Gen bio (both C+ grades) or should i just move on and take higher level science classes, such as genetics/biochem, and gets A’s in both?

    I am very trouble since most of my friends that applied and got into PA school on their first try. ANY input or feedback would be GREATLY appreciated.

    Thank you!

    • Paul December 21, 2014, 8:42 pm

      We’ve written about this many times. DON’T GO TAKING HIGHER LEVEL SCIENCE COURSES. They don’t need to see that you did well in coursework that has little or no bearing on what they will be teaching you.

      Instead, prove to them that you have mastered the material that is foundational to their curriculum. Then and only then can you reassure them that you won’t repeat your previous academic snafus. YES. Retake the required science coursework in which you received less than a B (B- or lower).

      Keep doing what you’re doing for HCE.

  • Nikki December 25, 2014, 11:03 am

    Hello Paul!

    I am currently a sophomore working towards a BA in Biochemistry (minors in French and Psychology). In high school, I was used to getting straight A’s and a 4.0 GPA but college has been an entirely different ball game. I have a few A’s but I’ve received mostly B’s/B-‘s in my PA (science) prerequisites. And this semester, I just received a C in Organic Chemistry 1. This was of course upsetting because I have never received a C before. But I’m moving on to Organic 2 and Organic Lab next semester. I don’t think that my Organic Chemistry 1 grade truly reflects my understanding of the material, for I have enjoyed the class and comprehended the concepts very well. I will take responsibility though for a couple of poor exam grades due to several silly mistakes and poor preparation on my part. I have learned from these mistakes and hope to do better in the remaining organic courses next semester. My question is: Will PA schools take the C (hopefully my first and last one) lightly if I show a clear improvement in the other two organic courses, which should build on Organic 1 material? I am very determined to do better in these courses and do not want one C to decrease my competitiveness for PA programs. I know that I need to get more HCE experience, but academics are my main priority right now. My grades this semester also brought my GPA down to a 3.539. Are all of these concerns valid or am I worrying too much about the one low grade? Thanks for your help!

    • Paul January 11, 2015, 2:03 pm

      Dear Nikki –

      A C isn’t great, but on it’s own, I don’t think it’s something to freak out about. Many good students in high school go to good schools where ALL the students were good schools in high school. This means that suddenly they’re AVERAGE at their college. It can be hard to take. But just as sure as the day is long, if you put in extra time and study hard, your head will show above your peers who will get caught up in the allure of partying and relationships, and let their grades slip. Do your very best to keep your grades up — it’s really all you can do. I will say that the best advice I ever got about organic chemistry came from my dad, who was a primary care physician for decades. He told me that Organic is more about memorization than anyone wants to believe. Memorizing the steps of the most common types of reactions (substitution and elimination, for example). Go in for extra help when you aren’t solid on what you know. There are plenty of students who struggle with O chem, and there is extra help out there. That said, your PA school curriculum doesn’t use it much at all. It’s just a grade you need to get and put behind you.

  • Joanne January 2, 2015, 7:53 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Thank you for your encouraging and informational website!!
    I just graduated with Bachelors of Science degree in december of 2014.
    I was initially in the BSN program at Eastern Michigan University. 3 months before graduating from my program I was academically dismissed because of 1% of passing the Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Lecture. That semester I was in the hospital for quite some time and was not able to catch up. Most of our class passed with a 77%. The director of the program told me his decision of dismissal one month into the semester leaving me with no option of continuing in any other BSN program because of this dismissal. So instead, I decided to do some soul searching and figure what I really wanted to do in my life.

    I realized the only reason I did the nursing program was because of my mom(it was her passion) and stability. In a way I am thankful that I reached to this point of realizing what I really want and am content with my decision in pursuing my dream career. I’ve always had a passion for sports medicine and I know that doing the PA route is an excellent way to achieve that.

    So I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in December 2014.
    My current GPA is currently a 3.5.
    Microbiology (C)
    Sports Medicine Anatomy and Physiology (A- and A)
    General Chemistry (B-)
    Organic Chemistry (B+)
    Statistics (B)
    English (A-)
    -The one course I have not taken is Developmental Psychology in which I will be taking this semester.
    My questions are:

    1) How does my current GPA look?
    2) Because of the academic dismissal, how can I spin that into a positive? and how much will it affect my application into PA school?
    3) Do you recommend that I retake any of the courses that I did mention?
    4) Does it matter if I took a sports medicine anatomy and physiology compared to a human anatomy and physiology?They cover the same thing,except that one specializes in sports medicine.
    5) I have worked as a medical assistant, dental assistant, chiropractic technician, and physical therapist technician (my health experience is good in terms of hours but I am wondering if you suggest that I start working again or volunteer at a hospital for my application?)

    Sorry for the long post!!! Thank you for all your help in advance!!! Really appreciate it. I’ve been going to different informational sessions but it hasn’t helped me much so I hope you can guide me in the right direction.

    • Paul January 11, 2015, 2:50 pm

      Hi, Joanne!

      It’s hard to say, but I think 3.5 is good. You will be asked if you have every been dismissed from an academic program and why, so that’s a much bigger sticking point than your GPA. What occurs to me as I read your question is that your story reads kind of all-over-the-map. There is not a coherent story about what has led you to PA. That is the part that they will need to feel. As you describe your story now, it reads like you’re capricious and indecisive. That does not bode well for admission. I suggest you do some more soul searching.

      What would you do now if you were passionate that PA was the natural next step for you? If you were certain that all of your experiences have led you to right where you are now? Those questions will mean more to an admissions committee than any one grade. That said, if your GPA is in question, I always encourage repeating courses that you got less than a B(-) in. For you that’s micro, but again, 3.5 is good, so I’m not sure that’s what needs to happen.

      I feel a burning desire to tell you something along these lines:
      STOP. Get clear on what has happened to you professionally. Do your homework this time. Have you shadowed a PA? If not do. If so, shadow more.
      Next, think tortoise and hare. It feels like you might have been a hare for a long time. If this is really what you want and what suits you, you will start thinking like a tortoise. It is the only sure way I know that just about anyone can become a PA.

      I hope this helps.



  • Alexandra January 7, 2015, 3:22 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I want to start by thanking you for taking time out of your day to answer everyone’s questions! Your website is so helpful.
    I graduated last year with a degree in Dietetics and Psychology. My GPA was 3.44. My problem is that I got an F in Organic Chem 1 (in my sophomore year). Although I did take Survey to Organic Chem and received an A-, I still plan on retaking Organic Chem 1 this summer because I still know it looks bad. Do you think because of that grade it will be pretty much an automatic rejection? Other than that course, the only other low grade in a prereq-related course is Intro to Biochem which I got a C+ and plan on retaking too.
    I still plan on applying to PA school regardless, but I was hoping you could give me some realistic expectations about if schools will not consider me because of this.

    • Paul January 11, 2015, 3:01 pm

      No, I don’t think it’s an auto-rejection (Do they do those? No one informed me…)

      BUT you will need to have a good explanation for why that happened. Their biggest fear is that they admit you and then you bomb out. How can you reassure them (with words AND actions) that that won’t happen when you’re a student in their school?

      I think you are right to retake these courses. Just be sure that you do very well, or all you have shown them is that you have a major area of academic weakness, confirmed by your difficulty with course 2X.

  • M February 2, 2015, 9:26 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I’ve ready many of the comments here, and it seems that many of us with low GPAs are encouraged to explain the circumstances that, directly or indirectly, caused poor academic achievements in our essays, interviews, etc. I recently emailed the UCD PA school because I’m interested in going there (the closest PA school to me) and thought the information they shared would be useful to some. You’ll see in their response that they don’t accept letters of exception/intent regarding the low GPA issue. First, my email to them:

    I am interested in the Physician Assistant program. I’ve read the FAQs, and there were a couple of points that concerned me.

    In undergrad, I received a GPA that was lower than 3.0; I think it was 2.9. However, I was much younger (in 2003) and was in a different place than now.

    The FAQ states that no classes taken outside of a BA program are eligible to raise my GPA. However, I’m taking Anatomy & Physiology, Microbiology, Statistics, etc. this year.

    My questions:
    -Will receiving good grades for my recent classes help my application?
    -Would my letter of intent, explaining my reasons for a low GPA, help my case
    -Would submitting GRE scores help me (even though they are not needed in the application process)?
    -Would applying to this program be realistic for me?
    -Should I consider getting another BA first (which is not ideal as I am in my mid-thirties now)?

    And their response:

    “Unfortunately because the program is so competitive, we only accept applicants with bachelor’s degree GPA of 3.0 as stated on our website.
    Your additional classes will not increase the GPA that you graduated with and you would not qualify to apply to one of our programs.
    We are also unable to accept letters of exception or intent regarding this issue.

    “If you were to earn a second BA, the GPA from both of your degree programs would be taken into account and averaged.
    While some applicants submit GRE scores with their application, it does not necessarily help their application, but it would not hurt it either. Since this test is not required of all applicants, it is not used by the admissions committee to determine an applicant’s ability to succeed in our program.”

    • Paul February 3, 2015, 9:12 pm

      Yes, M, you’re correct. UCD is an example of a school that has so many applicants that it hardly makes sense for them to read applications that don’t meet their minimum requirements. Other schools, however, might feel differently. But this letter is a great example of why grades are so important. If your grades are weak, you will have a tougher time getting in. But it can be done.

  • Ben February 13, 2015, 8:17 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I appreciate you taking the time to answer all our questions and providing great feedback. I applied pretty late during this current cycle and I have had no luck in regards to getting a call for an interview.

    I’m writing because I too am concerned about my GPA. My cumulative GPA is 3.21 and my science GPA is 3.16. My GPA is on the low end and it is in part a result of my lack of motivation and immaturity during my first two years of college. (I entered college with the intent of going into nursing so in my first two years I took several chemistry courses and other science courses that I did very poorly in). My freshmen GPA was 2.42, as compared to my senior GPA which was 3.52 so there was an overall increasing trend in my GPA. My grades in the common prerequisites (A&P 1 and 2, Micro, statistics, etc) are all above 3.5 and my average for the biology series is a B- and my average for the chemistry series is a B+. I don’t think it makes much sense to retake anything at this point since none of the required courses are terribly low. I plan on applying for the next cycle and I have a few questions on how to approach this next time differently.

    What do you think my chances are applying for this next cycle?

    Also, would it be wise to address my GPA in my personal statement? If so, how should I do so given my situation?

    I appreciate your time!

    Thank you,


    • Paul February 28, 2015, 8:49 pm

      National average for PA school matriculants is 3.2, so you’re not as low as you think. I would only mention that the trend was upward as you matured, just to make it clear that you got better. Your chances? I have no idea – it’s just too subjective, and there are many factors. Do check out our coaching services — we’ helped a lot of students get in when they didn’t think they could.

  • Bianca February 17, 2015, 6:23 pm

    Thanks for the insight of this site i felt better reading some of the comments. I was working myself up about not getting into PA school. GPA is a 3.16 and my junior college was not so well. Also, not good test taker when it comes to this like ACT, GRE or anything of that nature. But i feel that those test should not reflect the person I am and my passion for people. I work in mental health as a social worker. I think what am trying to say is I just need a chance or my foot in the door and I know I can be the best PA and prove to myself I have accomplished another goal for me and not anyone else.

  • Sonia February 22, 2015, 8:15 am

    Hi my name is Dori
    i graduated from with a 2.5 gpa overall and 1.9 science gpa( yes i know this is horrible). I have a EMT license and NREMT license and have been a medical scribe for 1 year. I have been the president of medical brigades and have been to Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama to provide medical relief and clean water to those countries ( 4 years of experience). I also worked 6 months full time a Medical college/Hospital for neonatal research and attain pt contact there as well. I am currently working full time and taking organic chemistry again ( because i failed) and extra science courses and am working hard to get As. I am looking for the best way to raise my GPA and realistic measure i can take. I realize it will take a long time but I would love some advice. My GPA was bad my freshmen year ( which essentially messed up the rest of my years but my senior year I graduate with being on the Dean’s list every quarter ( I went to a trimester school). I truly love medicine and have accumulate a lot of experience. I can hands down say that if I was given a case scenario question related to emergency medicine I would know what medications to order, what pre-cautions to take and what labs to order.

    Due to my low GPA and many negative criticism I am currently going through depression, having a panic attacks multiple times a day, and typical career crisis blues ( saying it not for sympathy due to my ability to control it in an appropriate manner and precautions but to display my urgency to seek advice).

    Thank you for your time and constructive criticism only please.

    • Paul February 28, 2015, 8:29 pm

      Hi, Sonia!

      I think you should give up on trying to raise your cumulative GPA. You would need another degree with all A’s just to bring it up to 3.25. And I don’t recommend that, because you’d be taking a ton of classes that have no bearing on PA school. Plan to apply as many times as you need to to get in. Focus on getting A’s now. Write an essay that impresses them and make it clear that you have turned over a new leaf with respect to school. You are looking for a school that will look beyond your GPA and see your more recent performance as proof that you can handle PA school. Think tortoise and hare. The tortoise always wins. This means that if you keep working at it, with each application you will look more appealing than the cycle before. What if you had to apply 5 times? If you got in, wouldn’t that be worth it? 5 years for a career you love? I think so. You might also look into getting some coaching when it’s time to put your application together.

  • Andrew March 5, 2015, 2:12 pm

    Hey Paul,

    When a PA school looks at your transcripts do they see your letter grade or the number grade? Great website by the way!!!!

    • Paul March 11, 2015, 11:34 pm

      They see both. This is because they need to see the number of units. An A at a school that goes by semesters is better than an A for one that goes by trimesters (because there are fewer semesters in a bachelor’s degree than there are trimesters. So in short, both.

  • Joanne March 29, 2015, 1:51 am

    What is the chances of getting a job with BS or Certificate in PA instead of Masters in PA? and Is it easier to get in to those schools that offer BS and certificate that Masters in PA?
    Thank you

    • Paul April 5, 2015, 4:21 pm

      It’s generally not any easier to get into schools that give you a certificate only and not a masters except for the fact that they don’t require you to have a bachelor’s degree already, and the ones that lead to a masters degree require a BA/BS.

      There may be instances for higher level jobs where having a masters makes a difference, but it’s not much, and in my experience, the majority of jobs go to the better candidate (better interview and experience), not the one with a masters vs. bachelors vs. cert.

  • Sarah April 3, 2015, 12:01 am

    Hey Paul,

    I am a junior in college right now and am majoring in neuroscience and minoring in biology. I recently switched to pre-PA so I have not yet taken microbiology or anatomy and physiology but plan to take a year off to gain more patient contact experience and take these core classes. I have done well in all my other pre-req (all A’s and B’s) but this semester I am taking pathophysiology just to finish off my biology manner (I registered for this class before I switched or else I would have done micro/anatomy). However, I am not doing very well in the class thus far. It is still possible for me to get a B in the class, but this class is really just kicking my butt so I might end up with a C. If I do end up making a C in this class my gpa will still be a 3.71 but I was just wondering how bad this one C on my transcript will look to the schools even if it’s not a pre requisite but is still an upper level biology course during my junior year? Thanks for all the help!

    • Paul April 5, 2015, 3:38 pm

      Pathophys is one you will take in PA school. Getting a C isn’t the end of the world, particularly since your GPA is good. But if you really don’t think you can do well, I might suggest you drop it. You can always take it in the future, but you really need to protect your GPA.

  • Amanda Margaret B. April 9, 2015, 10:48 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you for developing this website. It is incredibly helpful, and much more straight forward than many of the other available resources on the web.

    Like many of the comments above, I am in a bit of a quizzical situation. I’m currently a senior biomedical engineering student, who is focusing in neuroengineering. I’m graduating from a private U this September 2015 with my BS, as well as a minor in Psych and a certificate in medical humanities. My school does co-ops, so at this point I’ve worked 1.5 years in BME fields, but only a smattering of experience with patients through short volunteer stints. I recently came to the realization that being a PA is everything I want to do with my career. That said, I haven’t yet taken some pre-requisite courses (Orgo I, II, labs, etc), but many of the others were integrated into my curriculum already (physiology, human anatomy lab, genetics). I’m also currently standing at a 3.1 total GPA, with a B average in my science courses, but a startling number (5) of very low grades (D’s and C’s in electrical engineering courses required by my major). Though I did realize early on that I had no intention of being an engineer, I was required by my parents to finish my undergrad in engineering in order to pay for tuition.

    Looking forward: Let’s say I graduate, get a day job, and volunteer at a hospital on weekends to accumulate a lot of pt hours. Let’s say I also go to my local community college to take the courses I do not have (Orgo and such), and retaking any necessary classes that I got a B in, and get at least an A- average in those. And take the GRE. And THEN apply to PA school.

    My question is this: As someone graduating soon with a 3.1 undergrad GPA as a biomedical engineer, would (re)taking the necessary courses at a community college be acceptable, if I did very very well? Would they look at my major and my GPA, and realize it was more challenging than the strict Biology or Pre-Med? Is it more realistic to get an MPH first to demonstrate my best academic ability, and then apply to a PA school?

    • Paul April 10, 2015, 4:16 pm

      DON’T go get an MPH at this point. HUGE waste of your time and money. If you want to become an attorney, you don’t follow your undergrad by getting a masters in debate. It’s just not relevant (enough). Community college is fine, and most students do that for the pre-reqs that they didn’t get in their undergrad.

      They aren’t likely to give you much credit for having a “hard” major. That said, you could argue that you were not at all motivated by engineering and that contributed to your lack of academic focus. Just get the best grades in the courses you still need and apply. Write an essay that knocks their socks off and explains that now that you’ve found a career that interests you, you’re a totally different student. Your grades will be the proof. Make that argument and have B’s and C’s to show them in your pre-requisites, and you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Not sure your odds, but that’s your best bet, I think.

  • HMorgan April 10, 2015, 9:05 pm

    Hi Paul, I just saw your site and your last comment to the previous question. I recently graduated with my MSPH majoring in tropical medicine and community health and was rather discouraged that this degree may be considered a waste. I not only have spent numerous months doing clinicals and medical reseach with this degree, but took multiple courses that coincide with PA school programs.

    I am now worried that other PA schools will view this as a complete waste and look down on me for obtaining this. I graduated with a 3.44 GPA in graduate work. I am very concerned since my undergrad was 2.89 (secondary to working full time and paying my way through school on my own) that all of this will reflect poorly on my application. I am currently taking some classes at the CC to raise my undergrad GPA.

    Caspa opens Aprill 22, but I am feaful that applying in July when my grades are back from summer classes will be too late for a person with my poor grades. I know grades are not everything but my GRE wasnt amazing either. However I have over 3000 hours of experience, I have published abstract on medical research and stellar recommendation letters.

    Any advice would be amazing and apperciated!!! I am so very lost!

    • Paul April 13, 2015, 9:23 pm

      I wouldn’t say it’s a waste. You will get some credit for it. But a Masters degree doesn’t somehow negate any of your undergraduate grades, and those matter. They matter more than anything because it’s the undergraduate science coursework that is foundational to what you will learn in PA school.
      Put away the idea of “raising my undergraduate GPA.” Anything you take at this point will have ZERO impact, because now that you have a bachelor’s degree, any new undergraduate coursework will be considered separately under “baccalaureate coursework.” Even if it was tallied in, it would not change your cumulative GPA much because it would be such a small portion of your total undergrad grades.

      Before you panic, realize that you’re not going to see yourself with your amazing undergraduate GPA. Instead, you will continue taking classes and getting A’s (read it with me: “A’s.”) You will then argue that “I haven’t had less than an A in a class in X semesters/quarters/years.” You are trying to convince them that you are not the student that you once were. Your graduate grades can help a little, but what will really help is retaking the prerequisite science courses and doing well. You will then prove to them that you can handle what they will be teaching you. Yours might be a good case for a coaching teleconsult, which would give us time to discuss your plan.

  • Clinton Davis May 1, 2015, 10:06 pm

    Hello my name is Clinton. I have a similar story to most people on this thread. I am from Richmond, VA. I attended public schools in Richmond,VA. I graduated in the top ten of my class. I went off to the University of Virginia. I totally bombed. I regrouped and attended Virginia Union University. I graduated with a 3.5 GPA. I also went and got a Masters in Public Health (MPH) from Eastern Virginia Medical School. I graduated from EVMS with a 3.58 GPA. When CASPA calculated my final GPA, I came out with a 3.06 overall. Now mind you, my GPA will go up some as I just wrapped up my Medical Terminology course, which I received an A in. I may also take Microbiolgy and retake the first semester of Organic Chemistry. My question is do you think I would be a good candidate for PA school? What are your opinions on for-profit PA schools such as South University?

    • Paul June 5, 2015, 11:13 pm

      I guess that if you want to go to PA school, you can’t be picky. I say take the cheapest school you can get into, but if you only get into expensive ones, you’re go, right?

      3.05 is pretty low. But there’s only one way to find out if they can see the context of your grades…

  • Selena May 10, 2015, 12:48 am

    Hi Paul,

    I want to first say that this website has been very helpful for me on obtaining the info I need to apply for PA school!

    Long story short, I took Anatomy and physiology I at a community college the first time and received a C and also received a Withdraw in Anatomy and Physiology II.

    I will be transferring to a 4-year university this Fall as a junior and I am not sure if I should just retake Anatomy and Physiology at the University where it is offered as separate courses or if I should just retake them at the same community college again while I am enrolled at the university.

    My school is a very research based school and since they have house several medical programs (med school, dental, pharmacy, nursing, vet school, etc.) I know for a fact that their anatomy and physiology will be much more rigorous and advanced. Will it be to my advantage to retake it at the University? Will it look bad to retake the courses at the CC while I am concurrently enrolled at the University? I am asking this because if I retake it at the CC, I have room to squeeze other science electives, however, I know Anatomy and Physiology are very important prerequisites to master especially since I didn’t do well the first time I took them.

    Thank you in advance!

    • Paul June 5, 2015, 9:57 pm

      If you didn’t do well in them the first time around, I strongly suggest that you take them at the CC. Though it’s not as rigorous, it’s not frowned upon. That’s where I did mine!

  • Lory May 16, 2015, 11:07 am

    Hey Paul,
    I really appreciate all of the feedback you’ve given on here and I thought I’d give it a shot and get some advice. I am wondering if I still have a chance of getting into a PA school with two C+’s I received from Biochemistry & a Genetics. I plan on retaking the classes, even though CASPA doesn’t recognize grade forgiveness. The rest of my classes are A’s and B’s. I’m just wondering if the admissions committee would even consider my application. I have the volunteer and health care experience (medical assistant for 2 years) down but the two C’s are really worrying me. Being a PA is my dream and I would be grateful for any of your feedback.

    • Paul June 5, 2015, 8:59 pm

      Of course! They aren’t looking for perfection. If your other grades are good, you still have a good shot.

  • shrada June 5, 2015, 11:21 pm

    hey paul. i am a second cycle applicant after being rejected from almost every school (1 interview with decline). I have a 3.2 cumulative GPA with a 3.19 science GPA. Because of this i took four courses that might help with raising my GPA (ochem, biochem, genetics and med term). Other than this, I have 3 years working as a PT aide and CNA. What are some ways I can make my application stronger for this year?
    Thank you

  • Alyssa July 6, 2015, 5:04 pm

    Hi Paul
    My excuse for poor grades doesn’t really have a good excuse- I started off at a large school (600 students in gen chem) with a professor who barely spoke english and TA’s who definitely did not, so I earned a D in the course and retook it the next semester and earned a C. I transferred to a smaller school and took gen chem 2 and earned a C+ on my first try. For whatever reason, gen chem is absolutely my weakness. I’m wondering if you can tell me whether it is better to present these C’s to potential schools and try to explain myself or to retake both gen chem courses (making it three times for gen chem 1 and twice for gen chem 2) so that my grades are improved? Does it still count as making progress if it takes me several tries to do so?

    • Paul July 20, 2015, 4:22 pm

      It will count as progress, but the more times you take that course and do mediocre-ly (is that a word), the more you have demonstrated you can’t handle that material. So take a step back. If you intend to retake it, set yourself up for success. Have additional study material. Have a tutor from week 1. Go to office hours. Tell yourself that you are better prepared to take the course than most anyone in it because you’ve had the material before. Only then should you retake if you plan to.

      If you decide not to retake it, it will depend on your other grades. If they’re good in general, it may not be THAT big of a deal. Either way, you need to reassure them that when it comes to learning about how pH balance in the blood is maintained, you will not fall out of class.

  • K July 9, 2015, 7:11 pm

    Hello Paul, I am a current graduate student studying biochemistry, molecular genetics and microbioogy on a triad degree. I received my undergrad in microbiology. I had a rough time during my early college years due to immaturity and poor decisions but am now a completely different person. I worked a full time thierd shift job during my time finishing my undergraduate degree and was able to pull a 3.3 or 3.4 while I was there and get into a honors fraternity at the university. I scored in the 81% percentile on GRE verbal and 68% percentile on quantitative reasoning. I’m currently around a 3.1 or 3.2 at my graduate school and am getting things together to apply to pa school. I was debating “forgetting” to send one of my transcripts from an out of state community college I went to during my chaotic days since it wasn’t paid with by loans and i doubt it would be discovered but idk if its worth the risk. Should I just explain in my essay the circumstances and show that I am a completely different and send the transcript or not? I just don’t want all my hard work to be for naught, but I don’t want to it to catch up to me down the road if they somehow discover it.

    • Paul July 20, 2015, 4:34 pm

      I have to think that from what you’ve told me, you can convince them that you’re not the student you once were. Better to follow the rules, as nerve wracking as that may be. Besides, if they find out that you didn’t send one, it could assure that you NEVER get in. An impressive essay will help.

  • Odunayo July 10, 2015, 8:01 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I had a BSc. in Zoology (GPA 2.84) year graduated – 2000, M.Sc (GPA 3.2) year graduated – 2004 (evaluated by WES) and PhD in Aquaculture year graduated – 2012 all from Africa but I became a citizen this year. I am currently taking pre requisite courses so far I have 3 As (anatomy and physiology I AND II, and Microbiology) and 1B ( Statistics), I am hoping to have As in the rest of my prerequisite courses. I am currently a Maryland certified science teacher. I am also currently shadowing an MD and a PA. I took a 1 year Clinical Research Associate training (didn’t work with it), I have a volunteer experience in a related health field in Africa. I am applying to a PA program next year and I feel like I am not a strong candidate because of my low GPA and lack of experience in health field, though I have research experience and a few published articles. I know I should blame myself for the low GPA, but I had it rough in my undergraduate days back in Africa, we were very poor, most of the time i go to class very hungry and angry with my situation. Even now, I feel bad that those years of poverty is still affecting my present decisions (as it reflects on my GPA as if I am a weak student, that I definitely know I am not). Is it possible to get into any PA program? Thanks in anticipation of your reply.

    • Paul July 20, 2015, 4:38 pm

      I think it’s possible, but it might not happen on the first try. I think if I were you I would get some great Patient Care Experience. Then write an excellent essay that provides them with some context for your grades. In a well-written essay, ANY weakness can be turned into a strength. Yours? Living through poverty in a 3rd world country and still attaining not only a BS (our version of a Bsc), but an MS and a Phd as well. Clearly you’ve overcome a lot. If you get them looking at you that way, you’ve got a shot.

    • Paul July 20, 2015, 4:44 pm

      I almost forgot — for help with health care experience, see our forum: and click on Health Care Experience.

  • Ali July 22, 2015, 1:35 am

    Hi Paul,
    Your website never fails to provide the exact information I need. I just need your advice on my current situation:

    I am an undergraduate student and will be a senior this coming fall. I currently have a 2.8 GPA. I will be taking majority of the the PA prerequisites this coming year where I strive to get A’s in to increase my GPA.

    I currently only have 4 months of health care experience as a medical scribe that I got fired from recently. The reason why I was fired was because, truthfully, the job was quite repetitive. I definitely learned a lot from asking questions to the physicians about medicine, but realized that that was all I got from this job. I am also a hands-on type of learner and this job wasn’t a hands on patient care experience type of job. So the boredom showed in my work and they let me go. Does it look bad in an application if I was fired?

    I intend to become an EMT after I graduate. However, I really don’t know how long I should wait before applying. Is there a time limit for prerequisite courses? Is there such thing as waiting too long? I’m just worried if I wait too long before I apply, I might have to take the prereq courses again.

    I am also planning on taking the GRE’s during my year off, which I intend to take classes and study for well in advance to help me outweigh my GPA.

    If I increase my GPA, become/work as an EMT, and do really well on my GREs, will I have a strong application for PA school?

    Thanks so much for reading my many questions and hope to hear from you soon!

    • Paul August 3, 2015, 10:15 pm

      Hi, Ali. I doubt that they will know that you were let go. Obviously, you shouldn’t seek out a letter of recommendation from that job. Just claim the hours. If they ask you about it, it’s fair to tell them that it wasn’t a fit. Yes, prerequisite coursework can expire. You should contact the schools that interest you to find out how recently they need to see that you have taken a class. In terms of your chances, I have no idea — there are just too many subjective factors. Your GPA is definitely on the low end. You should do your best to nail of your upcoming coursework.

  • Patrick July 24, 2015, 11:40 am

    Hello Paul,

    Like many on this board, I am in a bit of despair due to my poor academic performance back in college (graduated in 2009 with a Biology Degree), back then, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, and I just went to college because “that’s what you do after high school”.

    I have grown up since then, done a lot of traveling, and become fluent in German and can speak basic Spanish, but have come to realize that becoming a PA is what I really want to do. However, I am unsure if putting in all this time and money into taking the prerequisites and retaking General Chem 1&2 and Organic Chem 1&2 would even allow me to be considered to most PA programs as it seems like they are getting more and more competitive with each passing year.

    I graduated with a 2.728 (2.829 if my community college GPA is factored in).

    After doing some research, my plan was to retake those 4 chem classes, and an additional 32 credits of the most common PA prerequisites (going back to school for a total of 52 credits). If I hit all A’s I believe my cumulative GPA would be at 3.183 and my last 60 credit hours (all science based) would be 3.8797.

    Also, I bombed my physics classes (D+ and C-) and am unsure if I should retake those as it would likely add an extra year to my timeline as most schools I have looked at do not require it as a prerequisite.

    I am about to start a job as an EMT and have been volunteering at the local hospital, and am planning on taking these 52 credits within a 2 year time span as well as working on my clinic hours during this time period.

    Give it to me straight, how screwed am I (rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10 ;)) is it worth going for this, or should I put my time and effort into another avenue of healthcare?

    I look forward to hearing from you, and even if you don’t respond, thank-you for this website, making this forum thread, and what it seems like being an all around good guy. Much appreciated.

    • Paul August 3, 2015, 10:19 pm

      Hey, Patrick! We aren’t big on predictions because there are so many subjective factors. I will say that your plan to take 32 credits over the next two years while working as and EMT and volunteering seems very unrealistic. If you do that, I think you will find that getting all A’s is just not in the cards. There are a few people out there who could pull it off, but that’s basically saying that you plan to do better than you’ve ever done while being busier than you’ve been while in college, and that sounds kind of pie-in-the-sky to me. Instead, I suggest that you take a step back and re-evaluate your plan. Take a couple years to get some HCE. THEN go back, when you’re hungry and ready to CRUSH those courses. And even then, take the a little at a time. Will this take longer? Yep. Will it be a much surer route and give you a much better chance of one day becoming a PA? Yep.

  • IN July 29, 2015, 4:57 pm

    Hi Paul!

    I have a low GPA from my undergraduate years. I did better in my post-bac years, but last semester, I experienced a death in the family. I received a C in general chemistry II, which is bad, because this was a class I was trying to retake for a better grade. I had a high grade in the class until near the end when I completely forgot about an upcoming test and failed it. Although I showed an upward trend prior to last semester, how can I explain this to PA schools?

    • Paul August 3, 2015, 10:23 pm

      I think the best you can do is to explain to them as you just did to me. But they’re likely to worry that it could happen again. Not sure how your other grades are, but I would discourage you from retaking it a second time at least at this point. Hopefully they can overlook it. Use your essay to explain what happened. Keep it brief, accept responsibility, and then move on to more positive territory.

  • fay August 20, 2015, 9:22 am


    thanks for taking the time to answer questions! I’m really concerned about my chances of getting into PA school. I began my college career as a dance major and did very well in my liberal arts classes.I then transferred to a larger university to study medical biology. I had a couple rough years after transferring, but finished with a BS in medical biology. I was able to buckle down in a certificate program after graduation ( orthopaedic technology, and finished with a 4.0 in that program). I ended up with a 2.94 BCP GPA, 3.2 overall science GPA, and a 3.5 overall GPA. I’ve been working as an ortho tech for over three years, so I have a significant amount of HCE (well over 3000). Think I have a chance of getting in? What can I do to make my application stronger?


    • Paul November 8, 2015, 1:55 pm

      Not sure what BCP is or if it’s a typo. All you can do is possibly retake the science pre-requisite courses that you got a C+ or less in. This won’t raise your GPA in any way worth mentioning, but it will show that you have mastered the material that they will be building on in PA school. If they think, for example, that you haven’t gotten the basics of general chemistry down, they won’t feel good admitting you. If your GPA is a little low but you can show them great recent coursework, you can argue that you’re a better student than you once were and that you’re not likely to choke if they admit you.

  • BE November 21, 2015, 7:32 pm

    Hey Paul,
    So, I’m near graduating with a Bachelor’s and my gpa is about a 3.2 and science gpa of 2.8. I’m not sure if I should graduate and start gaining more hce or if I should take an extra semester to graduate to raise my gpa. I plan to apply within the 2016 cycle, but i know if i take an extra semester I may miss the application deadlines. I’m not sure what to do. Any advice would be helpful.
    Thank you!

    • Paul January 18, 2016, 11:26 am

      I usually believe that HCE can wait. But once you have your degree, any new coursework you do will not be tallied with your undergraduate courses. Instead, you will have an undergraduate GPA and a “post baccalaureate” GPA that will be for everything after. Don’t focus on raising your cumulative GPA — it would take a second (complete) bachelors degree with PERFECT grades to raise your current GPA to 3.6, and your science GPA to 3.4. That with 4 more years of A’s! Instead, focus on getting great grades on your remaining classes and proving to them that you have changed as a student and are no longer a “risk.”

  • Bryan December 18, 2015, 12:35 am

    Heh Paul. Awesome blog.

    I’m planning to apply to PA school, but not before I retake some classes that I got C’s and D’s in. I’m retaking organic and I also plan on taking a few graduate courses. Would it be smart to take graduate level courses and get A’s in them? I’m thinking about taking biochemistry, pharmacology, physiology, and possibly genetics or cell bio on the graduate level (I have a 2.3 as a double major in bio and Chem. Too many C’s in upper level courses). I have the rest of my application full of stuff.

    • Paul January 18, 2016, 10:59 am


      You need to retake the science courses that are prerequisites for PA school that you did less than a B- in. They don’t want to know that you understand pharmacology. It’s not about showing that you’re “smart,” it’s about proving that you’ve mastered the material that is foundational for what they will be teaching you. Dont’ waste your time on pharmacology. Biochemistry and organic chemistry ONLY if they are required by schools that you feel you must apply to. They aren’t necessary for many PA programs. Focus on your weak area instead of trying to leapfrog your weak areas and distract them with other non-required coursework. That’s what admissions officers for PA schools will tell you (they have told me so).

  • Kimberly January 12, 2016, 11:13 am

    Thank you for such great articles to read..really boosts my confidence. I would like to get your opinion on a situation. I have an undergraduate degree and As & Bs in my PA prerequisites with a 3.62 overall GPA. I have my shadowing and direct patient care experience as well as a full time job in the healthcare field. I was finishing up this past summer my last two chemistry courses for my application and in my first one I received a C+. I was so discouraged I actually did not take the second course but rather gathered my thoughts for the rest of the summer. I ended up getting into a program to get my masters in healthcare administration, which I wanted to do after PA school but no big deal that it came first. I didn’t necessarily want to take time off, just time away from the chemistry course and stress of PA school. This upcoming spring semester I have decided to go ahead and take that second chemistry course since the course I am taking for graduate school is similar and I feel ready and relaxed to take it on. I am going to work hard to get at least an A minus for this chemistry class and than go ahead and apply to a few PA schools this summer. I am extremely nervous and I was wondering your thoughts on me being a competitive applicant?

    • Paul January 18, 2016, 8:56 am

      As always, we have no idea what your chances are — there are just too many factors for each applicant. BUT, from what you’ve told me, I don’t think it should kill your chances. Do your best. One C+ isn’t the end of the world. Be sure to do better on the second course. Then apply to PA school. If you don’t get in, retake that first chemistry course for the best grade you can manage while you’re waiting for the next cycle. But if you get in, you won’t need to repeat it.

  • John January 18, 2016, 11:35 am

    Just to give some perspective. I got into 1 PA school out of about 30 applications. Then that school stopped accepting students for two years! I ended up applying to medical school in the meantime and got into 3 medical schools and I’m waiting to hear back from my top choice. DO (doctor of osteopathy) schools could be an option for those who don’t end up getting much love from PA schools. It’s a four year degree and you’re a doctor not a PA. Funny that I can’t get into PA school, but they’ll let me be a doctor. It’s something to consider to increase your odds of getting into a program, although you do have to take MCAT.

  • Nai January 20, 2016, 1:20 am

    Hello Paul,

    I applied to PA schools for the first time for Fall 2016. I have been rejected from 7 out of 8 schools so far. I’m pretty sure I will be rejected from the 8th school since this is their interview season already. I am not surprised by my rejeections.

    I had a tumultuous undergraduate career, and I took a bunch of science classes that were not required for PA school that brought my GPA down (I didn’t know I wanted to become a PA back then). Anyway, I graduated with an overall GPA of 2.85 and a science gpa of 1.55. I took a few years to gain clinical experience, take the prerequisites for PA programs, and retake classes in which I did poorly. When I applied, my verified overall GPA was 2.98 and science GPA was 2.46.

    As for other parts of my application, I obtained ~1500 hours of HCE and 40 hours of PA shadowing. I did a clinical volunteer internship of 300 hours where I assisted nurses with direct patient care (measuring vital signs, bathing, cleaning, and feeding patients) which counted as HCE for the programs I chose. For the remaining hours ~1200 hours, I worked as a resident assistant at a drug rehabilitation center (vital signs, documentation, monitored administration of medication). I am still working full time right now to gain more clinical hours. I am at about 2000 clinical hours by now. My GRE score was verbal 157, math 150, and writing 3.5.

    I know my GPA is still low. By this point, I have taken all the prerequisites for PA schools, and I have retaken the classes that I did poorly the first time. Should I also retake my calculus class? Most programs require statistics, which I did well in already. I could also retake the GRE for a better score.

    What do you recommend I do now? I am considering applying to respiratory therapy programs and/or nursing programs to help boost my GPA a little bit, to gain clinical hours, and to have an alternative career if PA school doesn’t work out for me.

    Thank you for your time reading all this! Even though I knew my numbers were not impressive, it was still very disappointing to see all the rejections. I took some time to grieve and now I am at a crossroad in deciding what to do next.

    Thanks again!

    • Paul February 4, 2016, 7:51 pm

      Yes, your GPA is going to be very hard to get in with. I assume that when you retook classes you did well — if you still have any C’s, you should continue taking courses and getting only A’s. That said, respiratory tech is a great avenue. It’s great prep for PA school and it’s a good living if you decide you want an alternate career. You might be better off doing that for a while and then retaking the courses that have expired and getting A’s. At that point you can argue that you’re no longer a weak student because you haven’t had anything less than an A in X semesters/years. You might also focus more on NON-CASPA schools, since they usually have fewer applicants and sometimes look more individually at applications.


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