We get asked about retaking classes all the time, so I thought I would speak to it specifically this week.

Retaking classes is time consuming, expensive, and generally a pain in the hip extensors (look them up, if you don’t know what I’m referring to…)  But in some cases it is exactly what needs to happen to get you over the bar and into PA program.  Knowing which courses to retake and when is key to getting you into PA school — and sooner, rather than later.But first a word of caution…

Retaking Classes for PA School – GPA Considerations

The first thing you need to be clear about is that retaking classes (in most cases) has a minimal effect on your GPA, because retaken classes don’t replace your low grades – they average in with themThat’s right: your low grade won’t be dropped – the retaken class grade will be added to it and averaged.

For example:

Lets say you had a nasty case of mononucleosis that made you sleep through your entire physiology class in college, earning you a dreaded F (ow!)  You have a cumulative GPA of 2.9 at graduation, and are wondering if you should retake physiology, since your cumulative GPA is lackluster.  Assuming that your bachelor’s degree was completed in 128 semester units, and you will get an A in your retaken physiology class that is 5 units, that retaken class will only bump your 2.90 GPA up to a 2.94.  Many bachelor’s degrees are more than 128 semester units, so in reality, it may not even raise your GPA this much.

The lesson?  In general, you don’t retake classes for PA school in order to influence your cumulative GPA – they just don’t improve it that much.

So Why Should You Retake Classes At All? 

You should retake classes for PA school to prove that you can do well in them, plain and simple.

This is particularly true if you have done poorly in a required course, or, heaven forbid, a required science course.  PA school admissions committees need to know that you have mastered the basic science material on which the PA school curriculum relies.  If you get a poor grade in an important class, they will wonder if you can handle that kind of material and if you will have the foundation on which to build.

Which Classes to Retake for PA School

It doesn’t make much sense to retake everything you did poorly in, unless you did poorly in everything.  If that’s the case, 1) you should take some time off, 2) decide if becoming a PA is really for you, and 3) look into getting another bachelors degree.  Speak with an academic counselor.

So what do you retake?  Since 3.0 is considered a functional minimum GPA for getting into PA school *(yes, some do get in with <3.0), we think it makes sense to start with those courses that you got less than a B in.  C’s aren’t pretty, and they scream “Hey, I’m not ready for PA school” to PA school admissions committees.

Deciding which courses to retake can be challenging.  Here’s our recommended hierarchy (use if for all courses in which you received less than a B):

  1. First, retake ANY REQUIRED SCIENCE COURSE.  Courses like anatomy, physiology, microbiology, general or organic chemistry (if required) are considered foundational.  YOU MUST MASTER THESE to do well in PA school.  For this reason, THEY ARE YOUR FIRST PRIORITY.
  2. Next, retake any non-required science course that was over one unit.  If you failed a 1 unit course on bird behavior, don’t bother retaking it.  But if you failed a 3-unit course on evolution, health, etc., retake it to prove you can succeed in it.
  3. Next, retake any English composition course.  If you are a foreign student and English is your weak area, this should be your step #1.
  4. Finally, retake other courses only if they seem relevant to medicine and/or communication (speech, literature, etc.)

Retaking Classes for PA School – Do It Right

A few more things to remember:

  • There isn’t much sense in retaking a course for a mediocre grade – doing so will raise your GPA even less.  And if you do poorly on a course the second time you take it, you have reinforced the idea that you can’t handle that material – not at all what you want.  So do yourself a favor and CRUSH any class you retake.
  • To maximize the chance of doing well, retake courses that you struggled with one at a time.  Past performance is the best predictor of future performance, so if you know, for example, that organic chemistry was a bugger for you the first time, don’t put anything else on your plate the second time around.
  • You don’t need to retake classes at the same institution.  In most cases, PA schools care very little where you took a course.  If you can choose a better instructor or a better program, do it; the point is to do well at the course.
  • Some have asked us if they should retake undergraduate courses, or go for an advanced degree, like a Masters in Exercise Physiology or Immunology or other related discipline.  Our answer: NO.  PA schools don’t want to see that you’ve done well in some science course, they want to see that you can handle the courses on which their curriculum rests.  What’s the point of spending 2 or more years on a degree in Nutrition if you haven’t proven you have absorbed General Chemistry?  Going for such a degree is a major detour from your goal.  Sure taking new courses is more interesting, but what is your goal?  If it’s to become a PA, you need to get past the prerequisite material.
  • If you haven’t read it already, you might want to check out our articles on Getting Into PA School with a Low Grade, and Protecting Your GPA.

Retaking classes is a necessary evil if you have a few courses in which you really underperformed.  Retaking them will give you confidence in yourself, and it will give admissions committees the same.  [subscribe2]