PA ADMISSIONS • BY ANNE, CCPA

The Importance of GPA for PA School

The Importance of GPA for Canadian Physician Assistant School

GPA for PA programs does vary depending on the university you are applying to.  Some programs look at only cumulative GPA, where other PA programs put more emphasis on the GPA you obtained in certain courses such as Anatomy & Physiology as well as Biochemistry.

The scales used across Canadian Universities vary (e.g. McMaster uses a 12.0 system, University of Toronto uses 4.0 system, University of Manitoba uses a 4.5 system).

For Ontario PA programs, GPA is standardized by the OMSAS scale. The University of Manitoba program, Faculty of Graduate Studies outlines a “Canadian GPA Equivalency Table“.

The Significance of GPA for PA school

Maintaining an excellent grade point average is a helpful indicator for admissions to demonstrate if the PA applicant would succeed in the PA program.

However keep in mind that GPA is only one part of the equation, and is only part of what is evaluated to determine if you’d be a good fit for the PA program, and would make a great Physician Assistant.

Why GPA?

The study of medicine is not easy, and PA schools want to ensure (in my opinion) that the students that are enrolled in the program have the aptitude and grit to be able to learn and practice medicine. Learning medicine has been likened to “trying to drink from a firehose”. Its a tremendous amount of information, and in PA school its in a relatively short period of time.

GPA is one marker that is “standard” across different universities and provides a quantitative way to compare applicants.

Limitations of GPA

Admissions committees recognize that GPA is just one facet of an applicant. GPA doesn’t give the entire picture of your capabilities and well-roundedness as an applicant. (e.g. written or verbal communication, bedside manner, professionalism, etc.).

This is why there is also submission of a supplementary application or letter of intent, references, as well as a PA interview (MMI style here in Canada).

Minimum vs Competitive GPA

As a Pre-PA you should be looking at two aspects of your GPA:

  1. Ensure you meet the minimum GPA requirement: For instance, PA consortium’s GPA cut off requirement is 2.7 out of 4.0 on the OMSAS scale. If you have a cumulative GPA of 2.5, even if you submit an application through OUAC and complete the supplementary application questions – your application will not be considered.
  2. Understand what is considered a competitive GPA in PA school: Canadian PA students from the Class of 2019 have put together infographics outlining the range of GPAs of accepted PA students, and the average GPA of students who got in (access requires joining the Pre-PA Facebook Group). You don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA to get into PA school, however optimizing your GPA can only help your chances of getting in.

Not all GPAs are equal

Imagine this scenario: two applicants – one with a high GPA and one with a low GPA. High GPA student took bird courses all the way through, low GPA student took more challenging courses. How do you fairly compare the quality of those two applicants?

Other factors affecting your GPA:

  • What undergraduate school you attended
  • What high school you attended (high school education is not the same across the country, some students may graduate more prepared than the university environment than others), which may affect your grades in first year
  • The balance of taking ‘harder’ and ‘easier’ courses
  • Doing poorly in first year (as you were “learning how to learn” in university) and grades steadily improved as you spent more time in undergraduate study in your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year
  • Having a personal or familial setback that impacted your grades

Admissions committees across different professional programs recognize this, which is why there are other aspects to admissions (personal statement/supplementary application, interview, and admissions tests – MCAT, PCAT, OAT, etc. Side Note: PA schools in Canada do not require completion of admission tests as part of admission requirements).

Approach to GPA for PA school

If you are considering applying to PA school, and you are in…

You are in high school

Build Study Habits Now – Work on developing the discipline and habits to achieve high grades and get involved in extra-curricular activities. Don’t assume “you’ll figure it out” in university – start now. This will help you set yourself up for success when you hit university.

You don’t have to be “Pre-PA” now – Often, having a general idea of what field you’d like to work in (e.g. health care, business, nursing, engineering, sciences, psychology, etc.). Attend the university fair (e.g. Ontario University Fair) to learn more about specific programs. Pick a major you like, that you think you will do well. Do self-reflection – think about your long-term goals, desires, strengths & weaknesses. Be sure to speak with your guidance counselor, friends and family.

Not one major is the “best” for Pre-PA – Remember that there is no pre-requisite “undergraduate program” – just as long as you take the courses required (if applicable) and maintain good grades you can apply to PA school!

How to Approach GPA for PA school

You are in your undergraduate studies

Learn, adjust & always strive to be better – As a straight A student in high school, I was devastated when I received a 60% on my first midterm in Chemistry 1A03 (first semester of chemistry). So, I did more practice questions, I spent extra time preparing and completing chemistry lab reports, I went to the TA during office hours to get extra help, and I asked my friends who knew better. I also attended “How to Study” workshop sessions run by the  Career Centre. I ended up with an ‘A’ in the course!

Look into and plan for program pre-requisites – I would recommend looking into 3-5 careers that you would be interested in (e.g. doctor, pharmacist, physiotherapy, Physician Assistant, Master’s in research, etc.) and do some light research on pre-requisites for their program.

This includes researching:

  • the profession (scope of practice, day to day tasks, pros & cons, career path etc.)
  • admission requirements to get into the different professional school
    • e.g. Do you need to maintain a minimum GPA?
    • Do you need to take pre-requisite courses in order to qualify? (e.g. Anatomy & Physiology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physics, Organic Chemistry?)
    • Do you need to have a full load of courses for a certain number of semester?
    • Can you only apply after your 3rd or 4th year? Or can you apply after 2nd year?
    • Do you need to write an admission test (e.g. MCAT, GRE, PCAT, DAT, OAT?). If yes, should you be planning dedicated time to study? Or to take a special prep course?

You can now proactively plan your academic semesters to help you on your way to fulfilling admission requirements.

Find out if you meet Admission Criteria for Canadian PA Programs.

Balance and time your ‘hard’ courses – I knew Organic Chemistry was going to be an extremely difficult subject for me, and I had to take it as I was still considering medical school at that time (many medical schools do list it as a required course for admissions). I decided to take it during the summer, so I didn’t have any other difficult courses competing for my time. For that summer semester I took Organic Chemistry and balanced it with an easier course in a subject I enjoyed.

Consider re-taking courses with poor grades – You may consider re-taking a course to get a better grade and help boost your GPA. Be sure to find out how different schools view grades from repeated courses.

You are Done Undergraduate studies

If you are not considering PA school after you have done your undergraduate degree, there is not much more you can do re: GPA.

What are my options for GPA if I finished my undergraduate degree?

  • Option 1: If you meet the minimum requirements as is, leave the GPA as is and make sure to strengthen other aspects of your application
  • Option 2: Take more undergraduate courses. Some PA schools in Canada DO NOT consider grades from Master’s program coursework.

Taking more undergraduate courses does not mean you are completing a “new degree” – unless that is what you decide you’d like to do.

What is your approach to GPA for PA school? Let me know in the comments below!