The Importance of GPA when Applying to a Canadian PA Program

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”. It is a tremendous amount of information, and in PA school it is in all learned 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 does not 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).