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MBA Admissions Tip: Dealing with a Low GPA

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Prove that today you have the ability to excel.

Explaining a low GPA can be difficult and it requires you to examine your GPA’s trend. Consider the following scenarios:

• Scenario A – 3.0 GPA, upward trend – You goofed off for your first few semesters and didn’t weigh the consequences. You failed some classes and started out with an embarrassingly low GPA not because of lack of ability, but because of immaturity. Mid-sophomore year you wised up and continuously hit above the 3.8 mark for the rest of your undergraduate career.

• Scenario B – 3.0 GPA, downward trend – Your college experience started out with a motivated streak of genius—three solid 4.0 semesters in a row. But then…things took a turn towards apathy and laziness and your grades began to suffer significantly.

• Scenario C – 3.0 GPA, static – You work hard, but not too hard. You take some classes seriously, and some not so much. You never really cared about school or grades to really put the effort in. A few years out of school and a life-changing career move have motivated you to new heights and you want to apply to b-school. But now you need to deal with a less-than-impressive record.

Let’s interpret each of these scenarios:

• The student in Scenario A doesn’t really have too much to worry about (unless he’s applying to a top MBA program for which a 3.0 GPA is a significant hurdle). Many students early in their college careers have a couple of bad semesters because of immaturity. Your grades went up, proving your capabilities and your increased maturity.

• Scenario B’s student is in a bit more of a bind. She’s proved her abilities by acing those first few semesters, but why the dramatic downturn? Did things get too difficult for her? Does she have trouble performing under pressure? Or does she just not care about improving and perfecting her academic capabilities?

• The problem of mediocrity looms over Scenario C’s student. This student will need to prove his skill level if he wants to be considered for a spot in the next MBA class.

Let’s analyze a recovery plan for each of our students:

• Student A doesn’t need to prove ability as much as motivation and seriousness, which he may have already proven with his last few years of work. He may want to ask one of his recommenders to vouch for his maturity and steadfastness. A high GMAT/GRE score will help.

• Student B will need to enroll in some college courses to prove her verbal and/or quantitative abilities (especially if her test scores weren’t so great). She’ll want to make sure her essays express her newfound motivation as well as her keen writing abilities. Her essays should include clear anecdotes that illustrate how she’s matured since her last few semesters and how her skills should be judged based on recent work experience, rather than past college experience.

• Student C is in a similar boat as Student B. He’ll want to retake some of his math and English courses and he’ll want to get solid A’s this time. B’s and C’s just won’t cut it if he wants to prove he’s b-school material. Strong essays and letters of recommendation will also boost Student C’s chances of acceptance.

Of course many of you will not be like Students A, B, or C. Your grade dive may have resulted from illness or family crisis or circumstances beyond your control. Or perhaps steady, mediocre grades resulted from your working 20-30 hours per week to support yourself through school. There are many other scenarios too. The key is to prove that today you have the ability to excel in your target MBA programs and that the circumstances that contributed to the poor marks in college no longer affect you.

Moral of the story: A single low number can be explained or put in a less damaging context with hard work and a solid application strategy.

Got a low GPA or GMAT score? Check out our popular webinar: How to Get Accepted to Top B-Schools with Low Stats

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Related Resources:

• Low GMAT Score Advice
• How to Handle a Low GMAT Quant Score
• How to Handle a Low GMAT Verbal Score

Free Webinar Recording: Can You Apply to Med School with Low Stats?

Now’s your chance to catch up on valuable information you may have missed during last week’s webinar, How to Get into Medical School with Low Stats. Med school applicants with low GPA and/or MCAT scores – you don’t want to miss this! 

GetMedSchoolLowStatsView How to Get into Medical School with Low Stats for free now!

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Writing about Weaknesses in Your Med School Personal Statement

Got low stats? You can still get into med school!

Answer the questions about your admissions profile before they are asked.

When coming up for material for your personal statement, it’s important that you ask yourself the following: Are there any weaknesses, any holes in my information, any questionable data that somebody may question about my application?

You don’t want your admissions reader getting to the end of your application and then asking, “But why was his GPA so low?” or “How does she think she’s competitive with no extracurricular activities?” If you answer their questions before they’re asked, then you’ll position yourself as a much stronger and more confident candidate, despite your weaknesses.

How can you anticipate their questions?

Get a friend, family member, or admissions consultant (like those of us here at Accepted) to review your application and highlight any potential weaknesses. Sometimes, as the subject of the application, you may not see these blemishes – recruiting an outside critic may be just what you need to pinpoint flaws so you can see them, and address them.

Tackle the issue!

Now you need to take a step back and be critical yourself. Was there a quarter or semester that you got some poor grades? That would need to be explained. Was there a reason why you were too busy for an arm’s length list of extracurricular activities? Explain what went wrong, what obstacle you faced, and how you worked to overcome that challenge.   Addressing the improvements you made (boosting your GPA, retaking a class) is an excellent strategy for your personal statement. You really do want to emphasize the steps you took and the self-development and self-awareness that you gained as a result. Medical schools love to see that level of self-reflection in essays and that level of maturity.

Don’t Be Too Negative!           

Tread carefully! It’s a mistake to focus exclusively on perceived weaknesses. You want to give the admissions committee positive reasons to accept you. Again, why are you going to make a great doctor as opposed to merely what are the weaknesses in your profile that may keep you out? What are the stories that you can tell? What experiences have you had that will tell somebody not just that you can claim, but that will tell somebody, “Hey, you have the qualities, the personal traits that will make a great doctor.” Frame your weaknesses as stepping stones for increased strength. Don’t be defensive; be confident that you were able to face your challenges and overcome them.

The advice in this post is based on a conversation we had in our recent webinar, Ask The Experts: Medical School Admissions Q&A with Cydney Foote and Alicia McNease Nimonkar. Check out the full transcript for more tips on applying to med school successfully!

Learn how you can get accepted to med school even with a low MCAT or GPA!

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Related Resources:

Get Accepted to Medical School with Low Stats, an on-demand webinar
• Tips For Applicants With A Low MCAT Score
A Second Chance at Medical School: The A-Z of Applying to Postbac Programs

How Do You Deal With Criticism? MBA Admissions Committees Want to Know

Need b-school admissions advice? Check out our MBA Admissions 101 Pages!

Most important, show how you responded to the criticism.

Many MBA essays ask you to write about a time you faced criticism. This may not be the kind of question you wished they had asked, but it is one that provides an excellent opportunity to show the highly prized quality of emotional intelligence, or EQ, as it is known. Additionally, the people writing your letters of recommendation are almost sure to be asked to assess you in this same sensitive area: Did you respond with maturity and self-reflection, or did you struggle to suppress your anger at the perceived insult?

Adcom members remain acutely interested in candidates’ EQ. This may be due, in part, to the fact that today’s millennial applicants (especially Americans) have been raised without much constructive criticism, and in fact, have been taught to expect lavish praise for things previous generations did with no expectation of awards or perks. It’s not the millennials’ fault that they got this message, but adcoms need reassurance that millennial applicants can accept criticism with grace, self-reflection, and maturity. This ability to turn a negative experience into an opportunity for growth is key to demonstrating your EQ– and your management potential.

Here are several tips that my clients have used very successfully when dealing with the question of responding to criticism:

1. Choose an experience that took place within the last two years. It will be a more accurate gauge of your current maturity.

2. State the circumstances leading up to the criticism briefly and forthrightly. Did you discover the new software product still had bugs during the testing just three weeks before launch, but were afraid to report the bad news to your supervisor? Had you become angry with a colleague who was difficult to work with? Were you asked to mentor a new-hire, but found the job thankless and managed to evade some of those mentoring responsibilities? Whatever the situation, just tell it like it was.

3. Show your response honestly: Did you expect what was coming, or were you blindsided?

4. Most important, show how you responded to the criticism. The adcoms will be alert to answers that seem shallow or lacking in sufficient detail. Did you respond instantly to the critic, or let him know you thank him for the feedback and would like a day to get back to him? Show a bit of the conversation you had with your critic and what you learned from that conversation.

5. Reveal what you did to improve or mitigate the situation that led to the feedback. For example, if you could still take some corrective action on the situation, show how you did so.

6. Show growth: what have you done to avoid future episodes like this? Don’t gloss over this with a one sentence answer, such as “From this situation I learned to be more sensitive to how my colleagues were feeling.” Go deeper. For example, did you begin to spend more time talking to those colleagues on a regular basis, evaluating their view of events? Did you read any books on successful communication skills, or workplace dynamics? Did you set up regular times to meet with your supervisor to make sure you were on the same page with projects? Your changes have to be believable as a result of honest self-reflection and action.

7. What if you felt the criticism was unfair or unwarranted? If this is the case, it will still be important to show that you dealt with it in a mature way. Show how you tried to put yourself in your critic’s shoes: How was it possible he or she viewed the situation that way? The ability to consider another person’s point of view, even if it is erroneous, and then respond with tact, is an important element of EQ.

Everyone makes mistakes in life, and everyone is on the receiving end of criticism from time to time. One thing that can distinguish you from other applicants is your ability to embrace such uncomfortable situations, and to turn them to your advantage through greater self-awareness and commitment to personal and professional growth.

MBA 5 Fatal Flaws

Judy Gruen By , MBA admissions consultant since 1996 and author (with Linda Abraham) of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.