Not proud of your undergraduate GPA? Concerned it may ruin your chances of getting into a top MBA program? It’s time to tackle this issue head-on and create a plan for successfully applying to business school with a low GPA.
What defines a low GPA?
Maybe you’re a perfectionist and you’re bummed about your 3.9 GPA, so let’s be clear about what “low” really means. First, please – if your GPA is more than 3.7, you’re FINE (in this area at least). Save your worry-energy for something else.
For our purposes, a low GPA is:
- One that is at least 0.3 points below your target school’s average GPA for accepted students (on the U.S. 4.0 scale).
- One that is below your target school’s 75th or 80th percentile.
You can find this info in the Accepted Selectivity Index or the school’s class profile.
Both of these definitions require you to look at your numbers relative to those of the schools that you are targeting. So if you have a 3.2, and the average GPA of the entering class is a 3.2, then you do not have a low GPA. However, if you have a 3.2 and the school you are aiming for has an average GPA for accepted students of 3.6, then all of a sudden your average 3.2 GPA transforms into a low 3.2 GPA.
Analyze your GPA: 5 questions to ask yourself
Put your GPA into perspective by asking yourself these questions:
- Did you have a hard time adjusting to college, so your GPA took a hit your freshman year, but improved the following year, and then every year after that? Did you end up recovering from that first clueless year by landing on the Dean’s List for the last two years and having a 4.0 GPA the last year?
- Did an illness in the family or other circumstance beyond your control cause a drop in your grades for a specific period of time, thereby dragging down an otherwise tip-top GPA?
- Did you declare the wrong major and have poor grades in that major until you realized your true calling, at which point you started to excel?
- Were you working part-time to support yourself or did you have a major sports commitment in order to qualify for an athletic scholarship that you needed to maintain in order to stay in school?
- Did your GPA have a downward trend, starting out strong in your first year, and then declining as you lost your motivation throughout the following years?
These questions present several causes that could explain a low GPA in order of difficulty in overcoming them (easiest to hardest). The degree of severity of your case will influence how much effort you need to put in to mitigate the situation.
Addressing your low GPA: Let’s get to work
Your goal will be to convince the adcom that your GPA isn’t an accurate reflection of your abilities and that you’re capable of much, much more. Here’s what you need to do.
Ace that GMAT
You need a high GMAT score. The test score indicates you have the raw talent and aptitude for your chosen field.
Get yourself some A’s
Take a class or two (or more) in a quant or verbal subject (depending on where your weaknesses are greater). Maybe even pursue another degree. But no matter what you do, make sure you’re ready to study hard and earn those A’s. This is your last shot at demonstrating that you are a good student with strong skills and you’ve got what it takes to excel in b-school.
With an above average test score and evidence that you can perform academically, you are well on your way to dealing with that low GPA.
How to Provide Context for Your Low GPA in Your Optional Essay
Use the optional essay to provide context to your GPA, showing that whatever contributed to your poor performance is either not a factor in your life anymore or is something that you’ve learned how to deal with so that it doesn’t affect your performance any longer.
Whatever your reasons may be (extenuating circumstances or circumstances totally beyond your control), explain the situation in a straightforward, honest manner. For real mistakes that you’ve made, fess up, take responsibility for your actions, and indicate that you are a changed person who has learned lots and moved forward. But no whining please!
Keep in mind: B-school admissions is a holistic process
MBA admissions is about much more than your GPA. You cannot look at any single number and focus exclusively on it, especially once you weigh in the circumstances that led to your low GPA and the trending direction of your GPA. Your GPA also doesn’t at all reflect the impact of your diversity and non-academic experiences – important factors taken into consideration by adcom members.
When you are admitted to b-school (or rejected, for that matter), it is due to the complete package, the holistic sum of all your parts. Yes, your GPA is extremely important, and you’d be unwise to think otherwise – but it’s not the be-all and end-all of your admissions profile. Work hard, demonstrate your academic abilities in other ways, and prove to the adcom that you’re ready to hit the books and ace the heck out of b-school.
Do you need help evaluating your profile, deciphering your stats, and creating a strong MBA application strategy? Our admissions advisors have worked with thousands of applicants and know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to every aspect of the admissions process. Check out our MBA Admissions Consulting & Editing Services and work one-on-one with your personal advisor who will help you get ACCEPTED.
• Applying to Business School With Low Stats: What You Need to Know, a free guide
• Applying to Top MBA Programs with a Low GPA, a short video
• Top 10 or Bust: Dispelling 2 MBA Myths