Grades show whether you previously performed well in an academic setting. If your college GPA is low, then you need to provide evidence that even though you may have faltered back then, now you’ve got you’re A-game and are capable of academic excellence.
The following 3 steps will help you overcome a low GPA and present a solid case to the admissions board that you mean academic business:
First, identify the cause of your low GPA.
Is it low because you partied a little too hard your first two semesters, but then buckled down after that and worked to pull up your low freshman GPA? Or did you start out high and then get really lazy and bored with school your senior year and let things spiral out of control? Or is it possible that your low GPA is truly an indication that your workload was too challenging and that you’re not school material? Or perhaps you were dealing with a serious illness or family problems? Or maybe back then you just weren’t motivated to succeed?
Once you understand why you have a less-than-impressive GPA, you’ll have an easier time figuring out what to do next (Step 2) and how to explain the situation (Step 3).
Once you determine that you are motivated this time around and are capable and competent academically, then it’s time to take action to improve your profile. (And if after deep introspection you decide that school is just not for you, then consider yourself lucky that you figured that out now and not after you’ve paid $100,000+ on even more schooling.)
Obviously, you can’t go back and raise your undergraduate GPA, but there are steps you can take NOW to show the adcom that your undergrad GPA doesn’t define your current academic abilities:
• Take a few business-related, college-level courses and earn A’s in them.
• Ace the GMAT.
In a non-whiny, non-defensive tone, you can clearly and straightforwardly explain why your GPA is lower than it should be in the optional essay. Perhaps there was a death in the family one semester or maybe you had emergency surgery that left you on bed rest for three weeks mid-semester. Or maybe you just didn’t realize the importance of grades until halfway through your sophomore year and by then your GPA had taken a serious hit. Or maybe you worked thirty hours a week to support yourself. Let the reader know the context of your grades. Write honestly and write well.
In other parts of the application, show the skills that your transcript hides without drawing attention to the grades. For example, if you did not do well in Econ 101 or college math classes, but now are do some really heavy lifting in terms of financial modeling, then either in your resume or in a required essay, write about a quantitative challenge that you handled with elan.
Regarding letters of recommendation – getting a supervisor to vouch for your maturity and abilities is probably one of the best things you can do to bolster your case. Again, if you had poor grades in classes requiring a lot of writing, ask your boss if she can comment positively on your communications skills. If you had poor quant grades, ask if she can praise your quantitative analysis of a complex project. In either case, your boss doesn’t have to reference the negative you are trying to overcome – just the positives you want to bring out.
Please see Overcoming Weaknesses in Your MBA Profile for more advice on how to identify and ameliorate flaws in your profile.