How to Get Into Business School with a Low GPA

Yes, it’s true! You can get into a well-respected MBA program with low grades from college. Whether you are an international student or a U.S. student, you don’t have to throw your dreams of going to a top business school away just because you didn’t earn strong grades in college.

What is a low GPA?

I consider a low GPA to be anything under 3.6. I know, I know, I set the bar really high. However, admission to top business schools is extraordinarily competitive, and there are many other applicants who will have achieved high grades in college while also excelling in other areas of their profile.

I’m sure that when you googled “how to get into business school with a low GPA,” you were not thinking of a GPA of 3.5 as low. You’re probably asking about someone who has a GPA that is in the under 3.0 range. Well, there’s still hope. Make sure you follow the advice below and check off as many of the actions as you can.

Why do business schools care about your college GPA?

Even though business school differs from college, it is still an academic program toward the awarding of a professional degree. Your performance in college gives insight into your dedication as a student, your scholastic aptitude, and your ability to effectively manage your time. If you perform very well in college, there is a good chance that you are well-prepared to perform well in graduate school. If you perform poorly in college, that’s a red flag to the Admissions Committee that you may not be cut out for the rigors of the MBA classroom.

How to overcome a low GPA

1. Score very well on the GMAT or GRE.

Here are some GMAT score guidelines for those of you with low GPAs.

700+: excellent. Great job! You are ready to move on to a different part of improving your candidacy.

650 – 690: strong. Consider retaking the test to get in the 700 score range. However, do not prioritize getting an even higher score on the GMAT over your essays, which are extremely important.

600 – 640: fine. This is the range in which I scored. (I received a 620 on the GMAT and was admitted to HBS and waitlisted at Stanford GSB.) This is not a strong score for applying to Top 10 MBA programs, especially if you have a low GPA. However, you could still have a fighting chance at Top 25 business school programs if you take action on recommendations made in this post. If you have a low GPA and a GMAT score in this range, I recommend you apply to at least 7 schools, and make sure you take all the other actions in this blog post.

500 – 590: poor. I do not recommend that you apply to a Top 25 business school if your score is in this range and you have a low GPA. I’ve had clients get into Top 25 business schools with either a low GMAT score or low grades, but I rarely have seen people get admitted to a Top 25 school with low scores in both areas.

under 500: If you are scoring under 500 on the GMAT, you probably need to wait at least a year to apply to business school and focus on the fundamentals of mathematics, grammar, and reading comprehension. I think that many people who score in this range would be well served to start at the material one learns in a U.S. public school in 6th grade and master those concepts before moving on to more advanced concepts. Without a strong foundation, it is very difficult to perform well on standardized tests.

2. Have an excellent work record.

I recommend applying to business school with 2-5 years of work experience with increasing responsibility. You should have a professional, salaried job where you are regularly working in teams, working on projects with measurable, quantifiable results, and hopefully, interacting with clients.

Promotions, awards, and being selected for special training programs are all signs of strong work performance.

3. Take supplemental coursework.

You should take the following courses and earn a B+ or better in each course:

  • Calculus
  • Microeconomics
  • Statistics
  • Accounting
  • Finance / Corporate Finance

You should take a college-level version of the course. You can take the course at a community college, junior college, or 4-year college or university. Coursera is an option but a less desirable one in my opinion.

An excellent way to get your supplemental coursework achieved is through HBX CORe, which is a selective pre-MBA coursework program offered by Harvard Business School. I’ve had several clients successfully complete HBX CORe, and I think it will only become increasingly expensive and challenging to get into, so go ahead and take it while you can!

4. Write outstanding essays.

Many applicants underestimate the importance of strong essays when applying to business school. In my opinion, once you’ve gotten over the hurdle of a “good enough” GPA and GMAT score, they are the most important part of the application.

Your MBA admission essays should be:

  • within the word limit. If you’re having trouble getting your essay into the word limit, consider using our essay editing service so we can help you get it down while still maintaining your voice and keeping your message intact. Do not submit an essay that is even one word over the word limit.
  • specific and detailed. When you are as specific as possible about your goals, experiences, and reasons for applying, you make your essay more memorable and more persuasive. Make sure that when telling stories, you use my Juicy Story Framework.

5. Write the optional essay.

In your optional essay, you should succinctly discuss your poor grades, why they occurred, what you learned from the experience, and what specific resources and strategies you will use to make sure you maintain strong academic performance. I bet you’re thinking this: But I don’t want to draw attention to my bad grades! Well, guess what! You aren’t tricking anyone by ignoring your bad grades; all you are doing by not addressing them is making it look like you don’t think they are that big of a deal. You show self-awareness and a sense of being proactive when you address your bad grades in your optional essay and give a specific action plan for making sure you don’t repeat that poor performance in graduate school.

6. Apply in Round 1 or Round 2.

Most MBA programs have three rounds of admission: Round 1, Round 2, and Round 3. There are far fewer spots left in the MBA class in Round 3, and I rarely suggest that people apply in Round 3. If you have a low GPA, your chances of being admitted during Round 3 are that much lower. If you find yourself tempted to apply in Round 3 with a low GPA, consider how ahead of the game you will be if you switch your focus now to applying Round 1 for the subsequent admission year. Rather than having a few weeks to submit your application, you now have 6+ months to make sure you put together the strongest application possible.

A low GPA doesn’t have to ruin your goal of attending a top MBA program. However, there are specific action steps you need to make sure you take.

Do you have a low GPA? What actions steps have you taken to make yourself a stronger applicant to your dream school?

33 Comments How to Get Into Business School with a Low GPA

  1. Annelise

    Hi Kaneisha!

    Thanks for this post – I found it very helpful. I looked into HBX CORe per your recommendation, and it seems like a great choice.

    I’m curious – do you see that HBX CORe is accepted (and it’s program respected) by MBA programs outside of Harvard’s? I’m interested in applying, although I’d like to do a program that will have an equal impact across all of my applications and I know HBX CORe is still relatively new. Have you seen applicant success stories using HBX CORe at other programs outside of Harvard’s?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Annelise, for the most impact across all of your MBA applications, I suggest you take your supplemental courses at a community college, junior college, or 4-year college or university. I’m a big fan of HBX CORe, but I consider it the best option among online course options. However, for now, an in-person class where you receive a real grade on a real transcript is the preferred way to go.

      Reply
  2. Jersey

    Hi,

    What if you have a low undergraduate GPA, but an excellent graduate GPA? I’m considering getting a MBA or a business degree in addition to what I already have. Which GPA is weighed more?

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Jersey, while having a strong GPA in a graduate program is a good thing and will be positive for your application, the most heavily weighted GPA will be your undergraduate GPA since that is the measuring stick by which all applicants can be compared. Thanks for your question!

      Reply
  3. Priyom Das

    Hi,

    I am from India and the local community college options are limited. I have a considerably low GPA and wanted to know from you what are the good online courses that I could pursue to help strengthen my application?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Priyom, I recommend you do a quick online search for what you’re looking for or consider taking the courses at some local four-year universities if you can. I’d be happy to have my team do a search for you for some online courses through our email coaching service if you are interested.

      Reply
  4. Allie

    Love this! You mention that I’d need 2 to 5 years work experience? I’m Canadian with a low GPA. After undergrad I did graduate school then got funding to start my own company. Is this considered “work experience”?

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Allie, running a startup or small business does indeed count as work experience. You will want to give lots of numbers to quantify the results of your efforts running a business (revenue, profit margin, number of clients or customers, number of employees, etc.).

      Reply
  5. Yatharth Garg

    Hi,
    I wanted to ask that I have a GMAT score of 726 and undergrad GPA-2.8/4. Do I have a chance of getting into top 20 business schools considering I do well on my essays?

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Yatharth, congrats on your excellent GMAT score! I don’t provide profile evaluations in the comments. I need to review your profile in-depth to assess your chances. This is a service called a Deep Dive that I offer. Thank you for commenting!

      Reply
  6. Aj

    Hi Kaneisha,

    thanks for the great article. I have a super low GPA of 2.53 in my bachelors of engineering. I am yet to take the GMAT test. I have just started preparing for it and was planning on taking it around december end. I just checked a couple of schools and it seems like the Round 2 deadline for 2017 is jan first week. After reading your article I believe i should be applying in Round 1 or Round 2. But given the amount of time I have, it looks like I would only be able to apply in Round 3. Do you recommend that at all?

    And what ranked schools should I be looking at with a super low GPA.

    Thanks
    Aj

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi AJ, I don’t recommend anyone apply to business school in Round 3 unless you are fine with possibly having to reapply to business school in a following year. For your 2.53 GPA, I recommend applying to 6-12 schools ranked 30-50 in the popular MBA rankings. You should also take all the steps outlined in the article above. Best of luck!

      Reply
  7. David Yuwa

    I have a bachelors degree in law from the university of papua new guinea. gpa of 2.98. I have worked as a legal advisor for three years. My high school gpa us 3.8. I also have obtained a degree in psychology with a gpa of 3.5. What are my chances?

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi David, I do not provide profile evaluations in the comments section. You can get an in-depth profile evaluation during a Deep Dive. Best of luck!

      Reply
  8. Shaqaq

    Hi, Thank you for your tips. I’m international student I just done my BS degree from US college with 3.0 GPA. I also have more than 4 years of work experience. Now I’m looking to apply for Harvard MBA program and i’m wondering if I can waive the GMAT/GRE test somehow!!

    Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Ron

    Hi Kaneisha,

    Excellent article. This topic of low GPA and getting into HBS directly applies to my story and I wanted to get your insight on this.

    My background – I am an Indian national, schooled in Dubai (A grades throughout), completed undergraduate degree in economics at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with a GPA of 2.0 (this is the major issue), then did investment banking in Singapore for 2 years, then worked at the World Bank on large deals in Sub Saharan Africa and Latin America for 3 years, and now for the past 2 years working for a top-notch private equity firm. My GMAT score is 720. I have done a lot of community work through my family foundation on education and schools for the underprivileged. I have two HBS alums who can swear by me and write me the best recommendation letters because I have closely worked with them and they value my skills.

    Now as you can see I have all the ingredients except my GPA which is by far the lowest of the low. Please advice whether HBS MBA is still possible?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Ron, I don’t provide profile evaluations in the comments. This would be appropriate for a Deep Dive. However, I would strongly encourage you to apply to HBS and any other school that interests you. If you don’t apply, you have a 0% chance of admission, no matter how hard the school is to get into. Best of luck!

      Reply
  10. Joel Mac

    Hi,

    This article is really helpful in understanding alot of misconceptions about getting admissions to HBS or top business schools. Is there any admission program for foriegn students to apply at HBS or other top business schools with low or mid-level GPA?

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Joel, I’m glad you found the article helpful! International students with a low or mid-level GPA should apply to business school through the regular admissions process just like everyone else. If you are able to work with the help of an admissions consultant (hopefully us!), the expert help could be very valuable in helping you best present your self despite your imperfect numbers. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  11. Emily

    Hi! I found this article interesting as someone with a 3.5 GPA (more technically reported as a 3.562 on my transcript…). My concern is not so much the overall GPA but that I did get 2 C’s during the 2nd half of my academic career and whether or not I should address them specifically. My concern is that the frank reason why that happened is I became rather depressed in college and really lost motivation to participate. Most of my other success is probably due to my aptitude for exams and I can only guess some luck. I don’t feel that will come across well in an essay so am not sure what to do. Thank you for any further advice.

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Emily, congrats on doing so well in college! Depression is a real (and fairly common) issue that people deal with while in college. If the C’s on your transcript are in your major or in a class important to the type of degree to which you are applying, then I recommend addressing them in your optional essay. Here’s a link with articles on how to write an optional essay. Best of luck and don’t worry too much about those C’s. I had two C’s on my transcript as well!

      Reply
  12. SAM

    Hi,

    This article has cleared a lot of the confusion surrounding admissions to HBS or top business schools. I have a 2.7 GPA and a 700 GMAT score. Two years of work experience at an FMCG and I have my own social venture on the side. Do you think I have a chance of getting in to HBS?

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Sam, I can’t give you a clear idea of your chances of admission without having a more in-depth understanding of your background and goals. This would be an appropriate question for a Deep Dive. That said, you need to take the steps outlined in this article to mitigate your low GPA for applying to any Top 25 MBA program. Thanks for your question and best of luck!

      Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Cherry, I wouldn’t say a “pass” is considered bad in and of itself. However, I don’t think it’s a boost to your application to HBS specifically if you share that you received a “pass.” My understanding is that a “pass” is one of the lower designations you can receive, which is a direct comparison between you and others who completed the program. Thanks for your question!

      Reply
  13. Joseph

    How do students self-report their GPA typically? Is it cumulative GPA, last two semester GPA’s, average GPA, major GPA? I know UCLA Anderson is most interested in the upper classes GPA of the last two years opposed to freshman and sophomore, which case I’ll be in luck because I’ll be hovering just at a 3.6 from a non-target school. Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Great question, Joseph! Unless stated otherwise, grad schools want to know your cumulative, entire GPA from all of college.

      Reply
  14. Jeremy Johnson

    Hi Kaneisha, I’m hoping to attend Harvard or Stanford for my MBA and am probably going to end up with a GPA between 3.5 and 3.8 from a US News top 15 university with a highly regarded econ department. I’ve always been a strong test taker so I’m not particularly worried about the GMAT however I don’t want to go into business after I graduate from college and would prefer to do something like the peace corps, teach for america or the navy. The rationale is simply that I’ll be spending 10-15 years in business after I graduate from business school anyway and when I’m young I’d like to travel and try something I won’t be able to justify doing post business school. Do you think this would substantially hurt my chances? Second question (sorry), if I have a choice bewteen getting a GPA towards the top end of that spectrum (3.7-3.8) and being President of the student government and engaging in some other extracurriculars but getting a 3.5 what would you recommend? Last question, despite my decent overall GPA, I bombed both Calc II and Microeconomics with C’s, I got a B in Calc I and an A+ in macroeconomics and an A in a 300-level statistics class. Is there anything I should do to rectify this/how much will it affect my application? Thanks for your help!

    Reply
    1. Kaneisha Grayson

      Hi Jeremy, thanks for all of your interesting questions! I’ll handle them one by one. First of all, congrats on performing so well in college.

      1) Will Peace Corps / Teach for America (TFA) / another fellowship hurt my chances of being admitted to business school?

      Definitely not! I was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar before going to business school, and lots of our clients do Peace Corps, Teach for America, Kiva Fellows, Venture for America, and other similar programs. If you’re interested in those programs, apply to all the ones that interest you. These kinds of programs are seen as positives by Admissions Committees, and you can even sometimes receive fee waivers or special fellowships for having completed the programs. For example, here are the benefits that TFA alumni receive.

      2. Should I aim for the highest GPA possible or get a good enough GPA (3.5 – 3.7) and aim to President of the Student Government?

      I recommend you participate in the extracurricular and leadership activities that you can while still maintaining a 3.6 GPA or higher. If you can be President of the Student Government as well as get a 3.6 GPA or higher, go for it! If you’ll be spreading yourself too thin, I recommend choosing an activity that will allow you to exercise teamwork and leadership skills while still maintaining high grades.

      3) I bombed both Calc II and Microeconomics with C’s, I got a B in Calc I and an A+ in macroeconomics and an A in a 300-level statistics class. Is there anything I should do to rectify this/how much will it affect my application?

      I recommend you retake Microeconomics at a community college or online and earn a B+ or better. I don’t think you necessarily need to retake Calc II since you got a B in Calc I. It could be helpful to your profile to retake Calc I and get an A. A highly recommended option is to take HBX CORe.

      You are welcome! Best of luck with applying. Don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help you with your grad school applications.

      Reply

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