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:
- 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?
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