Timeout with Trav: Exploring a low GPA

Click here to read the intro to this new blog series! Send your admissions questions to timeout@veritasprep.com.

Dear Trav,

I had a 2.9 GPA in undergrad, although I had some extenuating circumstances. Do you think I have any chance of getting into a top-10 school?

Top-10 Hopeful

Dear Hopeful,

Intellectual ability is certainly one of the key traits that admissions officers will be looking for, and your undergraduate GPA is an important data point that admissions committees will use to help them determine this trait.  However, don’t forget that the MBA admissions process is very holistic.  One data point will not categorically preclude you from achieving your dreams of getting into a top-10 school!

Let’s first recognize that you’ll be up against some of the best and brightest candidates from around the world, and the 2.9 GPA will be a blazing “red flag” for admissions officers.  You have something to prove!  Your task is to convince admissions officers that you’re not just qualified to attend, but that they should select you over other qualified applicants.  How can you do this with a low undergraduate GPA hanging over you?

I love how MIT Sloan describes the innovative mindset of their successful applicants: “We seek thought-leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world. We welcome people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative — true doers. We want people who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to preempt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas.”  You need to show the admissions committee that you have exceptional intellectual abilities—plus a problem-solver’s creativity—with other elements of your application:

GMAT score: the key element still in your control 

You can’t go back and relive those (perhaps hazy) years between 18 and 22, but what’s your GMAT score? A very strong GMAT score (ideally above the school’s average) can show that you under-performed your true ability in undergrad.  If both your GPA & GMAT are significantly below the school’s averages, it will be very challenging to show that you’re academically qualified for their program.  However, unlike your GPA, your GMAT score is one element of your application that is still in your control!  Do everything you can to increase the score.  I once had a GMAT student who studied for 6 months straight—3 to 4 hours a day—and raised his GMAT score by 200 points! He continued to work until his score was an asset to his application, not a detriment!

Post-undergrad academics

Have you completed additional coursework after undergrad that better shows your abilities?  Strong performance in post-undergrad academics can show that you’ve matured and have the capability to perform in their program.  However, this is unlikely to overcome BOTH a poor GPA and a poor GMAT score.

“Innovation” is more than just academics

Have you shown an innovative mindset (like that described by MIT above) in very strong professional or extracurricular accomplishments?  Since you know your intellectual abilities will be particularly scrutinized by the admissions committee, you will want to emphasize these strengths in your essays, on your resume, and even encourage your recommenders to highlight them. Use every arrow in your application quiver to show the admissions committee that you’re up to the task!

Candidates who have a clear deficiency in one area of their application are huge beneficiaries of Admissions Consulting services, as our admissions experts can assist them in bringing out hidden strengths in other areas of their applications. Getting into the right business school will have a huge impact on your whole life, and I would highly encourage you reach out and see how we can help!


If you’re thinking about applying to business school, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.