So you’ve narrowed down your list of target schools and now it’s time to get real. You’ve made the decision to apply to the school of your dreams but you’re worried that your low GPA may prevent you from real consideration. Many candidates feel as though there is nothing they can do about their GPA since they have already graduated from college. They believe that their dream school will remain just that, a dream.
Before we dive into how to overcome a low GPA, let’s define what a low GPA really is. GPA averages and ranges are a good place to start when making your case here. The farther you skew left or right of the mean will indicate your relative competitiveness for a program on paper. Qualifiers like age, work experience type (analytical vs. not), undergraduate rigor will all factor into the relative importance of these stats, so keep this in mind as you decide whether you truly have a low GPA. With this being said a low GPA really is a school-by-school situation, so make sure you are assessing fit on a case-by-case basis.
Now if you do have a low GPA there are a few ways you can overcome it. The first recommendation is to own it. Do not ignore your low GPA or even worse do not make excuses for your low GPA. Address it head on within the application package when possible. An obvious opportunity is the optional essay. Again be cautious not to make any excuses or shift blame. Own it and explain directly and succinctly what happened. Was it a lack of maturity? Was it your budding piano career? Was it the huge time commitment that is life as a varsity athlete on campus? Whatever it was, explain the reason for the setback in a concise, direct fashion. Also, if there are some positives you can offer about your academic profile like an upward trajectory or a high major or analytical GPA this will serve to somewhat counteract your low overall GPA.
Another way to overcome your low GPA is to create an alternative transcript. By taking additional coursework, particularly at the grad level, you can make a case to admissions that you can handle graduate level classes. Now of course you should make sure you are achieving top scores in these classes to make the case clear. Obvious opportunities exist to showcase your analytical mettle so if you performed poorly in undergrad in these type of classes, target courses in Finance, Accounting, and Statistics as a way to show you are capable.
Finally, you should really aim to perform well on the GMAT. A strong performance on the GMAT can go a long way in counteracting a low GPA. Admission teams see the GMAT as a strong indicator of future academic performance in business school, so help them reduce their anxiety over your low GPA by scoring well here.
Applying to business school with a low GPA is not the end of the world; follow the tips above to minimize the impact of this negative on your application.
Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants.