Are you trying to figure out how to get into grad school with a low GPA? Maybe you just realized that you can't reach your professional goals with an undergraduate degree alone, or maybe you're thinking that you might need a graduate degree to boost your med school chances. No matter your case, you do not need to despair because of your low GPA. We've got you! It is possible to get into grad school with a GPA that isn't exactly competitive, but we won't lie to you, it's not an easy fix. In this blog, we will give you some tips to help you raise your GPA if you still have time to do so, and we'll go over eight different strategies for crafting an application that is so compelling that your low GPA will be overshadowed.
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What is a GPA and why does it matter?
Your Grade Point Average (GPA) is essentially a number that indicates how well you scored in your courses on average. It is usually calculated on a scale of 1.0 and 4.0 by averaging the scores from all your courses. Each grade you receive corresponds to a point where the highest score you can receive (usually an A) will equal the highest number on that scale (usually a 4.0). After you take a few classes, your points are added up and divided by the total number of credits for all the courses you took. The number you get is your Grade Point Average.
The scale used can vary from one school to another, so we encourage you to speak with your school's academic advisor to ensure you have the correct information for your degree. To give you an idea, here is the standard scale used by most colleges:
This average number is used to assess whether you meet the standards and expectations set by different academic programs. For example, if you go to one of the best undergraduate business schools, each school will have a specific GPA that students have to meet to graduate. This is probably the case for your undergraduate program and many other graduate or specialized programs in North America. When it comes to admission, your GPA is an important factor. Most admission committees look at your GPA and transcripts to get a sense of the kind of student you are. Because it is an average of all of your grades and really the only metric or calculation that can provide a broad indication of your overall grades and scores, they consider it a good indicator of your abilities as a student.
How to improve your GPA if you still have time
Your GPA is not everything, but it is important! So, if you still have time to significantly improve your academic standing, you should take the necessary steps to do so. Here is what we suggest:
Figure out what's holding you back: We're hoping you already know this, but just in case, we'll reiterate that having a low GPA does not mean that you are not intelligent. That's why we recommend interrogating yourself and getting to the root of the issue. Take a moment to think back to the classes that you didn't do well in, be honest with yourself and write down all the factors that could be affecting your performance. Do you maybe have poor time management skills? If that's the case, then you can learn how to create a perfect medical school (or undergraduate) study schedule that is flexible enough for you to actually stick to. Are there non-academic factors affecting your ability to study? Or are you just uninterested in the material? Once you figure out what the issue is, it is a lot easier to find a solution. For example, if you figure out that your study habits are not the most productive, you can start looking for high yield study techniques and trying out different ones until you figure out what methods work best for you.
Use the school resources: Most colleges and universities have various resources that can assist students with different issues, but you usually have to go looking for them. For example, if you're not sure how to study in the US as an international student, you can reach out to the international student center for assistance. If you're unhappy with the path you chose and want to switch gears, but you're not sure how to, you can speak with an academic advisor for guidance. If you are struggling with the material in a particular class, ask your student union about tutoring services. We can give you more examples, but you probably get the gist of it now. There are tons of resources available to students on campus, so make use of them.
Want more tips for improving your GPA? This video is for you:
Talk to your professors: One of those resources is access to your professors. Professors usually announce their office hours on the first day of class or include them on your class syllabus. It's important that you save this information somewhere so that you can speak with your professors. Professors can help you understand things better by explaining them to you, suggesting books or other resources that could help you understand the material better, or providing guidance and advice on how to study. They can also give you opportunities to improve your grade while you're still in their class. Your professors want to help you succeed, but they can't read your mind, so you need to reach out to them.
Take "easy" electives: When you're selecting your elective courses, you should look for courses in areas of study that interest you and that you think you will do well in. For example, if you're completing a degree in psychology and have excellent writing skills, you could consider taking a business communications class as an elective. Your writing skills will make it easier for you to do well in the course, and you will learn some valuable skills too. This is a great way to boost your GPA while taking courses that count towards your degree.
8 strategies for getting into grad school with a low GPA
If you have time to implement the strategies outlined above, we highly recommend that you do so. However, if you're about to graduate or have already graduated, you need to figure out how to get into graduate school with a low GPA. Here are ten strategies that you can use to make sure your application is compelling, despite your low GPA.
1. Pick the right schools
It is imperative that you research the schools and programs you’re interested in to understand their admissions process and GPA requirements. Not all schools require a certain GPA for grad school applicants, and some schools care more about your academic background than others. We recommend thoroughly reading the school’s admissions page and looking at the profile of previous matriculants to find out what type of grades you need to get into a specific program. Choose schools that have a holistic admissions process and seem to value some of the other things you bring to the table. For example, if you’re trying to get into the Kellogg business school’s MBA program, you will notice that the school values diversity and work experience. In that case, you will know that even though the average GPA of previously successful applicants has been high, a strong MBA resume and diversity statement could still make you an attractive candidate for the program.
2. Ace the GRE
One of the reasons why GPA matters is because admission boards use it to estimate your intellectual ability and assess your academic readiness. Acing a test like the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) can convince them that you are indeed ready for their graduate program. Not all schools require students to take the GRE. Whether you need it to apply will depend on the specific program you are applying to. Some schools may also include it as an optional application component. We recommend preparing to take the test, acing it, and combining your score with your low GPA to demonstrate to schools that you are serious about getting into their graduate degrees, despite your undergraduate grades.
3. Ace program-related courses
If you are still completing your undergraduate degree, or if you can retake some of your program-specific courses, you should do everything you can to do well in those classes. Getting As in the courses related to your area of study or having a high major GPA can improve your chances of getting accepted into your chosen program. Additionally, you could consider taking some advanced-level classes in your field. Getting As in graduate-level coursework will not completely negate bad grades on an undergrad transcript, but it will show growth potential.
4. Get professional experience
An impressive CV for graduate school can give you an advantage over students with high GPAs, especially if your experience is related to your field of study. Graduate school programs want to admit students who are passionate about their field of study and have the skills to succeed in their program. Having hands-on experience is one of the best ways to show skills mastery and dispel concerns about your readiness for success in graduate school. So, we highly recommend looking for internships, volunteer opportunities, research assistantships, and other professional leads that will help you acquire hands-on experience.
5. Get glowing recommendations
Most graduate programs require at least two letters of recommendation. Depending on the program you're applying to, you may need academic references, professional ones, personal ones, or even a combination of all three. Either way, letters of recommendation carry a lot of weight, especially if they come from someone in the industry. They tell the admissions board how other professionals see you and provide context that grades alone can't. For example, let's say that you have a low GPA, but you impressed one of your professors with a research project. If that professor wrote a letter stating that you have great research skills, it would significantly strengthen your application. A recommendation letter from a credible professional can go a long way in helping you overcome a lower GPA.
Need a quick reminder of the key points we covered earlier? Check out this infographic:
6. Polish your writing skills
The application process to graduate school requires a lot of writing. You will need to write an effective grad school personal statement (Also Known As a statement of purpose or statement of intent), a graduate school CV, and maybe even a research interest statement. Some schools also have additional essay prompts for students to answer. So, in short, you will be doing a lot of writing. These essays are supposed to tell the admissions board who you are, your goals, why you are interested in their program, and why you think you'd be a good fit for it. When done correctly, these essays can show your understanding of and passion for your chosen field, overshadowing your low GPA. We recommend working with a grad school essay tutor if you want to ensure that your essays are as compelling as possible.
7. Explain the circumstances
Most applicants are not fans of personal statements, career goals statements, or any other kind of admissions essay, but one of the best things about them is that they give you an opportunity to talk to the admissions officer who'll read your application. We're not saying that you should use your entire grad school admissions essay to explain your grades, but you can address them. That said, if you choose to address your grades, you should also mention the steps you've taken to ensure that your academic performance does not suffer in the future.
8. Prepare thoroughly for the interviews
Most graduate school programs conduct interviews at some point in their admissions process. If you get called for an interview, your performance can significantly improve your chances of getting into grad school with a low GPA. If you want to ace your interview, the key is preparation. You should take the time to thoroughly research the program you'll be interviewing for, review some of the more common and difficult grad school interview questions, prepare your answers early, and practice. Mock interviews are a great way to improve your answers and address issues in your body language or phrasing before the interview. Practice in front of the mirror, with a friend, or even better, you can invest in an interview preparation program and get personalized feedback from a professional.
Check out this video to find out how to answer the hardest graduate school interview questions:
Getting into grad school with a low GPA requires some elbow grease but is not impossible. If you're still in school, you should work hard and follow the tips we outlined above to increase your GPA. However, if it's too late to raise your GPA, you need to make sure that the rest of your application is compelling enough to compensate for your low GPA. Furthermore, you should consider investing in the services of a graduate school admissions consultant if you truly want to maximize your chances of admission.
1. Why is GPA important for grad school applications?
Most colleges and universities use your GPA to assess your academic readiness. A high GPA tells the admissions board that you are more likely to handle a challenging academic program.
2. Can I get into graduate school with a low GPA?
In short, yes. It is possible to get into a grad school with a low GPA, but you will need to work harder on other aspects of your application to compensate for your low GPA.
3. Does work experience make up for a low GPA?
To an extent, it can. Work experience won’t completely negate bad grades, but relevant hands-on experience can show the admissions board that you have the skills needed to succeed in their grad school program, thus putting a few more points in your favor.
4. Do all graduate programs need GRE scores?
No, not all schools require that applicants take the GRE. You should verify the admissions requirements for the program that you’re interested in.
5. How can I get strong recommendation letters for my grad school application?
For a letter of recommendation to be strong, it needs to come from a credible professional who knows you well enough to talk about your skills and abilities using concrete examples. You can secure these referees by networking and speaking with your professors during undergrad and putting your best foot forward at work.
6. If my grades were affected by external circumstances, can I explain it to my graduate program?
Yes, you may! You can use your optional essay to explain the circumstances or mention them briefly in your statement of purpose.
7. How can I improve my GPA in college?
You can improve your GPA by addressing the root cause of your current GPA. Figure out why your current grades are suffering and look for solutions to that problem. You should also take full advantage of your school’s resources, use high yield study techniques, and select electives in which you are more likely to do well.
8. What GPA do you need to get into grad school?
That depends on the school and program that you’re interested in. Some schools don’t have a cut-off, and others require applicants to have a specific GPA. You should check the admissions requirements of the programs you’re interested.
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