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Seven Ways to Offset a Low GPA When Applying for an MBA

24 Apr

To get the most out of an MBA, it helps to choose a top business school with a great reputation and connections.1 The best schools want bright, dedicated students with a history of working hard. A high GPA (especially in business-related classes) is one indication that you've got what it takes to succeed in their program. But what if your GPA isn't your greatest strength? With a low GPA, MBA programs can feel out of reach.

Fortunately, the undergraduate GPA is only one factor business schools consider when deciding whether to accept you or not. Each element of your application is important, and some schools may even give every part of your application equal weight, meaning that if you're strong enough in other areas, you can make up for any shortcomings in a 2.9 GPA or below.2

How much does a low GPA affect your odds of MBA acceptance?

There's no formula to qualifying for a top MBA program. Business schools are looking for well-rounded students who have different strengths and would also be a good fit for their program's culture.3 If you can contribute to the program and to your classmates because you already have professional connections and experience of your own to share, you'll be a more attractive candidate.2

Your chances of being accepted to your target MBA program depend on just how far removed your undergraduate GPA is from that program's average. (For example, William & Mary Mason School of Business aims for an average GPA between 3.0 and 4.0., so students with a 2.9 GPA or thereabouts may be able to prove their worth elsewhere.)

Overcoming a Low GPA in the MBA Application Process

1. Submit strong GMAT/GRE scores.

An undergraduate GPA reflects your past ability, which means both that it can no longer be changed but also that you may have grown and matured since then.4 A test like the GMAT or GRE, on the other hand, reflects who you are now; it's a way of demonstrating that you have the aptitude to succeed in an MBA program. Look at your target school's average GMAT/GRE scores and determine whether your score will make a good impression or if you should take the test again.5

2. Highlight significant work experience and qualifications on your resume.

Maybe you had trouble as an undergraduate student, but you're thriving in the workplace. Use your professional experience as proof that you're a remarkable candidate. Business schools want students who can become alumni with success stories. If you're already on a path to success, you'll be a more appealing candidate. This isn't just limited to work, either. Include volunteer experience as well as leadership opportunities both in and out of the office.6 See our advice for preparing a stellar resume.

3. Demonstrate your commitment to succeeding in the program through compelling essays.

Your application essay is the perfect place to convey who you are and how hard you're prepared to work in graduate school. If your target program gives you the opportunity to complete an optional additional essay, jump on the chance to stand out in the applicant pool.7 Acknowledge your low GPA directly rather than hoping it will be overlooked. Then put your GPA in context. Did your grades get better over your undergraduate career? Did you score well in business courses and/or classes related to your major?8 Did any medical challenges or family commitments affect your grades? Don't make excuses, and be honest.5 Never state that you weren't motivated to work in classes that didn't hold your interest. Just acknowledge your past mistakes and indicate how you've grown since then.4

4. Submit strong letters of recommendation.

Your references may be more candid than you might expect, so make sure to request references from people who will genuinely have good things to say about you.7 Make the process easier on them by giving them all of the information they need to know, from how to submit their letter to the talking points you hope they'll consider including. Don't write the letter for them; just suggest particular projects or experiences that would be especially relevant to your MBA application.9

5. Ace the interview.

Your interview (whether it's an in-person or video interview) is your strongest opportunity to convey your personality and your drive to succeed. Take the time to prepare in advance by practicing and reviewing answers to potential questions. When the time comes, be confident and honest, don't ramble, answer questions clearly and with direction, and own your challenges as well as your strengths.7

6. Enroll in community college courses (and work hard in them!) to develop a secondary transcript.

Prove with incontestable evidence that regardless of your previous GPA, you are now able to focus on school and perform well academically. Pick relevant classes that you struggled with as an undergraduate to demonstrate that you've overcome whatever held you back before and are now ready to face the challenges of graduate school.5

7. Shape your online presence.

But do it strategically. Seventy-one percent of business school admissions officers surveyed by Kaplan in 2018 said that an applicant's social media presence is "fair game."10 This can be a strike against you if you appear unprofessional online, but you can use it to your advantage. In some cases, students' online presence helped them be accepted by revealing certain positive attributes like community service.

Even people with high GPAs can't simply submit their scores and expect to be accepted based on numbers alone; applying to an MBA program requires a great deal of effort no matter what. If you earned a low GPA as an undergraduate, you'll have to work a little harder to make a good case for yourself in your application—but as long as you can prove your academic and professional capability in other ways, you can still show yourself to be an excellent candidate.

Check out the William & Mary Raymond A. Mason School of Business blog for more insights into preparing your best graduate school application. If you're ready to become a revolutionary leader, contact an Admissions Advisor to learn more about our Online MBA.