You probably started your business school application process like so many others do: by Googling “best business schools” and looking at the GPA and GMAT scores those schools list for their admitted applicants.
There is no question that you should go to the best business school you can possibly get into, but what should you do if you are concerned that your GPA might be holding you back from going to a really good one?
There is no doubt that if you’re going into the business school application process with a low GPA, you absolutely must take that seriously. A low GPA is generally considered one below 3.00. But also be advised that a low GPA for a given MBA program is considered one that is 0.50 points less than the lowest GPA an admissions website lists.
Does that mean you shouldn’t apply to a given school if your GPA is too low? Absolutely not! This article will describe everything you need to keep in mind in order to have a great shot at any program you apply to regardless of your GPA.
A Low GPA Isn’t a Dealbreaker … if the Rest of Your Application is Great
A low GPA is something you will have to work hard to contextualize, and that’s what the rest of your application is for.
You’ll need to use your GMAT score to demonstrate your academic capability, your letters of recommendation to demonstrate your bonafides, your resume to outline your professional life, and your personal essays to illustrate your drive and goals.
Remember that your MBA application is comprised of many parts, and each part of the application is an important part of understanding the whole.
2. GMAT Reigns Supreme
The GMAT exists in order to provide a simple metric for business schools to compare you to all the other people applying to the same program as you. It’s basically the one element of your application that decides whether or not an admissions office will even look at the rest.
Simply put, without a good GMAT score you have almost no chance. If you get a great GMAT score, it shows that you’re capable of succeeding the intellectual rigors of business school. A fantastic performance on that test will convince your admissions that your low GPA does not actually define you smarts and abilities.
3. No School Expects a Perfect Transcript
When you look at admissions websites for various MBA programs, you’ll never see a 4.0 GPA listed. Instead, you’ll see a median GPA, likely alongside the ones obtained by the 25th and 75th percentiles of admitted applications. You’ll these numbers range from somewhere between 3.16 and 3.60 across the top 50 B-schools.
Why the relatively wide range of GPAs? Business schools want a diverse crowd for an incoming class, and only accepting people with near-perfect GPAs would make for a very samey group of b-school students.
Admissions offices know that students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, family histories, personal life circumstances, and rocky starts in college can all result in lower GPAs. Theses programs want to find the brilliant people who had to work twice as hard to prove themselves.
There are are plenty of well-off graduates from private schools who skated their way to fantastic GPAs with the help of handsomely paid teachers and tutors, but that set of people doesn’t make for a very diverse classroom, or a for a very diverse selection of graduates.
4. Low Performance in Your Major Classes Isn’t Great
Ok, so even if you struggled in some of your classes and got bad grades, you generally do want to demonstrate strong performance in the classes required by your major.
After all, your major is supposed to be the one subject that you were most passionate about during your time in undergrad, and you really want it to look like you were applying yourself to that special subject.
Again, low performance in your major classes isn’t a deal breaker. There are a variety of ways to explain such performance in your supplemental essays. More on that later.
5. Take Some Extra Courses
Yes, you can take courses between undergrad and business school! Take a rigorous course in something you find interesting — such as a foreign language, stats, or computer science — at a community college and work really hard at it.
You can even complete a post-baccalaureate program if you want to demonstrate intellectual hunger for an area that you didn’t study in undergrad.
Extra coursework gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you are ready to take school seriously, regardless of your performance during undergrad.
You’re not only trying to show a B-school that you’re capable of getting high grades, but that you’re plain old excited about the prospect about spending your next two years participating in discussions and completing high-quality projects.
6. Take Those Supplemental Essays Seriously
Your business school application is also an opportunity to explain any extenuating circumstances that may have negatively impacted your academic performance at a given time.
Own those bad grades and be candid about what led to them. No need to throw yourself a pity party. There are a lot of valid reasons why you may have struggled in undergrad, and your job here is to explain them in an adult way that communicates that those are problems of the past.
Were you working to support yourself while in undergrad and didn’t have as much time to study? Did you suffer some illness? Were you the first in your family to attend college and didn’t understand its rigors at first? Did you just make some bad decisions early on that you learned from?
7. But Take Your Statement of Purpose Even More Seriously
At the end of the day, though, what makes you qualified for attend a great MBA program far outweighs anything that threatens your qualifications.
Use your statement of purpose to show them what makes you such a valuable prospective member of that business school’s student body. This is your opportunity to talk about the great job where you’re a valued contributor to the team, your volunteer work and involvement in your community, your awards, and your accomplishments.
Your undergrad experience is just one part of your story. Ultimately, you’re trying to tell an MBA program why you need to be attending that specific program and how that education is going to help you take your career to the next level, benefitting the world around you.
Use your essays to talk about your values and convictions. Use them to describe what makes you unique. Use them to show how hard you work and why you work so hard.
8. Make Sure Your Letters of Recommendation Talk Strengths and Abilities
While you can’t read your letters of recommendation, you should request that your recommenders speak to the specific things that make you a great prospective business school student.
If you think you are particularly good at multitasking, or have specific instances of leadership that you believe are notable, remind your recommenders to talk about those specific points.
Hopefully your recommenders have plenty of glowing anecdotes to rattle off about you, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to make sure that similar points appear in the material your recommenders are writing and what you yourself plan to write.
9. Dazzle with Your Resume
Last but not least, make the most incredible resume you can dream up. This is different than the type of resume you’d submit when applying for your job. You’re not just trying to show why you’re qualified for a specific role, but instead trying to show off all of your accomplishments.
Pad it with all of your accolades, skills, and impressive duties at every job you’ve had. This part is your opportunity to show that you are a very hireable, skilled person and that an MBA is really going to help you take your career to the next level.