Second Chances: How a Low Undergraduate GPA Affects Graduate Admissions

by
Freelance Writer

I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, so I felt bored and unmotivated.

It was just that the workload was overwhelming.

I had some personal issues that drained and distracted me.

It was that Thursday night where I chose to drink cheap beer instead of studying and then slept through my linguistics exam. And that other Thursday night, with the math exam. And actually every Thursday night, ever.

Regardless of the reason, your undergraduate GPA plummeted. Now you’re applying to graduate schools and find yourself stuck with a low number doesn’t reflect your passion or drive. And unless rappelling down into your undergraduate school’s records office, hacking the computer system, and locating and destroying all paper records is an option for you, you can’t erase your low GPA.

So what can you do about it?

Consider schools with an open-minded approach

Many institutions make it a point to advertise that they are interested in all parts of an application, not just grades, so if your GPA is low, seek out schools that take this approach. If your school of interest doesn’t state their policy, or even if they do have a minimum GPA listed, call and ask whether submitting an application will realistically be worth your time. (It’s always worth asking.) While top-tier schools often do have to eliminate applicants based on low GPA, it’s worth considering schools that measure worth and intelligence in diverse ways, as they may also offer programs that are more flexible and tailored to your individual learning style.

Find ways to make up for what you lack in GPA

Grades are just one piece of the grad school application puzzle, so find ways to boost the other parts. If you’re considering graduate school for a future date, enroll in a graduate-level course now. This will not only boost your knowledge but will show any future graduate admission committees that you’re familiar with the style of grad school courses and willing to take the initiative to learn. Earning a high grade can also be evidence of your evolution as a student. If taking a class for credit isn’t in the cards, try auditing one. While an audited class may not make or break an application, it will show the admission committee that you’ve made a proactive effort to keep learning.

Obviously, high standardized test scores will also bolster your application. Gear all your efforts toward studying for the GRE or other necessary or optional tests. Even if you are not a good test-taker, putting in the time to study basic concepts and learn guessing strategies, as well as testing multiple times, can add hundreds of points to your score.

Finally, opt for work opportunities or internships that might help boost your application. Graduate admission officers are looking for specific evidence that you have insightful ideas to contribute to your field of study, not just general well-roundedness. Joining societies or clubs or pursuing a part-time research internship will show that you are an upstanding member of your academic community before you even walk onto campus.

Explain thoughtfully

Many students gain entrance to graduate school with less-than-stellar undergraduate GPAs by explaining their performance in an effective, mature way. Most schools provide a space where you can discuss additional information that may affect your application; if your application doesn’t have this option, include it in your personal statement.

Think hard about the reasons for your low GPA. If there was a good cause, explain it briefly and honestly; do not dwell on the incident, lay blame, or complain. If you don’t have a particularly good reason, simply explain the ways in which you have evolved as a scholar since.

Everyone—even graduate admission officers—knows that life can get in the way of achieving good grades. So if your GPA is low, don’t despair. Simply reassess, boost your application in any way possible, and explain the reasons behind your low grades intelligently. You might be surprised at the answers you receive in return.

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