Grad School Search: Solutions for a Low Undergrad GPA

Undergrad GPA is an important part of grad school admission. If you're worried about your GPA being low, here's a look at how that can affect your chances.

Whether the workload was more overwhelming than you expected it to be or you found yourself in a major that didn’t spark motivation, you’re here because your undergraduate GPA is a little lower than you would have liked it to be. Now you’re applying to graduate schools and find yourself stuck with a low number that doesn’t reflect your passion or drive. And unless rappelling 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're 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. 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.

Related: How to Find the Right Graduate Program for You

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 and honestly

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; don't 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.

Related: 7 Ways to Stand Out as a Graduate School Applicant

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

Starting exploring graduate programs that will see you beyond your GPA with our featured grad school lists!

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