If your undergraduate performance was dismal (read: a GPA less than 3.0), is there ANY hope of being accepted into an MBA program? Do the math! Stanford’s Class of 2024 has an average GPA of 3.76. If the school admitted you with a 2.7 GPA, it would have to admit SIX applicants with a perfect 4.0 to maintain its average—but it can be done.
If your lower GPA has you concerned, here are six things to consider as you proceed in your quest for an MBA:
1. Use the optional essay to explain your low GPA.
No excuses—just explanations. Perhaps you were dealing with a family issue that took your focus away from classes. Or maybe you were paying for your education by working 30-hour weeks across several jobs. If you had a learning disability or medical condition that affected your ability to perform well in the classroom, share those details. It may be that you simply lacked the maturity to understand the importance of going to class and doing your work. Discuss what you learned and how you have grown since college.
I worked with a client who was a first-generation college student, and his guidance counselor had advised him to take as many AP exams as possible so he could enter college with credits, bypass introductory courses, and graduate early. The client happened to score well on the exams even though he hadn’t actually taken the corresponding AP courses, and he scored well enough to be granted an exemption from introductory classes. However, when he enrolled in advanced math and engineering courses in his second year, he didn’t have the necessary foundational knowledge and struggled with the material. But ultimately, he ended up getting a scholarship to an M7 MBA program.
2. Show preparedness.
If your undergraduate GPA was low, the MBA admissions committee wants to be confident that you will not repeat those grades in business school. Show that you are a different student today than you were in college. Enroll in a business-related course either online or at a local community college and get an “A” on your transcript. Note any certifications or licenses (e.g., CPA, CFA, Six Sigma) you have earned that demonstrate your ability to excel in coursework related to your career. Ask your recommenders to highlight your work ethic and commitment to delivering beyond their expectations. The last thing the admissions committee wants to do is admit a candidate who cannot manage the courses in their MBA program.
3. Round out your MBA application.
Your undergrad GPA is just ONE data point used to evaluate your candidacy. Just as Stanford would have to admit six students with 4.0s to make up for your 2.7, YOU need to make up for your lackluster GPA by getting high ratings elsewhere in your application. Score 20 to 30 points above the average GMAT score. Have recommenders who call you out as a “best in career” candidate. Highlight work experiences through which you have developed valuable skills and knowledge while making a quantifiable impact. Write compelling essays that connect your background and goals to the resources offered by each program.
4. Consider alternatives to a full-time MBA program.
Not ALL MBA programs care so much about your low GPA. Top-ranked full-time MBA programs retain their high rankings partly because their average GPAs are consistently above 3.5. Some of these same programs offer part-time MBA programs for which the rankings aren’t nearly as important. For example, if you have seven or more years of work experience, that 2.7 GPA is ancient history AND there are wonderful mid-career or executive MBA programs that you might investigate. See “Full Time, Part Time, or EMBA: Four Steps to Choosing Your B-School Journey.” Alternatively, consider an industry-specific MBA for which undergrad GPAs may not be as important. See “Is a Tech MBA for Me?”
5. Show your love for the program.
MBA programs want to admit candidates who will make a positive impact on their communities. Pull out all the stops in getting to know each program. Attend online information sessions and coffee chats. Connect with students to learn more about the culture and how you will fit in. Reach out to alumni to have conversations about how the program helped them reach their goals. See “Nine Tips for Learning More About MBA Programs Through Students and Alumni.”
If you are a known entity to the admissions committee when your application comes across the read pile, they may be shocked by the 2.7 GPA but willing to overlook this flaw because they have already fallen in love with YOU.
6. Think globally.
Keep in mind that the average GPA of incoming students is calculated based on GPAs that were reported on a 4.0 scale on undergrad transcripts. However, if the grading scale for your undergrad institution is different, don’t try to convert your GPA! Admissions committee members are familiar with grading scales in different countries and know that “First Class” is a strong performance in India even if the overall percentage is 67 out of 100. And they know that in Australia, “D” stands for “Distinction,” not practically failing.
On a related note, MBA programs outside of the US draw students from around the world and don’t have a critical mass of candidates graded on a 4.0 scale from which to offer meaningful averages. Therefore, look beyond the US MBA programs! I know someone whose GPA was ~2.6 but she had a high GMAT score of 750. Although she wasn’t accepted to any US programs, she matriculated at INSEAD.
Most importantly, you need to take ownership of your unimpressive undergrad GPA. Present yourself as a professional who is fully equipped to take on the rigor of an MBA program NOW.
If you are hoping to overcome a low GPA to get accepted into business school, we would love to speak with you. Sign up for a free consultation with one of our admissions experts!