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How to Overcome a Low GPA When Applying to MBA Programs

Applying to business school is a stressful process. And having a low undergraduate GPA does not help. Of course building a business school list that encompasses reach, fit, and safety schools is always a good solution. But many people applying to MBA programs have their eye on top programs, which accept only the most qualified students.

But a lower than average GPA does not mean you can’t get into HBS or the GSB or Wharton. Here are a five ways you can overcome a low GPA when applying to MBA programs:

1. A Good GMAT Score

One of the best – and certainly one of the most obvious – ways to overcome a bad GPA when applying to business school is to get a good GMAT score. A strong standardized test score is another indicator that you will be able to handle the material at top MBA programs. It can help you combat the numbers game in addmissions because your hard stats (your GPA and your GMAT score) are the initial impression you will make on an admissions reader.

While, a good GMAT score can begin to counterbalance a low GPA, your GPA typically carries more weight than your GMAT. John Lyon, a former admissions officer from Wharton said, “Your GPA reflects your performance over time, while your GMAT reflects how well you test on a given day. But a low GPA in hard sciences or math is more acceptable than in social sciences or humanities.”

That being said, your scores are not everything. Particularly with business schools, the admissions officers take a holistic approach in looking at your application. Your essays, letters of recommendation, and outside activities play a large role in admissions.

2. Write an Addendum Explaining Your GPA

Do this only if you have legitimate extenuating circumstances that led to a bad GPA.

Did your GPA drop drastically the semester that a parent got sick? Was there an upward trajectory once you overcame a hard transition freshman year?

Having a low GPA when applying to MBA programs is a common problem. Explaining these situations is worth the time and energy it takes to write a good addendum. But, if your grades dropped every semester of college because you were sleeping in instead of attending lecture, it is best to leave it alone. Do not use the addendum to make excuses.

3. Extracurricular Activities

MBA programs are looking for candidates who excel in the classroom, but who are also involved outside of it. Building a cohesive list of business school extracurriculars activities and volunteer experience is a good way to combat a bad GPA.

Say you were a Computer Science major now working in Business Development at a tech job, and you’re applying to business school to gain more entrepreneurial skills to start your own company. Maybe you were the president of the robotics club at your undergrad university. And maybe you start a foundation that provides coding classes to low-income communities in your area. These activities all support a specific application persona or central theme. If you can build out a strong and cohesive set of activities that tell a unique story and display leadership, your application is going to be more compelling.

4. Work experience

This one’s important. What has been your work trajectory over the past few years: Are you a manager? Did you lead a development team? Were you the founding member of a company-changing project?

Showing experience and leadership in the workplace is extremely important in applying to MBA’s (unless you’re applying to Harvard’s 2+2 program or another equivalent straight out of college). Business schools want students who will be leaders and change-makers in their field. If you show that you have already started to move in that direction in your early career, your application will be more compelling.

5. An answer to: “Why an MBA now?”

A good, compelling answer to this question is extremely important. If your answer is along the lines of “because you will make a lot more money with an MBA,” then you should rethink your decision. Rather, if you’ve been climbing the ranks of a large firm and want to take your managerial skills to the nonprofit or startup world, you’re most likely going to tell a more compelling story.

MBA programs want to see that you will use your schooling to grow your skills and make a difference in the business world, not to make money in the business world.
Having a low GPA when applying to MBA programs is not necessarily the end of the world in terms of your application. There are always ways to combat the numbers, and the admissions office will take everything into consideration – from you GPA to your letters of recommendation. So study for the GMAT, build out your resume, and put together a compelling story in your application.

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4 Responses to How to Overcome a Low GPA When Applying to MBA Programs

  1. Fred October 21, 2016 at 10:04 pm #


    I am considering an MBA with a low GPA (<3.0 cum., 3.4 major). The low GPA is largely attributed to picking the wrong major / group of friends my freshman year / deaths in family (I attended somewhat of a "party" school which has a joke reputation with employers". Since then, I was able to get 3 "prestigious" Fortune 500 internships by my own accord (networking), started a small family-office backed mutual fund, and a final top tier investment banking internship, for which I received a full time offer and am currently working full time for. I do think that a 750+ GMAT is highly possible for me looking at practice scores I've earned in the past. Is there a way to craft my story in a way which acknowledges the low GPA and low quality undergrad but shows I am capable of handling MBA coursework? I understand lots of IB kids apply with far better educational background than I have but I believe there must be a way to differentiate myself. I appreciate any and all insight. Thanks.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 22, 2016 at 8:04 am #

      Hi Fred,

      Before I begin, I will say that we primarily provide test prep assistance, and I would recommend also taking a look at admissions counseling resources. However, I will also say that there are a number of ways to respond to your lower GPA. Please note that in every application, you will have an opportunity to clarify any gaps in your application. You can respond directly in this space if you still require your essays to focus more closely to the prompt. You can also take additional academic courses (and ace them) to exhibit your proficiency. Obviously, a high GMAT score will also assist in this story. Please note that some MBA application essays are focused, so you may not have room to address your GPA in this space. However, if you find that it aligns, go for it!

  2. Mike September 1, 2016 at 5:48 pm #

    Is 3.0-3.4 considered a low GPA?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 5, 2016 at 10:24 am #

      Hi Mike,

      That’s a tricky question to answer! A “perfect 3.0” could indicate that a student got Bs throughout their time, which is not bad. Many state schools, for example, would require a 2.0 or a 2.5+ to get in. Many private schools do consider students in the 3.0+ range, too. Now, if you are talking about entering top schools with name recognition like Harvard or MIT, 3.0-3.4 is very low and it is very unlikely that these GPAs would get you admission.

      Evaluating the worth of GPA and other components depends heavily on the destination and program, so I encourage you to do some more research! I would say anyone targeting a “top” school needs to have a 3.75+, and even a 3.75 would mean that the student needs to have a strong application otherwise. It gets to the point in some programs where there is competition between a 3.9 and a 3.95, but this is all relative to the applicant pool and the school’s exclusivity.

      Good luck! 🙂

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