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.