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3 Ways to Deal with Your Low GPA

Are you concerned that your low undergrad GPA will keep you from being accepted at the grad school of your choice? Here are 3 things you can do about it.

1.Assess your GPA

Is it really low? A low GPA can be defined as one that is .3 or more below your target school’s average GPA for accepted students (on the US 4.0 scale). This information is usually published in the class profile, and sometimes in the U.S. News rankings. Another way to think of a low GPA is one that is below the school’s 75th or 80th percentile (most schools publish this information).

The good thing about these definitions is that either of them is used in relation to the schools you are applying to. If you have a 3.3 GPA and the average GPA of the entering class is 3.3, you don’t have a low GPA. However, if you have the same 3.3 GPA and the schools you are targeting have an average GPA for accepted students of 3.7, then your GPA will be considered low.

NOTE: Your GPA doesn’t define you. Even if you do have a low GPA, that doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot for the stars and still try and get into your dream graduate program. Read on for more tips on what you need to do.

2. Analyze the cause(s) of your low GPA

Ask yourself the following questions that show several causes in order of difficulty to overcome (easiest to hardest):

• Did you have a tough time adjusting to college, affecting your freshman GPA, but you then improved every year and even made the Dean’s List the last two years with a 4.0 in the last year?
• Did situations that you had no control over lead to a drop in your grades for a particular time period?
• Did you choose the wrong major, causing you to have low grades? Did your grades improve once you found the right major?
• Did you work part time or participate in a sport to qualify for an athletic scholarship?
• Did you start out with a high GPA in your freshman year and then lose your drive? Did your grades have a steady drop? This trend can cause a red flag, even if you were able to maintain a 3.4 or 3.5 overall GPA.

The cause of your low GPA, and how low it is, will affect what you are able to do about it, and how much effort you need to alleviate its importance in your overall application.

3. Address your low GPA

In addressing your low GPA you need to show the adcom that it isn’t a true indication of your abilities and that you are able to do much more. There are two things you can do to show this:

• Ace your test. You need a high score on your GMAT, GRE, LSAT or MCAT. This will show that you have the ability to excel.
• Take classes and earn A’s in them. You may need to take just a few classes to fill in the gaps, or pursue a full master’s degree. Whatever path you choose, you want to show the adcom that you’re able to shine in the academic setting related to the area you want to study. The number of classes you should take depends on how low your GPA is in comparison to your target school’s average and how much time has passed since you completed your undergrad. If the gap is large, you may consider a master’s program.

A low GAP does not need to be a grad school acceptance death sentence. With a smart admissions strategy and some hard work, you can undo the damage caused by bad grades and position yourself as a strong candidate who’s got what it takes to get into and succeed at your top choice grad school.

Like what you just read? Accepted’s got loads more tips for you…that you can listen to on the go! Check out Accepted’s podcast, Admissions Straight Talk, for weekly tips that will help you get accepted to your top grad choice grad school.


By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

21 Responses to 3 Ways to Deal with Your Low GPA

  1. Apoorva October 12, 2016 at 2:08 am #


    I am from India. My Undergraduate Overall percentage is 54.9 %.
    I want to try for MS in CS
    I have 3 years experience in IT field
    Can I get admission in any university , hopefully in California , with this score, Please help.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 14, 2016 at 9:13 am #

      Hi Apoorva,

      It’s hard to say exactly given that every situation is case-by-case. As the article states, I would recommend that you analyze the cause of your lower GPA (as your application will give you an opportunity to address this), and take the next proactive steps to address your GPA (e.g., high GRE scores, take additional courses). In addition, if you would really like to go to a California school, you may want to discuss with them or begin expressing your interest. You can also consider discussing your specific situation with admission consulting services. Still, the best first step would be to start proactively working towards building a case that this GPA does not define you with the aforementioned tips.

  2. Daniel September 17, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

    Hello, I am currently sitting at a 3.7 GPA and have anxiety about it getting lower, I am working part time at a big home improvement chain over night freight and taking 5 classes this semester, it is mentally and physically draining and my first exam is coming up in a couple of days. My question is, should I quit my job? I have a great support system and not in any kind of huge debt, is there a trend of people having generally low GPA’s because of working part time?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 21, 2016 at 6:55 am #

      Hi Daniel,

      This is a much larger question and a very personal one–the only evidence I can give is my anecdotal evidence. I was told I am not the norm, but I worked full time (~45 hr/week) throughout my undergraduate degree and still graduated with straight As. But I am a fundamentally different person than someone else. I have a friend who had to quit her job after her second year because the quality of her work and, more importantly, the quality of her study experience, suffered when she spread herself too thin. If you think your job is hurting your studies and it also isn’t offering you something productive for your future, it might be a wise idea to let the job go, at least for now. Good luck!

  3. Ramya September 9, 2016 at 6:56 am #

    Hi ,

    I have 65% undergrad( be in cs) percentage and gre 310. I have 2 years work experience. I am worried that my low gpa will be a huge problem for doing my ms. Will I be able to get into decent college.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 9, 2016 at 3:43 pm #

      Hi Ramya,

      I wish I could be of more help, but the answer to this question really depends on the program/school and the rest of your application (experience, resume, essays, recommendations). I recommend that you contact your target schools to see if they can give you more information about how they would view a low GPA if you have other strong recommendations. You can also use an admissions consulting service such as Accepted–their experts can help you to craft your application to cater to your strengths.

  4. reddy September 5, 2016 at 9:37 am #

    Can a Low gpa and high gre admits one in a good university?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 9, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

      Hi Reddy,

      This really depends on the school/program and your other experience. I recommend that you contact your target schools to get some more information on how they view low GPAs and how you might be able to make up for it in your application 🙂

  5. Mohan August 4, 2016 at 11:39 am #

    Will US schools accept 10+2 scores and percentages if Undergraduate percentage is less for admission into a university?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 7, 2016 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Mohan,

      The best course of action would be to contact the schools you are interested in and ask them! Some schools are more flexible than others and will allow for lower scores or GPA if you make up for it in other areas (like work experience or GRE scores), while others are much more strict!

  6. Sravanthi August 4, 2016 at 11:30 am #

    I am having an aggregate off 62 percentage. And a Gre score 320. I have done paper researches,internships and lot of extra circular activities. Can you suggest me some universities where i would be accepted? Will i have a chance of getting admission in a good university?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 7, 2016 at 11:36 am #

      Hi Sravanthi,

      This is a very hard question to answer because so much depends on the program you want to study and the particular details of your experience and resume. The good news is that most universities have great information on their admissions website about average GRE score, GPA, and admissions requirements. I can’t tell you what school would be best for you, but I can direct you to some good resources! I recommend that you first look up programs on the US News and World Report Best Graduate Program page to make a list of schools that you are interested in. Then, go to the admissions website of those schools or get in touch with an admissions counselor to find information about requirements and average scores. It takes a bit of research, but I know that you will find good information! 🙂

  7. CC April 27, 2016 at 1:06 am #

    I just want to ask if the magoosh flashcards and the pdf have the same words.If not then which one is better?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 28, 2016 at 11:30 am #

      Hi CC,

      The PDF does contain the same words as the flashcards (and the vcoab builder).

      The Vocab Builder gives you multiple choices which makes it faster and easier to work through in some ways, but, on the other hand, choosing among several choices does not require the same level of mastery as does just recalling the definition and use of a word on your own, as the flashcards require.

      So I might recommend you first use the Vocab Builder to help learn the words and then use the flashcards to test your mastery. Or just use the flashcards. If you only use the Vocab Builder, you probably won’t learn the words as well, because you’ll always have the correct definition somewhere in front of you to help you remember. On the test, of course, you won’t have this.

  8. Rakshit April 14, 2016 at 3:44 am #

    I am an engineering student from India and my college follows the percentage system. How can I convert it into the 4.0 point scale prevalent in the US?


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 18, 2016 at 9:55 am #

      Hi Rakshit,

      Good question! 🙂

      There are several percentage systems I have seen on Indian students’ reports, so you might have the best luck asking people from your college. Alternatively, if you can determine which type of percentage system you use, you can likely use an online page for explanation. If you have a percentage system where people are able to score 100% that is different from a UK-style system where 70% is largely considered top marks.

      Sorry I can’t give you a better answer, but ask your college and some admissions departments at universities you like to see what they expect. Sometimes you aren’t meant to change your marks to a GPA. 🙂

  9. Renuka March 30, 2016 at 10:56 am #

    I have a GPA of 2.08. I am preparing for GRE now. I am very anxious regarding my chances of getting accepted into a good college. Please guide.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 30, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

      Hi Renuka,

      Don’t despair! 🙂 Many people have done great things despite a low GPA. As this post suggests, you should aim to get an amazing test score to start. After that, you should see what schools have to say. If you aren’t acceptable with just a high score, you should look to take first year courses somewhere so you can show them your new-and-improved work ethic and high marks! A year of strong first year coursework can overcome doubts they may have about you. Look at final year undergraduate/first year graduate courses that you might be able to take in your field to boost yourself.

      Of course, before registering for anything, you should contact the schools you’re interested in and find out just what minimums you need to meet to be accepted. You might be surprised! 🙂

    • Yeahia March 30, 2016 at 1:50 pm #

      Hi! Renuka,

      It would be tough for you to get admission with that GPA, however, if you can secure extra ordinary GRE score then you may find a way to get yourself admitted in a school. Anyway, check the universities requirements first , find out what is the minimum requirements, if your last 60 credit hours gpa meets up their requirements, then go for that university.


  10. Yeahia March 12, 2016 at 4:47 am #

    My first year CGPA was too low that I could not raise up it too 3.5, however I was in the dean list in last year, plus 2 nd to 4 th year CGPA is higher than my 1st year. Will it give any advantage to convince the admission committee that I can able to accelarate and enhance my academic result and worthy applicant to be considered for admission?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 13, 2016 at 3:52 am #

      Hi Yeahia,

      Good question! 🙂

      Seeing a trend of improvement and upward mobility can definitely help, so that will work for you. If you have an opportunity to write about your grades in an essay or as an additional piece of paperwork explaining your grades, you can explain that you “got it together” and worked hard to raise your GPA after the first year. Talking about your academic maturity and commitment to improvement really helps! 🙂

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