GPA for Grad School: How Much Does It Matter?

An anxious student holding notebooks

Is my college GPA good enough?

How much does GPA matter for grad school anyway?

Does having a low GPA mean I should not try for certain elite grad schools?

These are just a few of the many questions that pop into candidates’ heads when they think of applying to graduate school. Students are aware that previous college performance does play some role in determining which programs are ideal for them and their chances of being accepted to that program. It is also easy to know that a high GPA would increase your chances while a lower one might hamper them. But in this blog, we go beyond the obvious and explore everything you need to know about GPA for grad school.

GPA For Grad School – The What, Why, and How Much?

What role does GPA play in grad school admissions?

GPA is one of the many factors that together form your grad school application. There are essays, LoRs (letters of recommendation), resumes, test scores, and several other aspects that the admissions team deliberates over before deciding on who to admit. So, GPA is by no means the “end all be all” in the grad school admission process. However, it does play a specific and important role in your application. Along with your test score, your GPA is an indicator of your academic aptitude and potential. It helps the admissions team estimate how easy or difficult it could be for you to handle the academic load of the program.

Why is GPA important for grad school?

Firstly, your GPA is an easy way to calculate your academic capability and potential, but it isn’t the only way to do so. So why do grad schools care so much about your GPA? It is mainly because the curriculum of graduate programs is tough and schools require all students to maintain a certain minimum GPA to pass the program.

Another reason why grad schools care about your performance in college is to showcase their own performance to the world. A high average GPA speaks positively about the quality and caliber of the incoming class and shows off the school’s capacity to attract competitive students. So the high average GPA becomes a metric that helps determine a school’s performance and ranking.

How much does GPA really matter?

While we don’t want to lie to you and tell you that your GPA wouldn’t matter much in your grad school application, we also want to make it clear that while it is important, there are other very important aspects of your application that matter just as much for some programs. As discussed earlier, admission committees at all grad schools take into account a number of different components of your application. There are multiple avenues to showcase your academic potential and past accomplishments. You can compensate for your low GPA with a stellar test score, through previous research activity, through letters of recommendation and your admissions essays.

What is a Good GPA for Grad Schools?

It might sound diplomatic but the only correct answer to this question is — it depends!

It depends on the type of school you are targeting and how competitive it is.

Most grad schools would require a minimum GPA of 3.0, but lower-ranked universities might accept students with 2.5+ GPAs as well. On the other end, elite colleges such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT have high GPA expectations (3.5+ minimum, with average GPAs often as high as 3.8).

It depends on the type of program you are applying to.

The more prestigious or popular programs at any college major, such as Computer Science or Business Administration, will have a higher GPA expectation. For example, an MBA degree from your dream school might require a minimum GPA of 3.5 even though other programs at the same school don’t. It even depends on the type of profile and experience you have.

Still, to generalize and provide a rough estimate, a good GPA is something between 3.0 to 3.5. It goes way higher for top graduate schools and their premier programs. For example, institutions like Harvard and Stanford usually have classes with an average undergrad GPA of 3.5 and higher.

We strongly recommend that you make a list of all the different grad school programs you are planning to apply for and try to understand the GPA expectations of those programs. It is not uncommon to call the department and ask about their current expectations for admitted students when it comes to GPA or even test scores. Comb through their websites and learn about their current graduate students, and even reach out to them to see if anyone is willing to converse over email or a quick phone call. Some schools also have a minimum GPA requirement for graduate programs and it is stated on their websites. Hence, it is important to do your own research for each program that you are interested in, in order to understand the GPA expectations or requirements and analyze where you stand in comparison. That is the only way to get clarity on the question of whether your GPA is good enough for the school or not. This research might also help you trim your list of target schools and get a clearer sense of which schools you should apply to.

For example, Harvard states in their Graduate Student Data that the average undergraduate GPA was over 3.8. This gives candidates an idea of where they land in terms of GPA.

What To Do If You Have a Low GPA?

Firstly, it is important to reiterate that while a good GPA is always preferred, a lower one doesn’t mean rejection. It simply means you need to work harder on the other aspects. MBA schools take a variety of components into consideration and you may need to excel in a variety of areas to have a good chance of getting into your dream program. Here are a few ways you can overcome a low GPA:

  1. Tackle it head-on

    It might sound counterproductive, but addressing your low GPA can help give the admissions committee insight into how or why it happened. It gives you an opportunity to share your side of the story and also demonstrate that you have grown since. Don’t make excuses, rather, be candid about the reason and focus more on highlighting the other aspects that show your academic potential.

  2. Get a stellar test score

    The admissions committee just wants to be sure that you can handle the rigorous academic requirements of their program. If your GPA is low, the easiest way to showcase that is by getting a great test score.

  3. Show academic caliber

    There could be plenty of other ways to show your academic caliber as well. Extra courses you might have taken outside of your mandatory requirements can sometimes showcase your work ethic. For example, if you scored low in data science, you can take additional courses in a local community college and show that as an alternative transcript.

  4. Stand out in other ways

    When grad schools evaluate your application, they holistically look at your entire profile and evaluate your ‘fit’ with the rest of the class. If you bring a unique perspective or dimension to the program and the class of that year, you stand a great chance of getting that acceptance letter. A high-quality work experience could help you stand out from the crowd. Your awards, other achievements and extracurricular activities also play a key role.

You can find more detailed guidance on how to overcome a low GPA here!

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Author

  • Ayush Verma

    Ayush is a Test Prep Expert and Application Coach actively involved in the Test Prep and Application Consulting space for several years now. He is a GMAT 99 Percentiler and has extensive experience in delivering private tutoring sessions for GMAT, GRE, and SAT exams. Ayush has a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and an MBA in Strategy from the Indian School of Business. He is an ardent ManUnited fan and when he is not helping students understand that tricky GMAT question or write that dreaded Why MBA answer, he would be likely cheering for his team at Old Trafford (GGMU). To connect with him, feel free to reach out to him via LinkedIn or his website Test Prep Buddy.

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