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Getting Into Graduate School with a Low GPA

A low GPA in college shouldn’t prevent you from applying to grad school. Your GPA is important, but it’s not the only thing that makes you a qualified candidate. Here’s what you should do if you’re trying to get into grad school with a relatively low GPA. 

See also: What is a master’s degree?

Understand the requirements

First of all, you’ll need to find out if the programs you’re interested in have specific GPA requirements. Check your program’s website for the minimum GPA.  Some sites also provide average GPA scores of past successful applicants. Highly competitive programs require a 3.5 GPA or higher, while other schools have GPA requirements as low as 2.5. Some programs have no GPA cutoff at all.

It’s a good idea to apply to about five graduate programs:

  • Two safety schools where admission is fairly easy
  • Two solid schools where your chances are good
  • One dream school where admission is a reach, but possible 

After making your list of schools, see how you stack up against the requirements. You may find that a low GPA in college stands a fighting chance after all. If you’re still concerned about your GPA, though, read on to see what you can do about it. 

Also see: Top scholarships for graduate students

Focus on what you can control 

At this point, there’s nothing you can do to change your undergraduate GPA. What you can do, however, is outweigh your past academic performance with positive courses of action. Here’s eight steps you can take: 

Related: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

1. Talk to the faculty 

If there are any faculty members you’re interested in working with, schedule a meeting with them. Discuss your interest in the program and why you think you’re a solid fit. Then ask them frankly how your application might be viewed, given your GPA. See if they have any recommendations for how you can improve your chances of admission. 

2. Submit a letter of explanation

If your GPA doesn’t reflect your abilities, you can discuss that in a separate letter of explanation. For instance, your GPA may have been negatively affected by difficult life circumstances that were out of your control. Some programs take such things into account when evaluating their applicants. Ideally, you’ll be able to point to the fact that you pulled your grades back up. 

3. Pursue relevant field experience

Relevant field experience can help you stand out from crowded applicant pools. Seek out internships, research assistantships, volunteer opportunities, and other professional opportunities that allow you to gain hands-on experience in your field. Not only will you build your resume, but you’ll cultivate a professional network that can help you establish yourself in grad school and beyond. 

Related: How to write a cover letter for an internship

4. Complete additional coursework

Performing well in additional courses may give your application the extra boost it needs. Consider enrolling in one or more continuing education courses at the university where you’re looking to attend grad school. By earning solid grades in standalone courses, you can demonstrate your proficiency in a certain subject and potentially gain access to graduate-level courses. 

Related: Everything you need to know about a doctorate degree

5. Get stellar recommendations 

Most graduate programs require recommendation letters. If you built a good rapport with any of your undergraduate professors, ask them to vouch for you. Your recommenders can discuss your qualifications and make the case for the kind of work you’re capable of doing. A glowing recommendation carries a lot of weight, and provides insight that grades alone cannot. For some pointers, check out our guide on how to ask for a letter of recommendation

6. Perform well on the GRE

Depending on the program you’re applying to, you may or may not be required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). If you are required to take the exam, though, you can increase your chances of admission by scoring highly. Make sure you’re prepared for the exam by engaging in thorough test preparation. This includes finding the right test prep tutor.

Related: What is a good GRE score?

7. Write a thoughtful personal statement

Even if your GPA was higher, it wouldn’t paint a complete picture of who you are as a student and person. That’s where the personal statement comes into play. This essay is a great way to demonstrate your passion for your chosen field. Clearly explain your intent to go to grad school, how your degree will advance your career goals, and what you bring to the table. If applicable, discuss the research you hope to perform and the faculty you wish to work with. The more specific you can be, the better. 

8. Excel during interviews

Along with your personal statement, interviews are a great opportunity to let your personality shine. Admissions officers may be more willing to overlook your low GPA in college if you make a positive impression during interviews. Demonstrate that you’re enthusiastic about the program and you’re committed to achieving your goals. 

Next steps for students

There are many ways to overcome a low GPA when applying to grad school programs. While they certainly help, impressive grades aren’t the only way to set yourself apart from other candidates. If you take some of the actions on our checklist, you’ll automatically improve your chances of acceptance. Ultimately, you shouldn’t let a low GPA in college stand in the way of your dreams to attend grad school.

Checklist for students

  1. Talk to the faculty
  2. Submit a letter of explanation
  3. Pursue relevant field experience
  4. Complete additional coursework
  5. Get stellar recommendations
  6. Perform well on the GRE
  7. Write a thoughtful personal statement
  8. Excel during interviews

Also read: Grad school financing options

Frequently asked questions

Can I get into law school with a low GPA?

Having a low GPA will make it more difficult to get into law school, but not impossible. Make sure to compensate for your GPA with a stellar performance on the LSAT. Scores above your target college’s 75th percentile are a good benchmark to aim for.

You can also compensate for a low GPA by gaining extensive work experience before applying. This might entail a couple years of work at a relevant position in between undergrad and grad school. You can also work on securing stellar recommendations, and writing great essays.

Can I get into med school with a low GPA?

A low GPA limits your options somewhat when it comes time to apply to med school. However, it does not make it impossible. There are many approaches you can take to compensate for a low GPA. These can include strong letters of recommendation, work and volunteer experience, and high MCAT scores.

You’ll also want to be strategic about the schools you apply to. A low GPA will probably not get you into Harvard medical, but there are many great options out there which you still qualify for. Make sure to apply to a good spread of safety, reach, and match schools.

How do I compensate for a low GPA for grad school?

It might seem like the odds are stacked against you if you’re applying to grad school with a low GPA. But luckily, there are many ways to compensate for a low GPA. Work experience, test scores, letters of recommendation, and essays are all great ways to show schools that you are more than your GPA.

It’s also good to keep in mind that what one grad school might consider a low GPA might be an average or even a high GPA to another school. As long as you are flexible with your grad school options, you still have a good chance of getting into grad school.

If you had special life circumstances, such as family issues or medical problems, which contributed to your low college GPA, make sure to note this. You might include a separate note with your application, or address these struggles in your essays.

Do grad schools care about GPA?

GPA is one of the most important factors when it comes time to apply to grad school. It’ll be a major determinant in admissions decisions as well as scholarships and grants. Although it’s still possible to to gain admission to grad school with a low GPA, students will be looking at a different set of options if they did not earn high grades in undergrad.