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    10 Tips for Getting Into Graduate School with a Low GPA

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    and Cait Williams

    Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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    Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

    Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: December 8th, 2023
    10 Tips for 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 ten 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 and how that will continue to be relevant to your academic abilities once in graduate school. 

    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.

    7. Write a thoughtful personal statement

    Even if your GPA was higher, it doesn’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. Giving concrete examples of how you’re working toward your goals is always a plus!

    9. Retake classes

    We know that this probably isn’t the next step you wanted to see, but sometimes it’s an unavoidable must, especially for programs where certain grades in prerequisite courses are non-negotiable. If you’re pursuing graduate programs in STEM fields, you may be more likely to hit this wall. If you do have to retake some courses, that’s okay. Retaking courses can show your dedication and give you a chance to prove just how serious you are about getting into a graduate program. 

    Don’t feel defeated if you think this is your next step. Now that you know it’s your next step, take it one bit at a time. Look into local community colleges to check their availability and tuition fees. Find a course that works for you and stay on the path to grad school. You can do this!

    10. Exemplify your passion and dedication through visible efforts 

    This step isn’t necessarily its own step, but rather a culmination of all the things we’ve mentioned above. At the end of the day the best thing you can do is make a strong effort. Just by reading this article you are showing that you are willing to take extra steps to show your commitment and dedication to a graduate program. Your next step is to actually do some of the things we’ve recommended. Taking real quantifiable steps will be noticeable to admissions committees. Keep pressing on, as you’ll only regret the effort that you don’t put in!

    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
    9. Retake courses where needed
    10. Exemplify your passion and dedication through visible efforts 

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Getting into graduate school with a low GPA is possible and should not discourage you from applying
    • Make sure you understand the requirements of the various graduate programs you are applying to, as those requirements will not be the same at every school
    • It may not be possible for you to do all of the things we’ve listed above, so identify which options seems most feasible and go from there
    • While having good grades can be a good way to set yourself apart, they are certainly not the only way to set yourself apart

    Also read: Grad school financing options

    Frequently asked questions about how to get into graduate school with a low GPA

    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 work experience before applying. This might entail a few years of work at a relevant position 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 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 school, but there are many great options out there which you may 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 a 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 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 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?

    You should make no mistake–GPA is an important factor in the grad school admissions process. Certainly having a high GPA will never work against you, but the opposite can. GPA is important because it often reflects your effort and abilities which is what grad school admissions committees care about seeing. So, if you have a low GPA, but you can still exemplify your effort and abilities in other ways, such as some of the things we mentioned, you should be able to still gain acceptance somewhere.

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