So you want to get in a top B School and are worried about a low GPA in undergrad? Rest assured knowing that there are many smart things you can do to assuage the concerns of the adcom for this area.
Before we discuss what you can do, do you know why GPA matters to the adcom? Simple, past performance is seen as a metric for future success. In other words, if you’ve done well academically in past, they feel that you would be as driven to excel academically in their rigorous MBA program. This matters since candidates who give it their all in class and juice out the most from the school experience end up with stronger learnings (and grades) which can impress employers and provide a positive impression about the school. Read my article here to gain an understanding of how adcom evaluates your application.
The adcoms also value a strong GPA since this is one of the important factors to judge the quality of the incoming class. Quality of student body matters in influential rankings such as the US News or Financial Times and rankings are important in attracting new applications. Adcoms want to continue this virtuous cycle of attracting top talent who do well in class and in turn, impress employers and help the school move up the rankings which in turn attracts more top talent. If you have a low GPA, you’re weakening this momentum they’ve worked hard to build – which will hence be detrimental to your chances to gain an admit. A look at incoming classes across Super Elites shows an average GPA of 3.5/4.0.
Clarification: Super Elites are the traditional US top B Schools (HBS, Stanford, U.Penn/Wharton, Berkeley/Haas, NW/Kellogg, Chicago/Booth, MIT, NW/Kellogg, Berkeley/Haas, Columbia, Michigan/Ross, Dartmouth/Tuck, Duke/Fuqua and Yale SOM) and INSEAD, HEC Paris and London Business School.
My past work with applicants with low GPAs who secured admits to multiple Super Elite schools showed that they worked hard on all other parameters such as test scores, essays etc. that adcoms weigh heavily. Result, I helped those with GPAs < 2.8 get into the top 15 schools with scholarships and those with GPA <3.0 get into Harvard, Stanford, Wharton with an average $30,000 scholarship.
Let’s understand what you can do if you have a low GPA.
1) Score high on your entrance tests – GMAT or GRE. For those of you having GPA lower than 3.0, aim for 700+ on GMAT. If you belong to competitive pools such as India or China, you should aim for 730+. A score of 670-700 would make you competitive to schools in the top 30. A high test score represents your latest evidence to adcoms that if you put your mind to it, you can excel. The red flag suddenly appears that RED anymore. If you’re unable to get a 650+, it’s better not to apply only to the top schools – spread your applications among schools that are solid but expect more reasonable scores and GPAs.
2) Take on extra coursework or certifications and excel. Take courses, especially in quantitative subjects such as statistics, data analytics, accounting or finance. Aim for an A- or better. HBS CORe (Credential Of Readiness) has 3 courses – Business Analytics, Economics for Managers and Financial Accounting and is a great way to establish your readiness for MBA (though it’s expensive). You can also look at similar courses from coursera.org, edx.org or IMS preschool (proschoolonline.com).
3) Apply in Early decision or Round 1. Schools like Columbia, Duke/Fuqua, Virginia/Darden etc. have early action rounds before their regular rounds. Apply in these rounds. You’re making a statement to the school that they’re your top choice and adcoms will be more considerate to some red flags in your application if you apply in the early action round. If you’ve missed early action, apply in round 1 for the same reasons mentioned above. While this is not that strong a statement as in early action, it still signals a stronger affinity towards that school.
4) Don’t underplay the importance of weak grades – rather take time to explain. Grades are important to the adcom – period. Don’t try to convince them that it is not so. Also, don’t leave poor grades unexplained – nothing will miss the adcom’s eyes. It’s better to accept the reality and explain why you secured poor grades. Did you spend too much time in extracurriculars or leadership positions? Were you sick during a particular semester exam due to which overall grade looks poor? The optional essay is an excellent way to explain the gap.
5) Showcase your strengths. An excellent way to overcome your low GPA is to focus on highlighting your strengths. I had one of past clients highlight that he had proficiency in 3 other foreign languages besides English and mention an employer who hired MBA grads for particular geography that needed expertise in that language. He got into Kellogg with a 2.7 GPA.
– Did you achieve something remarkable in college in lieu of a low GPA?
– Did you achieve accelerated career growth? Did you secure multiple promotions?
– Highlight something that makes you unique which is also something that B School will value
– You can also ask your recommender to highlight strengths that matter – say quantitative or analytical skills etc.
6) Gain experience or internship with a prestigious employer. If McKinsey and Goldman Sachs hired you, they saw something they liked. This will boost the adcoms confidence that you have the DNA to belong to a top B School.
7) Put up an outstanding written application. Well crafted, engaging stories can help you paint an inspiring world around the adcom reader. Help her imagine what you’re saying instead of just listing down your stories. The impact of well written, imaginative essays can’t be overstated. Once you’re close in terms of GPA and test score, your essays will tip adcom over into providing you with an admit.
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