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Applying for an MBA with a Low GPA: What To Do + Where to Apply

We hate to break it to you but, when applying to business school, GPA matters. Your undergraduate GPA is an example of how you perform in an academic setting and sets a precedent for how you will fare as an MBA student.

But hold on — Don’t give up on your b-school dreams just yet...

Even though your GPA will be taken into account when your application is reviewed, it’s important to remember that admissions committees are looking for more than just high numbers. They are seeking to build a diverse student body with strong leadership potential.

A low GPA (under 3.0) is not the kiss of death when applying to business school... But it will require some compensation in other areas of your application. 

How to Balance Out a Low GPA in MBA Applications

1. Do well on the GMAT or GRE

Getting a killer score on this standardized test is imperative for those with low GPAs. Your GMAT/GRE score is the other statistical measure of your abilities; doing well will water down the negative impact made by your poor performance in undergrad. To determine the score you must get to compensate for a low GPA, look at the average GMAT score at your top schools and use that as a benchmark. 

2. Write Strong Essays (including the optional essay)

Getting a high GMAT/GRE score will demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are a competent learner, but it’s your essays that will communicate your ability to excel as a contributing member of their b-school community.

Here are some tips: Use your essays to emphasize your strengths. Stand out in a positive way by sharing unique stories about your leadership skills, team working experience, and personal values. Tell the committee how your individuality will contribute to their community. Get specific about why you are a good fit for their program and how their program will help you achieve your goals. Whenever possible, discuss the program’s teaching methods, extracurriculars, course offerings, professors, and other unique attributes. (Pssst — Going on a campus visit will come in handy here.)

This is important: Failing to mention your low GPA in the written portion of your application will not draw less attention to it. The admissions committee is sure to notice this glaring weakness so it’s imperative that you address it. (Here’s where the optional essay comes in.) 

When discussing a low GPA, be honest. Tell the admissions committee if there were extenuating circumstances that resulted in your poor performance (a loss in the family, illness, other responsibilities). No matter the reason for your low grades, be sure to explain that you have identified the root of your issue in undergrad, learned from your experience, and will perform better in business school.

3. Show Strong Work Experience

In general, we recommend all MBA applicants have several years of valuable experience to list on their resume. For those with low GPAs, this is even more important. Real-life, relevant work experience says as much about your qualifications as your undergrad GPA, especially if you’re working for a well-known company. If you don’t have recent work experience to show, you might be better off spending a few more years in the field before you apply for an MBA.

4. Take Supplement Coursework (if applicable)

There’s no getting around the fact that demonstrating a proficiency in quant is necessary when applying to business school. If your performance in quantitative courses is to blame for your low GPA, we recommend taking a few one-off classes at a local community college. Finance, stats, algebra, microeconomics, and calculus are all examples of courses that qualify as quant. Sign up for a few, perform well, and show the admissions committee your ability to excel in relevant academic courses. This will demonstrate growth, which many programs consider to be just as valuable as a high GPA.

5. Get Impactful Recommendations

Strong letters of recommendation aren’t enough to get you in to business school on their own, but they will help balance out a poor GPA. Choose you recommenders wisely and ask that they put emphasis on your quantitative abilities. If you gave a specific reason for your low GPA in your essays, be sure your recommender gives examples of how you’ve overcome that impediment, whether it’s your ability to multitask, manage your time, etc.

6. Apply in Round 1 (or Round 2)

Your best chance for acceptance is to apply during Round I. Why? Because more seats are available. Students with non-traditional backgrounds or weaknesses in their application are better off applying as early as possible. Stay on top of things by preparing for your application ahead of time. That way, you’ll be able to hit the ground running when it’s released. It’s never too early to work on your resume, sign up for more extracurriculars, or meet with an admissions consultant… so get started ASAP.

Which Business Schools to Apply to with a Low GPA

A low GPA doesn’t have to put an end to your dreams of attending a top MBA program, it just means that you might want to choose your safety schools more carefully. Put everything you have into your applications for your top target schools and keep your fingers crossed, but don’t forget to put equal effort into the applications at a few lower-tiered schools. Throughout the process of networking, campus visits, and interviewing, you might be surprised to find that one of your safety schools is actually the perfect fit for your experience and goals. 

Your list of where to apply should include 5-8 schools: 2-3 reach schools, 2-3 on-par schools, and 1-2 safety schools. Make sure you are honest with yourself about which programs fall into each of these categories. If you have a low GPA, here are some programs you might want to consider as on-par schools or safety schools:

On-campus Programs 

Canisius College: no listed GPA requirement
Northcentral University: no listed GPA requirement
Syracuse University: no listed GPA requirement
Lynn University: no listed GPA requirement
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota: minimum 2.75 GPA requirement

Online Programs

Capella University: minimum 2.3 GPA requirement
Marshall University: minimum 2.5 GPA requirement
University of Louisiana Lafayette: minimum 2.3 GPA requirement
University of Northwestern Ohio: minimum 2.5 GPA requirement
University of Tennessee Chattanooga: minimum 2.7 GPA requirement

Final Thoughts

Mitigating your weaknesses in MBA applications can be tricky. But when done properly, it’s possible to transform shortcomings into strengths. We recommend all applicants, especially those with low GPAs, have a consultation with an admissions expert before applying. If you are getting ready to apply for business school and need advice on how to craft your perfect application, set up a free consultation with an Admit Advantage expert today!

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