10 Tips: Getting Into Grad School With A Low GPA

grad school with a low gpa


10 Tips: Grad School With A Low GPA

For a complete assessment on how to get into grad school with a low GPA, you should read our entire guide. It’s important to remember that admissions committees look at your application packet as a whole, so all your other materials will need to be balanced with your GPA.
That said, if you’re short on time and just need to mitigate a slightly lower than desirable GPA, these 10 tips should give your applications instant oomph and downplay bad grades without having to wait years before applying.

 

 

(1) Class Rank and Percentiles

With grade inflation on the rise and ever more ambiguous standards across universities, sometimes you can instantly level the playing field by simply looking into your actual standings.
In your department, you may only have a 3.3 GPA, which is considered low for graduate school. But what if you studied in a physics department where grades were deliberately not inflated, and you actually had the 2nd highest grades in your graduating class?
One of the fastest ways to help you get into grad school with a low GPA is to find out your class rank, then convert that number to a percentile based on class size. Now compare your GPA, class rank, and percentile numbers. Which one is most impressive? If your GPA looks low, but your percentile rank is high for your department or program, put your percentile rank right next to your GPA on your CV. If your class rank looks more impressive, put that on there instead. Be sure and mention this stat somewhere in your statement of purpose (without whining about a tough grading policy).
Admissions committees are aware of grade inflation, and bringing their attention to the fact that your department or university may simply be combating that trend by sticking to lower averages shouldn’t hurt your chances of being admitted.

 

 

(2) Major GPA vs Overall GPA

If your major GPA is much higher than your overall GPA, this should be highlighted. Some applications will have separate entries for “major” and “overall” GPA, but many don’t. If your application doesn’t make note of it and your major GPA is higher than your overall, definitely separate them on your CV.
A lower grade in a fluff class shouldn’t hurt your chances that much, though it won’t help them either. To increase your chances of being accepted to grad school with a low GPA, try to pull attention away from the lower of the two numbers as fast as you can on your CV. This is the best way to get faculty to keep reading your application without mentally writing you off.

 

 

(3) GRE scores

Most people study for the GRE the summer before they apply to grad school. This can be a great opportunity to mitigate a lower GPA relatively quickly. Now we’re not claiming that a great GRE score will blind the committee to 3 years of awful grades–but if you’re just on the lower side of standard GPAs for graduate admits, this is a great way to prove that you’re serious.
Grades are about work ethic, not intelligence. Luckily for you, the same is true of the GRE! If you study hard and get a high percentile on the exam, it’s not a bad idea to mention in your statement of purpose that you deliberately dedicated yourself to studying for it to prove you’re serious about graduate work and understand the level of work ethic it takes. This acknowledgment of your previous shortcomings and directed action to changing and combating it should help build some trust.

 

 

(4) Extra Classes

If you’ve already graduated, don’t underestimate the power 2-3 summer classes could have on your application chances. If there are upper level classes being offered in the same area to which you’re applying–sign up as a non-degree student. You’ll get a letter grade (an A, we’re assuming!) and be able to point to the fact that you wanted to prove you could handle upper level/graduate coursework despite a less than perfect history. Sometimes, the mere act of acknowledging that a B average isn’t good enough and investing into bringing your grades up, is all the admissions committee needs to see.

 

 

(5) Highlight Coursework-Correlated Research

Lets say you’re a physics student, and you got a few low grades–maybe a C+ in Electromagnetism or a B- in Quantum Mechanics. But you conducted research which directly utilized knowledge and skills in those areas at a research position after you graduated. You should highlight that work to the best of your ability and point out that, although you didn’t shine in those classes, you developed real laboratory intuition and understanding after the fact by working in those subjects. It isn’t a catch all fix, but every little bit you add to convince graduate programs that you can handle the complex material will up your chances of being accepted.

 

 

(6) Apply for Awards, Competitions, and Conferences

Obviously, having a more competitive application packet as a whole will help offset a lower GPA, but this tip is more subtle than that. If you’ve only got a few months before applying, look into awards and competitions directly related to your field. It will show that you’re active in your subject and learned a lot from your classes (even if your grades don’t reflect that perfectly). If you’re in engineering for example, sign up for local or regional engineering competitions and put serious effort into placing. If you’re in the humanities, submit written works to essay competitions. Anything that (1) makes you look self motivated and (2) makes you look engaged and competitive in your proposed field will do a lot to make adcoms overlook your GPA. Who cares if you got an A- in an Art History class if six months later you wrote an essay on how art has impacted political dynasties which was accepted to a national conference?
Your grades don’t define everything you know, so find other objective third party ways of proving that you know more than your GPA reflects. This is a consistent and proven way to increase your chances of getting into grad school with a low GPA.

 

 

(7) Submit Class Lists with Syllabi

If your classes were legitimately very difficult or labor intensive, or perhaps you were forced to take 5 very challenging classes all the same semester (which ended in an average score in all of them)–it isn’t a bad idea to passively point that out by uploading a list of relevant classes with topics covered and textbooks used. Every professor is different, and if you took a biochemistry class that used a graduate level text and covered graduate level material and still got a B+, the admissions committee should know that.
That said, don’t talk about this aspect overtly. There is no way to write about it in your statement that won’t come off as whining about how hard your classes were. At best it sounds unprofessional, at worst it sounds like you can’t handle difficult material. The people looking at your application will be professors, they know what material is particularly difficult: don’t try to explain it to them.
Make a professional looking list of your classes taken (by semester if that seems relevant) with a little synopsis (a few lines at most) of what you covered and what texts were used. Upload it to the “additional documents” section and leave it be.

 

 

(8) Pick the Right Programs

This is one of the biggest factors when it comes to getting admitted to a grad school with a low GPA, regardless of what your other stats are! 
You need to pick the right programs. This means finding programs that are a fantastic fit for your research interests AND choosing programs that value what you have to offer in your tier range.
Some schools love perfect applicants: double 170 GREs, 4.0’s, etc. Programs at MIT, Caltech, and Stanford good examples of top programs that fall into this category. But don’t be fooled–just because a school isn’t MIT doesn’t mean they don’t have very specific, even picky, standards. University of Colorado Boulder’s physics department might not accept applicants with anything under a 3.8 GPA, and the same can be true of University of Washington or College of William and Mary. It isn’t because they’re the most competitive programs, they just might use GPA as a filter more than other universities. Some programs will weigh the GRE heavily and others focus on having an amazing research portfolio. Each program is different and care more about different things in applicants.
Think about where you really shine. Do your research and find out which programs fit best with your statistics, and you’ll have a much easier time being admitted. If you’re not sure how to do this, go through our guide on how to figure out departmental admit statistics.

 

 

(9) Take a Subject GRE

This doesn’t apply to everyone, but if there is a GRE subject test that is relevant to your field, and you want to get into grad school with a low GPA, consider taking it even if it isn’t required.
Getting a decent score a subject exam does double duty for your application: it shows you’re willing to work above and beyond what’s required to attend, and it proves that you know the requisite material even if your grades don’t reflect that. If you’re going into sociology– consider taking the psychology exam. If you’re an engineering major, look into a physics or math subject test.  You probably won’t get a 90th percentile score if the subject is peripheral to your major, but even a decent score proves a lot and shows work ethic.
If you go this route, be sure and mention it in your Statement of Purpose. Tell the committee you wanted to show that you understand the material and fundamentals of your field despite a few low grades. It will make you look motivated, mature, and professional. It can take a lot of work to get a good subject score, but if you’re really dedicated to getting in and only have a few months, this can do a lot to propel your application forward.

 

 

(10) Get Professors to Vouch For You

This isn’t an easy fix, but for some students it can really help.
There are plenty of students who have a lot of promise, are really passionate, active in their department, understand the material well, but for one reason or another, they don’t get the best grades. They do well, but they don’t put in that extra neurotic attention to detail that gets you an A instead of an A-. Maybe you’re so interested in engineering, that you neglected your other classes as a result.
These are the types of students faculty usually enjoy and end up getting to know because they’re very socially engaged with the material. If this describes you, you’re in luck. After reading through our guide on how to ask for letters of recommendation, you know that you need to outline your needs to faculty immediately. If your overall GPA is a bit low, point this out in your letter of recommendation request to a professor who knows you well. Tell them that you’re really interested in graduate school and understand the material well, but you also realize your GPA isn’t as competitive as it needs to be. If you ask them to vouch for your knowledge and ability, this alone could be enough to allay a nervous admissions committee.
It’s true that all letters of recommendation should vouch for students in this way, but having a professor make note of a GPA and deliberately state that it isn’t indicative of your ability or potential is huge boon to your application.

 

 

Need more advice on how to get into grad school with a low GPA? Read through our complete guide!
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10 Tips: Getting Into Grad School With A Low GPA

grad school with a low gpa April 25th, 2016


10 Tips: Grad School With A Low GPA

For a complete assessment on how to get into grad school with a low GPA, you should read our entire guide. It’s important to remember that admissions committees look at your application packet as a whole, so all your other materials will need to be balanced with your GPA.
That said, if you’re short on time and just need to mitigate a slightly lower than desirable GPA, these 10 tips should give your applications instant oomph and downplay bad grades without having to wait years before applying.

 

 

(1) Class Rank and Percentiles

With grade inflation on the rise and ever more ambiguous standards across universities, sometimes you can instantly level the playing field by simply looking into your actual standings.
In your department, you may only have a 3.3 GPA, which is considered low for graduate school. But what if you studied in a physics department where grades were deliberately not inflated, and you actually had the 2nd highest grades in your graduating class?
One of the fastest ways to help you get into grad school with a low GPA is to find out your class rank, then convert that number to a percentile based on class size. Now compare your GPA, class rank, and percentile numbers. Which one is most impressive? If your GPA looks low, but your percentile rank is high for your department or program, put your percentile rank right next to your GPA on your CV. If your class rank looks more impressive, put that on there instead. Be sure and mention this stat somewhere in your statement of purpose (without whining about a tough grading policy).
Admissions committees are aware of grade inflation, and bringing their attention to the fact that your department or university may simply be combating that trend by sticking to lower averages shouldn’t hurt your chances of being admitted.

 

 

(2) Major GPA vs Overall GPA

If your major GPA is much higher than your overall GPA, this should be highlighted. Some applications will have separate entries for “major” and “overall” GPA, but many don’t. If your application doesn’t make note of it and your major GPA is higher than your overall, definitely separate them on your CV.
A lower grade in a fluff class shouldn’t hurt your chances that much, though it won’t help them either. To increase your chances of being accepted to grad school with a low GPA, try to pull attention away from the lower of the two numbers as fast as you can on your CV. This is the best way to get faculty to keep reading your application without mentally writing you off.

 

 

(3) GRE scores

Most people study for the GRE the summer before they apply to grad school. This can be a great opportunity to mitigate a lower GPA relatively quickly. Now we’re not claiming that a great GRE score will blind the committee to 3 years of awful grades–but if you’re just on the lower side of standard GPAs for graduate admits, this is a great way to prove that you’re serious.
Grades are about work ethic, not intelligence. Luckily for you, the same is true of the GRE! If you study hard and get a high percentile on the exam, it’s not a bad idea to mention in your statement of purpose that you deliberately dedicated yourself to studying for it to prove you’re serious about graduate work and understand the level of work ethic it takes. This acknowledgment of your previous shortcomings and directed action to changing and combating it should help build some trust.

 

 

(4) Extra Classes

If you’ve already graduated, don’t underestimate the power 2-3 summer classes could have on your application chances. If there are upper level classes being offered in the same area to which you’re applying–sign up as a non-degree student. You’ll get a letter grade (an A, we’re assuming!) and be able to point to the fact that you wanted to prove you could handle upper level/graduate coursework despite a less than perfect history. Sometimes, the mere act of acknowledging that a B average isn’t good enough and investing into bringing your grades up, is all the admissions committee needs to see.

 

 

(5) Highlight Coursework-Correlated Research

Lets say you’re a physics student, and you got a few low grades–maybe a C+ in Electromagnetism or a B- in Quantum Mechanics. But you conducted research which directly utilized knowledge and skills in those areas at a research position after you graduated. You should highlight that work to the best of your ability and point out that, although you didn’t shine in those classes, you developed real laboratory intuition and understanding after the fact by working in those subjects. It isn’t a catch all fix, but every little bit you add to convince graduate programs that you can handle the complex material will up your chances of being accepted.

 

 

(6) Apply for Awards, Competitions, and Conferences

Obviously, having a more competitive application packet as a whole will help offset a lower GPA, but this tip is more subtle than that. If you’ve only got a few months before applying, look into awards and competitions directly related to your field. It will show that you’re active in your subject and learned a lot from your classes (even if your grades don’t reflect that perfectly). If you’re in engineering for example, sign up for local or regional engineering competitions and put serious effort into placing. If you’re in the humanities, submit written works to essay competitions. Anything that (1) makes you look self motivated and (2) makes you look engaged and competitive in your proposed field will do a lot to make adcoms overlook your GPA. Who cares if you got an A- in an Art History class if six months later you wrote an essay on how art has impacted political dynasties which was accepted to a national conference?
Your grades don’t define everything you know, so find other objective third party ways of proving that you know more than your GPA reflects. This is a consistent and proven way to increase your chances of getting into grad school with a low GPA.

 

 

(7) Submit Class Lists with Syllabi

If your classes were legitimately very difficult or labor intensive, or perhaps you were forced to take 5 very challenging classes all the same semester (which ended in an average score in all of them)–it isn’t a bad idea to passively point that out by uploading a list of relevant classes with topics covered and textbooks used. Every professor is different, and if you took a biochemistry class that used a graduate level text and covered graduate level material and still got a B+, the admissions committee should know that.
That said, don’t talk about this aspect overtly. There is no way to write about it in your statement that won’t come off as whining about how hard your classes were. At best it sounds unprofessional, at worst it sounds like you can’t handle difficult material. The people looking at your application will be professors, they know what material is particularly difficult: don’t try to explain it to them.
Make a professional looking list of your classes taken (by semester if that seems relevant) with a little synopsis (a few lines at most) of what you covered and what texts were used. Upload it to the “additional documents” section and leave it be.

 

 

(8) Pick the Right Programs

This is one of the biggest factors when it comes to getting admitted to a grad school with a low GPA, regardless of what your other stats are! 
You need to pick the right programs. This means finding programs that are a fantastic fit for your research interests AND choosing programs that value what you have to offer in your tier range.
Some schools love perfect applicants: double 170 GREs, 4.0’s, etc. Programs at MIT, Caltech, and Stanford good examples of top programs that fall into this category. But don’t be fooled–just because a school isn’t MIT doesn’t mean they don’t have very specific, even picky, standards. University of Colorado Boulder’s physics department might not accept applicants with anything under a 3.8 GPA, and the same can be true of University of Washington or College of William and Mary. It isn’t because they’re the most competitive programs, they just might use GPA as a filter more than other universities. Some programs will weigh the GRE heavily and others focus on having an amazing research portfolio. Each program is different and care more about different things in applicants.
Think about where you really shine. Do your research and find out which programs fit best with your statistics, and you’ll have a much easier time being admitted. If you’re not sure how to do this, go through our guide on how to figure out departmental admit statistics.

 

 

(9) Take a Subject GRE

This doesn’t apply to everyone, but if there is a GRE subject test that is relevant to your field, and you want to get into grad school with a low GPA, consider taking it even if it isn’t required.
Getting a decent score a subject exam does double duty for your application: it shows you’re willing to work above and beyond what’s required to attend, and it proves that you know the requisite material even if your grades don’t reflect that. If you’re going into sociology– consider taking the psychology exam. If you’re an engineering major, look into a physics or math subject test.  You probably won’t get a 90th percentile score if the subject is peripheral to your major, but even a decent score proves a lot and shows work ethic.
If you go this route, be sure and mention it in your Statement of Purpose. Tell the committee you wanted to show that you understand the material and fundamentals of your field despite a few low grades. It will make you look motivated, mature, and professional. It can take a lot of work to get a good subject score, but if you’re really dedicated to getting in and only have a few months, this can do a lot to propel your application forward.

 

 

(10) Get Professors to Vouch For You

This isn’t an easy fix, but for some students it can really help.
There are plenty of students who have a lot of promise, are really passionate, active in their department, understand the material well, but for one reason or another, they don’t get the best grades. They do well, but they don’t put in that extra neurotic attention to detail that gets you an A instead of an A-. Maybe you’re so interested in engineering, that you neglected your other classes as a result.
These are the types of students faculty usually enjoy and end up getting to know because they’re very socially engaged with the material. If this describes you, you’re in luck. After reading through our guide on how to ask for letters of recommendation, you know that you need to outline your needs to faculty immediately. If your overall GPA is a bit low, point this out in your letter of recommendation request to a professor who knows you well. Tell them that you’re really interested in graduate school and understand the material well, but you also realize your GPA isn’t as competitive as it needs to be. If you ask them to vouch for your knowledge and ability, this alone could be enough to allay a nervous admissions committee.
It’s true that all letters of recommendation should vouch for students in this way, but having a professor make note of a GPA and deliberately state that it isn’t indicative of your ability or potential is huge boon to your application.

 

 

Need more advice on how to get into grad school with a low GPA? Read through our complete guide!
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@
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