Getting Into Grad School with a Low GPA [2021 Guide]

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Getting into grad school with low GPA may seem like a long shot, but it’s your qualifications overall that count.

Getting Into Grad School

Your long-term success will likely depend less on past grades and more on your present motivations, good planning and commitment, and your willingness to persevere.

How to Get into Graduate School with a Low GPA

If your G.P.A. disqualifies you for admissions or puts you at a competitive disadvantage, here are some strategies that can help you move forward.

The strategies that are best for you will likely depend on your personal circumstances and where you’re applying.

1. High GRE or GMAT Scores

One straightforward way to present readiness is to get some stellar scores on the GRE or GMAT.

Submitting strong scores may work in your favor as a counterpoint to a bad college GPA, even when enrolling at schools that don’t require the GRE or GMAT.

2. Personal Statement

graduate school low gpa

Your personal statement can provide another opportunity for addressing a low GPA. If you had significant extenuating circumstances that impacted your grades, a personal statement can be a way to share this background information.

If there were not significant circumstances, it might be better to steer clear of the topic. Casting blame on a teacher, for instance, or calling attention to what was simply a lack of initiative or planning is probably not the best strategy.

That said, highlighting what you’ve learned from your past misses is a way to create a more positive impression. You’ll want it to sound authentic, but emphasizing concrete goals and a new sense of commitment and purpose could be a positive.

3. Speak to a Faculty Member

graduate school mentorship

Faculty members in grad programs typically work in close, mentor-like relationships with students. Some faculty members are motivated to recruit students whose goals, passions, or interests offer a strong mentoring match.

If you forge a positive connection with a faculty member in your prospective program, it may help you overcome the GPA deficit.

4. Additional Coursework

One way to demonstrate that past results aren’t evidence of future performance is to go out and take some rigorous graduate-level classes related to your future major.

For example, many accredited universities offer extension programs, where students can enroll in specific courses without applying for a degree. Receiving a top grade in relevant, accredited courses before you apply to grad school can help offer evidence that your low grades are a thing of the past.

5. Professional Experience in Relevant Field

graduate programs professional experience

Many graduate programs will be interested in applicants’ professional experiences. Strong qualifications in this component of your admissions application can help offset concerns over a low GPA.

Public speaking at professional conferences or getting a relevant industry certification are ways you can boost your professional credentials even further.

6. Get Your Work Published

Researching, writing, and getting published are quintessential academic skills, so achieving this can go a long way in diminishing concerns about past grades.

Getting work on relevant topics published can also demonstrate potential for making original contributions to your field, which can further boost your admissions credentials.

7. Recommendation Letters

college GPA

Just as a low college GPA may raise doubts about your readiness for grad school, a soundly positive letter of recommendation can help offset those doubts.

Recommendation letters can carry a lot of credibility. Securing a positive letter from a professor who knows you personally can go a long way in countering concerns raised by low grades.

Also, if you did have some extenuating circumstances that impacted your GPA, maybe one of your college professors can testify more credibly or eloquently about the circumstances in question, giving evidence of your academic readiness.

8. Stand Out in Admissions Interview

Excelling at an admissions interview is another way to make a positive impression. A solid admissions interview may eclipse concerns about your GPA.

An admissions interview can offer access to a relevant faculty member, so it can also be an opportunity to forge a positive connection.

Do Grad Schools Care About GPA?

Grad Schools GPA

Admissions criteria can vary by school and also by type of program, but most grad schools do care about GPA. Most likely, your college GPA is believed to be a meaningful indicator of academic merit or preparation.

That said, there are other circumstances to consider. Let’s say you majored in math and want to get into grad school for computer science. Low grades in your humanities core classes may not matter in the same way that getting a C or lower in calculus or computer programming could.

Considering all relevant circumstances can help you figure out when your GPA is a more significant barrier, when it’s not, and what the best strategies are for moving forward.

What Is a Bad GPA in Grad School?

Bad GPA in Grad School

Expectations or requirements will vary by school. For many masters programs, the stated minimum GPA requirement can be as high as 3.5 or as low as 2.8.

For a doctoral program, it can be higher on average. In many cases, 3.3 or 3.5 is the minimum GPA requirement. These are all general descriptions, though, since requirements vary significantly by school and program with regard to GPA and other factors.

What GPA Do You Need to Get into Grad School?

The minimum GPA for grad school varies, norm is 3.0, but many schools accept lower. You may occasionally come across a program, even a competitive one, that doesn’t indicate a specific GPA cutoff. Sometimes this is because the admissions directors want to apply a holistic assessment process from the start.

The lack of a graduate school GPA requirement won’t tell you much else, though, about requirements and expectations. These factors will still vary by school and program. Researching a school’s specific admissions criteria before applying is often a good course of action.

Can I Get into Graduate School with a 2.5 GPA?

Graduate School GPA

Barriers to admission are likely to vary considerably by school and program. That said, you may find some low GPA masters programs out there.

Masters with low GPA requirements may give more weight to other factors or may be intentionally designed to lower barriers to admissions. It’s important to stick with accredited schools and programs. You probably don’t want to opt for a program that makes admissions easy if it means settling for less than a quality education.

What Can I Do If My GPA Is Too Low for Grad School?

If your GPA is too low for grad school GPA requirements, there are a few strategies you can try, depending on your situation. If your undergrad GPA is low due to extenuating circumstances, you might explain this in your personal statement or have it addressed in one of your letters of recommendation.

Another possible work around is to demonstrate that your low grades no longer reflect your academic commitment and abilities. Ways to do this can include taking some additional, rigorous courses or receiving good scores on the GRE or GMAT.

Other strategies for diminishing potential concerns about low grades include publishing in your field or presenting evidence of other compelling professional achievements.

How Hard Is It to Get into Grad School?

Getting Your Graduate degree

Finding graduate schools with low GPA requirements could, admittedly, take some diligence and perseverance. If your academic foundations don’t equip you to succeed, you may want to take additional courses in order to get into programs at top tier universities.

If you’re ready for grad school but something looks bad on paper, such as your GPA, you can consider which strategies are best for demonstrating that you’re a motivated and well-prepared applicant.

Researching program expectations, required program coursework, and necessary prerequisites at various schools can help inform your game plan.

Getting Your Graduate Degree Online

Graduate Degree Online

When it’s all said and done, your past can’t really stop you from attending grad school, but it might slow you down. Graduate school is worth it for many students, regardless of their undergraduate GPA and other credentials. It can be beneficial to figure out what action you can take to reach your goal rather than focusing on what you can’t change.

For some people, the worst-case scenario might involve taking some additional courses or prepping for entrance exams. You can also consider accredited graduate programs for low GPA applicants. It may also benefit you to explore part-time graduate school programs because the lighter course load may be more comfortable until you get your footing.

You can take the first step in your graduate journey today by checking out accredited online programs and learning about their various admissions criteria.

Keith Nickolaus
WRITTEN BY
Keith Nickolaus
Keith has a Ph.D. and Master's in Comparative Literature from the University of California - Berkeley and a Bachelor's in Literature from the University of California - Santa Cruz. A retired educator, Keith lives in Berkeley and researches and writes about trends in innovation, policy, and education leadership.