Before discussing the possible measures you can take to offset a low GPA, it is important to first understand what a “Low GPA” is? In general, any GPA below 3.2(on a scale of 4) is considered a low GPA. However, the notion that any GPA less than 3.2 is a low GPA is far from reality as a lot of factors go into assessing one’s GPA. A more accurate way to describe a low GPA is “GPA below 80th percentile”. This is because different schools have different grading systems, some schools might award a 3.5 GPA to only one or two students while others award it tens of students. Therefore, the important question here is “Are you in the top 20 percent students?”
Another way is to look at your target program’s average GPA, if the difference between your GPA and its average GPA is less than 0.1-0.2 points, your GPA may not be considered very low. On the other hand, if the difference is more than 0.3 points, your GPA will be considered low even if it is more than 3.2. For example, if you have a GPA of 3.2 while your target program has an average GPA of 3.6, your GPA is low- whereas, if your target program has an average GPA of 3.25 and your GPA is 3.15, your GPA will not be considered low.
In short, do not judge yourself by your absolute GPA rather see your percentile, and the difference between your GPA and your target program median GPA since they are better indicators. If your GPA is low, the following tips might help you offset it to a degree.
Select the right schools.
Doing your university research thoroughly is the most important step. Select an array of universities, some of which you think are too ambitious for you, some moderately risky and others completely safe. Since this article deals with students who have a low GPA, another aspect to look at while selecting university is how much they value undergrad academics? Some schools have a cut-off GPA and reject any applications below that GPA. Look for schools that emphasize on the overall application.
Personal Statement: Narrate your story.
The personal statement is your chance to narrate your story. Take this as an opportunity to describe the reason for your low GPA. Were you doing a job besides your studies to fend for yourself? Were there any problems that you couldn’t have controlled but were affected by? Was it difficult for you to adjust in your university initially and that accounted for Low GPA in the initial few semesters? Did your GPA increase in the last two years of your degree? You may like to discuss any of these questions in your Personal Statement.
In short, mention the reasons behind the low GPA and what you have done to make up for it.
Test scores (GRE/GMAT/LSAT etc) are a great way to prove that there is more to you than what your GPA portrays. Test scores can’t completely offset a low GPA but they certainly bring credibility to the claims you lay in your Personal statement and, show your willingness and determination towards pursuing the Graduate program.
Research experience adds a lot of weight to your application. If you have done great research, it will enormously boost your chances of admission. Graduate programs are often looking for candidates with proven ability and there is no greater proof of ability than your past research experience.
Letter of Recommendation
Graduate programs are mostly about students working for Professors on some project, if a Professor can vouch for your ability, it will certainly strengthen your position. This and the last two points together can enormously increase your chances and almost certainly offset low GPA to a degree. Keep in mind that a strong Letter of Recommendation (L.O.R) does not mean an L.O.R full of praise, rather it needs to address a lot of aspects. Writing more about them in this blog would make it too long, there is another blog dedicated on this, you can read it here.
If you can get an internship in which you learn relevant material and work on relevant projects, you will be able to add a lot on your resume. Getting internships is comparatively easy, you can contact anyone from the faculty or apply to organizations that interest you. Always try to get an internship that challenges you, the only kind of internships that do not help at all are the one’s where you learn nothing new.
Fresh graduates are often at an inherent disadvantage because they have hardly any work experience and need to prove their skills solely on the basis of their academics. A few years of work experience definitely helps, your performance in the past few year is also an indicator of how you have improved. Besides, you have learnt relevant field related knowledge and gained leadership experience, all of this adds to your application.
In short, if you can prove that you understand your goals and are really driven, the projects that you have done in the past are in alignment with your goal and your Professors/ Managers are willing to vouch for your credibility, you will definitely have a good chance of making it to the target school even if your GPA is slightly low.