Can I get into graduate school with a low GPA? Part 1

Is your college GPA abysmal? Are you worried this will keep you from being able to attend graduate school? While a low college GPA will limit your graduate school options, it does not necessarily mean you have to kiss your graduate school dreams goodbye.  Here are some suggestions for how to compensate for a low undergraduate GPA in your graduate school application.

Be realistic. Many of the top graduate programs will do an initial culling of the applicant pool based solely on their GPA and GRE scores.  A low average undergraduate GPA for admitted students can bring down program rankings, and many of the top programs receive far too many applications to truly be able to consider each application individually. If your GPA does not make the initial cut, then you will not be considered for admission.  Before you send in your application, call the program and ask them if there is an undergraduate GPA cutoff.  Make sure the programs you apply to are willing to evaluate your application as a whole.

Don’t ignore your bad grades. Graduate schools will see your undergraduate transcript as part of your application, so if you have a low GPA, be prepared to explain why.  Most graduate school applications have an additional optional essay where you can explain any extenuating circumstances related to your application.  Use it to explain your low grades! Some applicants have poor undergraduate GPAs due to outside family or medical issues beyond their control.  Other applicants may have come into college pursuing a major that was too challenging or did not interest them and gotten low grades in their first two years that brought down their GPA.  (How many pre-meds did you know coming into college? How many of them switched to English majors by junior year?) If your low GPA was due to extenuating circumstances, such as family or medical issues, or because you spent the first two years of college trying to be pre-med and failing many of your graduate schools may be more willing to overlook a low GPA, provided the remainder of your application is strong.

Distinguish between your major GPA and your undergraduate GPA.  Graduate schools are generally most interested in how well you handled classes in your major, since that is the field you will most likely be pursuing in graduate school.  An English department, for instance, may overlook some bad grades in science if you did exceptionally well in all of your English courses.  If your major GPA is significantly higher than your undergraduate GPA, be sure to point that out in your application.

Still worried about your low GPA? Check back soon for more tips on how to compensate for a low GPA.

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45 Responses to Can I get into graduate school with a low GPA? Part 1

  1. Taylor says:

    Im 28, have aspergers, in 2.8 in mass communications, didn’t take any internships, cant do sales and marketing professions. Would like to work in writing, science, or film, but I think I killed my chances and depressed about it everyday. Any suggestions?

    • Bill says:

      Dear Taylor,

      You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself! There are more than a few options available to you to increase your chances of being admitted to a graduate school of your choice. If you’re worried about your GPA being too low to be admitted, you should consider doing some post-baccalaureate college coursework. Post-baccalaureate is a fancy way of saying going back to undergraduate school after having already earned an undergraduate degree. Most graduate schools do have a minimum required GPA to be admitted; that minimum GPA is usually a 3.0. What this means is that you are not too far off from what is required to be considered a viable graduate school applicant.

      Community Colleges and Junior Colleges are a great place to start when you are rebuilding a resume. If you’re interested in writing, take English composition classes or creative writing classes. This will not only boost your GPA and prepare you for the kind of coursework you can expect at the graduate level, but also satisfy the necessary course requirements required by most English graduate programs. The same goes for science or film. If you’re interested in film, taking a film theory class; if you’re interested in science, study chemistry or biology. The first step is to decide what you want to study at the graduate level; the second step is to begin molding yourself into a competitive applicant by studying pertinent topics and doing well in class.

      As far as extracurricular activities (internships, work experience, etc.) is concerned, if you do decide to do post-baccalaureate work, that will give you plenty of time to line up your credentials. What you should do is obviously dependent on what field of study you decide to pursue; for example, if you’re interested in science, apply to be a lab tech, or if you’re interested in film, write a review or produce a short film. Whatever you do, work towards your goal of studying it at the graduate level and, ultimately, doing it professionally.

      There are plenty of schools with resources dedicated to helping people with Asperger’s. Though we are not experts on the topic of attending college with this kind of diagnosis, there are a number of blogs and information and support sites with great advice. You can find one great FAQ here.

      I hope this helps, and let us know if you have any other questions.

      • Saon says:

        I m 25 yrs old , and my undergraduate score is 2.83 in B.Sc in textile engineering . and my GRE score – verbal-139 and quant -140 .which is 279 . Can i get any admission in American University . pls tell me details . i m so worried about this . What kind of approach should follow for me . I don’t know . So pls do a favor for me . What should i do for me now?

        • Bill says:


          Everything is relative to the university and program to which you apply. First, you should consider taking the GRE again. A score of 279 is relatively low – particularly your Quantitative Reasoning score. For a student seeking a masters or PhD in Engineering, you will need a score of at least 150, preferably a score much higher than that. Beyond returning to school for some type of post-baccalaureate studies program, there is little you can do about your undergraduate GPA; however, your GRE score is something that you can control. Additionally, if you are an international applicant you should consider taking the TOEFL as a supplement to your application; depending on the school and program, you may even be required to take the TOEFL. Again, at this point you should focus on those things that are within your control – obtaining favorable recommendations, working on your personal statement/admission essay, and improving your standardized test scores can go a long way toward improving your chances of admission to a graduate program. Another important point here is to keep your expectations realistic – be sure to do your due diligence and find the right program for you!

          Hope this helps!

  2. Taylor says:

    Actually its 2.7, 2.8 is my gpa with post grad classes.

  3. john says:

    I have a question, for me while i was in a previous university i had a horrible, horrible gpa 1.74, i later trasnfered to another school did about 65 hours of classes and i have a 2.85 gpa, i know other schools are going to ask me to show my previous school grade, do you think this will hurt my chances of getting admission to graduate school, cuz i have been thinking not to even border about graduate school

    • Bill says:

      Dear John,

      Does your cumulative 2.85 GPA include the grades that earned you a 1.74? Or does your 2.85 GPA only include the grades you earned after transferring schools? It makes a difference.

      Either way, you’ve definitely put yourself in a tough spot, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it! If you have a compelling reason for receiving such bad grades, then be prepared to talk about it. A well-worded personal statement explaining what happened might help convince an admission officer to take a chance on admitting you to whatever program you are applying to.

      If you’re serious about graduate school, you might need to think about returning to undergraduate studies for a while. Many graduate programs will have minimum GPA requirements that you will have to meet in order to be even considered for admission. If you are interested in a program with this kind of admission criteria, then there is not going to be a way around it; you have to have the grades to get in. You might not like the prospect of returning to school, but it might be the only route available to you.

      Finally, there are some (not many, but some) schools and programs that are willing to admit students with a low undergraduate GPA who can achieve a particular score on the GRE.

      While your GPA is not going to be a strong asset in your favor for graduate school admission, it does not have to be debilitating. You are never going to find the right graduate school for your specific circumstances if you do not keep looking for it!

      Hope this helps.


  4. Sara says:

    Hey, I have a low GPA of 2.38 and I will be applying for abroad. I had a tough family time (2 deaths) during my undergrad and I wasn’t able to get the GPA I wanted cause of traumatic experience. How do I tackle it in my application without sounding weak or using it as an excuse?

    • Bill says:


      Just be honest. Don’t focus on your failures, focus on your successes. Be clear without being dramatic; take responsibility for your GPA while explaining how the experiences you faced in undergrad have left you better prepared to deal with adversity today. Admissions officers are people too, they will understand how and why what you are describing affected your academic performance (to a certain extent).

      The best way to communicate these ideas will be through your Personal Statement, although it might be worthwhile to try and get some face-to-face time with someone from the department you are applying to (or, since you are applying abroad, speak with someone over the phone).

      You should also keep in mind that, depending on the requirements of the university you are applying to, you might either have to raise your GPA through post-baccalaureate work or achieve a minimum score on the GRE in order to be considered for admission. These are very important admission criteria for someone with your GPA; I encourage you to thoroughly research what exactly you will have to do in order to be eligible for admission to your university of choice.

      Hope this helps.

      • Sam says:

        Currently I have a 2.4 GPA with another 3 semesters left to get it at least a little closer to a 3.0. My major GPA is a 2.8 and I am working on a research team for the social psych program at my school. I took 5 classes at a community college and made a huge mistake thinking I dropped three of them when I didn’t, resulting in 3 F’s on my comm. college transcript. I havent submitted the courses to my current university and am wondering should I just refrain from doing so for fear of graduate schools seeing the credits earned on my current school’s transcript (transferred from the CC) and wanting to see the community college’s transcript as well. Thus exposing the 3 F’s I received… Please help me!

        • Bill says:


          Your most important priority right now should be to focus on your three remaining semesters of undergraduate and raising your GPA up just as high as you can. Depending on your upcoming credit hours, as compared to how many you have already completed, you might be surprised at how significant a leap you can make between now and graduation. Additionally, most graduate schools are most concerned with your final 60 hours of coursework; even if you are only taking 15 hours a semester, that would still represent a significant portion of the coursework that they will most carefully review when making an admission decision (plus, if you do need additional coursework to raise your GPA up for whatever graduate school you are targeting, if you do well in your last three semesters that might mean only one additional semester of 15 hours extraneous coursework to achieve this required minimum).

          You were right not to immediately share your CC transcript with your current university; before doing anything, you should review your CC’s policies in regards to having your “F” grades changes to “I” (Incomplete). My advice would be to immediately schedule an appointment with someone at your CC. At first, you will likely meet resistance; be polite, but be persistent! Ask to speak with the Dean. Explain that this was an honest mistake. Figure out what the appeals process is at that school (you are probably not the first student this has happened to), and then proceed from there.

          Unless the two credits you received at this community college are absolutely vital to completing your undergraduate studies on schedule, if you are unable to have these F’s dropped from your transcript (or at the least changed to I’s), then you might just consider the entire enterprise a wash. This means if you are unable to have your transcript corrected, then you should seriously consider not disclosing it. THIS ADVICE COMES WITH A WARNING THOUGH. While not disclosing this information to your undergraduate university shouldn’t have any serious or immediate consequences, aside from simply not getting credit for the two courses you completed, failure to disclose this information to a graduate institution during the application process could be construed as academic dishonesty. Even if you get into your dream school, if they find out that you altered or withheld information during the application process you could face expulsion or other severe consequences. My advice in this case is to contact the graduate schools you are interested in and find out exactly what their policies are in regards to accepting and reviewing transferable credits.

          Hope this helps! Let us know if you have any other questions.

  5. Tim Dang says:

    I am interested in applying to top 20 Masters of Healthcare Administration programs such as, UCLA, University of Washington, Columbia, Cornell, UC Berkeley , etc.

    Below would be the current highlight of my application. Would I be considered a strong candidate to be admitted into these top rank programs ? Or would you recommend either retaking the GREs or holding off on applying for few years to gain more work experience. Ideally, I would have 2 years of post-graduate work experience before the start of 2015 classes.

    Undergraduate: University of California San Diego (2013)
    Major: General Biology

    Minor: health care and Social Issues

    3.0 Overall GPA

    3.25 GPA: last 2 years

    GRE: 152 verbal, 154 Q , 4.0 analytical writing
    3 Letters of Recommendation: 2 professional + 1 professor

    WORK/VOLUNTEER Experience

    300+ volunteer hours: Rehabilitation Services( hospital) + 2 Physical therapy outpatient Clinics
    Physical therapy outpatient clinic: Physical Therapy Aide
    Internship: Health career Connection ( roughly 250/2500 applicants accepted nationwide)
    Quality improvement Technician: Indian Health Center of Santa Clara valley

    I hope to hear back with any feedback or advice to help bolster my chances of being accepted into these top rank MHA programs

    Any advice would be extremely helpful!

    • Tim Dang says:

      FYI, I also was on academic probation twice, but retook classes that I received poor grades in.

      • Bill says:


        This will probably be reflected on your transcript. Unfortunately, this is something that you will probably have to explain either during an admission interview or through your personal statement (or, preferably, on the section of your application that asks you to explain these types of inconsistencies, if there is a section of this type on your application form). This is just one more reason why, if you are serious about admission to a top 20 school, you will have to work to improve your application before applying. See my longer response for more information.

        Hope this helps!


    • Bill says:


      An honest assessment of your credentials is that your work/volunteer experience is excellent but your undergraduate GPA and GRE scores are only average. In the context of an application to a top tier graduate program, the two most important parts of your application are your GPA and GRE scores. Many of these types of schools do not have a minimum GPA or GRE score to be considered for admission, and many evaluate each applicant individually or “holistically” for admission; however, despite there being no official minimum for admission, these types of schools often rely on what are called “historical trends” as guidelines for admission, i.e. admission officers evaluate applicants by comparing them to the standards set by previously admitted students. As you can imagine, the standards set by previously admitted students to these types of schools are fairly high…

      If it is not feasible for you to return to undergraduate studies to boost your GPA (your undergraduate GPA is not bad per se, it is just a bit lacking in the context of an application to the type of school you are targeting), then you should almost certainly prepare for and retake the GRE. A composite 306 is not a bad score on the GRE; again, it is just a bit lacking in the context of an application to the type of school you are targeting. As preparing for and retaking the GRE would surely be much less expensive and much less trouble than re-enrolling in an undergraduate program, this would be our recommended course of action.

      As you outline your five or ten year plan, it is important that your expectations be realistic. Is it realistic to expect that you could be admitted to a top ranked university? Absolutely! This would require you to improve your application in certain areas (namely by improving your GRE score; a good target score for you should be between 310-320, preferably on the higher end of that scale), but these improvements are manageable and realistic. Is it also realistic to expect that you could make these improvements and still not gain admission to your school of choice? Unfortunately, yes. By way of advice, when you do ultimately apply to graduate school, remember to apply to at least two “Non-reach” schools (schools where you can reasonably expect to be admitted to) and at least one “Safety” school (a school where you are almost assuredly guaranteed admission). This will help you be prepared for any contingency in the road that lies ahead.

      Hope this helps!


  6. Randi says:

    Greetings Bill. I have just came upon your post and I just really need some realistic and uplifting advice. The GPA I graduated with from undergrad was a 2.3. Several factors impacted that especially towards the end of my program. I have two semesters where my grades are Ws and WFs and that’s due to anxiety/depression. It is noted in the school counseling center but my prof. were mostly unaware and it is not noted in my statement of purpose. I have already gotten into a grad program but had to leave due to finances. I completed 1 semester, was a hard worker and had a great relationship with my prof. and they have provided me awesome recommendations. I have decent GRE scores V:152, Q:150, and AW:4.0. and I have a lot of research that I’ve done, one included a scholarship in my undergrad program. I am trying my best right now to get into a program in my field which also has an assistantship. Can you please explain my chances of my gpa not being a huge factor in applying for other programs and provide some options for me. Thanks.

    • Bill says:


      The requirements to obtain an assistantship will vary from school to school, or more specifically from department to department. In all likelihood, your undergraduate GPA will almost certainly impact your ability to obtain an assistantship. Assistantships typically entail teaching, researching, and/or administrative work; like with any similar professional occupation, I would find it hard to imagine you being hired, even part time, without your potential employer first at least reviewing your resume (which should, of course, include your undergraduate GPA).

      That said, having a subpar undergraduate GPA will not necessarily disqualify you from obtaining financial assistance. Prior experience as a researcher will be a big plus on your resume (especially if there are any peer reviewed publications featuring your research). If you performed well in the semester of graduate school you most recently completed, that could serve to assuage any doubts a potential employer might have regarding your work ethic or reliability. Also, being able to provide a recommendation from someone who is known and respected in the field will go a long way toward convincing your potential employers that you are worth hiring.

      If the financial cost of attending graduate school is the biggest factor preventing you from pursuing a graduate degree, you should consider other forms of financial aid as well. Although financial aid is not as readily available to graduate students as it is to undergraduate students, there are still many viable options for students in your position. For example, you might consider a more generic work-study program (as compared to an assistantship). Depending on the degree you are seeking you might qualify for certain kinds of grants as well (such as a TEACH grant, for example). Depending on where you are writing from, your state government could also potentially be a source for assistance via grants or other forms of aid. You can also look at obtaining a federal student loan, like a Direct Loan, a Direct PLUS Loan, or, if you can demonstrate exceptional financial need, maybe even a Perkins Loan.

      Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the high cost of a graduate education. Consider it an investment in yourself. In regard to obtaining both an assistantship or other forms of aid, the best advice I can give is to begin preparing/applying early. Most departments will begin looking at assistantship candidates 9-12 months in advance of the school year that student would be hired on for; if you are serious about obtaining an assistantship, you should be on their radar before they even begin their search. Let the school or department you are interested in obtaining an assistantship with know that you are interested in obtaining an assistantship! Not only will they have more information than anyone else about the basic eligibility requirements of their program, but demonstrated interest is something that most employers will take into account when making a hiring decision. Additionally, contacting the school or department in advance of their deadlines will give you more time to deal with obstacles or questions as they arise. Similarly, to obtain federal, state, or in some cases private scholarships or grants, you will need to complete certain steps first, most notably you will definitely want to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA).

      I hope this helps! Let us know if you have any other questions.


  7. Tarun Mittal says:

    Hello,I am 21 and I am from the country of India.I graduated from college with a degree in Computer science with 75%(distinction) which is equivalent to a 3.8 as equated by WES(World Evaluation Services) on a scale of 4.0.I would like to do my Masters in Computer science from a top 50 school in the US and then do my PhD from Harvard SEAS.I wrote the GRE and have a score of 331 out of a 340(V:164,Q:167) and also got a TOEFL score of 112 out of 120.I had got 3 F’s and 2 I ‘s in my second semester due to a major surgery but I retook them with straight A’s.Do you think that I can get into Harvard SEAS for my PhD after doing my Masters with a great GPA or will those F’s and I’s hamper my chances of getting in?

    • Bill says:


      Your credentials sound very impressive. If you can demonstrate through documentation that your poor grades were the result of a medical emergency, they should not hamper you when you pursue your PhD.

      EDIT: If you received A’s in the classes you previously failed or received an Incomplete in, you should ask those instructors for recommendations. While you want to avoid having to make excuses for yourself (even in unavoidable cases such as your own), the professors writing your recommendations can make as many excuses for you as they would like. This would go a long way toward reassuring an admission officer that those grades are an aberration and not indicative of the effort they can expect from you.

      Hope this helps!

      • Kaytlin says:

        I’m 23, and going to graduate with a degree in biology from a decently competitive university. My gpa will be about a 3.0, and I’m looking at my chances of getting into grad school. I really did not have a lot of guidance throughout my college experience, seeing as how I’m a first generation college student. In fact, I’m a former foster youth who aged out of the system. I had to work throughout my college career, while worrying over personal problems like whether my biological mother was homeless or not, and if my twin brother was getting treatment for his terminal illness. I often loaded myself up with hard courses and even found myself spread too thin because of work, volunteer work that has to do with my major, community leadership responsibilities, personal life issues, and school. How much do grad schools really look at circumstances? Also I am thinking of taking a few years after I graduate with my undergrad to work in my field (maybe do some research) before applying to grad school. What do you think of that idea?

        Thank you for any advice!

        • Calvin says:

          Dear Kaytlin,

          First of all, you are doing great! A 3.0+ GPA in a science major is pretty darn good. But now to your question: will grad schools take your past/present circumstances into consideration? While your academic performance will always be the primary basis for your admission, I would say that your story can only help your application, because it shows your drive, resilience, and perseverance in the face of adversity. These traits are valuable in any field, and graduate schools will recognize that you have had to work harder than most to get where you are today. Many people would likely find your story inspiring (including the people who will be reviewing your grad school applications), so you might consider mentioning some of your circumstances in your personal statement. Your professors can also mention them when they write your recommendations. When you ask professors for recommendations, you should give them copies of your resume, a personal statement, and notes regarding any other accomplishments or circumstances you want them to mention. A paragraph or two of autobiography would not be amiss amongst these other materials. Professors tend to be busy people, so they will be grateful for any help you can give them.

          As to whether you should work or go straight to grad school, what you decide should depend on the job opportunities available to you, how certain you are about going to grad school, and how certain you are about what you want to focus on in grad school. My understanding is that job opportunities can be limited for students with only an undergraduate degree in biology, although I do have a friend who found a job straight out of college in a lab doing genetic research on corn and she seems to like it. If you can find a good job that would potentially enhance a future grad school application, then that would definitely be a choice to consider, especially if you aren’t sure about grad school or if you haven’t done much research to find out what specific schools interest you (very important). If you are sure about grad school, then you should probably just go ahead and apply now unless you think a job would make you a better applicant. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to apply to grad school and jobs and go with the best opportunity you get. Keep up the good work, and good luck!


  8. Aslan says:


    I had a CGPA of 2.87 in my engineering undergrad. I began as a good student and by the fifth semester had a CGPA of 3.12. But, unfortunately by the end of the 6th semester, my GPA had dipped to 2.9 because of getting a GPA of 1.8 in that semester. To make matters worse, this semester had the core subjects of my electrical engineering subjects. The reason of this dip was that I fell ill in this semester near exam time and in order to avoid repeating that semester, I decided to give a shot under all circumstances in the upcoming exams. The result was a 1.8/4.0. When I went to the authorities to inquire wheter I could repeat my courses they told me that by the end of 6th semester all repetition options had finished. In the seventh semester, my GPA was 2.57 which brought my CGPA down to 2.84. However, my final year project was an A-grader project and in the final semester I scored a GPA of 3.07 to finish my bachelors with a 2.87/4.0 gpa. I have a very good GRE score of 330 as well.

    Now, I am interested in applying to graduate schools in both the US and Germany. The latter consider CGPAs of 3.00 and better, and do not give much weight to GREs etc. I really dont know whether I will be admitted in a good graduate school of the US or not. Please guide me in this regard, as I am scared like hell.


    • Bill says:


      Your GRE score is outstanding and will certainly improve your chances of admission to a good university; however, as we often say, the most important part of your application is your GPA, and a GPA of 2.87, while not terrible, will probably preclude you from admission to the best universities. Depending on how much the value of your degree will be influenced by the university that awards it, you might consider taking a few more undergraduate courses to bolster your GPA (remember, many universities will only consider the last 60 hours of your transcript when considering minimum GPA requirements). If this is not an option, then you simply have to be realistic in terms of managing your expectations.

      A 330 is a fantastic GRE score, absolutely; however, that is not enough by itself to guarantee you admission to your university of choice. It might, though, earn you an admission interview… Generally speaking, students should apply to at least one “reach” school, three “safe” schools (a “safe” school is one where you will probably/maybe be admitted), and one “lock” school (a “lock” school is a school where you will definitely be admitted). In this case, due to your high GRE score, you might consider applying to more than one “reach” school (just remember to apply to at least one “lock” school).

      Hope this helps!

      • Tamjid Kabir says:

        Hi Bill,
        I have completed my Bachelor in Electrical & Electronics Engineering 2 years ago, having CGPA of 2.75. I have two years experience of working in a power plant as an O&M Engineer. I have two publication, one in international and one in national journal, my GRE score is 318. TOFEL 109. Is it possible to get a full tuition waiver or Assistantship in US university for completing my MSc. I am so much worried about my CGPA.

        • Bill says:


          It is certainly possible, but it really just depends on the university you are applying to. The availability of tuition waivers will be dependent on a number of factors and the actual dollar amount of assistantship provided will vary from university to university; similarly, application requirements will also vary from university to university.

          Your GRE and TOEFL scores are solid, as is your work experience. Aside from actually taking classes again, though, you really don’t have a lot of options available to you in terms of improving your overall GPA. My advice would be to begin your research – find out what’s out there and how you compare versus their accepted applicants. This type of research will give you a better idea of how to proceed.

          Hope this helps!

  9. bhav says:

    GRE 302(v:148, q:154), toefl 100, undergrad % 49.6, Want to do MS in CS. Is it possible for me to get a decent college?

    • Bill says:


      Your GRE score is not as competitive as it could be – if you are considering taking it again, there is definitely still room for improvement. Your TOEFL score is pretty good; as the TOEFL is scored out of 120, there is still room for improvement, but a score of 100 (depending on how you scored in the specific sections and subsections) should be enough to demonstrate adequate fluency in English.

      I do not quite understand the 49.6% for your undergraduate – you would have to be a bit more clear in order for me to provide you with helpful feedback. Is this your class rank or GPA? If that assumption is correct, a 49.6% seems low, but won’t necessarily or immediately disqualify you from admission to a decent college.

      Based on the information you’ve provided, I would say that your chances of getting into a top graduate program are fairly low. That said, you can still get into a good program for you. I would definitely recommend taking the GRE again, and I would also advise you begin working on the other aspects of your application, like essays, recommendations, and extracurriculars.

      Hope this helps!

  10. Jessica says:

    Hello! I am hoping to go into either a MHA or MPH in management programs. My stats are: 3.6 overall GPA, 3.88 Major GPA from the University of Southern Califoenia, and GRE verbal (148), quant. (159), and writing (4). I have a wide range of experiences, but I was wondering if I have a decent shot at some of the top graduate programs such as University of Minnesota, Cornell, or Columbia.

    Thank you!

    • Bill says:


      Your undergraduate GPA is solid, particularly coming from a well respected school like USC. However, you will probably need to improve your GRE score to guarantee admission to a top tier graduate school. While the specific GRE requirements will vary depending on the specific program you apply for, you can expect these types of universities to require a composite score of 315+.

      Hope this helps!

  11. Barbara says:

    Hi! After I graduated high school, I attended a community college for a little over a year. During that time, my overall GPA was a 2.75 then life happened and I decided to drop out of school to work. Five years later, I decided to return to school. I am in my third year at my current university and have a 3.92 as a biochem major. I am also part of the honors program, work as a lab assistant in the cell/micro lab as well as the chemistry lab. I am also a TA in inorganic and organic chemistry and tutor math. I have taken many honors courses in math and chemistry. I do honors independent research in chemistry and am currently working on my honors thesis. I was also nominated for a Goldwater and will be applying for a Fulbright (not sure if I’ll win) next year. I also plan on doing and REU this upcoming summer plus I’ve held officer positions in organizations on campus and have received numerous scholarships. With all of my accomplishments and many more to come, will my 2.75 GPA at the community college from long ago affect my chances of getting into a grad program at some of the prestigious universities? I still have one year left before I graduate but I am worried that the top grad programs might be out of reach.

    • Bill says:


      The short answer to your question is no. The longer answer to your question is no, depending on the universities you apply to.

      It is not uncommon for older students to outperform their younger peers (it’s almost as if maturity is a contributing factor to how well students perform in school!). In fact, many universities will only consider your last 60 hours of course work when making a graduate school admission decision. Unfortunately, though, the more competitive the university or graduate program, the more important your entire transcript will be in the context of an admissions decision. Given the accomplishments and honors you’ve listed here, I am confident that your CC GPA will not automatically disqualify you from admission to a top tier graduate program; however, you should expect to answer questions about it in the interview.

      Keep up the good work!

  12. June K. says:

    hi! i have read your post and found it really helpful. i was wondering how the discrepancy between the overall gpa and major gpa will impact on my chance of getting admitted… my major is Psychology B.S, gpa 3.33/4.0(honors) and major gpa 3.12/4.0.. i have started pursuing my major in my 2nd yr and took several cources that were not in my area of interest ( i am into cognitive) i did receive A in bio, cog psych related cources but it was those other area of psych classes kinda brought my major GPA down…( i either HAD to took those or they simply just seemed interesting but somehow I ended up with not much satisfying grade…) Anyway my last junior yr gpa is 3.49… ( i am currently senior)
    aside from gpa, my gre is 152/154(V/Q)+3.5 ( which also i am concerned about..)
    i have quite several research experiences working in labs, doing independent research project ( honors thesis)
    i am applying now to many cognitive psych PhD programs… i was wondering i could use your advice. Thanks!

    • Bill says:


      Is there any specific thing you would like advice about?

      You shouldn’t beat yourself up about your major GPA. One of the most important things to keep in mind throughout the entire graduate school admission process is that you have a limited control over this process. There is no way for you to go back and do better in those classes, so you shouldn’t obsess over it! The most important thing going forward is that you focus on those things that you can control – be sure to keep your grades up as you approach graduation, start working on your essays and statement of purpose, identify and approach the instructors you will ask for a recommendation, begin considering the financial ramifications of attending graduate school and identifying potential sources of aid or scholarship, etc.

      There is so much more for you to do that it is just unreasonable for you to focus on past grades (which, by the way, are not so bad anyway)!

      One note: your GRE scores are right around average; depending on the specific programs or universities you are targeting, you might consider retaking it.

      Hope this helps!

  13. Sam says:

    Hey, I have a very low gpa (2.34). I studied mechanical engineering and lost interest in it pretty quick. I want to pursue a masters in mathematics. I love statistics! I would love any advice on a further course of action for me. I do not intend to go to graduate school right away. I plan on working for 2-3 years. But I want to build a strong profile to be able to get into graduate studies. Please give me some tips!

    • Bill says:


      That low of a GPA might be tough to overcome. I would consider taking several community or junior college statistics (or otherwise related) classes to boost your composite GPA. This would also give you the ability to pursue a recommendation from one of your professors. Additionally, you might consider taking the GRE Subject Test in Mathematics.

      Following the above advice will accomplish several things: first, raising your GPA will help you meet any minimum GPA requirements of the graduate program you target; second, a recent recommendation from an academic professional would serve to assuage the admission committee about any questions they may have regarding your work ethic; third, taking a GRE Subject Test (in addition to the GRE) would demonstrate knowledge and competence in the field, which would further assuage any concerns about your low GPA.

      Hope this helps!

  14. Trey says:

    If someone does make into Grad School with low gpa, how would they pay for it if they can’t pay for it and they won’t for a company that will pay for it.

    • Bill says:


      That is a legitimate concern. Yes, financial assistance will be more difficult to obtain for less competitive applicants. What will be available to you will vary based on the specific school and program you apply to. I would recommend investigating any work/study programs available at your target school, or otherwise just contacting their financial aid office to see exactly what your options are.

      Hope this helps!

  15. Becky says:

    I am applying to Community Psych PhD programs at middle tier schools in the US. I have an abysmal undergrad GPA. I received a cumulative of 2.93 but have a few F’s and W’s on my record. I was working full time in order to pay school fees and thus did not attend classes regularly resulting in some poor grades. It has been ten years since my undergrad so I don’t know if it’s worth retaking these classes (plus I don’t live in the same city anymore). I did receive my Master’s in psych however and graduated with a 4.0. I took the GRE and received a 154 (V), 4 (AW), and a 144 (Q). I am attempting the GRE again in order to hopefully raise my quant score…but am nervous that these deficits will tremendously affect me. I have been working in the social services field for eight years as well as volunteer two days a week at a research center where I have co-authored two publications and continue to produce valid and impactful research. Do you have any advice as to how to handle these deficits in my personal statement so I might have a chance?

    Thank you!

    • Bill says:


      First, your Master’s GPA will be given more weight in an admissions decision than your undergraduate GPA. Second, in the context of admissions, one of my favorite sayings is “a good score is one that will get you into your school of choice.” Yes, your composite GRE score is slightly below average; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad score – compare your score to the published average of students accepted into the program you are targeting to get a better idea of whether it is adequate or not.

      There are mixed opinions in regards to addressing these types of things in a personal statement. Some believe that the purpose of the personal statement is to address these sorts of discrepancies and that mitigating factors or circumstances should be discussed in this context. I personally believe that a strong personal statement is not one that offers excuses or explanations. My opinion is that your personal statement should reinforce the image of yourself that you are presenting to the admissions office. You should focus on your accomplishments, not your shortcomings; you should also use your personal statement to explain why you are passionate about your field of choice and qualified to pursue it through a program such as the one to which you are applying.

      If you are unsure of how best to frame your personal statement, check the webpage of the university (the specific program’s webpage) to which you are applying. Oftentimes they will tell you explicitly what they would like you to discuss in your personal statement. If their resources indicate that you should use your personal statement to address any discrepancies in your application/transcript then do so (if you have to, then do so in a way that conveys that you take responsibility for any shortcomings; again, you want to avoid sounding like you are making excuses). If university resources indicate that you should discuss something else in your personal statement then there will probably be an alternative option where you can explain any inconsistencies in your application (examples of possible alternatives might include an interview, or some other part of your physical application, or an extra optional essay).

      Hope this helps!

  16. Yukun says:

    I hvae 2.9 overall gpa, but 3.5 major gpa in film. Do I have chance to apply successfully for good film schools?

    • Bill says:


      Depending on your field of choice and the specific program to which you are applying, many graduate programs will value your major GPA more so than your cumulative GPA. Additionally, your last 60 hours of course work (again, depending on the competitiveness of the school to which you are applying) will be more heavily considered than your cumulative GPA. Given the two data points you’ve supplied, if you are able to supplement your application well enough (recommendations, essay, related work experience, standardized test scores, etc.) I think it would be reasonable to think that you could be admitted to a graduate program. I could not speculate on how “good” of a program that might be without additional information, but keep in mind that simply because a graduate school is not prestigious does not mean it is not “good.”

      Hope this helps!

  17. Marie says:

    Thank you so much for writing this!

    A lot of this helps quell the anxiety of possibly graduating with a 2.7 gpa at most. I was able to do well in my Foreign Policy. Government structures, and History core subjects. At some point (I think in my second year), it suddenly occurred to me that I really, really wanted to continue studying and then hopefully teach similar subjects later on.

  18. Maddie says:

    I just wanted to tell my experience. I got a 2.7 GPA as an engineering undergrad. There was anxiety and depression involved, and anyway, engineering is hard! I got good GRE scores (I don’t remember the score right now, but for math I was around “average” for prospective engineers, so probably like 90th percentile), and my Verbal was really great, like 99th percentile. I got 2 years of work experience at a consulting firm, and then applied for grad schools, with recommendation letters from professors from my department and from my employer.

    I didn’t go into much detail on the reasons for my low GPA in my grad applications, it just seemed like I was whining when I tried. I just said I was very motivated and better at time management after having professional work experience.

    I applied for 5 programs, which were ranked at the 21st, 56th, 71st, 99th, and 104th best programs in the US. I was actually more interested in the latter three, since 71 was close to home, and 99 and 104 were really cool programs that integrated my interest in international development especially well. I think my life experience really showed I was a good fit for those. I was accepted, with scholarships covering maybe half the tuition, to the 99th and 104th ranked programs. The 21st and 56th rejected me. I had to contact them to get an answer, in the end. The 71st would have just rejected me for my GPA, but I attended a prospective student day and met the admissions people and all of the professors. They all really liked me, so they said if I signed up for the first semester of coursework as a non-degree student and got over a 3.0, they would accept me into the program the second semester. No scholarships were mentioned.

    Finally, I applied for the number 1 ranked engineering university in Italy, and they accepted me with a scholarship covering the entire tuition and housing. They don’t care as much about GPA, just the quality of the degree (was from the 34th best US engineering university), work experience, and the motivation. So I said thank you to all of the US programs that took me, and now I’ve completed my coursework and am finishing up my thesis, in Italy. The university I’m attending is ranked internationally as better than ALL the US schools I applied to, and it has been a really interesting experience.

    For people with anxiety and depression as reasons for your poor undergrad GPA, make sure it’s really dealt with first, if you’re planning to do a grad degree. Mine is still with me, though I’m better at pushing through and ignoring it now, and my GPA is over a 3.5. But I’ve definitely questioned why I decided to put myself through the stress of school again, and though I don’t regret it, school definitely brings out the stress!

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