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.