The 5 Best Strategies to Address Academic Weakness

Posted on March 28, 2014 | Filed in Admissions, MBA

Five strategies for addressing a lower GPA.

Five strategies for addressing a lower GPA.

Business school admissions is becoming more competitive every year, and many potential applicants are daunted by the fact that they have a less than stellar undergraduate GPA (Grade Point Average). While in some cases a small difference in GPA may make a difference, most business schools consider the applicant as a whole, especially if you have significant work experience. The more work experience you have, the less relevant your undergraduate GPA becomes, especially if you have a stellar work record.

It’s important to remember that your undergraduate GPA is a reflection of how you performed in college, not how you will perform in business school. With that in mind, here are a few strategies to help you overcome a lower GPA when applying to MBA programs.

  1. Excellent GMAT or GRE scores.

    Most MBA programs now accept both the GMAT and the GRE as the standardized test component of your application. The quickest way to offset a lower GPA is to prepare thoroughly for the GMAT or the GRE and score above the range required for your target school. Most schools have a straightforward weighting system that combines your GPA and the standardized test score, and they may weigh the test scores more for applicants who are further removed from their undergraduate record.

  2. Apply to schools that use a holistic approach.

    There are many excellent business schools that are less concerned with a formula that measures GPA and test scores, and instead take a more holistic view of their applicants. They emphasize work experience and place great importance on excellent interviewing skills as well as your application essay. Start with these schools to maximize your chances of acceptance.

  3. Coursework matters.

    While many business schools may ignore your undergraduate coursework, they also understand that the major you chose had a large effect on your GPA. A computer science and chemical engineering double major with a 3.5 had a much more difficult course load than a liberal arts applicant with a 4.0 who filled their schedule with easy classes. If your lower GPA is the result of more challenging coursework, be sure to point that out.

  4. Explain the reasons for your GPA.

    Assuming that the reason for your lower GPA wasn’t pure laziness, it is important to have a coherent explanation for any potential red flags in your undergraduate record. Perhaps financial problems forced you to work a second job during a particular semester limiting the time you had to study, or maybe you were spending forty hours a week your freshman and sophomore years as a collegiate athlete. Whatever the reason, you should have some idea of an explanation for your GPA if it is below the program’s requirements.

    You can include your explanation as part of your statement of purpose. Another option is to address the issue in your admissions interview. The object is to paint a fuller picture of you as a student, and show the admissions committee that whatever held you back in the past won’t be a factor in your future. A final option would be to have one of your former professors write about your strengths in their recommendation.

  5. Grants, fellowships, scholarships.

    While there are some scholarships that are offered to admitted students that originate with the MBA programs, competition for these scholarships is fierce and they are usually offered to applicants with both GPA’s and test scores above the median. However, one way to make yourself a more attractive applicant despite your lower GPA is to obtain funding in the form of fellowships, scholarships and grants. The criteria for obtaining these types of funding is usually different from the criteria for admission, and having one of them can set you apart from other applicants. Showing that you were able to win one of these awards is a great way to overcome a lower GPA.

Finally, if an interview is optional, make sure you opt for the interview as this will be your chance to really show off who you are as a person and what you can bring to the table. Admissions interviews are often conducted by alumni who are more sympathetic to imperfections in your application, and a great interview can turn the interviewer into one of your advocates.

If you can show the admissions committee that you have the moxie to address a weakness in your application head on, you will impress them with your directness and maturity and they will be far less likely to hold your GPA against you. Also, don’t forget to include other skills you’ve acquired, or character traits that emphasize how you can add value to an MBA class.

All of our tips require both preparation, discipline and commitment, so begin the process early. You don’t have to let your lower GPA keep an MBA out of reach – prepare well for the GMAT, prepare thoroughly for your admissions interview, and you will give yourself the best chance to overcome a lower GPA in your MBA admissions.

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