If you’re reading this article, you are probably in a bad spot. You had a bit too much fun in college, or had some things going on in your personal life that prevented you from fulfilling your academic potential. You are smart and capable, but have no idea how to get this across to the admissions committee at a top MBA program. Sounds depressing, right?
I know how you feel. Even if your GPA is less-than-stellar, getting into a top MBA program is still possible. It may not be easy, but it can be done with some effort. The key is conveying, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are more than capable of handling the academic rigors of a top MBA program. To do this, you’ll have to do some extra work to convince the applications committee of two important facts:
1) Your low GPA was not due to lack of ability; instead, it was due to other factors such as lack or effort or a personal crisis of some sort.
2) You have now gained the wisdom and maturity to prevent the same thing from happening again if you are admitted to business school.
Unfortunately, you can’t make your GPA disappear, but there are some strategies that will help you get into a top business school anyway. If you are below the 2.5 range, I suggest you do all three to show the admissions committee you are serious about addressing their concerns. I did.
Ace the GMAT – An above-average GMAT score will help make up for a low GPA on your application – especially on the quantitative section. Statistically speaking, your GMAT scores predict how well you will do in your first year of business school. A high score on the test will reassure the committee that you do have what it takes to succeed in their program, in spite of your past academic track record. Study hard, take as many sample tests as possible, and invest in a GMAT prep course if you can afford it.
Build an Alternate Transcript – The best way to address a low GPA is to build an alternative transcript. An alternative transcript is a series of classes (usually just 3 or 4) that you choose to take of your own accord. The effort required is inversely proportional to you GPA (i.e. higher GPA, less work). Make sure that you take the classes at a reputable, accredited school-the best school that you can afford in your area.
Business schools want applicants that have proven quantitative and analytical skills (and showing the effort of taking extra courses helps in and of itself). Therefore, your alternative transcript will have the most impact if you choose courses that require these types of skills, such as calculus, statistics, quantitative economics or finance. Also, it’s important that the courses be difficult, upper-level classes-getting an A in “Intro to Numbers 101” is not going to address the application committee’s concerns. When taking classes to build your alternative transcript, study hard and get the best grades possible. Your goal should be nothing less than to get straight A’s in each of these courses – otherwise you’ve just wasted your time.
Highlight Relevant Quantitative Work – On-the-job quantitative experience can be an important part of your GPA mitigation strategy, as long as you make the most of it. Highlight any quantitative, technical, or otherwise difficult work you’ve done on the job. If you were a financial analyst for the Federal Reserve, make it a point to highlight the time you wrote the econometric section for the chairman’s research report.
Supplemental Essay – It may also help your case if you attach a brief, optional essay to your application, addressing why your GPA is not higher. If you choose to attach an essay, don’t fall into the trap of making excuses for yourself. No one likes a whiner, and the admissions committee wants to see you demonstrate ownership. Take responsibility for your actions, and then explain what lessons you have learned since then that will enable you to do better if you are admitted to business school. I repeat:
1.) offer no excuses,
2.) take responsibility, and
3.) explain why it should no longer be a concern to the admissions committee.
A low GPA can be a handicap when applying to an MBA program, but don’t let it hold you back. The admissions committee’s goal is to admit applicants who they believe will do well in business school. If you spend the extra time and effort to prove that you are serious, capable and committed to being a good student, you don’t have to give up on getting your MBA. Who knows, one day I may even run into you at a Stanford GSB reunion.