Essentials Of An Awesome App: GPA

This is the second installment in our new series, The Essentials of an Awesome MBA Application. Last time admissions consultant Linda Abraham addressed the role of the GMAT in MBA admissions; this time, she tackles today the importance of the GPA, or grade point average, which in the U.S. is on a 4.0 system.

It makes sense to start this post out similarly to the last one: A low GPA can keep you out of a top MBA program, but a high GPA is certainly not enough to get you into the b-school of your dreams. If you have a sky-high GPA, make sure that the other components of your application are equally impressive.

Then realize what a GPA reflects about you: It may reflect a combination of academic ability and application of that ability. It may reflect only one or the other. If your GPA is at or above your target school’s average at matriculation, you don’t really need to read the rest of the article. However, if your GPA is below that average, then pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.

Now, what should you do if your GPA is a little on the low side? If you have a GPA more than .3 below the school’s average, you are going to need to make a deliberate effort to counterbalance it with a substantive explanation plus an otherwise strong application, above average GMAT, and perhaps more recent evidence that you know how to excel in an academic setting.

What are the possible explanations? Here are a few

  • Your GPA was dragged down due to an illness in your family or your own illness during a single semester or year.
  • You partied too hard freshman year (like 2.0 hard) but then started to grow up as a sophomore and received 3.5 or higher during your junior, and senior years.
  • Your undergraduate GPA is low, but you earned a 3.9 GPA while pursuing your M.A. in Economics after graduating from college.

A low GPA is not insurmountable. Proper explanation plus other evidence of academic mojo could pull you out of an otherwise ding-worthy situation. That mojo can take the form of a masters degree with high grades, retaking courses in which you did poorly, especially if they were business-related, or taking quant classes now, particularly if your quant record is sketchy. Consider calculus 1, accounting, statistics for business, and economics, but make sure you have the necessary prerequisites.

If, however, your GPA is a true reflection of your abilities as a student (that is, you can’t muster a proper explanation and don’t have evidence that you are a better student than your grades indicate), then you may need to adjust your list of target schools accordingly.

Be honest with yourself—do you really want to spend the time applying to a school that doesn’t value your qualifications, only to get rejected and go through the application process a second time next year?

By Linda Abraham, CEO and founder of and co-author of the new book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.  Linda has been helping MBA applicants gain acceptance to top MBA programs since 1994.

Our Series on the Essentials of an Awesome MBA Application

Part I: The GMAT