Minimizing Damage From Your Past
I violated the school’s academic code as an undergrad.
“Thanks for the post…you’re going to get a variety of opinions on this depending on who you ask (schools, admissions consultants, other applicants, etc.), but my strong recommendation is to disclose it – assuming that the circumstances fit how a particular program’s honor code question prompt is written. Just because you disclose something like this doesn’t at all mean that you’re automatically going to be put in the “reject” pile. However, if you lie and it comes out somehow, you could very well be screwing yourself.
When you provide some context about the situation, explain it in objective/factual terms without trying to make it seem that it really wasn’t your fault, and state what you learned about that experience and how it’s impacted your decision making. Otherwise you could be painting yourself in a bad light by saying that it wasn’t your doing.”
I have a misdemeanor. Should I include this in my application?
“I’m not an attorney, so it’d be in your best interests to consult with one about your particular record. That said, a school might not even need to know about the misdemeanor as they’re typically focused most on felony convictions. To get to the bottom of it with each school, you generally need to dig into the online application forms for the schools you’re considering. For instance, Anderson’s application asks “Have you ever been convicted of any felony?” In your case, it sounds like you can respond with a “No” and move on. Your application would certainly be more complicated if you had a felony, but even then, the actual type of felony will be taken into consideration rather than getting a thumbs down just because you have one.
Some candidates are concerned about the post-admission “background check” but that isn’t really an accurate descriptor of that process. What schools typically do post-admission is verify that the information conveyed in your application is accurate – your academics (hence the requirement for official transcripts/test scores), verifying that you worked where you said you did, when you worked there, how much you were paid, etc. They’re not hiring a private investigator to dig up stuff.”
How do I overcome my undergraduate GPA?
“…whew, that GPA makes things tough for you. You’re right that the additional coursework will help to alleviate concerns a bit, but the 3.23 doesn’t help you nearly as much as an almost perfect GPA would – that’s really what most adcoms would want to see with your undergrad. But all that is in the books, so your GMAT performance is really crucial for you. If your GMAT ends up where your practice tests peg you, that will put you just above average for Mendoza. Easier said than done, of course, but I’d much rather see a score closer to the upper end of their 80th percentile.
Beyond the usual advice about keeping up with your strong work performance, extracurriculars, etc., I strongly advise that you network like crazy with Mendoza and their adcom. Of course, don’t over do it and be annoying, but I think it’s really important for you to develop some relationships at the school so that you have someone advocating for you and your application when the time comes . . . someone who can say “I know this guy’s academics aren’t so hot, but let me tell you why he’s not as big of a risk as he might seem.”
“…long story short, yes, your undergraduate grades are going to be a very significant problem for you, but that’s not to say that you can’t take some proactive steps in your application process to provide a bit of a counterweight.
The most obvious thing is to do very, very well on the GMAT. You didn’t mention what schools you were considering, but you’ll want to be targeting programs where your eventual GMAT will be as far above the class average as possible. The more towards the upper end of an 80th percentile range, the better.
Regardless of what your undergraduate major was, you should get working on an alternative transcript as soon as possible if you haven’t already. Doing this will provide a more recent and positive data point about your academic ability in a class setting. You could consider quantitative business courses, such as the online offerings from the UCLA Extension and/or Haas Extension. Search for their math for management class.
The last suggestion I’ll make is that you most certainly need to plan to write an optional essay that provides a bit of context around why you struggled so mightily in college. Knowing that your sister passed away while you were in school won’t make the adcom completely discount your GPA, but sharing that will help avoid your application reader assume that you weren’t a serious student, partied too much, etc.”
Do I need to write an optional essay to explain my mediocre undergraduate GPA?
“Thanks for your post . . . you’re in a bit of a bind. To reiterate what you already know, your 3.13 is definitely on the low end for these programs, but it’s not so low that I would emphatically recommend that you write an optional essay on the topic. Taking additional classes could be an option, but it sounds like your 5th year of studies somewhat covers that base. Still, some things I’m wondering about your 3.13 . . . were you a consistent 3.13 student or was it a bit of a rollercoaster or was it an upward trajectory? If there’s a positive story to tell, then you might go ahead and write that optional essay, talking about what you learned about yourself, how your attitude towards your studies evolved over time, how all that impacted you later on in life, etc.”
How do I address past mistakes in my application?
“…first of all, I find none of this to be embarrassing. It’d only potentially be embarrassing if you hadn’t actually pulled yourself together and/or learned from your experiences. A common topic of conversation that I have with my clients at this time of year is how to respond to interview questions about mistakes, failures, etc. A key is to not dwell on the failure, but to focus more on what you learned from the situation, what steps you’ve taken to not make the same mistakes again, how you’ve applied what you learned to later experiences. While there may have been some hiccups along the road, it sounds like you’ve been able to do those things in large part. Sure, your history is likely to make things more complicated for you when it comes to applying to competitive MBA programs and you should continue to manage your expectations, but I encourage you to try to look at your past as a positive story of overcoming challenges rather than purely as a collection of liabilities.
Anyway, in the end, your overall HS/college story is going to have to be addressed in your application through an optional essay and some rehabilitated academics. A very strong GMAT will help your situation to an extent, but I’d also recommend working on an alternative transcript in hopes of providing a cleaner picture of your classroom abilities. You have some time between now and when you apply, so hopefully tackling a few courses will be feasible for you.”
What if I lacked focus and accomplishments early in my career?
“…the start of your career is going to be a bit of a hiccup, but I’m encouraged by the fact that it sounds like you’ve been able to bounce back from that and have a much more solid track record over a fairly extended period of time. When you think about how you present those early years, an environmental context you have working in your favor is that whole Great Recession thing . . . lots of college graduates around then had some pretty significant employment challenges.”
I had a medical condition and spent a year in rehabilitation and unemployed. How do I treat that in my application?
“…adcoms most certainly do listen to and have the ability to appreciate stories like yours, although it’s always advisable to present the information in the appropriate context and to present it positively. In your case, some essay prompts may lend themselves well to talking about some of your personal experiences and challenges, but if not there, then you would definitely want to use the optional essay space to address your incomplete MA studies and employment gaps. You also want to share this information in a way that shows how you learned from these challenges, how those experiences will be of benefit to your classmates, etc.”
DON’T MISS: THOSE PESKY GPA-GMAT AVERAGES
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.