How To Get Into A Top MBA Program With A Low GPA

Karen Marks

Karen Marks, President & Founder of North Star Admissions Consulting

Despite what you may have heard, it is absolutely possible to get into a top MBA program with a low GPA. I have helped many North Star clients succeed despite having shaky undergraduate records.

Just how low were these GPAs? I have helped clients with GPAs as low as 2.4 get full-tuition scholarships to top-10 schools, and clients with sub-2.6 GPAs get into top-five schools with significant funding.

As one example, a client who just graduated from Wharton, and who attended with a substantial scholarship, has given me permission to share his profile.  Client X had a 2.57 GPA and a 680 GMAT, both well below the averages at elite business schools. Despite this, he was admitted to Wharton, Booth, Darden, Cornell, and Georgetown with more than $330,000 in aggregate scholarships, including multiple full-tuition fellowships.

How did he do it?  And how can you compensate for an academic record that doesn’t reflect your potential?

  • Be honest with yourself and the committee.

Don’t make excuses for your record, and don’t pretend that you aren’t starting at a deficit. If you need to take additional courses to prove that you can handle the work, do so.

  • Don’t tell the committee that they shouldn’t care about your weak grades.

If there are mitigating circumstances you should explain them, but this is different from telling the admissions folks that they should overlook flags on your transcript because they aren’t important. If the school chooses to admit you, they will be taking a risk and a big hit to their overall GPA tally, which is significant to them.

  • Emphasize your strengths.

Client X has exceptional leadership experience, and he showcased this in a humble-yet-thorough way. He leveraged that to make him stand out in the pool, which is critical when you are compensating for a weak transcript.

  • Make sure that your written application is outstanding.

If your GPA is low, your essays, recommendations and resume need to be way better than average. Give yourself enough time to polish your story and your presentation. Client X started working on his application in earnest 10 months before he applied, and he was thinking about target schools and his candidacy long before that.

  • Talk about what really matters to you, not what you think the committee wants to hear.

You are already a nontraditional applicant, and this is no time to try to blend in. Embrace what makes you unique, be confident and share as much as possible about your personal values and history.

  • Vividly demonstrate how you will enhance the community.

To admit you with a low GPA, the school needs to fall in love. You must convince them that you, personally, are so spectacular that it’s worth absorbing your low numbers and taking the academic risk. So talk about what the opportunity means to you, why you know the school is a perfect fit, and TANGIBLY explain what you will contribute.

Though it can seem daunting, don’t let a low GPA define you or hold you back from pursuing your dream school.

by Karen Marks. Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia, MIT, Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Wellesley, and more. Over the last three years, clients have been awarded more than $8.5 million in scholarships, and more than 90% have gotten into one of their top-choice schools.

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