You Don’t Need a High GPA to Get Into a Top MBA
Getting into a high-ranking MBA program doesn’t necessarily require a high college GPA.
Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at US News, recently spoke to MBA experts who say college GPAs are often less relevant than the other portions of the MBA application.
“Unlike law school and med school admissions which are really, really based very much on numbers — your scores, your grades — the business school admissions process is really much more comprehensive,” Deena Maerowitz, a partner and principal at The Bertram Group, an educational consulting firm, and a former associate director of admissions at Columbia Business School, told US News.
LEADERSHIP AND CHARACTER ARE CRUCIAL
Experts say having a history of leadership in both your careers and extracurricular activities is often more impressive than a high college GPA.
Since leaderships skills are valuable to business, admissions officers often will overlook a lower college GPA if an applicant has impressive leadership history.
J.P. Maychak, dean of student experience at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, told Fortune that other aspects, such as character, are also crucial when selecting MBA applicants for acceptance.
“Unlike in life, we get to pick our family,” Maychak, who sits in on admission committee meetings, told Fortune. “We are looking for non-arrogant, genuine, gritty people, ready and willing to take on the world.”
While a high college GPA can help in an application, admissions officers say MBA programs tend to receive applications from all around the world, often from countries with varying grading systems. This makes it difficult to fairly compare GPAs from globally different applications, where a grade from one college isn’t necessarily equivalent to the same grade from another college.
“We have set expectations, gained from our many staff years of international MBA Admissions experience, for each country and type of university attended,” David Simpson, admissions director of the London Business School in the United Kingdom, told US News.
ADDRESSING A LOW GPA
This isn’t to say that GPA doesn’t matter whatsoever in an MBA application. Rather, that other aspects of an application carry equal or in some cases more weight.
There are several ways of addressing a lower than average GPA in an MBA application. Some are better than others.
Stacy Blackman, CEO of Stacy Blackman Consulting, warns applicants against highlighting that they struggled in a course because they disliked the topics.
“We discourage ‘I under-performed because the subject didn’t interest me’ explanations, because the admissions reader might assume that she or he will have the same problem with less interesting classes in MBA studies,” Blackman told US News.
Rather, Blackman suggests applicants, who have lower-than-average GPAs, focus on highlighting positive characteristics or traits that compensate for lackluster GPAs.
In the situation of a low GPA, it’s best for an MBA applicant to illustrate that “he or she has become a productive, self-starter with high standards of performance,” she told US News.
So, what constitutes a “low” GPA?
Esther Magna, a principal at Stacy Blackman Consulting, told US News that an undergraduate GPA below a 3.2 will need explaining in an MBA application.
“A muted GPA can be an opportunity to show self-awareness and introspection about personal experiences and past setbacks,” Magna told US News. “It can be a window into a candidate’s character and values and can be invoked to tug at the heartstrings of the MBA Admissions Office readers. Addressing the reasons for the lower GPA across relevant applicant materials is critical.”