Can you get into a good MBA program with a low undergraduate GPA?
Can you get into a great one?
Also yes — and in 2021, many applicants did just that. At Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business, a member of the Class of 2023 gained admission with a 2.6 grade point average. At Chicago Booth School of Business, someone got in with a 2.7 GPA. And at Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, one extraordinary candidate was admitted with a 2.4 — a year after the school admitted an applicant with a 2.5.
We can deduce some extraordinary cases even when we have less data to parse. Among business schools that report the middle 80% of GPAs in their class profiles, Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business reported a range of 2.93-3.78; Georgetown McDonough School of Business reported 2.85-3.79; and a handful of schools, including Columbia Business School, UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, and Duke Fuqua School of Business, reported ranges with lower ends in the low 3’s. Indiana Kelley School of Business, alone among its peers, took a different tack, reporting that 15% of its newest MBA class had GPAs between 2.5 and 2.99, while 47% of the class submitted scores between 3.0 and 3.49.
TOP MBA PROGRAM FOR UNDERGRAD GPA: STANFORD GSB
So the message for all the B students out there: It is indeed possible to gain admission to your highly ranked target MBA program. But before you get too giddy at your prospects, be aware of the GPA averages reported at the top schools — and the fact that they are on the rise in most places, after a one-year decline in 2020.
Once again in 2021, Stanford Graduate School of Business's MBA program reported the highest average undergrad GPA, at 3.78, with Northwestern Kellogg (3.70), the University of Alabama Manderson Graduate School of Business (3.70), Harvard Business School (3.69), UC-Berkeley Haas (3.67), and Arizona State Carey School of Business (3.63) rounding out the leading averages among the 50 top-ranked B-schools. Three schools were at 3.60: Chicago Booth, Penn Wharton, and USC Marshall; Yale School of Management reported a median score of 3.69.
Meanwhile, GPAs rose at two-thirds of the top U.S. schools in 2021. More on that below.
A GREAT GPA CAN'T MAKE UP FOR WEAK ESSAYS
There is probably no more maligned data point in the MBA universe than undergraduate GPA. It is, at once, useful as a measure of students’ studying capacity and test-taking ability, while also being totally non-revelatory as a signifier of class quality. No wonder most B-schools uncomplainingly provide GPA averages with each year’s class profile. You can’t tell much, if anything, from it; a big number certainly looks good in a class profile, and a middle-of-the-road number is easy to de-emphasize.
As Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, wrote in 2021:
“Ask most admissions committee members and they will tell you that it’s the sum of many pieces—there is no one ‘most important’ part of the MBA application. It’s the essays, interviews, and recommendations that ultimately reveal the person beyond the paper. Compelling essays, recommendations, and interviews can provide context for a low GMAT score or GPA. But the reverse is not true. Strong numbers will never make up for weak essays or a disorganized, negative recommendation.”
THE WANING COVID EFFECT
But let's look at the data anyway.
Between the fall of 2016 and the fall of 2021, 34 of the top 51 U.S. B-schools saw positive growth in their class GPA, whether they reported averages or medians; four schools were even, and 11 schools were negative. The biggest increases occurred at USC Marshall, which saw its GPA average grow 0.23 points to 3.60, followed by the University of Georgia Terry College of Business (0.14 to 3.44), Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business (0.14 to 3.45), and Alabama Manderson (0.13 to 3.70). In all, 10 schools saw increases of 0.10 or more over six years. The biggest six-year declines occurred at Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School, whose GPA shrank by 0.16 to 3.30, and Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, whose GPA dropped by 0.10 to 3.42.
Last year we reported that only 21 schools of 50 schools could claim GPA increases from 2016 to 2020, while seven schools were even and 18 negative. Clearly, the Covid-19 effect on student study habits has waned.
In the top 25, Northwestern Kellogg saw the biggest six-year jump, by 0.10 to 3.70. Across the rest of the top schools, two were even, 18 positive (at an average increase of 0.06), and five negative (average decline: -0.034). Compare that to last year when we reported that four schools in the top 25 were even, 12 positive (average growth: 0.06), and nine negative (average decline: -0.048).
LOOKING AT THE 2-YEAR TRENDS
Looking at the 2-year window is always dangerous because most fluctuations are small and insignificant. But it's still possible to discern patterns. In 2021, of 51 schools in the P&Q ranking, nine were even year-to-year, compared to 19 (out of 50) between 2019 and 2020; 27 were positive (compared to 14), and 15 were negative (down from 16). The biggest increases came at Emory Goizueta (+0.16 to 3.36), SMU Cox (+0.15), Maryland Smith (+0.11), and Miami Herbert (+0.11); the biggest decline was 0.10, at four schools: Columbia, Washington Olin, Utah Eccles, and Tennessee Haslam.
In the top 25, 16 schools saw year-to-year increases in undergraduate GPA in 2021, up from only seven last year, while just six were negative, down from nine.
See the next pages for GPAs across the last six years at the top 50 U.S. business schools.
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