SBC Scoop: Prescription for a Low GPA

We’ve explored the issue of a low GMAT and provided tips for building a quant profile. Another very common weakness among our clients is the low undergrad GPA. Before we get into Spencer’s story I do want to point out that a 3.5 or better GPA during undergrad isn’t considered low for the purposes of most MBA applications. Make sure you look at the mean GPA for admitted students at your target programs to determine if you have an issue to overcome in that area.

Spencer came to us for assistance with his applications to Columbia, HBS and Wharton. He had a successful track record as part of a business development team at a healthcare company and great leadership opportunities outside of work on a non-profit board. Spencer had achieved a very strong GMAT score of 740, evenly balanced between his verbal and quant sections. The main issue with Spencer’s application was a GPA of 2.9 from Boston University.

Spencer had studied Economics and achieved B’s and a few A’s in those classes that related to his major, but he had several low grades in classes outside his major. Some of them were classes that didn’t appear particularly difficult. When we discussed his GPA in detail, Spencer revealed that he just didn’t have the motivation to achieve in certain classes. He was passionate about Economics and did well in a few other classes that tapped into his interests, but he wasn’t able to muster enthusiasm for his communication and Literature classes and his grades reflected it. There was no extenuating circumstances that impacted Spencer’s GPA, he just lacked the maturity to work hard on even the classes he disliked while in undergrad.

The difficulty with a low GPA is that it’s solidly in the past. As an MBA applicant you can’t do anything to change your undergrad GPA. When MBA programs look at academic records like the GMAT and GPA there’s a question of aptitude (can this applicant do the work?) and a question of application (will this applicant work hard?). In Spencer’s case it was clear he had the aptitude. Unfortunately it was not clear that he would dedicate himself to his MBA coursework. We took on that question and did two things to ensure that Spencer would showcase his ability to apply himself:

1. Spencer took a set of pre-MBA courses at a local university (similar to this NYU program) and achieved A’s in those classes. In this case, Spencer took three courses and didn’t worry too much about how quant oriented they were (quant was a strength in his application). Other applicants will want to think strategically about the courses.

2. Spencer took on the question of his low GPA directly in his optional essays. He made no excuses (there were none to make!) and admitted that he had lacked the maturity to see the big picture during undergrad and had only worked hard in classes that were intellectually interesting for him. He demonstrated clear evidence that he had since developed that maturity: he was a high achiever at work, he had taken a set of pre-MBA classes and achieved A’s, and he was prepared to dedicate himself to his MBA studies.

Spencer’s approach netted strong results for him. He was admitted Early Decision to Columbia and decided to attend.

To read more SBC Case Studies, click HERE.

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