Getting into grad school with low grades

university building

You’re not the first person to have made mistakes during your undergraduate college years. You were young! Maybe the freedom you enjoyed by moving out of your parents’ home for the first time was too much for your younger self to handle responsibly. Those were some great parties though. Now that you’re older and more responsible, you understand things more clearly. Hindsight is 20/20.

During your undergraduate studies, for whatever reason, your GPA suffered. Now, as a responsible adult with your eyes set on a graduate degree, how are you going get accepted to grad school despite your low GPA? Breaking into your undergraduate school’s records office to destroy the paper trail, or hacking into their computers is probably not the way you want to go. So what are your options?

Enroll in one or more graduate courses

Enroll in a graduate level course (or two) to demonstrate that you are a person who takes initiative and enjoys increasing your knowledge base in your field of studies. Get good grades in those courses, which will show the admissions boards that you have changed your past patterns and are now actively participating in your continuing education. Because you are not already enrolled as a graduate student, you will have to enroll as a non-degree seeking student, so check with the graduate school at the institution for the process of enrolling.

Get a high GRE score

Study hard for your GRE exam and make sure to get a high score. Check to see what the average GRE score is for admitted students to your chosen grad program… and aim to get higher than that.

Work experience

Get a job in your chosen field of study, even if it’s an internship, to gain relevant work experience.  This will show the admissions officers that you are committed to a future in your chosen field. Finally, join clubs, societies, do volunteer work and participate in your community; this will help to impress admission boards and convince them that you are a well-rounded person and actively involved in keeping your education current and relevant.

Be flexible on your program of choice

If your chosen graduate program is known to be quite competitive, you might think about applying to a few other less competitive programs as well. There are many colleges and universities that are open to all aspects of an applicant’s background, not only the grades. If you suffer from a low GPA, then perhaps focus on those types of schools. Some schools advertise their minimum acceptable GPA; if yours is close to that minimum, give them a call to see if their policies are flexible. It can’t hurt to call, particularly if you are really interested in that institution. Obviously top institutions can and do eliminate students who don’t have an impressive GPA, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find another option that will offer you a quality education and recognize that you and your abilities can be measured by more than just your undergraduate GPA.

Be transparent on your applications

Honesty is the best policy, so don’t be tempted to report your GPA as a little higher than it actually is. You will likely need to include official transcripts with your application, or have your undergraduate institution send them directly, so the graduate school, admissions office, or the admissions committee will be verifying your grades. Report your GPA accurately, and if it is very low think about including a sentence or two in your personal statement to explain the circumstances. If your grades suffered because you were distracted by a death in the family, mention that. If you experienced some other major life event during your undergraduate studies that negatively affected your grades, think about including an appropriate explanation. When you can explain your low grades honestly and sincerely, and write in a thoughtful and reflective way, the admissions committee may take that into consideration and weigh the other aspects of your application more heavily than your GPA.

Need more assistance or advice? Need some help writing your grad school applications? Email me, Andrea, at for customized assistance.

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Andrea Payme

Andrea Payme

Andrea is a freelance copywriter and editor, living in Panama since 1999. She is a former Peace Corps volunteer and now the owner of a backpacker hostel called The Purple House. Graduated with a Bachelors of Arts degree from New York University, majored in International Studies.

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