Low Undergrad GPA - a Case Study by Stacy Blackman
Your academic transcript is important to your MBA application, and the challenge is that it is an area which you cannot change. However, there are ways you can address blemishes in your transcript. We have below 3 case studies of candidates who were accepted into top MBA programs, and who had to overcome hurdles in their transcripts. If you are looking for more information, we provide free case studies here and we can also answer questions in this thread.*Please note that no client details are ever shared or otherwise without complete sign off from client.
#1. Low GPA
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.
#2. D On The Academic Transcript
Our client, Joe, had a fairly solid 3.4 GPA from his days as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. Because his grades were high overall, he was inclined to ignore the fact that he did have one D in an introductory Economics class. He figured that the admissions committee would give him the benefit of the doubt, and understand that this grade was a fluke. Amidst a sea of A’s and a handful of B’s, he did not want to dwell on his low grade, and draw unnecessary attention to it.
While I understood his reasoning and sympathized with his desire not to dwell, I fervently disagreed with this approach. Bottom line – if you do not provide all of the details, assumptions will be made. Those assumptions may not be in your favor. Wouldn't you rather supply the admissions committee with the facts and tell them your story, than have them jump to conclusions?
In Joe’s case, the admissions committee may have assumed that he did not like or value Economics as a subject, or that he could not get a grasp on basic economic theory. They may think that he behaved irresponsibly or did not take this course seriously. Finally, they may wonder why he did not feel the need to explain such a blemish on his record, which could lead them to question his judgement or presentation skills.
As it turned out, Joe had a very good reason for the low grade. In fact, it was such a good reason that we decided the story behind the grade could actually become an asset to his application. Ultimately, he did not write an essay about the grade and provide an explanation/excuse. Instead, he drafted an essay that focused on helping his family in the middle of a significant health and financial crisis, driving back and forth between Berkeley and San Diego on a weekly basis, and all of the surrounding stresses. One of the outcomes of this was that he missed many Monday lectures. This, combined with a fairly inflexible professor, led to the D.
Rather than dwelling on the grade, he talked about how he grew through this experience and what he learned, and was very specific about where his family is now and how he helped. This story revealed his personal priorities, work ethic, dedication to family and determination. In many ways, it was the strongest essay he created, and oh, by the way, it also provided context for the D. He did insert a couple of sentences to explain his disappointment over the grade, and to explain that business and quantitative subjects were actually a strength and an interest.
#3. Sub 3.0 GPA
Our client was fairly solid in many areas – he had deep extra-curricular interests, average but interesting work experience and some very interesting personal stories. However, he had a 2.7 GPA that could have derailed his entire application.
Ultimately this client’s story was a personal one that chronicled how he developed and pursued an intense interest in martial arts. That interest actually took him away from school for two semesters and became a distraction that contributed to a very low GPA. But it also helped him develop certain characteristics and unique abilities that strengthened his character, and made him a much stronger leader and team player. In his essays he discussed his renewed commitment to academics and explained how he had developed qualities that would enable him to excel in business school and in the business world.
Above are 3 case studies of candidates who were accepted into top MBA programs, and who had to overcome hurdles in their transcripts. If you are looking for more information, we provide free case studies here
and we can also answer questions in this thread.
Interested in a free 30 minute consultation with the Stacy Blackman Team? Sign up here: http://stacyblackman.com/contact
Stacy Blackman | Stacy Blackman Consulting Inc | http://www.StacyBlackman.com | +1 323.934.3936
MBA blogger, US News and Author, The MBA Application Roadmap