How to Get Into a Top-10 MBA Program With a Low GPA

Bad grades are not helpful when trying to get into a top-10 MBA program or even a top-25 MBA program. A bad GPA is less than 3.0 for both undergrad and grad school.  Even an undergraduate GPA in the 3.0 to 3.3 range is not good news.

GPA

First of all: The Bad News

Take a look at the Fall 2013 stats at the Haas Full Time MBA program:

Middle 80% GPA: 3.34 – 3.80

This means the lowest 10% have a GPA below 3.34.  The top 10% have a GPA from 3.80 to 4.0.

The numbers are quite similar at other top MBA programs. Don’t even bother looking at other schools to see if there is a top 25 program that lets in lots of people with a lower GPA.

Compensating Factors for a Low GPA and Bad Grades

The undergrad GPA is very hard to change. However, there are a couple of things that can be done. It is important to know that the GPA is designed to weed people out rather than to clinch an admissions spot. For example, a 4.0 student with no work experience other than as a line food service worker is no better than a 3.1 student with more work experience. On the other hand, the 3.1 student may be interesting to admissions committee members if there is a lot of good career potential with previous promotions. That is why the strategy is to find compensating factors for that low GPA.

Grades in Quantitative Courses

So the overall GPA may not be great. However, many schools want students who are strong in math. Maybe there were low grades when taking math courses during undergrad. The way to fix it is to take some math courses and do well on them. No, you can’t take elementary algebra and score As to redeem yourself. You need to take the math courses that will adequately prepare you for the MBA program. No, you don’t need to get another BA in math. But you need to take solid courses. The following courses with grades of A may help:

  • First year calculus
  • Statistics

Many people have forgotten their math after a few years. So a refresher course is probably warranted anyway. Some schools require students to have taken a recent math course in statistics or to pass a waiver exam.

Remember, the GPA will not change much. However, recent grades in solid math courses can show admissions officers that a candidate has the academic ability to succeed. If you try to apply and explain away the low grades (eg. I was in CS, so my grades are low.), that will probably not work.

Good grades in solid business courses may help. Accounting, finance, business law, and other related courses taken after awarding of the BA might help if you can get straight As in them. Try to take the courses at a 4-year university rather than the local community college when you can. There is the perception that community college grades are inflated.

A word about graduate courses: Most admissions committees know that there is grade inflation with respect to graduate courses. Unless those courses are in math, admissions committees may not see graduate GPA as a sign of sufficient rigor. Remember, a grad GPA of 3.0 is very close to academic probation. It’s like a C- in undergrad. A 3.5 GPA in grad school may not be that great.

Finally, make sure your GMAT scores are high. Like I said earlier, you need to prove you have the goods to excel in their MBA program. If necessary, take GMAT prep courses or study hard for test. You will need GMAT scores that are higher than average to compensate for the low GPA. It’s not fair, but why should admissions pick someone with a bad GPA versus someone with a good GPA if all other things are equal (GMAT, work experience, etc). So go rock the GMAT… you’ll need to do it!

Have Good Work Experience With Increasing Responsibilities Over Time

Your work experience is very important when applying at top-25 MBA programs. At lower ranked (or unranked) MBA programs, the schools tend to not care about work experience since they need fresh bodies.  At top MBA programs, your work experience should detail a rags to riches story. Don’t just say you are a director of marketing. Tell the admissions committee how you started as a individual contributor and advanced through the ranks as supervisor, manager, etc. With an upward trajectory that is ongoing, that will make you a much better candidate. They want to admit students that will proceed from director to the CEO’s office.

Have a Great Interview

If you do all of the above, your final hurdle will be the interview. Make sure your motivation for getting an MBA is good. Make sure interviewers know why your academic ability is sound despite the lower undergrad grades from many years ago. Also, make sure the progressive rise in management responsibilities is apparent during the interview.

With a GPA below 3.3, it is going to be very challenging to get admitted. However, you need to give admissions committee members compensating factors that make you a great admit rather than excuses. They know CS/science/engineering majors are hard. But you still have a low GPA. So prove to them you have the academic rigor and other compensating factors to be successful in the MBA program. And give them a reason to say yes by making your work experience a lot more interesting.

GPAs & GMATs For The Top 50 U.S. Business Schools

Source: Poets&Quants’ 2011 Ranking of the Best Business Schools and School Reported Data to U.S. News & World Report for classes entering in the fall of 2011

Rank & School               GMAT      Range              GPA      Range               Selectivity
  1. Harvard 724 550 — 780** 3.67 NA 11.5%
  2. Stanford 729 680 — 770 3.69 3.40 — 3.94 7.1%
  3. Chicago 720 680 — 760 3.52 3.06 — 3.90 23.0%
  4. UPenn 718 660 — 760* 3.60 3.05 — 3.90* 20.0%
  5. Northwestern 708 650 — 760 3.69 3.10 — 3.89 22.9%
  6. MIT 710 663 — 760 3.53 3.14 — 3.88 15.6%
  7. Columbia 715 680 — 760 3.50 3.10 — 3.80 20.8%
  8. Dartmouth 717 680 — 760 3.49 3.13 — 3.80 20.4%
  9. UC-Berkeley 715 679 — 760 3.61 3.30 — 3.89 13.8%
10. Duke 690 640 — 740 3.42 2.94 — 3.86 27.5%
11. Cornell 694 640 — 740 3.29 2.71 — 3.79 27.6%
12. Virginia 703 640 — 750 3.45 3.10 — 3.83 26.6%
13. Michigan 703 650 — 750 3.40 2.80 — 3.80 40.6%
14. New York 720 680 — 760 3.51 3.15 — 3.84 15.7%
15. Yale 717 660 — 760 3.55 3.22 — 3.79 21.3%
16. Carnegie Mellon 696 630 — 750 3.26 2.76 — 3.75 26.7%
17. UCLA 704 660 — 750 3.56 3.23 — 3.88 22.6%
18. Texas 692 630 — 750 3.40 2.87 — 3.84 28.6%
19. UNC 692 640 — 750 3.34 2.73 — 3.86 42.6%
20. Emory 677 606 — 740 3.38 2.96 — 3.85 34.2%
21. Indiana 664 580 — 730 3.33 2.89 — 3.76 38.5%
22. Georgetown 683 640 — 730 3.32 2.86 — 3.80 49.4%
23. Vanderbilt 682 630 — 730 3.37 2.84 — 3.79 37.1%
24. Notre Dame 687 610 — 750 3.26 2.60 — 3.84 35.2%
25. Southern California 690 640 — 730 3.34 2.90 — 3.72 29.5%

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Rank & School             GMAT      Range           GPA      Range             Selectivity
26. Wisconsin 675 610 — 740 3.32 2.82 — 3.88 33.3%
27. Minnesota 692 630 — 740 3.40 2.83 — 3.94 43.4%
28. Ohio State 668 590 — 720 3.38 2.92 — 3.81 31.8%
29. Washington Univ. 698 640 — 750 3.43 3.00 — 3.85 34.1%
30. Rice 673 590 — 750 3.40 2.80 — 3.90 27.0%
31. Maryland 656 598 — 712 3.30 2.70 — 3.84 43.7%
32. Texas A&M 649 570 — 710 3.40 3.00 — 3.90 25.1%
33. Washington 670 610 — 720 3.37 2.92 — 3.81 43.4%
34. Penn State 643 560 — 720 3.23 2.60 — 3.80 29.5%
35. Boston University 680 620 — 740 3.35 2.87 — 3.71 32.6%
36. Brigham Young 672 610 — 730 3.50 3.03 — 3.86 54.2%
37. Rochester 680 620 — 720 3.45 3.00 — 3.93 34.3%
38. Wake Forest 648 580 — 710 3.25 2.69 — 3.77 53.6%
39. Purdue 643 540 — 702 3.23 2.84 — 3.74 44.8%
40. Georgia Tech 678 620 — 740 3.38 2.85 — 3.88 38.1%
41. Michigan State 641 557 — 720 3.30 2.80 — 3.80 40.8%
42. Iowa 665 620 — 710 3.35 2.90 — 3.71 42.0%
43. Illinois 650 570 — 710 3.20 2.67 — 3.65 31.9%
44. Boston College 666 600 — 710 3.41 2.95 — 3.84 34.8%
45. Babson 618 530 — 710 3.23 2.58 — 3.74 72.8%
46. Arizona State 676 606 — 730 3.40 2.98 — 3.89 36.0%
47. SMU 639 570 — 710 3.40 2.80 — 3.80 49.5%
48. UC-Irvine 657 600 — 720 3.35 2.95 — 3.78 33.4%
49. Georgia 637 560 — 710 3.21 2.76 — 3.73 39.2%
50. Northeastern 643 578 — 710 3.27 2.78 — 3.86 28.4%

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Comments

  1. Jonathan says

    I hate to break it to you guys, but if you have a GPA of less than 2.8, you pretty much have zero chance of getting admitted unless you are the offspring of President Obama or someone important. These schools are not going to ruin their US News rankings by admitting someone with a lower GPA, which will skew the rankings down. Now, if you’re the daughter of a President, an exception may be made.

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