A low GPA is going to hurt a lot with a GPA below 3.4 when trying to get into a top tier MBA program. A low GPA that is salvagable is from 3.1 to 3.4. Those with GPA below 3.1 should look below. From the adcom’s point of view, an applicant with a low GPA may not have the ability to succeed in the program. A great GMAT score can begin to overcome this disadvantage. However, it can be very helpful to have a recent alternative transcript with heavy quantitative
The Alternative Transcript to Overcome a Low GPA
The plan is to go to a local 4-year university or community college to take a couple of courses that are heavy in math. Actual math courses at the college level would be good. Many older applicants away from school for five or more years need a refresher in statistics and calculus anyway. Those math courses taken recently may be required at some MBA programs. Other courses with a lot of math including economics, finance, and accounting may help as well. Courses that are not heavy in math will not help very much such as management and marketing.
Another way to get an alternative transcript is to go for a master’s degree, especially in a math heavy area such as economics, finance, accounting, statistics, or mathematics. A solid GPA (3.5+) in this type of MA program can be very helpful. On the other hand, a 4.0 GPA for a MA in English or history will not help. overcome to lower GPA.
The end product is a low GPA on the undergrad transcript from many years ago and a transcript full of As in heavy quantitative courses. That may help convince some adcom members that the applicant has the ability to succeed in the MBA program.
A great benefit from getting an alternative transcript is to get recommendations from professors in courses with a lot of quantitative reasoning. An A+ recommendation from a faculty member in a heavy quant course is going to be very helpful.
When is the Alternative Transcript Not Enough to Overcome a Low GPA?
In the end, the applicant will have two numbers. A GPA and the GMAT score. A 3.1 GPA, great alternative transcript with 4.0 in quant courses, great GMAT scores, great work history, compelling reason to get an MBA may have a chance at SOME schools. Once we drop below 3.1, the chances of getting in a top tier MBA program without Barack Obama as your father is near zero even if you have the rest of the package. It would be nice to believe that adcom folks at top schools will admit someone with the ability to succeed that happens to have a bad GPA.
Unfortunately, the top schools covet their GPA and GMAT numbers so much for magazine rankings (eg. US News and World Report) that they are not forgiving unless you are the son or daughter of a major political figure. An 800 GMAT with a 3.1 GPA is forgivable. An 800 GMAT will not make up for a 2.7 or below. At some top schools, even an 800 GMAT with a 2.9 is not going to happen. It doesn’t matter if you have a 4.0 GPA in a Master’s program (we all know there is a ton of GPA inflation in grad school). The undergrad GPA is what counts.
At UCLA Anderson, the Mr. Irrelevant pick (the last pick in the NFL draft) has a 2.8 or 2.9 GPA. And you have to be perfect in every other way. 2.7 and below is untouchable territory at UCLA.
Those with 2’s as the first digit in the GPA will probably need to look at tier 2 schools if they want an MBA. Don’t waste a bunch of time and effort on an alternative transcript when the chances of getting in are worse than the lottery due to a <3.1 GPA.