First: We just published our MIT 2018 MBA essay guide — overhauled for the Class of 2021 to include the org chart requirement!
For today: We recently talked about What’s a good GRE score for getting an MBA and we’ve done plenty of those “good enough?” posts on the GMAT — like, is a 710 enough? And of course we’ve posted plenty o’ times about undergraduate grades and getting into a hot MBA program with an, um, errr, oh crap, not so great GPA.
But many of those GPA posts are pretty ancient at this point and buried deep in the ‘snarchives and we figured it was time to lay it all out for you fresh!
1. Undergraduate grades really matter
With all the focus on GMAT scores on the MBA applicant forums, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the very real importance of college grades. Our data show a higher correlation between college grades and admissions success than GMAT to admits. This has been true from the beginning of time but it’s even more pronounced today.
2. A high GMAT might offset a low GPA — but that alone is not enough
If your college transcripts are really shaky, you need to do more than score well on the GMAT (and if you’re taking the GRE, you need to score exceptionally well to counter low grades). A low GPA from college means that action is required now to offset not only the possible doubts about your performance, but also to fix the optics. When someone does poorly in college, that either means that there was something else going on that prevented them from focusing and succeeding — in which case, you definitely need to explain this to the adcom in the optional essay; OR it means that they were just checked out and didn’t really care about class. They were partying too hard, or going through the motions, or for whatever other reason, their heart wasn’t in it. That’s sometimes an even tougher hole to dig out from in your applications to bschool today. Either way, YOU NEED TO EXPLAIN THE SITUATION. The optional essay will be PARAMOUNT to your success (plenty of posts here on that topic!) and you also almost definitely need to take further action than that, in the form of an additional class or other coursework today that can show your current level of academic performance and commitment.
3. A very rough rule of thumb is, if your college GPA is below a 3.0 on the U.S. 4.0 scale, then you need to DO SOMETHING
If it’s significantly below this 3.0 level then we get really concerned — or even if it’s above the 3.0 level but the overall transcripts just don’t come across as impressive, either based on not showing evidence that you challenged yourself academically given the classes you chose, or for a more lightweight major (not naming names or anything!), or going to a less rigorous college and still not performing at the top of the class. These are just some things that can sometimes give the adcoms pause. The transcripts are evaluated in excruciating detail, and they’re also of course evaluated in the context of every other part of your app. But if, taken in isolation, the transcripts don’t show a story of you as an overachiever who pushes yourself to learn, get engaged, succeed, welp, then you’re at the risk of not impressing your adcom. And in this era of hypercompetitive admissions, where there’s always someone else coming up behind you that does show evidence of these things, then it can be a real weight to throw off in how you attract the adcom’s attention.
This 3.0 level is arbitrary indeed; sometimes we see someone with a 3.17 GPA who gives us tremendous concern; at other times it’s a 2.97 and we’re not overly worried. It all depends on everything else taken together.
4. And on the opposite side? What’s a so-called “good” GPA?
Well, anything at the 3.5 level and we’re feeling confident, assuming of course that there are no bombs lurking somewhere underneath that nice shiny average. Harvard now has an average GPA of something like 3.71 in its classes every year, which is at nosebleed-heights and beyond ridiculous — and more proof of how they skim off the cream from the entire crop of applicants each year and cherrypick those that are outstanding. Other schools that you may have heard of, like Columbia or Kellogg, have more like 3.5 as their class average — which is still a very decent showing in college, but gives a bit of wriggle room. If your transcripts show a performance around that level, then we’re going to breathe a sigh of relief on that particular component of your application.
You got 99 problems but GPA ain’t one.
If you want some personalized support and guidance on this VERY important subject of what to do about your set-in-stone transcripts and are they going to be an albatross around your neck and keep you out of bschool today…. Our Transcripts & Grades App Accelerator is the best idea. Or, if you want a more holistic view of your entire profile, our Comprehensive Profile Review offers the push-and-pull of how your GMAT or GRE score will be considered in light of your college grades, and we try to offer a back-of-the-envelope translation of what your international GPA might be seen as under the 4.0 scale, so you can better see how you fare in comparison to your target school’s class profile.
You may also be interested in:
- From way back in the ‘snarchives: What to do about a low GPA