How To Get Into Grad School With Bad Grades

Last Updated on December 28, 2022

If you are interested in retrieving information on How To Get Into Grad School With Bad Grades , then you will find Collegelearners as a very useful website to familiarize yourself with . From How To Get Into Grad School With Bad Grades,you can do no wrong in searching for the information you need on College learners .com. A master’s degree is the first level of graduate study. To apply for a master degree you usually must already hold an undergraduate degree (a bachelor’s degree). It’s been proven over and over again. Getting a college degree of any kind pays off. A Master’s degree is a second-cycle academic degree and the first level of graduate study, which means it is after a Bachelor’s degree and before a PhD.

We are often asked “How can I fix my undergrad GPA?” by those considering grad school admissions consulting. How low is too low? What’s the cut off and why don’t more programs publish that? How holistic is a “holistic graduate admissions review?”

How does a 3.2 or 3.4 happen? It’s more common than you’d think.

  • Perhaps it’s a family situation that meant missing a high number of classes and finals;
  • OR initial difficulty adjusting to college life and challenging freshman year courses with high expectations,
  • OR, a needed switch of college majors and fields,
  • OR, as is unfortunately the case more and more often these days, anxiety and mental health challenges that were not addressed until later in the game.

Any of the above can result in a smattering of B- grades on an undergraduate transcript (it doesn’t take many of those to pull you under a 3.4!), and the trouble is, when you apply to graduate school, they want the full transcript, not just the GPA. So, the letter grades are reviewed, the course levels are reviewed (please don’t take all 100-200 level courses even if your advisor lets you!), the major GPA and undergraduate cumulative GPA are also reviewed, but that GPA is not the only data point (of course, there is the GRE, GMAT or LSAT, but that’s a topic for another post.)


The good news is that almost everyone on the planet needs some time to adjust to college life (new bed, new room, new location, new people, new community, new food, new weather, new freedom, new rules –ahh!) and coursework freshman year, and graduate school admissions officers and faculty know that and have lived it themselves; their children might even be living it right now. The other good news is that the undergraduate transcript and the GPA are not the only pieces that make up a complete graduate school application. The trick is using that fact to your advantage when you apply, and determining what ELSE you can submit that bumps you in.

Sometimes I chat with potential applicants who are considering graduate school but they’ve been out of college working for years and they’re concerned that B- and C grades will again fill their graduate transcript despite working hard, OR, they want to be 100% certain of their selected graduate school field, and even institution, before they jump into a set 1-2 year program, or 4-7 years for PhD programs.

I remind them:  you don’t have to jump into the graduate school pool until you’re ready.


You could start by dipping a toe in as a non-degree student taking graduate school level courses, either for-credit (they might transfer!) OR non-credit, online OR on campus. There are tons of options –you just have to know where to look and when.

When you take a grad level course for credit online or on-campus pre-grad school, you walk out with:

  • A letter grade
  • A (hopefully) solid faculty connection
  • Connections to peer scholars in your field
  • Access to unique campus offerings like advising and writing services/coaching for that term of the course, even for online students
  • A potential supplementary letter of recommendation
  • And, a graduate level transcript that gets virtually tacked onto that undergraduate transcript you may previously have preferred to keep under lock and key.

So, how can this really play out?

  • An A grade in a 4-credit Global Sustainability Anthropology graduate level course from the Harvard University Extension School cannot “fix” or erase the 2 C grades you have on your undergraduate transcript freshman year in 2012, BUT it shows your commitment to the field and offers evidence that the older, newer, more professional and dedicated YOU can ace a graduate level course in your targeted field. (That’s a win for your Tufts University application to the Environmental Policy and Planning Master of Science)

Here are 5 examples of graduate level courses you could take and key info on how it works:

  • Back story: You’re targeting a Master’s in BioTech and you’ve worked in a lab for a while but you’ve been a bit out of the game in terms of academics. You work 60 hours a week so an online, non-credit but graded course is your best option.

Course to take: Take MIT’s EdX course called The Science and Business of Biotechnology. It starts 2/12/20, is 16 weeks long, requires 10-12 hours of work per week, and is only $50 total to earn a grade and a course certificate from the 3 top MIT faculty who teach it. Bonus: you get to add it to your resume/CV pre-application and the course description and this video make it seem like a truly beneficial and unique course.  Weird thing about this option: if you live in Iran, Cuba or the Crimea region of Ukraine, you can’t take it  –mysterious.

  • Back story: You’re graduating college this May, but you want your next step to be a graduate program in data analytics. You’ve switched majors 3 times (the norm!) in college and you’re not certain of the field, but you believe data analytics is the one. You’re looking at spring application deadlines (April 2020 –they do exist) that would let you start graduate school in August but your spring schedule at your college is locked, though you’d love to explore more.

Course to take: Register for the 4-week Graph Analytics for Big Data Coursera online course via UC San Diego. It’s a self-paced, graded (though non-credit) course with an added option to earn a course certificate to note on your resume/CV. The professor, Dr. Gupta, is a research scientist at the UC San Diego Supercomputer Center. They’re doing some neat things over there right now, like helping the world predict future carbon dioxide levels on our planet (hugely relevant only to those who breathe, smile).

  • Back story: You’re targeting a Master’s in Psychology and have hit a wall professionally where graduate school is the next needed step but you want to “try before you buy.”

Course to take: Apply (by 4/15/20) to Teacher’s College at Columbia University as a non-degree post-college student to then take graduate level courses there. Take the summer session A (May 21-July 1, 2020) Psychology of Thinking graduate course for 3 credits online OR the on-campus (in NYC) Summer A 2020 Psychology of Memory graduate level course for 3 credits.

  • Back story: You’ve worked in healthcare engineering for several years post-college and you’re moderately ready to tackle an MBA but you’re not 100% certain, especially as your undergraduate transcript features some grades you’re not proud of, though you co-launched a successful healthcare management app recently that you are proud of.

Course to take: Apply to NYU as a non-degree graduate student via NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering  (where you can take up to 9 credits) and take the summer 2020 online course called Operations Management May 26-July 12 for 3 graduate credits.

  • Back story: You’re planning to apply to top Economics programs. Your resume/CV needs a boost to show you’re still an academic and your undergrad GPA has some red/yellow flags on it you fear. Also, you majored in French Literature and have never taken an economics course, so you’re about to embark on a big field switch.

Course to take: Consider an online, hybrid or on-campus (if you’re local to Cambridge, MA) Harvard University Extension School course. If you moved fast and applied by 1/23/20, you could’ve started in their spring 2020 term (1/27/20). Take Economic Justice for 4 graduate credits online and on-demand. (“On-demand” is great as you can do the course requirements on YOUR time, no required log-in times.) Another 4-credit graduate course to consider there this spring (there are summer options too!) is MacroEconomic Theory. It’s taught by Dr. Christopher Foote, Professor of the Practice of Economics at Harvard. (Might be good to have him in your corner; he’s also a senior economist and policy advisor in the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston –bet he knows a thing or two about econ.)


The above are just examples so they’re not personalized selections for you. Let us do that FOR YOU though! We’d love to review your transcript and resume/CV with you, your graduate school aims, and the various components that could and would be woven in your stellar graduate school applications. Many of our past students have had great success getting a good amount of their previously completed graduate level credits to transfer into their eventual Master’s (and even doctoral) programs. That’s a win/win for everyone in terms of effort, time, and financial savings, all while showing your scholarly commitment to your targeted field and offering concrete evidence that you can and will obtain A grades in top graduate level courses.

Worried that you won’t be able to get into the graduate school of your dreams because your GPA is low? Don’t be. Less-than-stellar grades can be overcome as long as you have a plan.

Almost all graduate school applications require transcripts. But a large reason for that requirement is to (1) verify that you earned an undergrad degree, and (2) ensure that they have an official record of it. In short, just because a transcript is required doesn’t mean it’s of paramount importance.

Your transcript is one component of your application, and it is considered together with your statement of purpose, recommendation letters, and usually some samples of past essays or other work. Many schools also require standardized test scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Others may ask for additional materials, too.

Some programs weight GPAs heavily. But others might be more interested in how you did in courses relevant to the program. Certain programs might look foremost at your portfolio, recommendations, or statement of purpose to provide a sense of how you’ll fare in their program. Still others might want to see relevant experience, such as work or an internship, and not be particularly concerned with a GPA.

The bottom line: You’ll need to know how the programs you’re interested in think about GPAs during the admissions process. Here are eight steps you should take to gain admission to your top-choice graduate programs, regardless of your undergraduate GPA.

1. Know the requirements

You’ll need to do your research to find out whether the graduate programs you’re interested in have specific requirements regarding GPAs. Check to see whether a minimum GPA for applicants is listed on each program’s website. Some sites may also give average GPA scores of past successful applicants.

It’s a good idea to research GPA requirements for all the programs you’re considering. Ultimately, you should plan to apply to about five graduate programs: two safety schools where admission should be pretty easy, two solid schools where your chances are good, and a dream-but-still-possible school.

Then, assess how you stack up vis-à-vis the requirements. Maybe your GPA gives you a fighting chance after all. Or maybe it seems as if the school is going to look at that one number and send a thin envelope, not a fat one. If it’s the latter, read on to find out what you should to next.

2. Talk to the faculty

Make an appointment with some faculty members you’re interested in working with. After demonstrating your interest in (and research of) the program and discussing how your experience makes you a solid fit, ask them frankly how your application would be viewed, given your GPA. If there are any mitigating circumstances surrounding your low GPA, let them know. If you were going through difficult life circumstances, for example, some programs take that into account.

If, however, you were thrown by the material, the response may vary, depending on its relevance to the program. Going for a master’s in computer science? If your transcript shows a C in calculus, eyebrows might be raised because calculus is very important in computer science. But admissions committees are likely not to care as much if your lower grades are in not-so-relevant areas. Earning a C in French literature may not sink a computer science application, as long as you can meet the program’s subject-specific requirements.

3. Complete additional coursework

If the program wants you to demonstrate more or better knowledge than your GPA signals, taking one or more courses might do the trick. Earning an A in a standalone calculus class would show that you’ve mastered that key material. Depending on the subject matter, you may also be able to earn a certificate for completing online courses.

4. Pursue relevant field experience

You can also demonstrate skills mastery via work experience. Look for internships, research assistantships, volunteer opportunities, and other professional leads that will help you acquire hands-on experience in your prospective graduate field. The network you’ll cultivate in that pursuit is also likely to help you establish yourself in the field—during graduate school and beyond.

5. Publish in your subject

If you do original research, work on an exciting project, or otherwise make a contribution to your field, then write about it—and get your work published! Showing that you can pass muster in peer review will be a significant plus for your candidacy.

6. Use your statement of purpose

Write a thoughtful, clearly formulated statement of purpose in which you communicate—by showing, not telling—your understanding of and passion for your chosen field. Write with specificity about the research you hope to do in graduate school. Demonstrate your familiarity with the faculty by expressing how—and why—you hope to work with a few specific professors. You’ll need to make a compelling affirmative case, with plenty of specifics. (That’s true regardless of your undergraduate GPA!)

7. Consider submitting a separate letter of explanation

Depending on a program’s GPA requirements, you may be advised to submit a separate letter of explanation. (In some cases, your explanation may be included as part of your statement of purpose; you’ll need to follow the guidelines of each program to which you’re applying.) In your explanation, you’ll want to be clear and concise. If your relatively low GPA doesn’t reflect your abilities, explain why. If, for instance, you had a family emergency one semester, you can explain that your grades fell due to those personal circumstances—but in that case, committees will probably want to see that you successfully pulled them back up. If the cause of your low GPA is still ongoing, the committee will want to ensure that you’ll be able to complete your graduate work satisfactorily.

8. Focus on recommendations

Most graduate programs ask for recommendation letters. Your recommenders can discuss your qualifications, including your GPA, and make the case for the kind of work you are capable of doing (and have done for them!). Say you have a GPA on the low side, but your environmental bio research project really blew your professor away. If she recommends you as someone with great potential for research, her endorsement can significantly strengthen your application. If you’re able to do research-assistant work for someone in your field (perhaps even someone in the graduate program you’re hoping to gain admission to), then that person’s recommendation may carry even greater weight.


In short: There are several ways to overcome a low GPA. Grades are an important—but not exclusive—signifier of future academic success. If your grades alone don’t make your case, then let the work you have produced and the relationships you have nurtured earn you admission to your chosen graduate program. While you don’t need to act on all of the suggestions presented here, you should strive to set yourself apart from other candidates. If you ensure that the other (non-GPA) parts of your application shine, you may very well earn a coveted spot in your dream graduate program.

If you are considering opportunities to further your education but are self-conscious about your undergraduate grades, there are still a few options for you. To stay competitive, your application will just have to stand out in other important areas. 

Admissions officers consider several factors for each applicant. While GPA is always one of them, it does not have to be the be all and end all of your acceptance or rejection. If you know your GPA will not work in your favor as you apply to graduate schools, you may want to make sure you excel in a few of the following areas.

Practice in a Relevant Field 

  • Internships: If you’re fresh out of an undergraduate program, consider pursuing an impressive internship if you haven’t completed one already. Depending on your program, this could include research, an apprenticeship program, or a summer job. If you have interned with a respected company or department, your relevant experience and display of competence could help override any red flags in your GPA. 
  • Work Experience: Whether you just graduated with a bachelor’s degree or are thinking about continuing your education after a hiatus, relevant work experience can also help surge your application forward. If your GPA does not reflect your competence as a student, you will want to make sure you have work experience that does communicate your ability to learn quickly and retain information.

High GRE Scores

  • The GRE is an entrance exam for which many programs require score submission. If you diligently plan, study, and then kick butt at the GRE, a high score could help offset a low GPA. This aptitude test helps measure your readiness for graduate school. A high score may even do more than your GPA to communicate your capability as a graduate student. Start preparing for the GRE a few months in advance so that you can have plenty of time to practice and study.
How Many Grad Schools Should You Apply to?

Stellar Recommendations

  • Most graduate programs require recommendation letters for you to be considered for admission. If you have a professor who thinks highly of you and can speak to your work ethic and performance in school, you will want to request a recommendation from them. If you don’t have an impressive GPA, many programs would be willing to overlook it if there are professors who are willing to vouch for your research, character, and abilities.

Get to Know Your Options

  • Researching different programs and familiarizing yourself with their requirements will always work in your favor. Many of the most competitive, top-tier schools heavily weigh undergraduate GPA, usually just so they can use their exclusive selectivity as a way to help them climb the rankings lists. Choosing to focus your efforts on programs that are not as concerned about an excellent GPA, but rather your potential to excel, may give you a better chance of acceptance if you know your grades are lower than your competitors’.
    Take the University of Wisconsin–Parkside as an example. While its programs do require a transcript as part of the application, many other factors play into the application and can make up for whatever you might be lacking. In fact, its MBA program waives the need for students with high GPAs to submit standardized test scores, but it otherwise weighs prior work experience and test scores very heavily for everyone else. Great schools like UW–Parkside structure their flexible applications mindfully with the knowledge that all students have different strengths. 

Explain Your Situation 

  • If a personal crisis (health issues, family emergency, etc.) kept you from performing to the best of your abilities for a semester, you may want to consider writing a letter to the admissions office and including it in your application. If an essay is required, describing the context in your essay may be appropriate. Admissions officers understand that simply looking at your GPA and comparing it to your course schedule does not account for an entire story. It is your responsibility to communicate effectively why your GPA suffered, especially if there had been any reason that was out of your control.
  • Keep in mind that a “difficult” major will not suffice as an explanation for a low GPA. Graduate programs are extremely competitive, and if you assume programs will ignore a low GPA because they understand your major was very difficult, you may be misplacing your faith. 

While important, your GPA does not have to be the reason that you don’t get into graduate school. If you know your GPA isn’t going to help your application, you may want to focus the other required elements. Relevant experience, high scores on the GRE, impressive recommendations, and applying to programs that put GPA lower on the priority list will help compensate for a GPA that is not above average. If outside circumstances caused your GPA to be abnormally low for a semester or two, you will definitely want to contact admissions officers to let them know what happened and what they can expect from you in the future. As you seek out graduate programs, keep in mind that Abound has many of the answers to your questions conveniently located in one place. 

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