Graduate School and Low GPAs

Graduate School and Low GPAs

Graduate programs consider a wide array of factors while making admissions decisions, such as test scores, research, and recommendation letters. While GPAs remain one of the most important factors admissions committees consider, they are also one of the most misunderstood among applicants. By explaining how elite universities operate, this article will outline some strategies students with low GPAs can use to earn admissions into top graduate programs.


Unlike undergraduate programs, which focus on providing a broad liberal arts education, many graduate programs are designed to both produce original research and train future academics. For many universities success as an academic institution is measured by the amount and quality of original research published by its faculty and graduate students. As a result, admissions committees admit students they believe will most likely produce research in the program and go on to publish throughout their careers. Universities see applicants as investments: the greater the promised return, the more likely they are to admit. The emphasis on research is so heavy, in fact, that many admissions committees give more weight to research potential than to test scores or even lower GPAs.


Students with poor grades have an opportunity to emphasize their research potential over their past academic performance. With the help of professional admissions advisors at IvySummit, applicants can demonstrate that they will produce quality research through the graduate program. For example, applicants can demonstrate how faculty research goals align with their own and provide a detailed and realistic plan for completing their proposed research. In other words, the applicant can promise a clear return on the university’s investment.


Many applicants who wish to earn a doctoral degree can earn a master’s degree first to make up for poor grades from their undergraduate program. A master’s program from a less competitive school offers a solid steppingstone to demonstrate academic ability, network with faculty, and even produce original research. A marked improvement from an undergraduate degree to master’s degree demonstrates that the applicant is dedicated to the topic and has the required academic ability.

Similarly, many other students who have lower GPAs will work in their chosen field for one or two years before applying to graduate school. Real life work experience is often more compelling to admissions committees than past academic experience if the work was relevant and valuable. For example, an applicant interested in earning a doctoral degree in biology may choose to work as an entry lab technician in a university laboratory, developing relationships with faculty and demonstrating their technical and academic ability. Many employers even allow their staff an opportunity to publish or co-publish, either on the employer website, newspapers, or journals. In other words, master’s degree and real-life work experience both offer an opportunity to demonstrate that an applicant has what it takes to successfully complete the curriculum, produce research, and graduate. The experts at Ivy Summit bring decades of experience doing just that – connecting the life experiences of applicants to their graduate applications.

Reasonable Explanations

Students may experience low GPAs for many different reasons largely outside of their control: personal crises, a dysfunctional university, or even simply choosing the wrong major. When the applicant has demonstrated academic ability – whether by highlighting their research as an undergraduate, a master’s student or a working professional – a simple letter of recommendation explaining past grades can significantly mitigate their harm. Letters coming from work supervisors or professors vouching for the applicant’s ability despite bad grades can work wonders.

GPAs are only one of many estimations of academic ability, and admissions committees recognize that applicants are more than their past grades.  For example, a graduate program in electrical engineering will not care about an applicant’s poor grades in French literature dragging down their GPAs. A graduate program in business will care less about an applicant’s poor grades in economic theory when their supervisor attests to their business acumen, intelligence, and grit.


A high GPA is a tremendous asset for graduate admissions, but a low GPA does not mean an applicant does not stand a chance. The steps described above can significantly improve an applicant’s odds of being admitted into the top schools. The professional advisors at Ivy Summit use these strategies and more to help highlight an applicant’s strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, promising universities a return on their investment.

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