Dear Mentor:

What are my chances with low GPA but high GMAT/GRE?

I graduated from a top 25 school with a Bachelor of Arts degree in the US in April 2000. Being an international student, I was able to skip 2 years of high school and entered college at 17 years old. When the Asian crisis occurred in 1998, I had to work part time, and adding to the fact that I was young and playful, my grades slipped horribly. I am thinking of doing my Masters, either in Business or Economics. I already took my GMAT [Graduate Management Aptitude Test] and GRE [Graduate Record Exam]. My GMAT score was 725 and my GRE was 700 Quantitative, 690 Analytical, and 680 Verbal, for a total of 2070. However, my undergraduate GPA [Grade Point Average] is only 2.04. What do you think are my chances of getting into ANY graduate degree programs? Thank you in advance for your answer.

Challenged by GPA, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Dear Challenged by GPA:

We must say that despite your performance on entrance exams - the GMAT and GRE - you are in a difficult situation. Your performance on the GMAT is very good and on the GRE is reasonably good. If GMAT were the only selection criterion for MBA admission, you would be well on your way to a top MBA school. Similarly for an Economics program, your GRE performance would suggest that you could be admitted to a good program. But the situation, as you have recognized, is not quite that simple.

The iMahal guide on Studying in America and Canada outlines the selection criteria for admission and financial aid for the two countries. The typical selection criteria include:

  • Your GPA
  • Your performance on entrance exam - GMAT for MBA and GRE for Master's in Economics
  • Letters of recommendations
  • Personal statement of purpose (SOP) or personal essays
Although not always explicitly stated, top MBA programs also expect the candidates to have 3-5 years of work experience, demonstrating success in progressively challenging assignments.

While a not-so-good performance for on one element of the criteria can be offset by others to some degree, the not-so-good performance on any particular element is not typically ignored. The situation is complicated significantly when good schools set minimum thresholds for consideration on the GPA and entrance exam scores. You have a very high probability of being rejected from a serious consideration for not meeting the minimum required for the GPA. Good schools can easily get candidates who have performed well not only on the entrance exams but also on their GPA.

So what can you do? Manage your expectations (despite good performance on the GMAT and GRE) and target middle- to lower-tier colleges, and excel on what you can control at this stage. In your personal SOP or essays, you should articulate clearly why your GPA does not reflect your intrinsic and acquired capabilities. You should also manage your recommendations carefully to ensure, to the best of your abilities, that they support your self-assessment of your potential. The iMahal guide on Studying in America and Canada outlines how you can manage the recommendations process.

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