Can I even get in to grad school?
November 3, 2009 6:15 AM   Subscribe

High standardized test scores, great references, low GPA, need to take classes online - can I go to grad school?

I'm in the US military and just about to go to my next duty station where I'll have the time to get a master's degree. I'd like to get one in history or business, but there are quite a few hurdles to getting said degree:
  • Needs to be online
  • My GPA is low - 2.52
  • I have several Fs on my transcript
A bit more on my transcript - college was a bit of a whirlwind of depression, so for instance I got 3 As and 2 Fs my first semester - and this seemingly dichotomous pattern repeated itself until I wrested myself from the depths of the depression and also changed my degree, after which I got As and Bs, but nothing that would fix the first 2.5 years of my record.

All that being said, I have a history of doing extremely well on standardized tests and while, yes, the practice GRE/GMAT isn't the same as the real thing, it didn't seem especially challenging - more like the SAT than anything. So assuming that I would do well on the standardized test of choice for whichever degree program I select, would a high enough score and references from my bosses offset the low GPA? If so, to what schools should I be looking? If in your estimation grad school just isn't for me, that's useful too. Thanks!

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posted by anonymous to Education (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think you need to take some more undergrad classes to get that GPA up. Use it as an opportunity to explore what you want to do graduate work in.
posted by nestor_makhno at 6:39 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

It would depend entirely on what you wanted your grad degree for. If you want to start a business then you should certainly get a MBA. At the same time, I'm not sure exactly what a history master's would get you. You could teach high school history, but you wouldn't have enough credentials to teach at a level much higher than that. I'm totally unfamiliar with online graduate programs, but in general graduate programs require a large amount of dedication and interest in your field. This is generally a solo endeavor, but it does help that you usually have other graduate students and faculty around to keep you from going entirely crazy. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that over half the benefit of your graduate education is making contacts with specialists in the field you want to pursue including both people in your department and people you meet at symposia or conferences. I'm concerned that you'll miss out on that by pursuing a graduate career online.

Honestly your undergrad GPA doesn't matter at all aside from enrolling in a graduate program, so whether you should be concerned about it depends on how strict the admissions for the program you want to attend is. Even then, if your GPA in the area you are interested in is high, you can often cite extenuating circumstances (depression). It should be clear from that latter part of your transcript that you handled your business well in the end.

In the end, your GPA score has little to do with whether grad school is right for you. What's more important is the reason you want to go to grad school. A graduate degree is not the end result, it is a means to an end. Know what your goals are and that will let you to determine for yourself whether grad school is the right course for you.
posted by scrutiny at 7:09 AM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Great standardized tests, lower gpa than yours here. Went to arguably a top 5 business school. Your gpa should not deter you. Have an in-person interview. Explain your reasons for your gpa. Further explain that if they require the standardized tests, they must believe that they are predictive in some way. They predict great things for you.

THe real issue is not getting in, it is getting into the right program for you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:33 AM on November 3, 2009

I don't see anything stopping you from going to grad school. But remember, high test scores (aptitude) does not necessarily translate to high work ethic (attitude).
posted by parmanparman at 7:49 AM on November 3, 2009

I had a significantly lower GPA than yours, great standardized test scores, and still managed to get into (and do well at) a top 25 graduate program -- and the reason for my low GPA was "WHOOPS!", so I'd say go ahead and apply. All they can say is "no" at which point you might ask them what it would take to make you a more competitive candidate.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:53 AM on November 3, 2009

At the same time, I'm not sure exactly what a history master's would get you.

Well if he/she is staying in the military, especially as an officer, I believe it would be helpful (or even neccesary) for certain promotions, but I'm not sure.

You can almost certainly get in somewhere, if you're willing to pay tuition.
posted by Jahaza at 7:58 AM on November 3, 2009

You may also consider taking some graduate-level courses independent of a degree program and do well in them to provide evidence that you are capable of working hard and succeeding at that level. Then when you apply for a degree program, you can show transcripts of those grad classes as a way of offsetting your undergrad GPA.

I wouldn't do what nestor_ says above and take more undergrad classes. The math is against you as far as significantly raising your GPA that way since you have so many credit hours at this point. A couple of extra As won't raise it enough to matter, but a couple of As in grad-level classes can make a big difference in showing you're ready for that level of work.
posted by BlooPen at 8:03 AM on November 3, 2009

I had a slightly better GPA than you but my undergrad career also had issues. I definitely was relying on great test scores and recommendations to bail me out. Basically decide who has the programs you want to get into and offers the online classes in a flexible enough way to meet your schedule.

There is a good chance that you'll either need to settle for a less competitive program and/or settle for probationary/provisional status for a semester or two but it's definitely worth putting yourself out there. The simple fact of the matter is that grad programs seem much less picky about non-traditional students than they used to be and many programs seem to actively pursue non-traditional students because they bring interesting perspectives into the classroom.

Good Luck with a search for programs.
posted by vuron at 10:13 AM on November 3, 2009

The second half of your transcript matters more than the first. Classes in your intended graduate field matter more than other classes. If your transcript improved after the first few years like you said it did, you have a decent chance.

However, your main problem will be getting past some initial filtering at the admissions offices. Some schools just throw out any transcript which is under a 3.0 without even looking for extenuating circumstances.
posted by twblalock at 1:24 PM on November 3, 2009

Since you've been out of undergrad for some time - I assume by your military service - that should weigh into the consideration. Any application you made should address your GPA issues, and explain how you've changed since those problems.

I wouldn't bother taking more undergraduate classes to change your GPA - it would take too long and not move the numbers much. Instead, I would either a) apply to graduate programs with a letter explaining how you've matured and changed, and/or take graduate level courses to show that you can handle the work. Doing the latter will also let you figure out which masters might be better for you.

You may face some problems - the academic world likes people who have never tripped or failed. But being now a mature student by virtue of your distance from your undergraduate, you are not just your academic transcript. What you would bring to a program is much more than what you learned in your undergraduate degree -- what you need to do is find a masters program that appreciates that.
posted by jb at 1:26 PM on November 3, 2009

My undergrad GPA is 2.5 and I already gave up going to graduate school in linguistics despite having distinguished perks.

Sadly to say and no offense, graduate school is an utter joke spewing unrealistic hope.
posted by sanskrtam at 6:43 PM on November 14, 2009

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