Undergraduate psychology major with a low GPA
May 11, 2010 10:34 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone here graduated from college with a really low GPA, far below a 3.0? If so, did you apply to graduate school or look for a job?

I am an undergrad student at Hunter College, New York, majoring in Psychology. Right now, I have a 2.45 cumulative GPA. I earned 93 credits. I messed up during my freshman and sophomore years because I was immature. I watched movies and listened to music instead of studying. I am working as a lab technician at a neuroscience lab. I am planning to get a Masters degree in social work or counseling. I will try to raise my GPA to a 3.0 by the time I graduate. If I will end up with a 2.4 GPA, would it be impossible to get into a graduate school? Could I get a good job with only a Bachelors degree in Psychology?

P.S. I am 24 years old. I will probably get my Bachelors degree when I will be 26 or 27.
posted by annalem to Education (30 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
If you succeed at raising your GPA significantly, it will actually make a good narrative in job interviews! You can talk about how in the first couple years, you made some bad decisions, and then how you were able to turn things around and become a respected team member in your lab and get an excellent GPA the last couple years, etc. etc.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:47 PM on May 11, 2010

I'm facing a situation similar to yours, although I had the misfortune of graduating the first time around. Now I have to reenter college and face a nightmare of paperwork to raise my GPA. You've got a mark against you academically, so you've got to shine in other areas.
1. Stick your landing. Showing a strong "upward trend" in the last year or two will at least get your application looked at. You need to get that GPA up to at least 2.5 or 2.75, a lot of graduate programs have a minimum GPA to even apply.
2. Get to know your professors. Networking will be critical, you'll need letters of recommendation and they can give you tips on the profession.
3. You'll need to show admissions that you're immersed in the field. This is preferably through a paid job, but can also be an internship, volunteering, shadowing, research, etc. If there's some sort of professional certification you can easily get in the field to get a job, get it whenever you can and then work part-time.
4. Make a plan with goals, a timeline, etc.
5. Find a good adviser in that graduate department and see them. You may not want to go to grad school where you are now, but they probably have a lot of inside knowledge. They can let you know what the committees really look for, connect you to resources, and advise on your plans and goals.

Good luck!
posted by TungstenChef at 11:23 PM on May 11, 2010

With a GPA under 3.0, most graduate schools will not even allow you to apply, period.

If your GPA is 2.45, you probably have some Ds and Fs. Will your college allow you to retake those classes? If so, that is a very good way to fix your GPA. I screwed up a few courses in my first years in college as well, and I retook them for better grades and it really helped my GPA. I got into grad school with about a 3.5 GPA, which would have been a bit lower if I hadn't retaken those three courses.

There might be other ways to fix your transcript. Some colleges have "academic forgiveness" policies. You should talk to a course counselor and see what options you have.

The good news is that graduate schools tend to prioritize your GPA in major classes, so if you didn't screw those up, you might be in luck.
posted by twblalock at 11:25 PM on May 11, 2010

Go work in the real world for a year or two before applying to grad school. I got into a good education program after teaching for two years after graduating with a crappy gpa from college. Admittedly it's an education program, but still, the point stands. I'm not quite sure how to apply that to psychology, however.

Don't just work for two years in an office though. Get experience that is, if not relevant, of the variety that shows you can think and learn.

And yay for the six year plan. I got my BA at the age of 24.
posted by Hactar at 11:47 PM on May 11, 2010

Speaking from experience here, in a competitive program you probably won't be accepted. If you are accepted, you won't get aid. If you are willing to beg to get in and borrow to pay for it then you should focus on getting all A's right now. After you graduate continue taking classes at night and getting A's to show a long pattern of academic success. Work harder than you need to for the grade to impress your professors and get some solid recommendations. Grad school is very competitive.
posted by Tashtego at 12:09 AM on May 12, 2010

From the employment perspective: It seems that there are companies that have GPA "cutoffs" of 2.5/4.0 (Proctor & Gamble, for example, has a bunch of "new graduate" job postings where they specify that they'd prefer a GPA of 2.5 or more.) I bet there are other companies that have similar cutoffs (if any), and that 2.4 would be close enough if you make a good case for yourself. Not only that, but your Bachelor's psych degree would qualify you for a variety of entry-level/new-grad jobs, e.g., HR, human factors, market research, perhaps biotech/pharma, etc. In conclusion: not to worry!

Also, why not make an appointment with a career counselor at your school to talk about your options, both in terms of jobs and grad schools.
posted by sentient at 12:17 AM on May 12, 2010

Forget about graduate school unless you are willing to spend the time and money on post-baccalaureate courses (there are formal programs, but you can take courses as a non-matriculated student at almost any university to raise your GPA).

Very few employers will ask about your GPA, especially if you have a solid record of research (try to do some independent research in addition to your tech position). It certainly never came up in my fresh-out-of-school job search, and I got a great and well-paying job.
posted by halogen at 12:23 AM on May 12, 2010

GPA is only a part of the picture (albeit an important one). You'll be compared to other applicants along with your GRE and rec letters, along with a personal statement.

It'll be competitive, but there are lots of schools out there. Apply realistically (if you think you'd be a second or third-tier candidate, apply to second or third-tier programs) and don't sell yourself short. And definitely start thinking of two or three professors you've studied with who you think would write nice letters for you. It's intimidating, but it's also their job. They've written plenty of them before.
posted by bardic at 12:25 AM on May 12, 2010

And as far as the professional world, I've worked in positions where they really, really wanted to know my college and grad. school GPA as part of the hiring process (had to request official transcripts) and I've worked places where they didn't seem to care at all after seeing what I'd given them on my resume. The emphasis on your college GPA can vary quite a lot.
posted by bardic at 12:27 AM on May 12, 2010

My GPA was under 3.0 and I got into all of the graduate schools I applied for (sciences, U.S.).

I'd say focus on improving your GPA. See if you can retake any of the classes you did particularly poorly on and have the old grade expunged- this is possible at some schools. Talk to the registrar about what options are available to you, and tell him/her exactly what you told us, likely they'll be sympathetic.

Second, make sure you really work the outside interests angle. The key to getting grad schools to look past your undergraduate transcript is giving them something else to focus on. The work you're doing at the lab is good, but think about boosting your resume with other work. Since you're interested in graduate work in psychology, maybe a volunteer crisis line?
posted by arnicae at 12:42 AM on May 12, 2010

You said your GPA is so low because of slacking off in freshman and sophomore classes? How is your upper division GPA? Some schools look at both, you could even incorporate it into your essay: overcoming obstacles!
posted by Groovytimes at 12:44 AM on May 12, 2010

Response by poster: Arnicae: What was your GPA when you applied to graduate school? I have 2 more years of undergrad left. I will try to get my GPA closer to a 3.0.
posted by annalem at 12:47 AM on May 12, 2010

Response by poster: I am thinking about volunteering at a hospital.
posted by annalem at 12:51 AM on May 12, 2010

I graduated with a 2.2 overall and a 2.0 in my major (Math - I really wanted to study Computer Science but they had a minimum grade requirement to enter the major). I assumed grad school wasn't even an option with my grades and didn't apply (mistake). And of course no tech companies that came for on-campus interviews would even look at someone with less than a 3.0. But I was smart and motivated and persisted my way into a low-paying position at a start-up (had to drop out for a year to do that) and that got me experience and connections and that got me a real job when I did finish school. Nobody cared about my grades at that point. Later I went back and got a couple of Master's degrees (state school) and while they asked for my transcripts, grades weren't an obstacle.

Bottom line: I regret wasting four years of educational opportunity. And having crap grades closed a lot of doors for me. But there were always other doors, albeit fewer and harder to find. And you? You still have two more years to turn yourself around. Personally I'd be more impressed with someone who went from a 2.0 for his first two years to a 4.0 for his last two years than someone who managed a 3.0 straight through.
posted by zanni at 2:13 AM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

One of my friends graduated with a 2.2 -- in History! He got a job at a temp agency, worked really hard for about 2 years, got rave reviews, and now has a professional job and makes way more than I do.
posted by miyabo at 4:46 AM on May 12, 2010

I graduated with a sub 3.0 GPA. My first two years of college were spent trying to deal with the loss of a sibling. I did not handle it well at all BUT I turned things around and really nailed my last two years - Dean's List, etc. I also made sure I was involved in extra-curricular activities and volunteer efforts that looked good on my resume. I graduated during the dotcom boom, so finding a job with a bachelors in Comp Sci wasn't exactly difficult. When it did come up, I never acted embarrassed or ashamed, I always made sure I had an air of confidence in myself that conveyed that I was proud of the hard work I did in order to do better.

I would suggest that you have a good narrative of why your GPA sucks and what you did to turn things around and it should be more compelling than "I was busy watching movies and listening to music". Don't lie, but talk about how you weren't prepared, you lacked the life skills and maturity to handle the rigors of college life, blah blah blah, then talk about how you realized that you had to make some tough choices and be 100% more committed to success blah blah blah.

Good luck.
posted by SoulOnIce at 5:00 AM on May 12, 2010

I graduated college with a 2.4 GPA and was accepted to a top 50 law school where I received an academic (yes, academic) scholarship that paid 1/3 of my law school tuition. But don't let my experience make you try less hard to bring your grades up.
posted by amro at 5:09 AM on May 12, 2010

I graduated university with something around a 2.5 and a couple of failures. Serious depression, couldn't care about courses, yadda yadda. I ended up working for a year or two programming at a start-up, did a good job there with a great reference letter, did very well indeed on the LSATs and just finished my first year of law school, and I'm doing damn well at it (law journal, research position, etc.)

I know law school isn't the same as grad school, but it's something. You've still got time. Raise your average, if you need to work for a year or two after undergrad, then apply.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:10 AM on May 12, 2010

Mine is a fairly common tale of academic woe. I managed to jack around for about five years right after high school at three different colleges. By the time the University of Oklahoma invited me not to return, I had about 60 credits on my transcript and an abysmal GPA of about 1.9. So I poured concrete for three years, which helped me realize that I really needed to go back to school. I got a new job and went back to community college part time and started buckling down. I finished there with an associate's degree thanks to a very generous academic forgiveness program that got my GPA up to an acceptable level. Then I transferred to a regional state school to finish my bachelor's. My GPA after going back to school was pretty good- about 3.7. I think the final, total GPA was about 2.5. I got into graduate school at OU with no problem, although there was still a stop on my enrollment from ten years before when I was an undergrad. An Admin was able to clear that up quickly, though. The grad program I went into wasn't super-competitive, though I was on automatic academic probation my first couple of semesters.
posted by Shohn at 5:19 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

i spent most of my time in undergrad school with a sub 2.0 gpa and on academic probation. my efforts ended up simply tying to get a 2.0 so i could graduate.

three years later i managed to get accepted to both graduate schools i applied to--one being a law school. i was able to do so because i had great lsat scores and didn't need any financial aid, as well as having great recommendations and whatnot.

i've applied for jobs that have asked for higher gpas ... and they never bothered to ask. i've been asked about it a couple of times during interviews, but it never seemed to be a problem.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:34 AM on May 12, 2010

My undergraduate GPA was a 2.4, but that's almost entirely because a) I first went to school at 18, was dumb, and dropped out with a 0.8 and b) I went to a community college for awhile to knock out some cheap credit hours and my 3.9 from there didn't apply. That said, if your overall arc is upward and you do well on the GRE, grad school isn't out of your reach; I'm working on two Master's degrees right now at a school that is for one of those degrees considered top-ten for its field.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:36 AM on May 12, 2010

Get some work experience first... The longer you are away from undergrad and have good work experience, the less they'll look at the GPA. Most schools will accept students if they have good work ethic after college and you can always talk to admissions and explain (as long as you have a good explanation) why you have the low GPA.
posted by fozzie33 at 5:37 AM on May 12, 2010

With a GPA under 3.0, most graduate schools will not even allow you to apply, period.

Totally, 100%, completely not true. At some (but not all) schools, having less than a 3.0 means that you will get admitted on some sort of probationary status, where you have a semester or so to prove that you are not a dunce before they regularize your enrollment status. Totally not a big deal. My GPA was crap, and I got in everywhere I applied.

Now, to actually get admitted with a low GPA means that the other parts of your application (GREs, recommendations, etc) have to be super good, good enough to make up for the crappy GPA. And as mentioned above, you need a good narrative about why your gpa is low. (It doesn't have to be elaborate or pull at the heart strings -- mine was as simple as "it took me a few years to find a path in college that spoke to me.")

You may be wise to work for a couple years before going to grad school, so you can point to some awesome post-college accomplishments. And as suggested above, taking a few grad-level courses in your future course of study after you have your BA -- and of course getting A's in them, right? -- will go a very long way to proving that you are a serious student who just had some hiccups early on.
posted by Forktine at 5:39 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Shitty (like crazy bad) undergrad GPA, attended Columbia for Social Work School. Social work schools aren't hard to get into, though, acceptance rates are really high even at the top schools because it's just not a competitive field. What you want to do is some internships in whatever practice area interests you, because honestly in social work your experience can sell your application as much as your test scores or GPA. While my undergrad GPA sucked I had done a ton of research writing, clinical internships and community based volunteer work and I had the influential executive director of a huge nonprofit I worked for in Chicago pushing me really hard, so all that clearly compensated.
posted by The Straightener at 5:47 AM on May 12, 2010

For a graduate degree? Of course it's important, and schools are usually pretty clear about what they require, and the process to go through if you want to be treated exceptionally or probationally, as Forktine, Fozzie and others have said. There's always a way, but you're now using the special exceptions route, so don't expect a button-punched application online or a few completed forms to be enough effort. Expect more work and more interpersonal self-justification. Ask each school for help navigation their own maze.

In the real world: I've done hiring for lots of big and small firms, mainly in entertainment and tech, but it's a decent mix enough to be a valid sample, I think.

Pulling numbers out of my memory hoo-hoo, I'd estimate that about three quarters of employers specify a degree(s) required, about half of those actually mean it (the rest just think it 'would be nice'), and only one in five of THOSE bother checking or asking for transcripts, anyway. This is probably why FakeUniversity.edu (pick one) does so well.

Similarly, when describing a position they wish to fill, maybe 10 percent of employers specify a GPA requirement, with far less than half of those actually caring or checking. I know that I toss it out almost every time when given a job spec, because it's so difficult to justify in real terms. If the degree is an exact match for the work about to be performed, it's a decent indicator of how well the applicant knows the basics of their field, but beyond that... well, the applicant will not be tasked with performing midterm exams in the job.

When reading job postings, one thing to keep in mind, especially with big employers, is that they often follow a rigid format set back in 1962 that nobody has thought to change up since, even if they don't care about half of the requirements or the modern priorities are different. It's done because it's always been done that way. And small firms tend to copy what they see large firms doing, without critical consideration. This is why postings are full of so many hoary old cliches, too.

By which I mean: even if they say they care, the odds are high that they really don't, so do not ever let a low GPA stop you from trying. Don't mention it; most employers won't ask. Problem solved.
posted by rokusan at 7:46 AM on May 12, 2010

No potential employer has ever once asked me what my college GPA was. This might be one of the few remaining benefits of a newspaper journalism career. I have, however, had to pass extensive editing tests and submit many published writing samples.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 8:09 AM on May 12, 2010

No potential employer has ever once asked me what my college GPA was.

Same here. I can't speak to the Grad School issue, but in my experience the degree is a requirement and we like to see subject and where, but otherwise your grades don't matter. I work in a technical/science field.
posted by Big_B at 8:48 AM on May 12, 2010

You may very well have a hard time getting into Grad School with a GPA below 3.0, but judging by the responses so far, it clearly depends on the competitiveness of the programs you apply to, among other things.

I applied to grad school with a GPA of 3.42 (there was a minimum requirement of a 3.0 to even apply), and with over 4 years of highly relevant work experience under my belt. I ended up being wait-listed, and when I talked to my would-be supervisor about my application, he told me everything about it was great and I was a solid candidate, but my GPA was under 3.5, which they used as an unofficial cut-off when the applicants were super competitive. That totally sucked because my upper division GPA was about 3.7, but they looked at everything, including a C+ in a 1st year history class (unrelated to my actual field) that knocked my GPA just far enough.

FWIW, I asked about applying again, and my supervisor told me in the meantime to take a 4th year class in a relevant field and to get an A in order to demonstrate continued academic capability. So I did exactly that, reapplied, and I was accepted the second time.

Be prepared to not necessarily get in right away, but with perseverance you may be able to get accepted eventually. Worked for me!
posted by just_ducky at 10:19 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am transferring to Brooklyn College for the fall 2010 semester. It is closer to where I live than Hunter. I will finish my remaining 30 credits there. I hope to get a 3.5 GPA or above. When I apply to graduate school, would I need to show my transcripts from both Hunter and Brooklyn College? I worked as a lab technician for one year. I want to do an internship so that I could get more research experience. I will get my Bachelors degree in Psychology when I am 26 or 27. If I will work for a few years after finishing my undergrad, and then apply to graduate school at the age of 30 or 31, would I be too old for grad school?
posted by annalem at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2010

When I apply to graduate school, would I need to show my transcripts from both Hunter and Brooklyn College?

Yes, absolutely.

...at the age of 30 or 31, would I be too old for grad school?

No, of course not.
posted by halogen at 3:48 PM on May 12, 2010

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