How Can I Get Around Graduate School GPA Requirement?
February 5, 2011 6:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm 41 and I want to go back to school - how do I get around the GPA requirement? And a few other questions as well.

I'm a 41 y/o female with a BA in psychology. I worked for twelve years as a probation officer before leaving my job this past July. I'm really interested in getting an MSW or an LCSW and I have the program I want picked out. The minimum GPA required is a 3.0. My overall GPA for my undergrad is like a 2.7. Back in the day, I was working 40 hours per week PLUS doing a part-time internship while carrying a full load of credits at CU Boulder. I also have ADD (not an excuse -- just a factor). My GPA reflected this, as when I was in school but not working 60 hours per week my GPA was around a 3.8. It's been 18 years since I've been out of college. How do I approach the issue of the GPA? I don't have any recent academic references to offer; I have plenty of professional references. The program I'm looking at does not require the GRE, but rather the MAT, which is fine. As a mature student approaching the graduate school application process, what would you recommend I do first? Should I just apply, or should I make an appointment with a school advisor to discuss my transcript and my personal circumstances before applying? What advice would you offer to someone in my position? Do universities see any advantage per se in having older, non-conventional students? I believe I would do very well in a social work program and it's definitely my calling. I would so hate to be kept out of graduate school because of a GPA that is circa 1993. Any advice or thoughts will be most appreciated.
posted by Twoapennything to Education (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, definitely talk to them. You apply to the program and talk to them, let them know you're willing to take a semester or two of classes as a non-matriculated student. If they don't admit you on your first application, once you get As in those classes, you apply again. It's common in grad programs to take an opportunity to 'prove' yourself to be a good fit with the program, this is even done in PhD programs.
posted by jardinier at 6:55 PM on February 5, 2011

I had a similar situation when I applied to (2nd bachelors) nursing school. I addressed the issue in my admissions essay - just a couple of sentences to put the 20-years-ago poor grades in context. They did admit me so I suppose it worked!
posted by shiny blue object at 7:00 PM on February 5, 2011

You are a textbook example of a "non-traditional student" and that should work in your favor. Check to see if the program you're applying to has a special advisor and/or alternative admissions criteria for non-traditional students. You certainly have nothing to lose by talking to someone and seeing what they can do for you.
posted by amyms at 7:01 PM on February 5, 2011

Could you take a few classes at a community college for a semester to bring up your GPA? It might help you to also get back into the groove of being in school, and bring your knowledge up to date in some subjects (psychology has evolved a lot even in the ten years since I've been out of undergrad). This would also be a good way to get a more recent academic reference if you take the opportunity to cultivate a good relationship with one of your professors.

(I could be a bit biased on the best course of action, being a psych professor at a community college who has given many a reference to nontraditional students applying for LCSW or MSW programs. ;))
posted by Fuego at 7:09 PM on February 5, 2011

I would call the admission office and ask for advice/ an appointment to see what they can do for you.

They will most likely turn you down, they are busy and they often do not want to hear from random people. If this is true, call up the department you want to apply to and see if you can meet with an advisor there. They will most likely be bigger advocates for you. And hopefully set you off on the right path. (at least this is what would happen if you tried this at my school)

I would not start taking community college classes to raise your gpa without first sitting down with an advisor somewhere.
posted by Felex at 7:18 PM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm more recently out of undergrad than you, but I also had a shitty GPA that was a grad school obstacle. I ended up taking a bunch of junior college classes in my chosen subject to prove I could get good grades, and transition to a new field. Plus I had related work experience, and I'm assuming pretty good letters of rec from supervisors (since I'm in my program of choice).
posted by shinyshiny at 7:38 PM on February 5, 2011

I was in my early 30s when I decided to go back to school for a Masters' in counseling. My undergraduate GPA was a 2.0 and I had been on and off academic probation and was academically dismissed from school for 1 semester due to my grades. I went and took 2 courses as a non-matriculated student at the school I intended to apply to, got As in the courses, and then applied to the program. I was still not admitted. I tried again at another school and was not admitted. I tried at a 3rd school, was admitted on a contingent basis. I had to get Bs in the first 2 courses before being fully admitted, which I did. I finished the program in 2009 with a 3.8 GPA.

I'd definitely take a couple of courses as a non-matriculated student and do well. Your experience is going to help, but they will probably want to make sure that you can do the work. Don't set your sights on just one school, apply to at least 3 programs.

good luck!
posted by Sal and Richard at 7:56 PM on February 5, 2011

MSW student only slightly younger than you (and with much less related work experience!) graduating in May here.

I'm not sure how it is in your area, but all of the programs in mine offer the opportunity to take a selection of the first year classes as a non-matriculated student. This was a great option for me, as it both provided the opportunity to make sure the field and this specific program were right for me, and I also got a letter of recommendation from the professor at the end. I would highly recommend pursuing this option if possible. The community college option might be a good backup idea if necessary, but a grade and a letter showing your ability to succeed in this particular program will carry a lot of weight. (Bonus: I was also one course up by the time I officially began school, which made the transition back to full time student that much easier.)

As others have said, I strongly advise you to make an appointment to talk to someone in admissions personally. Not only does it help them to see you as a whole person and not just another applicant, more importantly for social work school, it shows that you are someone who can and will advocate for yourself, just as you will be required to do for your clients down the road. This is far more important than some long ago-earned GPA.

With the kind of work experience, endurance, and passion for the field you've talked about in your question, I wouldn't worry too much about getting in. Social work is all about the strengths perspective, and you seem to have many. Frankly, the kind of program where they would reject your application based solely on old grades probably isn't one you'd want to get your MSW from anyway.

Best of luck!
posted by keever at 8:10 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Felex: I would not start taking community college classes to raise your gpa without first sitting down with an advisor somewhere.

It was implied in my comment, but not made explicit and I apologize for that. I recommend that course of action if it comes with the OK from an adviser at the school that you are applying to. Certainly you do not want to take that option without knowing that it will get you where you aim to go. It's common enough, however, that I suspect that this might be one of the options presented to you if you are able to meet with someone beforehand.
posted by Fuego at 8:12 PM on February 5, 2011

IADGS, albeit not in your field. Definitely contact the department first before you do anything, as they may have a route they prefer you to follow.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:31 PM on February 5, 2011

Don't set your sights on just one school, apply to at least 3 programs.

Unfortunately, there aren't three programs in my area to choose from, and I can't swing a 1.5 hour commute (each way) to the next town over that has a university that offers an MSW. So I have two programs to choose from and one is $30K per year, which is cost prohibitive for me. So one program is left. That's why it's so important to me to do well during the admissions process. :)
posted by Twoapennything at 9:01 AM on February 6, 2011

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