How does one overcome a low undergrad GPA in a grad school application?
July 16, 2012 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Your undergraduate GPA was not stellar, you spent some time away from school, then you got into the graduate program you wanted. HOW DID YOU DO IT? Special bonus if it was NYU Food Studies.

Asking for a friend: What should one do to show up on the radar of graduate programs?

My friend, who studied something completely different in college, has worked very hard for several years learning the trade (and climbing the ladder) at a well-regarded gourmet food shop in Brooklyn. She has published (not self-published) a cookbook that got some nice reviews from newspapers and a big blog.

She has poured herself into this new direction and she very much wants to enhance her future prospects by getting her master's from NYU's Food Studies program. Despite the last half-decade of dedicated hard work and achievement, her application gets rejected.

Like the title sez, her undergrad GPA is low, but it doesn't reflect her recent drive and commitment. What does she have to do to get their attention?

If this sounds vaguely like you, what did YOU do to convince the admissions department that you were a viable, valuable candidate for their program?
posted by DeWalt_Russ to Education (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds vaguely like me. I am in a very different field.

I took a class as a nonmatriculated student at the University prior to applying, to demonstrate (both to them and to myself) that I could do graduate work. Since my undergraduate record wasn't convincing.

I had kickass, interesting, and varied work experience in the field.

I got a very good GRE score, wrote a kickass essay, and got great recommendations from people who know how to write damn good recommendations (ie: "I am damn good in this field, and entropone is going to be, too.")
posted by entropone at 8:21 PM on July 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Is she heart-set on NYU? The new school offers undergrad and continuing ed courses in food studies, and a little further afield, Boston University has a very well respected masters in food studies program.
posted by Oktober at 8:27 PM on July 16, 2012

I did the same as entropone, almost word for word. Plus, I applied to more than one school -- this matters in part because grad programs don't want to just admit locals, but rather a diverse selection of the best applicants, nationally and internationally. Being local is not necessarily an advantage, in other words (but conversely, a program across the country might find her NY experience far more compelling).

If she's really committed to that one program, though, and she's local, I'd think she'd be smart to, over the next year, meet with people in the program and become a known face rather than just an anonymous applicant.
posted by Forktine at 8:33 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Different subject area, but: I wrote great application materials, got glowing recommendations from top-flight alums and respected people in the field, and kicked the GRE's ass. That's pretty much the usual strategy.
posted by box at 9:22 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

My grad and undergrad subjects are completely different, and I also had some years of random work experience. I took a year's worth of classes at community college and got very, very good grades. Proved my interest in the subject, and I got a stellar (and recent!) recommendation out of it.

If your friend goes the route of taking a class at a local college to 'prove' herself academically, why not try a community college? I also made contacts with people who worked full time in my field (and taught part time), so what they taught was especially relevant. It's also the cheapest way to improve GPA.

Has she contacted the department directly to find out why she wasn't admitted? My first round of grad school apps, I didn't get in. I contacted them, and they said my interests weren't a good fit with the research focus of the school (and they were so right). My first essay attempt was round about gibbering, second attempt more on point.

Have her round up as many readers for her admissions essays as possible. Really good GRE scores don't hurt either.
posted by shinyshiny at 10:52 PM on July 16, 2012

I'll nth entropene as well. I got rejected from a MS program in June due to low GPA* and unenthusiastic letters (I'm still annoyed with my boss for that one), but got the decision overturned and was accepted... yesterday.

* Not LOW low; just average. I was still within shooting distance of the general range. It wouldn't have worked with a C, or probably even B-minus, average.

What happened between then and now? I got my GRE writing score in (actually hadn't seen it before I sent in my application), I took an undergrad-level class and aced it, and I had a former professor in the same department write to the admissions folks. He mentioned the GRE score and the class, and how he didn't believe that my undergrad GPA, now five+ years in the past, was an accurate reflection of my potential in the field.

So yes, connections are absolutely key, as is an updated reflection of academic aptitude & study skills (i.e., taking a class or two).
posted by supercres at 5:14 AM on July 17, 2012

I finished my undergrad in 2005. A few years later I decided I wanted to go back and study post-grad in a non-related field to my undergrad. I was rejected on my three first applications because the post-grad was complex engineering maths and I had no educational grades or proof of my capability.

I ended up finding "single courses" offered through the same university, one of which was an undergrad precursor to the postgrad course and the other was one of the core subjects of the postgrad course. I paid for them outright and did both with near 100% grade. I then re-applied and was accepted into the post-grad (certificate) and was told if I continued good grades i could upgrade to graduate diploma and eventually masters (which i start next year). - Maybe NYU has single courses that would count towards the greater course? Not sure if it works like that there.
posted by Under the Sea at 6:02 AM on July 17, 2012


Hi, you sort of described me. After 7 years I graduated with a degree in English and a 2.1 GPA. (My favorite expression, D for Done.)

I was working for the phone company and as part of our union deal, they offered a career counseling class. I took some sort of assessment and a week later I was called into the office. I was told that I had an aptitude and an interest in Accounting and that they wanted to sponsor me for an MBA program. I burst out laughing. NOTHING sounded more improbable. I believe the first thing I said after wiping the tears away was, "Business. EW!"

Here is the rest of the conversation:

Counselor: Hey, the program is great, it meets here in the building, we'll pay for it, and it's only every other week. You'll be done in 18 months.

Me: Eighteen MONTHS! That's a long time.

Counselor: It's going to pass anyway

Me: Oh, alright.

Seriously. I took the GMAT and got marginal math scores (enough to pass) but blew out Language and the written exam. (Did the same on GRE subsequently)

I had to take some pre-requisite classes, I did them concurrently at a JC or through accelorated, one-day jobbies through the university.

So part of it is being in the right place at the right time, another part is having the skills and aptitude to do well on the testing and the other part is being willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill the requirements.

I graduated with my MBA with a 3.7 GPA. That's the difference between having Word Processing and typing on a Selectric.

Yes. I'm that old.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:12 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

As others have mentioned, taking a class as a non-matriculated student in the Program might be helpful. In addition to what has been mentioned (showing that she can do the work), the professor might be willing to write a letter of recommendation. And this will be very helpful.
posted by Pineapplicious at 6:25 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I graduated undergrad after 6 years from a mediocre university with a 2.6 and got into a great grad program. It was because of what I did with my life in other areas + GRE + essay I think. Even ended up with a full assistantship! It can be done. Just make sure that the rest of the application is solid. GPA isn't everything in most fields.

/Also, my grad school/program supposedly has a strict 3.0 minimum GPA requirement...
posted by fromageball at 4:56 PM on July 17, 2012

Thank you all for your stories and suggestions. I'm continually amazed by the welcoming, helpful atmosphere here. I know this has reassured my friend, and I am eager to see her put some of these strategies into practice.
posted by DeWalt_Russ at 7:13 AM on July 19, 2012

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