Grad School Filter: Sub 3.0 GPA w. work experience, what can I do?
February 17, 2014 10:46 AM   Subscribe

I graduated from a state school with a Comp Sci degree eight years ago. I never thought about a masters degree since the IT field rarely requires it. But I'm now thinking about it because of aspirations to move higher in my role with the company. There are some hurdles - more inside

So, I have a million questions and I've had a hard time finding answers. I don't want to delve deep into details. I would love to hear what other people have heard, gone through, etc. with applying for graduate school, going through the process. I haven't decided if I want to do this yet, just want to get a feel for what to expect.

So, I'm 8 years removed from my graduation date. I have 8 years of web application development experience under my belt in a heavily business-oriented corporate setting. I've moved from programming to task management to my current role as a hybrid between both. I run projects, strategize with business units to deliver innovative systems, and get down and dirty with the code if I have to.

I like a challenge. I also like being an integral part in the strategy that eventually brings success to our company. I've looked into the possibility of getting a masters in business administration or economics, but I'm open to other areas that help my motivations to move up the corporate ladder. So, here's my questions:

1. Eight years removed from college, where do I even begin? Will I need to re-take classes? What should I expect?

2. I worked 40-60 hour weeks in college. My GPA suffered a bit because of that, hitting a 2.782 as my cumulative when I graduated. How can I overcome that when applying for grad school? A lot of schools have a threshold of 3.0 if I'm correct. Do universities generally have loyalty to former students? Does my job history have an effect?

3. GRE test: I have no idea what to expect. Is it basically another ACT/SAT exam? I'm assuming it is pretty advanced, but I have no idea. Can anyone give me a general summary, maybe a bit more detail as to the complexity and difficulty?

4. Recommendations seem to matter greatly in this context. Is this usually from colleagues that I work with? I saw that most of this comes from faculty at the university, but I'm so removed... i don't know anyone at my alma mater anymore.

I'm not looking for a top 25 school. I'm simply looking at my local state school, and possibly something in one of the private schools in the area if I can't get in there.
posted by MMALR to Education (13 answers total)
I can't comment on the rest, but my understanding is that the GRE is similar to the SAT, except the math and verbal are a bit more complex (especially the math? - someone can confirm). I think this will be the easiest thing on your list. I don't think the GRE even goes into calc/college math (again, hopefully someone will confirm this), and there are tons of books to study from. I used to work for a test prep company (not for the GRE, but for another standardized test), but I personally think a study book will suffice, rather than paying a whole lot to take a course. Do a few hours every weekend, for several months before the exam (studying and then doing practice tests), and I imagine you'll be fine. Also, programs vary on how much they are about the GRE score. Additionally, some programs only care about the math and some only care about the verbal, and others only really want you to score over a certain minimum threshold.
posted by ClaireBear at 10:52 AM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

For most of this, you super-really-seriously need to just contact the department where you're thinking about applying. Read their webpages about requirements, and email them to ask how you can handle your GPA issue. They can also answer your references/recommendations question, which is going to depend on the department and what they want to know.

I went to graduate school after 10 years in a totally different field than my BA, and my GPA was 2.7, too, when my grad school required a 3.0. I overcame this by taking pre-requisites and getting really good grades in those classes. You might be able to do the same. If you already have all of the pre-reqs, ask them if there's anything similar you can do. I took a couple of my major courses as a non-degree student before I was even admitted, which meant I had a good grade record AND I was ahead on credits when I started.
posted by hought20 at 10:54 AM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

You've got a clean shot. Emphasize your accomplishments in the real world. You've got good communications skills that will push your application forward.

1. I doubt you'll need to re-take classes because you're out of date. Some of the MBA programs I'm familiar with actually demand that you have a few years of work experience before they'll consider you. Now it may help to re-take classes to boost your GPA, but I'd talk to the program first...

2. Again, your GPA from almost a decade ago doesn't matter as much as what you've done since. Admissions committees expect people to change. Let them know that you were working back in undergrad, but also really showcase the stuff you've been doing in the intervening 8 years. Describe that stuff well. It means something.

3. The GRE General exam was like the SAT but longer and computerized. The math wasn't any more complex than algebra II. Take practice exams to get a feel for the rhythm and format. Brush up on the stuff you're bad at.

4. Try your bosses and colleagues for recommendations. They're most likely to be able to write ones that reflect who you are now and really bring you to life.

May I also recommend going and talking directly as possible to program directors and grad coordinators for the graduate programs you're interested in? They can help answer some of these questions and present your experience in the best light.
posted by Mercaptan at 10:56 AM on February 17, 2014

Basic rule: the longer it's been since you graduated from your last degree program, the less important your GPA is.

It's been eight years since you graduated. Assuming you've been working in the same field you got your first degree in and are applying for graduate programs in the same field, your professional experience is going to matter a lot more than your GPA. Do well on the GRE, get good letters from your superiors, and you should be fine. Maybe not a great candidate for a competitive, national level program, but more than qualified for your local state school. Particularly if it's a branch campus. People like you are significantly why those schools exist, believe it or not.

What'd be even better is if you could get said superiors to pay for your degree. . .
posted by valkyryn at 11:08 AM on February 17, 2014

I work at a university that may offer a specific program you are looking for...memail me for details if you want.

But generally speaking....

1. You won't need to retake classes as a pre-requisite - but if you are fuzzy on any skills needed for classes in your program, you may want to brush up on your own. Free resources online should be adequate though.

2. Even schools that list a 3.0 requirement will be flexible unless they are already well above their target enrollment numbers. The more removed you are from your undergraduate years, with valid on-point work experience in between, the less your grades actually matter. Your communication skills and your resume, along with current professional references will be your best assets in this process.

3. GRE is very similar to ACT/SAT. The verbal and quant sections are extremely similar, although probably a bit tougher if directly compared. Not sure about the other section(s) - when I took the GRE the third section was analytical (most similar to LSAT-type questions) but that was phased out in favor of a writing section and maybe others.

4. You'll want current recommendations from supervisors or colleagues since you are so far removed from undergrad. They should speak to your work ethic and ability in your functional area, as well as the obligatory "MMALR will be very successful in and a great asset to your program."
posted by trivia genius at 11:13 AM on February 17, 2014

Clarification: Most MBA programs are going to prefer the GMAT rather than the GRE.
posted by tau_ceti at 11:18 AM on February 17, 2014

Are you really sure you need a higher level degree? I'm in tech management and most the people I interact with are their due to work experience not high level degrees.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:30 AM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a BA in English and an MBA. My GPA when graduating with my degree, after seven years, was 2.0. I also had very few of the pre-requisites for the MBA. I also didn't take my GMAT until the semester before graduation.

I went to a private school that had a partnership with my employer. I was admitted conditionally, and had to take simultaneous pre-req classes while I was in grad school. After the first semester, with a 4.0, everything relaxed and I got everything done on my own time-table.

So, call and find out, apparently Nova isn't all that competative, and my degree gets as much credit as anyone elses. (At my job our VP has a degree from SMU.)

There's Wharton, Harvard, Stanford, maybe Kellogg, and then there's everything else.

The MBA was easy to do part-time, and frankly it merely checks a box. I got a lot out of it, but I can't say I was so much better qualified to do my job after getting it.

It's kind of a weird thing actually.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:51 AM on February 17, 2014

@bottlebrushtree - My company is very old school. Even the industry I'm in is that way. They look for masters degrees as... a checkbox to mark. But I really do see it as an educational opportunity as well. I'm very much a person who wants to constantly learn, and I'd love to take a crack at a masters degree in a field that is related, yet not my primary field. I think it would go a long way to challenging me while simultaneously helping my career.
posted by MMALR at 12:26 PM on February 17, 2014

the GRE is similar to the SAT, except the math and verbal are a bit more complex (especially the math? - someone can confirm)

The general GRE actually covers less math than the SAT. However, doing really well requires actual understanding of what you're doing, not just blundering along. (Perfect or near perfect performance on the math section is pretty common.)

That said, I do assume MBA programs want the GMAT, but I don't know if there are exceptions.
posted by hoyland at 12:31 PM on February 17, 2014

I had a sub 3.0 grade in an unrelated field. I dealt with it by taking two classes as a nondegree student. I did really well in both classes, got to know the professors, and got them to write me letters of recommendation (and once I was an "official" grad student, the classes I took as a nondegree counted toward my degree).

Honestly, it was a rather long way of going about things, and I'd recommend trying some of the above advice first, but I just wanted to let you know that's an option at most universities.
posted by mcmile at 12:34 PM on February 17, 2014

* I went to grad school about two years after graduating from undergrad, with a Computer Science degree in an Engineering division. My undergrad GPA was just a hair above 3.0, and I had no mitigating factors like a full-time job during college. Yikes. I have no idea how people can do that.

* I applied to four schools for grad school and was accepted to three of them. The one which rejected me was my undergrad institution (hmm...). My safety school was the state university in the state I lived in at the time.

* I did not go to my first choice school, because they required me to take an undergrad class as they felt my undergrad background was lacking. I would not have minded doing that at all, however, I was also applying for a grad school scholarship through my then-employer. I was accepted to the scholarship program, however, one of the stipulations was unconditional acceptance. I ended up at my second choice school, with a full ride (tuition and books) and half my salary paid by my then-employer.

* The GRE is very, very much like the SAT, except that it's administered entirely on a computer (I'm not sure if the SAT is now). I was not happy with my scores, but I guess they must have cleared the bar. I also took the GRE Computer Science Subject Test, which was on paper and which I would liken to an SAT II subject test. It was required by two of the grad schools I applied to. I was much happier with my performance on the Subject Test.

* I suspect GPA matters far less when you have employment/life experience under your belt, but I'll never know that from personal experience.

* I was astonished at how well I did in grad school (almost a 3.8) given that I thought many of the classes were harder. Perhaps my employment experience helped, or perhaps I went to an institution of higher grade inflation.

* Pro Tip: My graduate work was in Electrical and Computer Engineering. If you're going to that kind of field with just a CS background, I suggest you audit some undergrad EE classes, particularly Signals and Systems. Oh, the stares I got from nearly everyone when I raised my hand in a 700-level Wireless Communications class and asked "So, what's a Fourier Transform?" I have rarely in my life felt more stupid than in that moment. I ended up auditing Signals and Systems, and I ended up with a B in that 700-level Wireless class that I do NOT think I deserved.

* Talk to the department chairs at the programs to which you're applying. They'll be able to let you know far better than any of us can.
posted by tckma at 1:01 PM on February 17, 2014

Also 10 years out of college with a 2.3 undergrad GPA. Got accepted last year into two masters programs. I did classes in a grad program as an informally enrolled student and did very well. I called this out along with my professional experience in the statement of purpose. It worked out well as far as the admissions process went.

regarding the GRE, another Mefite saved my life in preparing fro the quantitative. Start studying with this book first. It starts from the basics while other books try to help you "game" the test with shortcuts and such. I couldn't comprehend those books until I reviewed the basics.
posted by Che boludo! at 8:46 PM on February 18, 2014

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