Do I have a chance of getting into grad school?
May 1, 2007 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Do I have a chance of getting into grad school or business school after graduating undergrad with a very, very low gpa?

I barely graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science (GPA: 2.1) four years ago. Since then, my two jobs after have been primarily administrative. How much will my GPA factor in if I should apply for grad school? If I do well on my GRE or GMAT? Are my chances of moving up career-wise doomed (aside from a very slow climbing process)?
posted by anonymous to Education (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Career-wise, I can't think of the last time I was ever asked my GPA during an interview. As long as you have the degree, it seems to be a moot point.

As far as GRE/GMAT scores, a high score won't hurt your chances, but the most competitive programs will likely pass you by. If it's a program that really caters to those returning to school and advertises frequently, chances are that they'll admit you if you can pony up the cash.
posted by dr_dank at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2007

If a good business school is your goal, you don't have the pieces yet -- a good GMAT won't overcome bad undergrad GPA and a short, undistinguished resume.

However, if you target a high potential job and then achieve in it for 3-4 year time frame, and then put together a high GMAT, a lot of doors might open for you. Business schools are able to dilute the impact of undergraduate GPA much more than law schools or medical schools.

About grad school -- really depends on the discipline and competitiveness of the program.
posted by MattD at 7:57 AM on May 1, 2007

Are my chances of moving up career-wise doomed (aside from a very slow climbing process)?

I'll defer to others on the academic career. But if you mean a career in the CS industry, I can think of few other professions where its less about what degrees you have than about what you can do.

A certain large software company I know of, grants people their initial titles/responsibilities based on how many years of industry experience they have. Years spent pursuing a Phd count for exactly zero.
posted by vacapinta at 7:58 AM on May 1, 2007

One way to overcome a low undergraduate GPA is to establish a new, higher GPA. Find a community college and take classes, either toward another degree (associate's?) or not. If you lived in Boston, for example, you could enroll in night classes at Harvard Extension School and study whatever you like. Admissions departments recognize maturity; if you can show them a recent year of straight-A's, they'll give less weight to your 5-year-old 2.1.
posted by cribcage at 8:14 AM on May 1, 2007

Business schools will care about your GPA, and you might be below a cutoff. At other grad programs, a high GRE (meaning, you need to pretty much ace it) and killer recommendations and a really good statement of purpose can compensate for some pretty miserable GPAs. (It works the other way as well -- a 4.0 gpa can cover you for a not so stellar GRE, for example. But you can't have two weak pieces -- if any one piece is weak, all of the others have to be really strong to compensate.)

Some schools have a cutoff (often 3.0, sometimes higher or lower) where if your undergrad gpa is lower than that, you would need to be admitted on "probationary" status. After a semester or two of getting high grades in all your classes, your status reverts to normal. Second or third tier schools in particular may be reluctant to take the risk of admitting you, because you will drive down their numbers on entering students. A higher-ranked program may be more willing to take the risk, being less sensitive to numbers like GREs and GPAs of entering students.

One way to make yourself look like less of a high-risk applicant is to take a series of advanced classes (at least upper level undergrad, but preferably entry level grad) at a nearby university in the field you are interested in. Take only one or two at a time, and become Super Student -- you want to get A's or A+'s on everything and be able to say, "sure I was a screw-up as an undergrad, but when I bother to apply myself and work hard I do amazing work." In fact, this may be an essential piece to your application (and will also let you be sure about your proposed course of study, and write a stronger statement of purpose). You want to be totally rock those courses and have the professors who teach them write you letters of recommendation saying what an awesome and dedicated student you are. This will allow your future grad school to properly contextualize your undergrad experience as the colossal mistake that it was, rather than as reflective of your true ability. In most places, in-state tuition on a per-credit basis, as a "non-matriculated" or "non-degree" student, is fairly cheap -- this would be a really good investment.

Career-wise, I don't think GPA has any impact, aside from entry-level positions. If you wanted an academic career, your grad school transcripts will be scrutinized, but your undergrad will not (at least that is the case in my experience -- this may vary by field).
posted by Forktine at 8:19 AM on May 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Here's what I would do. Take a class or two at a very good school without matriculating. Make sure you get an A. Make sure the professor knows who you are. At the end of the course, say you would like to apply and would they be willing to give you a recommendation? Explain to them your low GPA situation. You have very little to lose by trying because the class credits will likely be accepted anywhere in the future. In the meantime, you can say you are currently studying at Harvard or whatever. Anyway, there's a thought. I'll let others poke holes at it.
posted by xammerboy at 8:30 AM on May 1, 2007

Another thought is that sometimes good schools have night or working programs that are much easier to get into even though they give you the same degree and you take courses taught by the same teachers.
posted by xammerboy at 8:34 AM on May 1, 2007

i had a 2.01 undergrad gpa. ok scores on the lsat. i had no problem getting into grad school, where my gpa was considerably better, for some odd reason.
posted by lester at 8:38 AM on May 1, 2007

Eh. My undergrad GPA was embarrassing...2.67, I think, when I was capable of much more. But I did pretty good on the GMAT or some other such test, and I easily got into an MBA program a few years later. Of course, it was at a minor university in Houston, not some top-line program. But still...

My thinking is that most programs are primarily interested in your ability to pay.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 8:41 AM on May 1, 2007

Are my chances of moving up career-wise doomed (aside from a very slow climbing process)?

I made upper management at a tech company with a market cap over $150B - without a college degree. Work harder than anyone else on both your job responsibilities and your own growth. Take care of your peers and subordinates. Look for ways to help your superiors succeed. Give a shit.

You'll be fine. That having been said, I think it's easier with the degree.
posted by rush at 8:48 AM on May 1, 2007

If you're thinking MBA, you might find that an excellent (720+, be prepared to work your ass off for it) GMAT might be enough to get the interest of some middle-tier and state schools, even though your GPA is low -- provided you have solid professional experience and excellent letters of reference. State schools like Stanford-level GMAT scores because it raises their average GMAT, which in turn boosts their applicant pool's GMATs -- and they might be willing to take a chance on you in order to get that boost.

Basically, ranked b-schools want your entire application to shine; one level down, they're happy to ignore one of GMAT, references, experience (years and quality), and GPA as long as the rest pan out OK.

On the other hand that means you'd end up with an MBA from a state school, which might be fine if you want to learn management but not so great if you're looking to head towards high finance.

Finally, I always see a little red flag when people say "GRE or GMAT". Other than both granting a master's degree, there's not a great deal of overlap of interests between an traditional academic master's degree and an MBA. The only reason to do an MBA is that you've plotted out a career course beyond it, and the only/easiest way to get from where you are to there is to get that degree. If it's because you want to be back in academia, you probably want to go the MA/MSc route.
posted by mendel at 9:10 AM on May 1, 2007

When I was applying for the Ph.D., I had an 800 on my GRE scores, a 3.67 undergraduate GPA (and an A- at the M.A. level), and still got turned down at 6 out of 8 schools I applied to. (Mind you, I applied to some pretty top-end schools, and in hindsight was unrealistic about it.)

It all comes down to where you're applying and who else is applying with you: if the school has 20 places and the applicant ranked #20 has higher scores than you, you're out. Of course, how a graduate program ranks its applicants varies.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:30 AM on May 1, 2007

There are lots of factors that can help.

What was your GPA the last two years? When I applied to grad schools in philosophy, they didn't care so much about overall GPA, but rather GPA in the field and GPA in the last two years (since that's when you typically take the higher level courses in your field).

I also know that in some fields (particularly in the more scientific fields) having a professor at the school who's willing to work with you and, most importantly, hire you as a research assistant, can seriously up your chances of getting in. I'd recommend emailing some professors in your area of interest at the schools you're interested in and show them you've changed since those days.

Also, I wouldn't gloss over the GPA in your personal statement. The first year I applied to grad school, I didn't get in to any of the schools I wanted, and I had a decent GPA and good GRE scores. I waited a year and reapplied (to 2 of the schools that rejected me, plus some backups). I got in to both of the schools that had rejected me previously, and I only changed two things in that time:

1) I changed my writing sample, but the two were pretty similar

2) I changed my personal statement. Instead of glossing over my "sophomore slump" (when I failed a class because I never attended), I addressed the issue, explained why it happened (but didn't make excuses), said what I should have done when I was in that situation, and why it won't happen in the future.
posted by chndrcks at 10:45 AM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I hate to be the jerk that comes out and says this, but for an academic CS program a 2.1 GPA from an American university (and a BA instead of a BS?) is probably going to prevent you from getting in.

Most schools take do some sort of indexing where they weight your GPA against your GRE scores, but since the CS Subject GRE is notoriously unpopular (I don't know anyone that took it, I know lots of CS PhD students), and you should (as a CS person) get near perfect on the general GRE, that won't be much help.

The only thing that might get you in are glowing recommendations from instructors and working some of their connections, but like you said, you're four years out of school which can make obtaining those difficult....

posted by lastyearsfad at 11:03 AM on May 1, 2007

I don't think it's hopeless. Where you are applying will make a big difference. Don't expect to go to the best schools in your field. I think a *must* for you is to start taking college classes in the field you want to study at the graduate level. Ideally you would take these classes at the school where you are going to apply to, and make sure you get As, become friendly with the profs, etc. I think that's your best shot.

Some programs might, especially the kind you will find at schools geared toward going at night, will have provisional status for folks like you -- you're admitted, but you must prove you can handle the work load in your first semester or two.

I think some professional acheivement also helps - if you're interested in biz school, showing that you have some interest or aptitude for business in your app will go a long way. Not knowing you, I'm not sure where you'll find this.

(For what it's worth, I had a 2.8 undergrad GPA, got my MA at night with no funding at a very good school and got a 4.0, and am now in a top PhD program in my field.)
posted by drobot at 1:42 PM on May 1, 2007

Take a bunch of classes for a year and get straight A's. Then ace your tests. Worked for me.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:44 PM on May 1, 2007

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