How to Apply to Graduate Schools With a Low GPA

Three Parts:Putting Together a Strong Application PortfolioRaising Your GPAImproving Your Chances of Getting Accepted to a Program

There are many reasons to pursue a graduate degree. It can open up new opportunities for you within your field, help you make new professional connections, and generally provide you with meaningful experiences. Don't let a low grade point average (GPA) discourage you from applying to graduate school. By taking courses, putting together a strong portfolio, and delivering high Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, you can offset your previous low grades and become a strong candidate for most graduate programs.

Part 1
Putting Together a Strong Application Portfolio

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    Acquire a significant amount of relevant experience. Even if your GPA is low, an overall impressive application portfolio could help offset those grades. One of the best ways to show your potential for graduate-level studies is by acquiring and listing a lot of experience relevant to your intended field.[1]
    • Find work experience relevant to your desired field by searching for entry-level positions online.
    • Even volunteer or internship experience can help improve your application if it's relevant to your desired field of study.[2]
    • Find volunteer/internship opportunities online or by reaching out directly to an organization you'd like to work with.
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    Address your low GPA in your personal statement. The best way to handle any weak component of an application portfolio is to address the problem head-on. The college admissions committee will notice your low GPA, so don't think that it will slip under the radar. But if you acknowledge the low GPA, address the reasons for those poor grades, and show what you've done to improve yourself, the admissions committee may overlook it.[3]
    • Highlight your accomplishments and personal/professional growth since you received the low grades that dropped your GPA.
    • Talk about what you did to address the problem(s) that led to your low GPA, and explain why it wouldn't be a problem in the future if you were admitted to a graduate program.
    • Highlight any good grades you got in courses related to the field you would study in graduate school.[4]
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    Ask someone reputable for a letter of recommendation. A strong letter of recommendation can help improve your chances of admission, even if your GPA is low. Think about any professors you've worked with in college and reach out to them to see if they'd be willing to write you a letter of recommendation.[5]
    • Tell the professors you reach out to about anything you've done to improve your grades and your career since you took their classes.
    • Let your potential letter writers know why you think you'd be a strong candidate for graduate school and highlight your recent accomplishments so they can include that information in a letter of recommendation.

Part 2
Raising Your GPA

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    Enroll in relevant courses as a non-degree seeking student. If you're willing to put off your graduate program application for a year or so, you might want to consider enrolling in courses as a non-degree seeking student. This would allow you to focus on your studies and prove that you're capable of top-notch work.[6]
    • You can sign up for relevant undergraduate courses at a local community college, or take one or two relevant graduate courses at a local university.
    • It may take more time, but taking on a small course load will improve your chances of success in those classes. You'll have more time for studying and homework, which means you'll do better than if you try to take a full course load all at once.[7]
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    Take good notes when you enroll in a course. Once you enroll in a course as a non-degree seeking student, you'll need to do your best to earn good grades. Come to class having done the reading for that day and take thorough notes to ensure that you understand the course material.[8]
    • Write out your notes in class by hand, then copy them into a fresh notebook at home. Writing them out a second time will help reinforce the material in your memory.
    • Write questions in the margins of your notebook on anything you're unclear about. Then try to find the answer in your text book, and if you can't find the answer you can ask your professor.
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    Study more effectively. Studying and good note taking are the best ways to improve your GPA. If you've done the readings, gone to class consistently, and taken good notes, you should have all the tools you need to do well on an exam.[9]
    • Have a dedicated time and place to study in which you won't be disturbed. Remove all distractions and turn off your cellphone while you study.
    • Triage your study time by dedicating the most time and effort to the material you struggle with the most. Then spend some leftover time at the end of your session reviewing the things you already know so that they're fresh in your mind.
    • Don't cram for tests. Manage your time and give yourself at least a couple weeks to adequately prepare for a big test.
    • Consider joining a study group. By studying with other students, you'll be able to help one another on any material you may have struggled with individually.
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    Consider getting an intermediate degree. In addition to taking courses, you may also want to consider getting a certificate or credential in a relevant field. The coursework from that intermediate degree may help raise your GPA, and you'll be able to list that certificate/credential on your application as proof of your academic potential.[10]
    • Find out about intermediate degrees in your area by searching online or contacting colleges/universities near you.

Part 3
Improving Your Chances of Getting Accepted to a Program

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    Study hard to get a strong GRE score. Many graduate programs are willing to overlook a poor GPA if you have high GRE scores. Even ivy league universities may accept an applicant with a low GPA if the GRE scores are above average. Make sure you take the GRE, even if you're not required to for a given program, and study hard so that you score well.[11]
    • Review high school math subjects like algebra and geometry, which most GRE math questions expect a basic knowledge of.[12]
    • Study advanced vocabulary, as the verbal section of the GRE tends to expect an advanced vocabulary knowledge.
    • Consider taking a GRE preparation course. If you can't afford a course, you should at least buy a GRE prep book.
    • Take a GRE practice exam, which is available for free online through ETS, Princeton Review, and Kaplan.[13]
    • Retake the GRE if you don't get good scores. Many universities look at your best GRE scores and disregard your poorer scores.
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    Be realistic about which programs you apply to. If you have a low GPA, there's a good chance you won't get admitted to a top-notch or ivy-league university. But that doesn't mean you should give up all hope of graduate school. You may just have to apply to programs that have lower admission requirements or are more flexible on factors like your GPA.[14]
    • There's no shame in applying to programs with lower admission requirements. Remember that even students with a perfect 4.0 GPA often can't get into their first choice schools.
    • Look around at different programs and try to find a program that fits your needs while still maintaining a high academic reputation. Remember, too, that getting a degree from any graduate program is prestigious and will help advance your career.
    • Focus on applying to programs that evaluate your application as a whole package and not just based on grades. Check each program's admission policy or contact someone from the program to learn whether they immediately eliminate applications based on grades and test scores.[15]
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    Apply to multiple programs. Even if you have a high GPA, you should always apply to more than one program. Even students with a 4.0 GPA have a hard time getting into a graduate program simply because of how selective they can be. It's generally recommended that you apply to six or so programs to improve the odds of being accepted to one of them.[16]
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    Try to make connections with at least one professor. It's very common for prospective students interested in working with a professor to reach out to him or her through email. This can give you an advantage when the admissions committee reviews your portfolio. Let the professor(s) you're interested in working with know about your academic and professional background, as well as your current research/scholarly interests.[17]
    • Be professional in your correspondence, and don't be pushy. Some professors may not want to work with you, so don't take rejection badly.
    • If a professor is willing to work with you, send that professor a response thanking him/her. You should also mention that professor by name in your application materials (specifically the personal statement).
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    Keep applying if you don't get in the first time. Graduate programs can be very competitive, even for applicants with perfect scores. Sometimes it takes multiple attempts at applying before you get accepted, which is perfectly normal. Don't get discouraged if you don't get accepted. Keep a copy of all your application materials, work on improving your work/education experience for another year, and try applying again with an even stronger application portfolio.[18]


  • Be active. Participate in groups both on campus and off.
  • Make sure to have several people look over your application materials to spot any grammatical/syntactical errors and any missing information.

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Categories: College University and Postgraduate