MBA Admission Criteria - Your GPA

Most of the applicants think their GPA play pivitol role in their selection for admission. They beleive that undergraduate GPA would be weighted more heavily, but at most schools it isn't (and for good reasons).

  • First, most B-school applicants were not planning to apply to graduate programs, so they might not have focused on playing the grade game the way most premed or pre-law students did. Why hold mediocre grades against an applicant who had no intention of applying to grad school five years down the line?
  • Second, that was then and this is now. I've heard from a number of admissions people that they discount undergraduate GPAs because they are old measures of performance. Admissions people are more interested in how you perform now (thus the emphasis is on GMAT scores).

I remember one director, however, pointing out how the emphasis on GPA can vary from candidate to candidate. He said that he has to rely more heavily on GPA when evaluating the candidacy of a relatively young applicant who has been in the workforce only a short time.

For another applicant with five years of work experience, however, he puts more emphasis on that experience and on the applicant's GMAT score and less emphasis on his (more distant) undergraduate GPA.

While I list GPA as number 4 in order of importance, you shouldn't think that its value is set in stone. The evaluation process is fairly holistic, so if you performed well in college, emphasize that performance and the admissions staff may buy into it. If you didn't perform well, talk about your terrific GMAT score and ignore your undergrad years.

Whatever you do, don't whine about your mediocre grades; take responsibility for them. There is one excuse, however, that you can get away with. If you worked and paid your own way through undergrad, be sure to mention that in your essays. Working is the one universal justification for bad grades. (A comment I've heard from many admissions officers.)

A Caveat to Your Undergraduate GPA

While you might be able to explain away your less-than-stellar GPA by informing the admissions people of the Twinkies-and-beer lifestyle of your college years, you won't be able to slide bad math grades by them quite so easily. Admissions people will look very closely at your undergraduate math performance.

Admissions officers are very concerned about math skills. If you believe that your math grades are not up to par and that your performance on the math portion of the GMAT isn't good enough to make up for those grades, do everything possible to take a math course through a local university before applying to B-school. You have to allay the admissions committee's fears about your ability to cut it in math-intensive classes. While you can be accepted into a great MBA program with only better-than-average verbal skills, you won't be accepted if you are suspected of having anything but strong math skills. So fix your math profile. (See how in the section on improving your chances.)