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The Ultimate Guide to the GPA in the MBA Admissions Process

The Ultimate Guide to the GPA in the MBA Admissions Process
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The article The Ultimate Guide to the GPA in the MBA Admissions Process was originally posted on My MBA Path.


Should I worry about my undergraduate GPA? How do I build an alternative transcript? How are international GPAs converted in MBA admissions?

These are questions MBA candidates ask me all the time. That’s because GPA and the ways to overcome a weak one when you are applying to top MBA programs are among the challenges MBA candidates most frequently need help with. 

Here is everything you need to know about the role of the GPA in the MBA admissions process, how to increase your odds of getting admitted even with a low GPA, and how your international GPA will be converted and reviewed by the MBA adcom. 

What is the role of the undergraduate GPA in the MBA admissions process?

Before you start troubleshooting any concerns about your undergraduate GPA, it is useful to understand the purpose it serves in the MBA application evaluation. Your performance in your undergraduate program or any previous master’s program is used as an indicator of how well you will do academically as an MBA student. It gives the MBA adcom a sense of your academic ability – a tremendously important part of the evaluation of any MBA candidate. 

The GPA also is a critical part of MBA programs class profiles and that’s an important point. Competitive class profiles are a source of pride for schools. 

The mean undergraduate GPA is also a component in MBA rankings – for example, the current methodology of the U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of the best business school gives it a weight of 0.075.  

Are all GPAs created equal?

MBA adcoms are well equipped to understand the context around your undergraduate record. A subpar GPA in engineering from Cornell (a school famous for rigorous standards and tough grading) will not be regarded exactly the same way as a low GPA in a “softer” subject from a less rigorous program. While the former will still be a concern, it might be less of a red flag than the latter scenario. 

Is the GPA the only thing that matters or will my entire transcript be reviewed in the MBA admissions review?

While the GPA is very important as a data point, your entire transcripts will be reviewed. Even if your overall GPA is strong, semesters with spotty grades or Ws on them will be scrutinized. Also, the trajectory of your GPA will be taken into account too. If your GPA improved as you progressed through your studies, that would be a good sign. If you ended on a low note, that is something that might need to be explained

How do MBA candidates overcome a low GPA?

When you are trying to alleviate concerns about your low undergraduate GPA, there is nothing more powerful than a strong GMAT score. The GMAT is traditionally used as a predictor of academic success in graduate business school. In addition to helping reassure the MBA adcom that you are capable of handling rigorous academic studies, a strong (ideally higher than average) GMAT will help balance your weak GPA from a class profile and rankings perspective. 

This is the reason why focusing on getting a very strong GMAT score is preferable to focusing on alternative transcript. You can’t expect schools to easily turn a blind eye to a low GPA and a weak GMAT. You can get away with one but not with two, simply because in addition to raising a concern about academic preparedness you will also be pulling the class averages down in two categories.

However, even a stellar GMAT won’t completely remove any doubt about your academic preparedness. In addition to mitigating, you may need to explain the circumstances that led to your lackluster GPA. Generally, a GPA below 3.2 will need to be addressed in your optional essay

Do MBA candidates need to worry about a lack of quantitative classes in their academic background?

The simple answer is yes, this is something you need to consider. Even with a stellar GPA, if you have never taken any business courses and especially quantitative ones such as statistics, accounting, finance, you will need to convince the admissions committee that you are able to handle these subjects. This is another reason for the emergence and increase in popularity of alternative transcripts in MBA admissions. 

What are alternative transcripts? What role do alternative transcripts play in the MBA admissions process?

Alternative transcripts have become a common lingo in the world of MBA candidates. An alternative transcript is a record of any coursework you take outside of your undergraduate or previous master’s studies. That coursework is usually completed with the explicit reason of being submitted as part of your MBA application. It can be intended as a way to make up for a lot GMAT or GRE score as well as compensating for a lack of quantitative coursework.

There are several courses that have become the gold standard of alternative courses – the HBS Online Credential of Readiness (CORe), MBA Math, and to an extent the UC Berkeley Extension Math for Management course are some of the most frequent ones MBA candidates take. 

How do I choose what alternative transcript to build as an MBA applicant?

Once you have a strong GMAT, then you can decide whether or not you also need an alternative transcript. In many cases you might not need one but each case is unique. 

If you determine that you still need an alternative transcript, in deciding which one to pursue, you should take into consideration the selectivity of the program you are applying to. If it’s highly selective, you may want to focus on the more substantial and well-regarded option such as the HBS Online CORe. The commitment it requires sends a very strong signal to the MBA adcom. As HBS shares on their website, the HBS Online CORe is, “Designed to help you achieve fluency in the language of business, CORe is a business fundamentals program that combines Business Analytics, Economics for Managers, and Financial Accounting with a final exam.”

Another topic where there is also a lot of confusion and misconceptions is how international GPAs are regarded and converted during the MBA admissions process. Let’s review some of the most important questions about this.

How are international GPAs converted in the MBA admissions process?

First of all, it’s important to make a distinction. International GPAs are routinely converted for the purposed of making an admissions decision. This is done so your academic record can be compared to that of other candidates. Admissions offices are usually familiar with how international grading and conversions work. Also, if you are an international candidate and you get admitted, most schools will ask you to have your official transcript translated/verified by organizations like WES (for example, here is what HBS says: “if admitted to Harvard Business School, you will be required to provide an official original language paper transcript sent directly from each college or university attended to World Education Services (WES), a third-party verification agency, along with an official word-for-word English translation of that transcript”.

While the verification doesn’t necessarily include conversion, some WES services such as the “course-by-course evaluation” will “convert” the GPA into a 4.0 scale.

So when making an admissions decision about your candidacy, the MBA adcom will most certainly consider how your international GPA compares to a “traditional” GPA on a 4.0 scale. 

However, international GPAs are usually not converted and reported for official class profile data and rankings submission

Most importantly, I also know that when candidates ask questions about international GPAs, there is typically a sub-question. If your sub-question is if you can get away with having a low GPA because you are an international candidate, then the answer is “not exactly”. 

Which GPA matters more in the MBA admissions process – your undergraduate GPA or the GPA from any graduate work or master’s program? 

All your transcripts – undergraduate and graduate – will be reviewed and considered in the MBA admissions process. A strong GPA in a master’s or other graduate degree can be quite helpful in alleviating concerns about low undergraduate GPA. 

How are US GPAs that are not on a 4.0 scale converted?

Typically, a US GPA that is not on a 4.0 scale is not converted for class profile reporting purposes but it might still be converted for evaluation purposes. At a minimum, your class rank or any other indication of how your GPA stacks you against your peers will be considered when an MBA admissions decision is rendered. 

Now that you understand how GPA works in the MBA admissions process, you can find some example of how successful candidates have used the optional essay to explain and mitigate a low GPA. 

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