Getting Into Graduate School With A Low GPA (2023)

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Written by ACO Staff Click to Read Full Biography Contributing Writer

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Updated November 17, 2022

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Getting Into Graduate School With A Low GPA (13)

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Getting Into Graduate School With A Low GPA (14)

Completing an undergraduate program is a huge accomplishment, but students who finish their bachelor's degrees with low GPAs may wonder if graduate school is in their future. A “C” grade used to be considered middle-of-the-road, but the average GPA for undergraduates has been increasing steadily over time, making higher GPAs seem more common. With some colleges putting caps on the number of “A” grades they can give out to offset the GPA swell, figuring out what makes a GPA high or low can be all the more confusing.

Understanding why graduate programs care about undergraduate GPAs, what average grades look like and the options available to prospective low-GPA students can assuage some fears about graduate admissions and help students find quality master's degree programs. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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List of Graduate Schools With Low GPA Requirements

  • Canisius College Master of Science in Community and School Health

    Through Canisius College's master's program in community and school health, students can gain a practical understanding of health education, services and promotion as well as family and community involvement. Applicants should have a 2.7 GPA or higher, but the required statement of purpose, recommendation letters, resume and phone or in-person interview provide applicants with additional opportunities to sell themselves.
  • Champlain College Master of Science in Executive Leadership

    Champlain College's MS in Executive Leadership is an accelerated program designed to be completed in 12 months, making it a nice option for professionals looking to advance their careers and gain practical leadership skills. While the school recommends a 2.5 GPA, Champlain also notes that they take a holistic approach to choosing students and make exceptions to admission requirements on a case-by-case basis for those who show through other means that they can succeed academically. The application's personal essay is one way to this, as its topics address students' personal and professional goals, how they take on challenges and their approaches to online learning. Admissions carefully considers whether applicants address each question, answer thoughtfully and critically and write at a college level. A resume is also required and should include at least two years of relevant work experience, but those with limited work experience may still be considered.
  • Concordia University Portland Master of Education (MEd)

    Concordia University Portland's online MEd program may be a nice option for education professionals who want to gain specialized knowledge and advance their teaching careers. The program offers an array of concentrations and gives applicants a handful of ways to showcase themselves beyond GPA. Applicants are expected to have at least a 2.8 GPA from an accredited institution, but Concordia offers an opportunity for those with a lower GPA to explain in their required statement of intent how they will succeed in an academically challenging graduate program to waive this requirement. Applicants will address a range of other subjects in their statements, which will factor into the school's decision for admission.
  • Concordia University Texas Master of Business Administration (MBA)

    The online MBA offered by Concordia University Texas asks that applicants with bachelor's degrees have at least a 2.75 GPA and those with master's degrees to have a 3.0, but those with lower marks may still be accepted into the program. Low-GPA applicants must submit a personal essay and may also be required to take assessments in math and statistics. Scores from the GRE and GMAT are not required, but students with high scores and low GPAs may want to include their test results to show that they understand the material and are prepared to succeed. The program offers a fast-track format, which can be completed in 16 months, as well as concentrations in health care administration and organizational development and learning.
  • Iowa State University Master's in Civil Engineering With an Emphasis in Construction Engineering and Management

    Iowa State University's online civil engineering master's degree has a higher GPA requirement than the other programs on this list; however, the program is notable because not only is it one of only five schools in the U.S. to be officially recognized by the Associated General Contractors of America, but it also provides multiple enrollment provisions for students who don't meet the GPA minimum. Low-GPA students who are interested in this program, which combines technical and managerial education, may enter the program by taking prerequisite courses, and if they already have engineering degrees and at least five years of professional experience, admissions and prerequisite requirements may be adjusted.
  • Liberty University Master of Arts in Applied Psychology

    Liberty University's online master's in applied psychology allows students to explore psychology through both a scientific and a Christian lens. Students can choose from two tracks — developmental psychology or industrial/organizational psychology — and may transfer up to 50 percent of their major studies credits to the university. A 2.5 GPA from an accredited undergraduate program is the minimum requirement.
  • Southern New Hampshire University Master of Arts in Communication – New Media and Marketing

    Southern New Hampshire University is known for its wide range of online degree programs, and its MA in Communication—New Media and Marketing may be a great option for those looking to learn new media technologies, gain collaboration skills and understand the whys and hows of contemporary marketing. Applicants are expected to have at least a 2.75 GPA, but provisional acceptance may be an option for students depending on their educational backgrounds. The university also looks at candidates' personal statements when making admissions decisions.
  • Walden University Master of Social Work (MSW)

    The Master of Social Work program at Walden University is designed to prepare students for licensure and offers four concentrations: advanced clinical practice, military social work, social work in health care and social work with children and families. Students can also choose between three completion options, depending on their qualifications and how quickly they want to finish their degree. A 2.5 GPA is the minimum requirement, but the school also takes into account students' MSW goal statements and acknowledgement statements, which are part of the application.
  • Xavier University MSN/MSCJ Dual Degree

    This unique online program at Xavier University gives students the opportunity to earn a Master of Science in Nursing and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice at the same time. The program aims to prepare graduates for nontraditional roles in criminal justice, like those related to disaster planning and bioterrorism. Xavier University makes a point of noting that there is no GPA requirement to apply and that students are evaluated holistically. However, students with GPAs under 3.0 need to submit either GRE or MAT scores, so low-GPA prospective students should study well to increase their chances. Applicants also need to have a valid RN license in the same state as their practicum experiences and must have completed a statistics course with at least a “C” grade.

What's Considered a Low GPA?

Even if they don't post a minimum requirement for admission, most graduate schools take into account a student's undergraduate GPA when looking through applications. While GPA isn't necessarily an accurate measure of an applicant's intelligence, it serves as a barometer of overall performance and can be a good indicator of student success at the graduate level. Graduate programs are interested in admitting students who show they have what it takes to successfully complete their master's degree programs and serve as good representatives of their schools in the professional realm. Since most schools grade undergraduate students on a 4.0 scale, looking at GPA can be a convenient way for admissions personnel to compare graduate applicants from colleges across the country.

In general, anything below a 3.0 on the 4-point grading scale is considered a low GPA, but there are multiple factors that can affect how low or high a GPA appears to admissions officers. A student's area of study, the rigor of their course load and their institution's grading reputation may all be taken into account in relation to a student's GPA. For example, a student who majors in a difficult subject like chemistry, fills their schedule with predominantly science- and math-focused courses and earns a cumulative 3.1 GPA could be a favorable student to a sociology student who graduates with a 3.6 GPA, but only after padding their curriculum with “easy A” courses to make up for some poor grades in their major studies. While GPA can certainly matter, the underlying elements that affect GPA are worth considering too.

While students with low GPAs will likely have a difficult time getting into the nation's top graduate schools, many online colleges and universities offer quality master's degree programs with broader access and more flexibility for those whose GPAs doesn't reflect their drive to complete their graduate studies. Different graduate programs within the same school may have different minimum GPA requirements; factors like area of undergraduate study, program or field demand and course rigor can cause programs to be more or less selective. For instance, the average GPA for those accepted into medical school in the 2017-2018 school year was3.71.

That cumulative average was made up of two different average GPAs: science majors (3.64) and non-science majors (3.79). Computer science is an increasingly popular field of study, so the average minimum GPA for admittance can be between 3.0 and 3.5. Fields where GPA has less impact than elements like portfolios, work experience or test scores tend to have lower minimum GPA requirements. For instance, online Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs often accept students with undergraduate GPAs between 2.75 and 3.0.

In other words, a GPA under 3.0 won't necessarily prohibit students from earning their master's degrees; it may just be a matter of putting extra consideration into choosing the right field of study and online degree program.

Graduate School Admissions: Expert Q&A

Sabrina Manville

Sabrina Manville, college admissions expert and co-founder of Edmit, offers prospective graduate students with low GPAs her insights and advice on applying to master's programs

Q: Besides GPA, what are some ways students can stand out to admissions and be appealing candidates?

A:Academic credentials are important for graduate school. Admissions offices need to consider whether a student will be prepared and capable of doing the work. They don't want to admit someone who will not succeed. Therefore, if you have a low GPA, you should find other ways to demonstrate your strengths and capabilities, be it through essays, recommendations, a portfolio, etc.

Q: Are there specific steps students can take to show they are ready for and can succeed in a graduate program?

A:This will depend on the program, and I'd encourage students to reach out to admissions departments for input on what materials can supplement their story. For graduate admissions, the question “What will you do with this degree?” is even more important than in undergraduate admissions; students who are motivated by clear professional goals are also more likely to persist and succeed and, therefore, will be better candidates for admission.

Q: Should students apply to graduate programs if they don't meet the GPA requirements?

A:It's important to remember that GPA is highly variable by course and professor and university — and admissions departments know this. So it's not often easy to compare apples to apples with GPA. That said, I'd suggest that students with low GPAs should at least be able to show higher grades in the courses directly related to the graduate program they're applying to, since that will indicate interest and potential for graduate study. It's important that applicants have reasonable explanations for poor performance and evidence that it will improve going forward.

(Video) Applying with a low GPA

Q: Are students with low GPAs better suited to online graduate programs?

A:Online graduate programs can work well for some students who have not been as successful in traditional/in-person programs. They are more flexible — you can schedule the work on your own time, which can make you more efficient in completing your credits. Often, this results in saving money as well. Online programs provide a different learning experience; peer and professor interactions are more often asynchronous and via written communication, which some students find more effective. That said, in many ways, online graduate programs are more challenging. They require more independent motivation on the part of the student and discipline in scheduling time to do the work. For some students, interacting solely online with peers may not be as engaging, so they may not learn as well. Participation is also much more writing-intensive as compared to a classroom setting, particularly in non-STEM fields.

Q: What can students with low GPAs look for in online graduate programs to see if they're a good match?

A:In general, I'd encourage students with low GPAs to examine why they have been less successful in school to date and to consider whether those factors will be more or less true in an online setting.

More on Graduate School

Students preparing for online graduate degree programs can find additional information and valuable tools at the following resources.

  • LSAT

    Prospective law students with low GPAs may have a lot of work cut out for them, but the first step is studying for the LSAT. Find important test details and study materials here.
  • MCAT

    The Association of American Medical Colleges developed the MCAT and hosts comprehensive information about the exam, prep materials and registration.
  • Graduate School Applications

    The Purdue OWL is an excellent writing resource. Prospective students can explore the OWL's tips for completing the various elements of graduate school applications.
  • 9 Tips to Prepare for a Skype Graduate School Interview

    Online graduate students may have to conduct phone or video interviews, which can be a great advantage for low-GPA applicants. However, these types of interviews can feel intimidating or awkward. Read these tips from ThoughtCo. before setting up an interview with admissions.
  • Mentally Preparing for Graduate School: What You Need to Know:

    Embarking on graduate school can be intimidating, especially for those who may have struggled during their undergraduate studies. Prospective grad students can find useful tips and advice on this Northeastern University blog post.
  • Graduate School Preparation

    Florida State University provides an example of on-campus resources undergraduate students can use to prepare for graduate school. Students can check with their own undergraduate institutions to see if similar resources are available.
  • Letters of Recommendation

    Graduate students may want or need to include letters of recommendation with their applications. UC Berkeley's Career Center offers comprehensive information on recommendation letters, including how to request them and why they are valuable.
  • iStudiez

    This multi-platform app is an excellent organizational tool for students. Prospective grad students can keep track of important deadlines and block out study time during the admissions prep phase, and they can take advantage of the app's many useful features, like GPA tracking, homework to-do lists and planners for managing both school and non-curricular life.
  • American Economic Association Summer and Scholarship Programs

    Students can look into field-specific graduate preparation to help offset a low GPA. Professional organizations, such as the American Economic Association, may provide graduate prep courses and other forms of assistance. Students can search for professional associations in their fields for appropriate preparation.
  • GMAT

    Those pursuing MBAs may want to take the GMAT, even if their school does not require GMAT scores. Students can learn more about the exam, access study materials and find test centers.
  • GRE

    Students can find all the information they need about the GRE, including preparing for the exam, on the official GRE website.

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