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How Important Is Undergraduate GPA When Applying to an MBA Program?

What makes an ideal MBA student? At most business schools, the MBA admissions process is holistic, meaning staff look at an applicant's entire academic and professional history, as well as test scores, skills, and personality, to get a well-rounded picture of the candidate. While undergraduate GPA is only one part of this puzzle, it's still an important one. A student's past academic achievements or failings are often a solid indicator of how they might perform in a rigorous MBA program.

But fear not, even with a less-than-ideal GPA, there are other ways prospective students can showcase their potential to admissions staff. In the second part of our look at the different stages of the MBA process, b-school faculty and staff offer advice to students going through the application process who are worried their undergraduate GPA could come back to haunt them.

"How much emphasis should a prospective MBA student place on their undergraduate GPA? If it's not the highest, should they be worried?"

Mark Bannister, Fort Hays State UniversityFort Hays State University

Mark Bannister, Dean of the College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Fort Hays State University

"The further out of college and the stronger the track record of success in business or a profession, the less the undergraduate GPA will matter. Additionally, many MBA programs will focus on an applicant's GPA in the last 60 hours of his or her degree or may look at an applicant's undergraduate major GPA. If your GPA is not strong, I suggest taking some upper division or graduate business coursework as a non-degree seeking student. If you earn A's and B's in this recent work, it can demonstrate your maturity and readiness to do well in a graduate program. Thoughtful preparation for the GMAT and/or GRE can strengthen the standardized test scores which are typically used for MBA admission decisions. High standardized scores will offset grades in the admission formulas of many MBA programs."

Julie Barefoot, Emory UniversityEmory University

Julie Barefoot, Associate Dean of MBA Admissions at Emory University Goizueta Business School

The short answer is no, you should not be worried but you should address your situation. Or, phrased another way, a weaker GPA, in and of itself, should not deter you from applying to your MBA program of choice.

An applicant's undergraduate GPA is an important element in the application review process but there are numerous ways for a candidate to overcome (or compensate) for a less-than-stellar GPA. From an admissions officer's perspective, past academic performance is a good predictor of future academic performance. So, if there is anything about your undergraduate grades that you believe will give an admissions officer reason to doubt your ability to handle MBA level coursework, then the applicant should explain these circumstances. The explanation should not be too detailed or personal in nature, but should forthrightly address the reasons for the weaker GPA and how this academic performance will not repeat itself in the MBA program. Strong or above average results on the GMAT or GRE can demonstrate preparedness for MBA study and compensate for a weaker GPA. And, the completion of a rigorous certification process (if relevant for your career) such as earning a CPA or CFA can also be a positive anecdote to a weaker GPA.

Always remember that the MBA application review process is holistic. Admissions Committees consider the applicant's academic preparedness (test scores, undergraduate grades and especially quantitative coursework) as well as an assessment of work experience quality and potential for career success in making all admissions decision. An applicant's GPA is also evaluated in the context of the difficulty of the academic major, the academic reputation or rigor of the undergraduate institution as well as the applicant's grade trends (meaning, did the applicant perform better in the last two years versus an overall).

David Dams, Drexel UniversityDrexel University

David Dams, MBA/M.S. Admissions at Drexel University Lebow College of Business

"I get this question all the time. Of course your undergraduate grades are important because that is most likely 'your resume' of the last time you were in school. But remember, most of us were either teenagers or in our early twenties when in undergraduate programs, and were prone to make mistakes and have lapses in judgment. If you didn't do so well in your elective courses early in your undergraduate career, but reassessed your priorities and performed well in your major when completing the second half of your studies, experienced Admissions Staffs can overlook a slow start. Now if you didn't perform well in the classes in which you received your degree, then you might need to address this to the admissions team of the schools you are applying to either in an interview or in your Statement of Purpose/Personal Essay."

Michael Malone, Columbia Business SchoolColumbia Business School

Michael Malone, Associate Dean for the MBA Program at Columbia Business School

"Having a strong undergraduate GPA is important, given that it provides an indication of potential success in the classroom and demonstrates sustained academic effort. That said, prospective students shouldn't overthink GPA in terms of its relative weight. It's only one factor that admissions committees take into consideration, and the undergraduate experience complements candidates' professional experience. Instead, I'd recommend that candidates focus on effectively showcasing their well-roundedness and potential for leadership, their ability to connect their professional goals with the school they're targeting, and their potential contributions to the community they hope to join."

Isser Gallogly, New York University Stern School of BusinessNew York University Stern School of Business

Isser Gallogly, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at New York University Stern School of Business

"At NYU Stern, our admissions process is holistic and personal. When evaluating applicants we look at their academic potential, professional achievements and personal characteristics. An applicant's undergraduate performance is one of several factors we use to evaluate academic potential. Applicants may use the optional essay to explain any trends or gaps in their undergraduate record. In addition to considering undergraduate GPA, we also look at the reputation of the school, the rigor of the major, grade trends, GMAT or GRE score, and any graduate work or additional coursework."