Application Breakdown, Part 1: Academic Performance/Record
One of the key components of the MBA application is academic record. As expected, top MBA and Masters programs are looking for a solid academic record and what that means is a decent GPA and prestigious university. Since GPA weight can depend on the school, Admissions do consider the prestige of the school. For example, a 3.0 at a top tier public school in the States like UC Berkeley, (which is known for its challenging curriculum) will be given more weight than say a 3.5 at a lower tier school known to inflate their GPA. For international applicants, the prestige of a school is especially important given that most Admissions do not have visibility into international school rankings, except for the top programs. Thus, if you are from a top school within your country or were one of the top performing students in your school in a particularly challenging program, it’s helpful to note on the resume portion of your application both your school ranking and your ranking within the school.
But what if my grades weren’t that great during undergrad? One of the most annoying aspects of the academic portion of the MBA/Masters application is that it’s unchangeable. One simply can’t go back in time and do better in school. But never fear, Admissions understand that a lot can change since college. While you will certainly face more of an uphill battle, there are ways to “redeem” your underperforming academic record by highlighting other elements of your application because as mentioned before, Admissions officers look at your entire application, not just your academics.
Work experience: Being able to show a track record of improvement and achievement in your work experience shows that despite your below average academic performance, you’ve made the most of your work experience. Even though similarly to academics, it’s a bit tough to change your past work experience, if you still have some time before applying you can use this time to be mindful of how you show and track progression and growth at work. If you’re seeking to apply rather soon, you will likely be limited on this front, but with the right brainstorming and strategy, you can still make your work experience shine through the essays.
Standardized Tests (GRE/GMAT): Due to the standardized nature of GMAT/GRE, a decent GMAT/GRE score can also make up for low academic performance by showing that you do have the academic chops. Thus, as mentioned in previous posts, it’s always encouraged to study for the GMAT/GRE early on for the highest possible score - especially if your academic performance is on the weaker side
Optional Essay: Most schools also provide an Optional essay section; in this section you may explain your lower academic performance especially grades below C. This is especially useful for those who did a particularly difficult program or major. With the right wording and phrasing, one can use this optional essay to bolster low academic performance.