Yes, You are Smart Enough for Graduate School

In my position as a graduate college admissions specialist, I find few applicants are slam-dunk admissions. It usually takes transcripts, letters of recommendation, essays, and/or tests to gain a comprehensive understanding of an applicant’s desire to attain a graduate degree as well as their predicted success in their chosen program.

Here are a few of the common statements I hear from prospective graduate students regarding the data and documents required to process their applications.

Silhouette drawing of man's profile with brain visible.

“My undergraduate GPA isn’t high enough for graduate education.”

Most reputable graduate schools are looking for applicants with B (3.00) or higher undergraduate grade point averages. Depending on the undergraduate degree awarded, and graduate program applied to, there may also be prerequisite courses and specific GPA thresholds.

For example: An undergraduate grade of C in Macroeconomics might not disqualify an applicant for a master’s program in communication but it could keep an MBA applicant from moving forward.

Universities do not want to set up students to fail so they decide on core knowledge that must be acquired prior to starting a particular program to better ensure applicant success.

Some graduate programs only consider the final 60 hours of undergraduate GPA for admittance. Your cumulative GPA might be below 3.0 but your final 60 hours could be 3.8. Many of us failed to take college seriously until our junior year when our major classes kicked in. Some graduate schools understand this and will not penalize students for failing to fully apply themselves while enrolled in general education courses.

If your cumulative undergraduate GPA is shy of 3.0 don’t give up yet. Read on.

“I’m terrible at standardized tests and I don’t want to pay $300 to fail the GRE or GMAT.”

Many graduate colleges have either dropped the GRE and/or GMAT or offer test or fee waivers to qualified students. For example: a master’s program in education might not require the GRE but an MBA program might require the GMAT.

However, just because a program requires a certain test doesn’t mean they won’t waive it. Some MBA programs will waive the GMAT requirement for professionals with at least five years of experience in a business setting. Graduate schools may also provide testing fee waiver codes for otherwise qualified applicants who can prove a financial need.

I have spoken with several graduate program directors who require a certain test for admittance but do not require a minimum score. Before scheduling a test, check with the university to make sure you know the minimum score required. The minimum score may slide up or down depending on other factors considered in the application.

For instance, taking the required test and earning a superior score may work in your favor if you are angling for a GPA waiver. On the other hand, a poor score on a standardized test might be overcome by a high GPA.

“I don’t write well and know I will embarrass myself if I’m required to submit an essay or personal statement as part of the application process.”

My recommendation is to keep it simple. Make sure your prose is tight, concise, and fulfills all the requirements set forth by the institution (i.e. meets the minimum word count, addresses the questions posed, etc.). Tell your story. Write the essay and let it sit for a day or two, then pull it out and edit it. Once you feel good about what you’ve written show it to a friend who writes well. Request an honest critique of your essay and use the advice to make improvements. An essay or personal statement might not make the difference in whether or not you’re accepted, but it could.

Once again, this may be a prime opportunity to overcome deficiencies in other areas of your application. A borderline GPA may be overcome by a solid essay.

“My GPA and test scores are okay but taken together my application is still unimpressive.”

Many universities offer what’s called a conditional or provisional admission. For example: your GPA is too low for a standard admission but you commit to taking an undergraduate class over to increase your GPA during your first semester of graduate coursework. When you have met the requirements of the conditional or provisional admission you are then fully admitted to the program.

There are some graduate programs I have learned of recently that do not vet potential applicants beyond the submission of an undergraduate transcript. As long as the student holds a bachelor’s degree they may sign up and pay for graduate level classes. After successfully completing a certain number of courses (usually two or three) the institution will offer full admittance to the program.

I have also worked with graduate program directors who will consider extreme circumstances out of the student’s control when evaluating applications. Life events such as serious health problems, the death of a close family member, natural disasters, etc. might cause a decision maker to offer you a second chance. Universities want students to succeed on their own merits. If you fight your way back from a major setback in life, the dedication and hard work it took to get yourself back on track could bode well for your application.

Graduate admissions decisions are made by human beings considering multiple criteria in an effort to make sure applicants are given a fair review and equal opportunity to excel. Don’t sell yourself short just because you may not be the “perfect” candidate.

Perfection is unattainable. The people evaluating your application materials know this. Take a leap and apply. Provide your information and tell your story. I have yet to meet a person who regrets completing their master’s degree.

One of my previous posts does a good job of laying out several key benefits of completing a graduate degree. Three Solid Reasons Graduate Degrees Pay Off

Do the smart thing and believe in yourself.

Jeff Riggins