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by Mike Chen | August 22, 2007


Application Components: GPA and Academics

Last time, we discussed how the GMAT plays a role in business school admissions.  For sure, the GMAT is the one area in which an applicant can make significant progress in a relatively short period of time.  While GPA and academics are different from the GMAT in nature, by putting the two together, an admissions committee can gain good insight into your proficiency for doing class work at business school.

Unlike your GMAT score, your undergraduate GPA is fixed and cannot be changed (short of some time machine where you can go back in time and spend less time partying in college).  If you have had less than stellar grades and feel that your academics will be a major hindrance in your application, do not despair.  There are ways to overcome such deficiencies.  But before delving into improving your academic credentials, let's first discuss how admissions committees evaluate your educational background in general.

All men are not created equally...

AdComs realize that applicants have a wide variety of academic profiles.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • Undergraduate majors, minors, and/or specializations
  • University, college, or other institutions attended
  • Other post-undergraduate degress, such as PhD, J.D., M.D.
  • Grade Point Average (in the United States) or its equivalent internationally
  • Individual courses taken for undergraduate education
  • Other credentials, such as CPA or CFA

Many of the major business publications that issue business school rankings release GPA statistics for its entering students.  In addition, the business schools themselves will also publish statistics, and they provide more details, such as a range of GPAs in addition to simple averages.  While the GPA information gives an applicant an idea of the level of academic performance typically needed to be admitted to a school, it cannot address the more qualitative aspects which admissions commitees consider.

My GPA sucks...boy I wish I had been an English major...

AdComs realize that different undergraduate majors have varying degrees of difficulty.  Engineering and science majors are generally perceived to be more difficult than liberal arts majors, if nothing else than that professors in technical courses tend to give lower overall grades than those who teach the more qualitative classes.  To this end, AdComs tend to give more leeway to applicants in these technical areas, especially those with poorer overall grades.

The question, though, is how much leeway is given?  Suppose we have two applicants, one a History major and the other a Chemistry major, both with bachelor's degrees from the same undergraduate institution.  The History major has a 3.7 GPA while the Chemistry major has a 3.1 GPA.  Both applicants are applying to the same business school, whose average GPA for admitted students is 3.5.

Could both students be admitted?  Would one student be preferred over the other?  Or, could it be a toss-up?  These is no hard answer, but in the absence of other information, I believe this 0.6 point difference is quite high.  Most AdComs would definitely prefer a History major with a 3.7 GPA over the Chemistry major with a 3.1 GPA, all else equal.  Furthermore, the Chemistry major has a big hill to climb given that his GPA is 0.4 points below the school's average.

Now, let's consider a different situation.  Suppose the History major had the same 3.7 GPA, but this time the Chemistry major had a 3.4 GPA instead.  In this case, the difference between the two applicants is much smaller, and the AdCom would have a more difficult decision given that the harder Chemistry major could reasonably explain a 0.3 point difference in GPA.  I would predict that many an admissions officer would consider the two applications very equal with respect to undergraduate academic performance.

Preview of Coming Attractions

Now that we've discussed how admissions committees are likely to compare applicants with different GPAs, next time we will look at other factors which are considered in an applicant's academic profile.  In addition, if your academic credentials, GPA included, are less than stellar, we will explore ways to overcome these issues in order to present your most competitive application possible.


Filed Under: Education