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10 Online Grad School Programs That Accept Low GPAs Earn a Master’s Degree With Less Than a 3.0

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.

Meet the Expert

Sabrina Manville Co-Founder, Edmit

written by

2018 Spotlight: 10 Online Grad Programs That Accept Low GPAs

Ashford University offers an online Master of Information Systems Management through its Forbes School of Business and Technology. Like many of Ashford’s programs, applicants are expected to have at least a 2.0 GPA, but because of the university’s conditional admission policy, students can begin their studies before meeting this requirement. All admission requirements, including the 2.0 GPA, must be met before a student takes their fourth course at Ashford. The program is structured so that students take one course at a time, allowing for focused study intended to give graduates a holistic understanding of technology and its impacts, including management skills needed for IT leadership roles.

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 was 3.71.

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, 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.

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.

  • Timeline for Preparing:

    Seattle University’s Career Engagement Office provides a useful timeline to help prospective graduate students stay on track with the admissions process.

  • 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.