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.