Can I Get a Master's Degree With a Low GPA?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Getting a master's degree with a low GPA is possible for almost everyone. You may have to do a little extra work, but with persistence, you can reach your goals. This guide explains what you can do.

[Featured Image] A student studies for his master's degree despite his low GPA.

Earning a master's degree with a low GPA from your undergrad years is possible for anyone trying to achieve their dream degree. As a matter of fact, while your GPA often plays a big role in whether or not a school will admit you, more and more colleges and universities are moving to a holistic approach with admissions. This means that instead of focusing on the numbers, they take your entire application into consideration before making a decision. In this case, you can shine in numerous other areas, such as essays, letters of recommendation, and a resume with professional experience, which could enhance your chances of getting into your chosen program.

Read on to learn about the general GPA requirements for grad school and tips for getting into a master’s program while having a low GPA.

General GPA requirements for grad school  

Many grad schools have a GPA requirement that is around 3.0. However, that number can vary from school to school and program to program. Plus, many schools examine more than your base GPA.

For example, schools may look at a weighted GPA or a GPA calculated based on the difficulty of your undergrad courses. Some universities may concentrate specifically on your grades from the last couple of years of your bachelor’s degree, while others might look for trends of improvement within your undergrad grades. Some may even let you take an entrance exam to prove your merit.

Though your GPA can play a vital role in whether or not you can get into a master's degree program, it's not the only thing grad schools consider when determining whether or not to admit you.

Other requirements for grad school 

While grad schools want to see your college transcripts so they can understand which courses you took and what your GPA was from your undergrad years, they often have several other requirements you may need to meet to gain acceptance into a program. While each program and school is different, many admissions committees look at your application as a whole.

Other requirements for grad school may include:

  • Entrance exam scores, such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)

  • Program-specific exams, such as the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Essays or personal statements

  • A resume or employment history

  • Professional licenses

  • A portfolio

  • Official college transcripts from any schools you've attended

Tips for getting a master's degree with a low GPA 

When you have a low GPA but want to get your master's degree, it's important to stay positive and continue working toward your life goals. Check out the following tips to learn eight ways you can enhance your grad school application.

1. Gain work experience.

Look for experience in your industry so you can prove your skills and ability. This can help you stand out from other applicants who went straight from their undergrad degree to grad school. Your experience could be an entry-level job in your field or an internship or volunteer work. Consider an internship that involves academic work, like a research assistant position.

2. Get published.

Dedicate yourself to a subject related to your grad school plans and publish a project or research in your area. This might take some extra time, but it's a great way to earn the attention of the admissions committee and show your dedication to your field.

3. Do well on entrance exams.

Another way to stand out is to ace your entrance exams. Even if a university doesn’t require an entrance exam, taking one and providing your score can show initiative and give you a boost with admissions.

To do well on your entrance exam, find out what's on the test you plan to take and start preparing in advance. You can purchase books that help you prepare, or you can rely on online resources. You can also sign up for test prep classes. The more effort you put in, the better your chances of getting a high score.

4. Perfect your admissions essay.

Many master's degree programs require you to write an essay or personal statement. This is a place where you can really shine and show the school what you can offer it. In your essay, you can prove that you're passionate about your field, tell the admissions team why you'd be an asset to their program, or explain your low GPA. Keep your letter positive and honest. If you need more confidence in your writing skills, consider taking a course that can help you enhance your essay.

5. Seek letters of recommendation.

In addition to impressing the admissions committee with your own essay, you can also let others speak on your behalf. Graduate school programs typically require three letters of recommendation as part of your application. When requesting letters of recommendation, ask those who know you well. Choose people like professors, mentors, and professional contacts who can attest to your dedication to your area of interest and write a personal and positive letter.

6. Reach out to the faculty.

Consider reaching out to a faculty member you expect to interact with should you attend the school you're applying to. Make sure you research the faculty members as much as possible beforehand by looking at the classes they offer, reading their published work, or seeing what their research opportunities look like to ensure that their work aligns with your studies of interest. Ask if they can schedule an appointment to talk with you. Explain why you want entrance to the program and why you think you're a good fit. They may want to know why your GPA is low, and this is an opportunity to explain your situation.

7. Find schools that accept lower GPAs.

Not all schools have the same requirements for their master's degree students. Rather than focusing on one school that requires a higher GPA, consider doing some research to find schools that have requirements you meet. Focus on schools that promise a holistic policy, which means they look at your application as a whole in order to make a decision. These schools want to know who you are as a person, and you can show this through your written statements, letters of recommendation, and experiences.

8. Take additional courses.

Finally, consider taking college-level courses as a non-matriculating student. Make sure they are classes that help you prove your skills, knowledge, and abilities in your chosen field, and strive for a good score. You can earn a certificate in an online course or possibly take classes at the university you are applying to in order to show extra commitment and interest.

Getting started with Coursera

Prepare yourself for grad school by taking classes online on Coursera. You'll find options offered by prestigious colleges and universities in a variety of topics, such as Chemistry or Advanced Chemistry from the University of Kentucky or the Qualitative Research course from the University of California, Davis. Innumerable courses are available on a variety of topics, so you can tailor your coursework to topics that will help you prove you are ready for grad school.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.