GPA for Grad School: Best Range for Acceptance [2021 Guide]

When graduate studies are on your mind, figuring out the right GPA for grad school is one of the first things you need to do.

GPA for Grad School

Your previous college performance may play a role in determining which graduate programs are right for you. A high GPA could increase your chances of getting into a dream school, but lower stats won’t necessarily shut you out of grad studies.

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With a strategic approach, you can select the right program and build a graduate school application that highlights your strengths.

GPA for Grad School by Program Type

GPA for Grad School by Program Type

A grade point average (GPA) is a measure that describes your academic performance during a course of study.

Each grade that you earn is given a numerical value, and an average is calculated. GPAs usually range from 1.0 to 4.0, with 4.0 being the highest. Your undergraduate GPA is just one of the factors that graduate schools use to determine program admission. Colleges might also consider:

  • Portfolio work
  • Professional experience
  • Standardized test scores

If one of these aspects is a bit weak, a strong showing in another area could make up for it. For example, if your GPA is lower than the requested minimum, stellar GRE scores could prompt the admissions committee to consider you anyway.

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You’ll earn another GPA while in grad school. In some fields, especially academia, your graduate GPA may factor into your employability. It can also be important if you plan to work toward a doctorate next.

As far as grad school goes, having a clear idea of what sort of GPA colleges are looking for may help you figure out which program is best for you.

Medical Schools

Medical Schools

Getting into a medical program may involve two different GPAs. Schools will of course look at your overall GPA. For some programs, they may require a GPA of 3.8 or higher.

They might also figure your GPA for your previous science studies and use that to determine whether you’re a good med school candidate. In addition to GPA, your MCAT scores will also be considered.

Law Schools

In general, law schools like to see a GPA of 3.5 or above. More selective schools may primarily admit students with GPAs of 3.8 or higher.

LSAT scores also factor into admissions decisions. Students with lower GPAs may boost their admissions chances by performing well on the LSAT.

Other Graduate Programs

Graduate Programs Requirements

GPA requirements can vary widely among schools and programs. A GPA of 3.0 is a fairly standard minimum. Of course, some programs set the bar higher.

Other schools will admit students with lower scores, particularly if their applications reflect their potential in other ways. High standardized test scores may convince schools that you’re ready for graduate studies. A strong resume could demonstrate your real-world abilities.

Role of GPA

When you were in your undergrad program, you earned grades. Those grades were used to determine your grade point average. The GPA that you earned could impact whether you’ll get into your top program choices for a grad degree.

In graduate school, you’ll start over with a fresh GPA. Once again, your grad scores you earn could have a say in where you’ll end up after grad school. GPA scores aren’t everything when it comes to mapping out your life plans. Even still, these figures come into play time and again as you move along your academic and professional path.

Does GPA Matter for Grad School?

GPA for graduate school

Yes, your undergraduate GPA is taken into account when you apply to graduate programs. Most colleges like to see at least a 2.5 or a 3.0 from master’s program applicants. Some programs set their minimums at 3.3 or higher.

The minimum GPA for a doctoral program may start at 3.3. In addition to your overall score, the classes you took might be factored in as well. For example, admissions committees might prefer an applicant who took hard math and science classes and earned a 3.5 over one who took comparatively easy courses and got a 3.7.

If your bachelors degree GPA isn’t high enough to qualify you for your top grad programs, there are steps you can take to raise your appeal.

You could enroll in a post-baccalaureate program or a masters program with less stringent admissions requirements. By doing well in those programs, you could earn a new GPA that may do a better job of showcasing your abilities.

You might also be able to rely more heavily on other parts of your admissions packet. For instance, outstanding GRE scores might offset a lower GPA.

Does GPA Matter After College?

completing your graduate program

If you’re planning to continue your education after completing your graduate program, then it’s strategic to stay on top of your GPA. The scores you earn may determine where you can enroll for a second masters degree, for post-graduate work, or for a doctoral program.

Some employers, especially those related to academia, may take GPA scores into account. Universities may evaluate your graduate GPA and your research endeavors to determine whether you’d make a good professor.

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Other employers may look at your graduate school GPA as well, but some may put more stock in your hands-on experiences, such as internships. Mentors in your field can provide insight into how much GPA matters for your specific line of work.

What’s Considered a Good GPA?

minimum GPA requirements

“Good” is a pretty subjective term. A GPA that places you a cut above at one school may position you solidly in the middle of the pack at another. Even still, there are some general GPA guidelines that may help you figure out whether you’d be considered a strong candidate for most graduate programs.

First of all, top scores are highly valued. Having a 4.0 may help your application stand out, no matter where you apply. Other than that, graduate school GPA requirements can vary significantly. Some programs set the minimum score for applicants at 3.5. Others go as low as 2.5. As a general rule of thumb, most colleges like to see at least a 3.0 GPA.

Schools will typically state their minimum GPA requirements. If you want a better idea of what types of schools to look for, various characteristics of the college may give you clues.

To help you with this evaluation, you can ask yourself questions like:

  • Do I want a master’s degree or a doctorate? Doctoral programs often require higher GPAs than master’s programs.
  • How selective is this school? Colleges with prestigious reputations may have more stringent requirements. That’s not universally true, though, and there are even top-end colleges that set no minimum GPA stipulations.
  • What field of study interests me? Medical and law schools are often known for having some of the highest GPA requirements.

Luckily, you don’t have to figure this out all on your own. Most colleges publish facts and figures about their incoming classes’ GPAs. It can be helpful to check out this data before applying. That way, you can get a better idea of how a school’s stated GPA requirement matches up with its actual admissions practices.

Another thing to note is that some colleges not only look at your overall GPA but also consider how difficult your classes were. They may also figure in your GPA from select departments, such as your math scores or your grades in your major classes. Schools may also check to see what scores you earned during your junior and senior years.

How to Get into Grad School with a Low GPA

Get into Grad School with a Low GPA

Your GPA can have an impact on whether you’ll get into the grad school of your dreams, but it’s not the only factor that most schools will consider.

If you can prove that you have what it takes to succeed at graduate studies in other ways, then you may manage to score admission to your chosen programs. You might make your case with:

  • GRE or other exam scores. Colleges want to know that you can learn complicated subject matter, tackle hard assignments, and stick with a grad program. In part, that’s what the GRE and other grad school tests are for. Schools often figure that you’ll do well in a graduate program if you get high marks on one of these tests.
  • Industry certifications. Perhaps you’ve earned industry certifications. Often, becoming certified requires taking courses, studying materials, and passing tests. Some grad programs may look favorably upon prestigious industry credentials.
  • Personal essay. If you write a personal essay for the admissions process, you can have the opportunity to explain your poor undergraduate performance and to put forth your plan for doing better in grad school. If the admissions committee sees that you have a clear goal for grad studies, they may be convinced that you’ll be driven to succeed.
  • Portfolio. You may have a portfolio that showcases some of the work in which you’ve been involved. For certain programs, admissions committees may review your portfolio materials during the admissions process. If they like what they see, it can help your case.
  • Professional references. Your supervisors, whether past or present, may be able to testify to your drive and work ethic. If they write you glowing references, that can contribute to a strong application packet.
  • Work experience. A lot may have changed since you were last in school. Your professional efforts may demonstrate that you’re ready to buckle down and work. Your resume may include impressive positions that you’ve held or major projects in which you’ve been involved. Those might look good to an admissions committee.

If you do get accepted to grad school with a low GPA score, it may be on a provisional basis. After you prove yourself in your first few classes, you might receive full acceptance to the program.

Typical Grad School Admissions Requirements

Typical Grad School Admissions

GPA scores are just one portion of the admissions process for graduate students. Most admissions committees will review a variety of materials to determine whether you’d be a good fit.

Here are some common materials you may need to send in:

  • Personal statement. In a short essay, you can write about your past experiences or future plans.
  • References. Letters of recommendation from your work supervisors may convince the admissions committee that you’d be a good addition to the program.
  • Resume. A curriculum vitae or a resume may highlight your relevant career milestones.
  • Test scores (if required). Although the GRE is commonly used for grad school admissions, many schools are relaxing their rules about the need for standardized tests.
  • Transcripts. Official transcripts from previous college programs will show your GPA as well as what classes you’ve taken.

Admissions policies can vary greatly, so it’s beneficial to review all requirements carefully. For example, more and more, there are grad schools that don’t require the GRE for graduate school applications.

How Important Is GPA in College?

While you’re in school, your GPA can make all the difference in your success. If your score drops too low, you might be removed from your program, or you might not be able to graduate. A low GPA may also end your eligibility for financial aid or scholarship programs.

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Many schools put students on academic probation when their GPAs start to falter. While disheartening, getting put on probation may provide the motivation you need to turn things around.

Is a 3.7 GPA Good for Grad School?

Yes, a 3.7 is typically considered a strong GPA for grad school admissions. While each school sets its own policies, most programs will at least review the applications of students with a 3.7 GPA.

Some highly competitive colleges may have incoming classes in which the students’ average GPA is higher, but that doesn’t mean that a 3.7 would rule you out. It might just serve as a reminder that you’ll need other impressive elements for your application as well. As a general rule, though, having a 3.7 GPA does help students get into grad school.

Is a 3.4 GPA Good for Grad School?

GPA for masters program admission

Typically, a 3.4 is a pretty good GPA for masters program admission. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll get into your program of choice, but it’s often enough to qualify for sending in an application.

Some fields of study are more competitive than others, though. There are individual colleges with particularly stringent admissions guidelines that may require a higher GPA. All in all, there are plenty of fields of study and colleges for which a 3.4 is more than sufficient.

Can I Get into Grad School with a 3.2 GPA?

Grad school GPA requirements

Grad school GPA requirements often start at 3.0. In those cases, you would make the cutoff with a 3.2. Your grades wouldn’t guarantee admission, but they’d at least qualify you to apply.

There’s stiff competition for admissions at some colleges, though. Such schools may set the GPA bar higher than a 3.2. Although they’ll likely still take your application, they may give priority to applicants with higher scores.

Of course, your GPA is only one piece of the admissions puzzle. If you have an impressive professional track record or great GRE scores, a 3.2 GPA may be more than enough to carry you.

Can Work Experience Make Up for Not Having a High Grade Point Average?

GPA graduate programs

Yes, work experience is usually one of the factors that admissions committees consider when deciding which students to admit to their graduate programs. It may not rank as high as GPAs, but work experience can still be quite influential.

Your work experience can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. For example, a resume that shows how much time you’ve spent in the field could be beneficial. Personal recommendation letters, a noteworthy portfolio, or industry credentials could help as well.

Is a Student’s Major Considered When Graduate Schools Look at GPA?

Schools may pay attention to your college major, but they don’t usually weigh your GPA based on that information.

Students often apply to graduate programs in fields that are similar to their earlier studies. If the majority of applicants come from the same general field, then there’s not much value in adjusting GPA results based on major.

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Even still, some schools will consider how hard your first college program was. For competitive programs, a slate of advanced math and science courses may give you a slight edge.

What If I Don’t Have a 3.0 for Grad School?

Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA

Many admissions committees will evaluate your overall readiness for grad school rather than writing you off because of a low GPA. You can also look for colleges with no GPA minimum or a 2.5 threshold.

Believe it or not, you can get into grad school with a 2.5 GPA if you can you demonstrate that your grades got better in your last two years of school. Some colleges are willing to forgive a rough start to higher education if you improved as time went on.

Your professional track record can also serve as a testimony to your abilities. For some programs, impressive work achievements or letters of reference from supervisors may be more influential than your GPA.

What’s the Difference Between a Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA?

As you check out schools’ admissions policies, you may come across two different GPA terms: weighted and unweighted. Here’s how they compare:

Unweighted GPA Weighted GPA
  • All courses are scaled the same way
  • Top score is 4.0
  • Doesn’t take into account a student’s determination to enroll in challenging classes
  • Harder courses are given higher scores
  • Top score is 5.0
  • Demonstrates drive as well as academic achievement

Grad schools typically take into account weighted versus unweighted when comparing two applicants’ GPAs.

What’s the Difference Between a Major GPA vs. Overall GPA?

While your overall GPA might be the first thing that grad schools notice about you, your major GPA might make a difference for your admissions chances as well.

Overall GPA Major GPA
  • Factors in all undergraduate courses that you’ve taken
  • Shows your overall academic performance
  • Is the GPA score that’s typically listed on transcripts
  • Relies only on the courses you took to earn your major
  • Shows your skill and knowledge in your specific field of study
  • May need to be calculated by you or the admissions committee

An overall GPA is also known as a cumulative GPA.

Closing Thoughts

GPA for grad school admissions

There’s no hard and fast rule about what GPA you’ll need for grad school admissions. While higher is often better, it’s not the only thing that counts in the admissions process.

If you have not taken the GRE, or if your scores were not as high as you would like, keep in mind that there is a growing number of universities that don’t require the GRE for admission decisions.

Many students who started with shaky academic track records have gone on to find success in grad school. If you can prove your readiness through test scores or professional experience, you may be able to count yourself among that group.

If you hope that grad school is in your future, you may want to take a look at accredited colleges to see which ones offer the best opportunities for you.

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Joy Cromwelle
WRITTEN BY
Joy Cromwelle
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.