Sam Weeks

  • Sep 1, 2022

How to explain your low GPA in the MBA optional essay

Updated: Feb 1

I speak to hundreds of MBA applicants every year. One of the most common questions I get asked is, “How do I justify my low undergrad GPA in my MBA applications?”

The good news is that a low GPA isn't a death sentence for your application. But you MUST be able to clearly explain it. Most likely, you’ll explain it in the optional essay of the MBA application portal.

This is how Yale SOM phrases the prompt:

Optional Essay: If any aspect of your candidacy needs further explanation (unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, academic performance, promotions or recognition, etc.), please provide a brief description here. (200 words maximum)

In this blog we will address how you can justify your low undergrad GPA through your optional essay. Along with this, we’ll discuss other aspects of your profile that you can discuss in the optional essay.

low gpa essay sample mba

Every year, top business schools publish details regarding their class profiles. These reports include average GPA, GMAT/GRE score, years of experience, demographics and industry information for the incoming class. So, for prospective applicants, this report becomes a useful blueprint for identifying how they compare to their would-be classmates and whether they stand a chance of getting into this school.

From this report, we know for example that the undergrad GPA range for the Chicago Booth class of 2023 is 2.7 - 4, with the average being 3.54. The undergrad GPA range for the Northwestern Kellogg class of 2023 is 2.4 - 4, with the average being 3.7.

This means that candidates who made it to the Booth class of 2023 had undergraduate GPAs between 2.7 and 4.

So I get lots of questions from applicants whose GPA is at the very bottom of the range asking whether they have a chance. And honestly, most often the answer is No, unless your profile is absolutely exceptional.

If you belong to an overrepresented group such as an Indian male or north american investment banker, you won’t be successful if your GPA is at the bottom of the range unless you’ve got an exceptional GMAT score and an incredible story.

Applicant: “Can I get into Booth with a 2.8 GPA?”

Sam: “Not unless you threw javelins in the Olympics or distributed polio vaccines in Afghanistan.”

To get in with a lower GPA, you need an exceptional story. One like Raveena ’s, who got into Wharton with a low GPA, a below-average GMAT score in Round 3 and (drum roll) with $160,000 of scholarships.

How to explain a low GPA

Points to bear in mind while writing your optional essay as you discuss your low GPA:

1. Valid reasons for having a low GPA: Some reasons for having a low GPA are more valid than others. Partied to hard and failed exams? Nope. Better reasons include health issues, family issues such as parents getting divorced, or entering the course academically underprepared.

2. How to explain it: Focus very clearly on what happened, how you rebounded, and what you learned from the experience.

3. Avoid using long-winded stories. Storytelling can be super effective for the rest of your MBA essays, where you’re trying to demonstrate a strong narrative. However , that’s not the case with optional essays. Since this is not a mandatory part of the application, the Adcom is “doing you a favor” by reading it. So be short, tight and direct.

4. Steer clear of incorporating any stories or fluff. Instead, be direct in putting your point across to the Admissions Committee. If you have a low undergrad GPA, that’s a fact. So, say it like it is, add the reason behind it and discuss what you’ve done to compensate for it.

5. Don’t fill up space for the word limit. If you can explain a low GPA in 150 words, do it. As an extreme example, Rice Jones’ optional essay has a limit of 750 words. Unless you have something to say about every single possible optional essay topic, you won’t need anything like 750 words!

6. Don’t add repetitive content. Make sure nothing you write about in your optional essay has been repeated from any other part of the application. Repetition here is punishable by DING!

7. Don’t make excuses! Instead, highlight the reasons for this gap in your profile objectively and spin it positively. For example, if you have a low GPA because of your parents’ divorce, discuss how you handled it. If you have an employment gap in your profile, point to extracurriculars or a side hustle you pursued during that time.

8. Don’t be tempted to demonstrate the fit. The school has already offered you space to discuss your alignment with the school and/or program in your MBA application. So don’t ignore their instructions and include unnecessary detail in your optional essay.

9. Don’t brush your gaps under the rug. It might seem enticing to take the risk and not address your weaknesses in the hope that the AdCom miss it. In my experience, adcoms don’t miss these things. So don’t leave it to chance. If your focus wavered because of a lack of prioritization, or poor time management, or a genuine personal issue, admitting it will demonstrate maturity.

Example: Yale SOM

I don’t believe my GPA of 2.7 is representative of my academic abilities. My parents got divorced during my undergraduate studies. Since the rest of my siblings had left the country, I was forced to manage their divorce negotiations and my academic performance suffered heavily as a result.

After the divorce was settled, I attended extra classes to catch up on missed material and my grades rebounded. My final year GPA was 3.4, with my last semester being 3.6, which I believe better demonstrates my academic ability.

Unsatisfied with my poor grades, I took on additional academic challenges after my undergraduate studies were complete. For example, diving straight into the CFA level 1.

When should you write an MBA optional essay?

Aside from explaining your GPA, these are the other points you may want to address in your optional essay:

Educational or Professional Gap

Usually, candidates have an educational or professional gap because -

They wanted to figure out their passion

They were preparing for a certain exam

They had a physical or mental health condition

Extenuating personal circumstances

So, if you had to take a gap or got laid off and found yourself in this situation, use this space to offer your explanation to Adcom. Focus on how you used your time productively.

If you were running a side hustle during school or worked two jobs or did night shifts through your undergrad due to some financial issues, that’s something worth discussing in your optional essay. Otherwise, an outsider won’t be able to make sense of it just by looking at your resume.

Masters or Management degree in your home country

Many candidates go for a Masters in a specific subject or a Masters in Management (MIM) degree immediately after their undergrad. However, to pivot into senior executive roles, they need a formal management degree and apply for an MBA. If you fall into that category, you should offer context in your optional essay.

If you think your current score is an inaccurate representation of your profile, provide evidence of how you can add value to your target school’s MBA class. For example, if you’ve got your GMAT booked for a specific date post the deadline, you can say,

“My current GMAT score doesn’t reflect my academic ability aptly, and I have booked the exam for a specific date.”


If you don’t have a recommendation from your current manager, it’s worth highlighting why. Maybe because you can’t tell your current company. Maybe because you haven’t been at your current company very long. Simply offer a crisp explanation and get your point across to the Admissions Committee.

Struggling to write your optional essay? Get in touch.

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Rafal Reyzer

20 Great MBA Application Essay Samples (With Links)

Author: Rafal Reyzer

Want to ace your MBA application? A stellar essay can be your golden ticket.

With elite business schools like Harvard and Stanford boasting acceptance rates as low as 10% and 6% respectively, every aspect of your application counts. While GPA and GMAT scores matter, your essay can be a game-changer. Recognizing its weight, we’ve gathered top-notch MBA essay samples, endorsed by admission committees from premier institutions. Dive in and let’s craft that standout application!

What is an MBA Application Essay?

An MBA application essay is a detailed write-up about your personal and professional goals and aspirations. It also explains how the MBA program will help you attain your objectives for the future. Your essay is your one shot to convince the admission committee to consider you for the initial interview.

professor reading an essay of MBA applicant

What Admission Committee Look for in an MBA Essay?

  • Academic ability
  • Impressive work experience
  • Career Course
  • Authenticity of goals
  • Competencies, leadership , dedication, challenges, and growth
  • The right reason for pursuing an MBA
  • Your compatibility with the culture in which the program is being offered

If you want to learn more, here is the complete guide on how admission committees process MBA applications.

20 Great MBA Applications Essays Samples

Now you have known that what makes a great MBA admission essay, the next step is to write one for yourself. Before writing, check out this list of expert-vetted MBA application essays that secured admissions to top-rated business schools in the world. Admission consultants have shared these samples and they can be helpful if you read and analyze them carefully. If you’re completely unsure about how to get started, there are also custom essay writing services that can help you structure your essay with the help of professional editors.

Sample 1: Leadership-focused MBA application essay

This sample is particularly focused on leadership traits. If your essay is about explaining your leadership quality experience, this sample is right up your alley. The best thing about the essay is that it is written in a simple, engaging, and humorous style. It defines a great experience in a very conversational style.

demonstrating leadership quality

Sample 2: Self-focused MBA application essay 

If you are asked to write about your strengths, weaknesses, aims, and goals in your application essay, this sample will help you. The applicant who wrote this got accepted to the INSEAD business school. It doesn’t merely describe her strengths and weaknesses, but it presents a complete picture of herself as a person. It highlighted the events and incidents that shaped her personality.

Sample 3: Life-hardships-focused MBA application essay

If you want to explain your life’s hardships and the events that turned you into an ambitious person, this sample is for you. In this application essay, the candidate has defined three phases of his life and how he survived through each adversity. He beautifully explained why the MBA program is important to his future.

Sample 4: Continuous growth and learning-focused MBA application essay

This essay was submitted to Harvard Business School. The best thing about this piece is that the writer has explained her learning and professional development journey in a very sequential and engaging manner, which is truly admirable. A useful thing to remember about the MBA essays included in this list is that you can merge them into a single printable and perfectly formatted file with Sodapdf or another PDF editor. Having all of them stored in a single PDF is going to be quite helpful when it’s time to write your piece. But guess what? There are more examples to explore below, so let’s keep going…

Sample 5: Best MBA application essay for low scorers

Have a low GPA? What would you write about academics in an MBA essay to convince the admission committee? Do not overthink! MBA essay is not all about high achievements and sterling background. It is also an opportunity to atone for your past mistakes. This MBA essay was written by a student who obtained very low academic grades, yet got admitted to her desired business school. Her turning point? A powerful application essay.

guitarist with a dream

Sample 6: A guitarist’s application essay for the MBA program

Suppose you are ambitious in a skill or profession that has nothing to do with the MBA program, yet you need the degree for certain reasons. How would you showcase that irrelevant skill in your MBA application essay? This sample essay will show how you how. A guitarist who got selected for the MBA program wrote this one. The applicant has intelligently defined his passion for guitar as a way of developing discipline, determination, leadership, and success. He explained how his passion affected his academics and how the guitar helped him cope with the challenges.

Sample 7: An engineer’s essay for MBA application

If you come from a technical or engineering background and have the ambition to pursue an MBA degree to boost your engineering career, this sample essay will help pave the way for you. This essay was submitted by a mechanical engineer to Harvard Business School. The writer explained how his engineering experience motivated him to pursue an MBA and how the program is important to his long-term goals.

harvard university

Sample 8: Harvard Business School MBA essay

This essay was written by a candidate who got accepted to Harvard Business School. Check it out to know what the prestigious academic institution looks for in your essay.

Sample 9: Wharton Business School MBA essay

This essay has been honored as one of the best MBA essays ever received by the Wharton Business School in Pennsylvania. Check out the structure, organization, and flow, and adapt the same to your essay.

Sample 10: Columbia Business School MBA essay

The Columbia Business School’s admission committee shared this MBA essay. They explained why the applicant who wrote this was instantly accepted to the program and why they appreciated its content.

Sample 11: Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA essay

This essay was written by a candidate who got accepted to Stanford Business School for an MBA. If you are aiming to get your MBA at Stanford, this sample will give you a deep understanding of what convinces the esteemed school’s admission committee to accept applicants into their fold.

Sample 12: University of California Business School MBA essay

This sample was taken from a pool of successful MBA application essays submitted to the University of California business school. Read it carefully and analyze its structure, words, and substance before you compose your own fantastic MBA essay.

aerial photo of oxford university

Sample 13: University of OXFORD business school MBA essay

If Oxford Business School is your target destiny for earning your MBA, then check out this outstanding application essay. The person who wrote it managed to grab the admission committee member’s attention.

Sample 14: London Business School MBA essay

This essay was written by a candidate who got accepted to the London Business School. The school’s admission consultant shared this sample as a reference to other MBA aspirants. This piece will specifically help you understand the tone, writing style, formatting, and overall flow of the MBA application essay that meets the school’s standards.

Sample 15: A goal-oriented MBA application essay

Sometimes the MBA admission portal may demand an essay specifically focused on your future goals. In such a case, you must be very sure about yourself and must convey your goals and future directions based on your experiences and planning. Check out this sample to get an idea of how a successful candidate writes about personal goals.

Sample 16: Executive MBA essay

This successful MBA application essay was submitted to the MIT Sloan Executive MBA Program. EMBA essay requires you to show strong potential, impact, leadership, and the ultimate need for the program. Read this essay if EMBA is on your horizon.

making a video essay

Sample 17: MBA video essay

Many business schools are turning to video-based essays for MBA applications. A video-based essay is a better option to express yourself directly to the admission committee. A successful candidate for the Kellogg School of Management submitted this sample. Listen to the video and appreciate how beautifully the applicant has explained his journey from beginning to end. Want to learn more about video MBA essays? Here is a complete guide.

Sample 18: Short-answer-based MBA application essay

Some business schools require candidates to respond to short questions to get insights into their personalities and suitability for the MBA program. More or less, most of the questions revolve around the same theme. The key to success is to grasp the intention of the admission committee behind the questions and to stick to your identity . These successful answers submitted to the Tepper School of Business will help you in formulating your answers.

Sample 19: MIT Sloan School of Management

This essay was submitted by a successful candidate for the MIT Sloan School of Management MBA program. See how this applicant smartly answered the essay questions.

Sample 20:  Michigan Ross School of Business MBA program

The Michigan Ross Business School asks a diverse range of questions from candidates to analyze their competencies from multiple perspectives. If Michigan Ross is where you intend to get your MBA, this essay submitted by a candidate who got admitted to the school’s MBA program will help keep you on track.

What Should be Included in the MBA Application Essay?

  • Your background: What shaped you into what you are now? Including ethnicity, obstacles, and struggles.
  • Self-reflection: Your values, characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Your goals : How do you envision your future?
  • Aspirations: Why MBA is important to you and how this program will help you in shaping your future?
  • Justification: If you have low academic grades, explain the reasons you did not do well and what you learned from it.
  • Experience and achievements: What have you achieved so far?

These are the significant components of an MBA essay. Just adjust the sequence, play with words, and come up with a persuasive yet realistic picture of yourself.

mba applicant thinking what to write in her essay

What Makes a Great MBA Application Essay?

  • Be school-specific. Explain why you are passionate about the MBA program of the school to which you’re applying.
  • Avoid edition. Write simply and engagingly. Let the reader read a meaningful story about you.
  • Make it 100% typo-free. Grammatical errors and typos will ruin your essay. Apply standard essay format and structure guidelines , scan your piece several times for errors, get it reviewed by an expert, and present a very professional piece to the admission committee.
  • Be original. Do not copy-paste from any source. Strictly follow plagiarism guidelines.
  • Write an overwhelming introduction to urge the reader to keep reading and conclude your essay with a strong declaration.
  • Be authentic. Write what you are, not what the committee wants to read.
  • Be concise, as many schools impose a limit on the essay word count .

Do you want more tips? Here is a complete guide to writing a compelling MBA application essay.

The application essay is a core part of the admission process in the increasingly competitive MBA program. If you do not want to miss the chance of getting selected, you need to know what will make your essay stand out . The expert-vetted list of MBA application essay samples we cited here worked for the top business schools. Learn them by heart, and who knows, it may work for you too. Put your other activities aside, read and analyze the list carefully, and start writing your MBA essay to land in your dream business school.

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Rafal Reyzer

Rafal Reyzer

Hey there, welcome to my blog! I'm a full-time entrepreneur building two companies, a digital marketer, and a content creator with 10+ years of experience. I started to provide you with great tools and strategies you can use to become a proficient digital marketer and achieve freedom through online creativity. My site is a one-stop shop for digital marketers, and content enthusiasts who want to be independent, earn more money, and create beautiful things. Explore my journey here , and don't miss out on my AI Marketing Mastery online course.

GMAT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Getting into business school with a low gpa: 5 top tips.

low gpa essay sample mba

Aside from your GMAT score, your GPA is the most important number on your MBA admissions application. Admissions committees look at your GPA as an indicator of past academic performance and as a predictor of whether or not you’ll succeed in their program. So can you get your MBA with a low GPA?

While a low undergraduate GPA certainly makes admission to business schools more difficult, it doesn’t make it impossible. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the ins and outs of low GPA MBA admissions. First, I’ll talk about why GPA matters to MBA programs. Next, I’ll talk about what actually counts as a low GPA for MBA programs. Finally, I’ll give you some tips and tricks for on getting into business school with a low GPA.

Why Does GPA Matter to Business Schools?


If you’re applying to business school, you might be wondering if your undergraduate GPA even matters to admissions committees. After all, there are plenty of other criteria on your application: GMAT scores, work and volunteer experience, recommendations, personal statements… In the face of all of this information, do admissions committees even care about GPA?

The answer is yes: admissions absolutely committees do care about GPA. In fact, according to a 2014 survey from Kaplan , GPA is the second most important factor in MBA admissions decisions, behind GMAT scores.

What makes GPA so important to business schools? Well, schools see your undergraduate GPA as an indicator of your future success in their program. If you did well as an undergraduate, admissions committees see you as more likely to do well with the rigorous business school course load.

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Because GPA is used to predict future success in business school classes, low grades in classes related to business (such as quant classes, accounting classes, or economics classes) may be particularly worrisome to admissions committees because they show that you might struggle with the business school curriculum. I’ll talk about how to deal with low grades in your undergraduate coursework in a later section.

Business schools also care about GPAs because the average GPA of admitted applicants factor into their overall rankings. The higher the average GPA of their admitted applicants, the higher a business program will rank in national rankings.

Despite the fact that GPAs are important to admissions, having a low GPA doesn’t mean you can’t get into business school. Later, I’ll offer some tips for making your application stronger when you apply for an MBA with a low GPA . But first, let’s talk about what a low GPA even means.

What Is a Low GPA for Business School?


Now that we know why GPA matters, let’s focus on what a low GPA for business school means.

If you’ve been stressed out about not having a perfect 4.0 for your undergraduate coursework, you’ll be happy to know that MBA programs do not expect you to have a flawless transcript. In fact, business programs don’t have cutoff scores for GPAs, so you don’t have to worry about specifically looking for MBA programs with low GPA requirements. While the average GPA of admitted applicants varies greatly depending on the program, there are some general trends that I’ll talk about.

Unsurprisingly, the M7 (the unofficial group of the top seven business schools in the United States) have the highest average GPAs amongst admitted applicants. All M7 schools have an average GPA of 3.50 or higher for their admitted applicants.

The rest of the top 25 business schools range between 3.30 and 3.60 GPAs for admitted applicants. Business schools ranked 26 – 50 have an admitted applicant GPA range of 3.16 – 3.52.

What does this all mean? Well, you’ll notice that all of the top 50 business schools have average GPAs of 3.16 or higher amongst their admitted applicants. Ultimately, you’ll need to do research on the MBA program of your choice to see exactly what its admitted applicant average GPA is so you can see how you stack up. You can generally find this information in one of three ways: by checking out the program’s ranking on US News & World Report, by visiting the program’s website, or by calling the program’s admissions office. Finding out how your GPA relates to the average GPA of admitted applicants at the MBA programs you’re applying to will tell you whether or not your GPA is in an acceptable range, or if you’ll have to do some extra work for getting into business school with a low GPA.

Having a GPA up to .50 away from the average GPA of admitted applicants at a particular program isn’t the end of the world. You’ll be able to try to make up for your GPA with a strong overall application, which I’ll talk about more in the next section. If your GPA is more than .50 away from the average GPA of admitted applicants at your program, you may have a more difficult time getting accepted. If your GPA is more than .50 away, I’d suggest using a number of the application tips I outline in the next section and considering applying to some MBA programs with lower average GPAs.

How to Get Into Business School With a Low GPA

So you’ve looked into the programs you’re interested in and you’ve found that your GPA is squarely below the average GPA of admitted applicants. Don’t worry! Getting into business school with a low GPA is definitely possible and there are ways that you can make up for low grades in undergrad. In this section, I’ll give you some tips and tricks for low GPA MBA admissions and how to make yourself stand out.

#1: Take Extra Courses

Taking extra courses is a great way to demonstrate that you’re dedicated to improving your grades and mastering difficult coursework. If you struggled with a particular subject, such as macroeconomics, as an undergraduate, you can take courses at a local community college or enroll in a post-baccalaureate program to try and boost your performance. Take a number of classes so that you develop an alternative transcript to present to business schools.

Developing an alternative transcript will provide admissions committees with more evidence regarding your academic performance. You’ll also be able to improve on bad grades, showing that you’ve got the tenacity and academic chops to do well with the rigorous business school course load.

#2: Get a High GMAT Score

As I mentioned before, your GMAT score is seen as the most important factor on your MBA admissions application by 61% of business schools.

Having a killer GMAT score (above the average GPA of admitted applicants at your target MBA programs) will set you apart from other applicants and guarantee that your application gets noticed.

MBA programs use the GMAT as another indicator of academic performance, so scoring high on the GMAT will show that you’re a smart and capable student and help make up for a low GPA in MBA admissions.


#3: Offer a Compelling Explanation in Your Essay

If you had a number of extenuating circumstances that contributed to your low undergraduate GPA, you’ll want to use the optional essay to explain them. Perhaps you suffered an unexpected death in your immediate family, or struggled with an illness for many months. Telling admissions committees what happened gives them a more holistic idea of your performance.

You’ll want to make sure that your reason is really compelling. An admissions committee probably won’t see the death of your pet rabbit as a good enough reason for a drop in GPA. However, truly life-changing, extenuating circumstances can and should be talked about on your MBA admissions essay.

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#4: Get (and Do Well at) a Competitive Job

Business schools care a lot about placing their students in competitive positions. Doing so benefits their ranking and makes more applicants want to attend their program.

If you struggled with your undergraduate coursework, getting and excelling at a competitive job will help show that you have what it takes to make it in the business world . If you can, get a job at a feeder company that has a relationship with the programs you’re applying to. For instance, if you’re applying to a business school that has its own internship program with Accenture, getting a job on your own at Accenture shows that you can succeed and be hirable after graduation.

#5: Demonstrate Exceptional Accomplishments

Business schools like admitting applicants with interesting, unique backgrounds to add diversity of experience to their class profiles. Have you done something amazing as an undergraduate? Maybe you organized a march that had 30,000 attendees or raised thousands of dollars for charity. Maybe you traveled around the world helping people in rural communities start small businesses. Or, you led a transformative initiative at the company you’ve been working at. Make sure that you highlight these achievements on your application. You’ll show that you’re a remarkable applicant that’d add a lot to the class’ profile.


Low GPA MBA Admissions: The Bottom Line

It is possible to successfully apply to an MBA with a low GPA , and plenty of students do so every year. However, you may need to due some extra legwork to make it happen.

First, you should figure out how low your GPA actually is compared to the expectations of your target schools. Then, consider what you can do on your business school to make up for your low GPA. Finally, you may want to look for MBA  programs with low GPA requirements, like executive or online programs.

What’s Next?

We’ve talked about low GPA MBA admissions, but what’s a good GPA for business school? Check out our complete guide to learn what schools expect and what will make you stand out.

You can’t change your GPA, but you can change your GMAT score! Learn what makes a good GMAT score in our guide.

Questions about how to really beat the GMAT? Our guide to the ten top GMAT strategies will have you reaching your goal score in no time.

Was this helpful? Sign up for FREE GMAT and MBA guides!

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Author: Hayley Milliman

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females. View all posts by Hayley Milliman


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Applying for an MBA with a Low GPA: What To Do + Where to Apply

low gpa essay sample mba

We hate to break it to you but, when applying to business school, GPA matters. Your undergraduate GPA is an example of how you perform in an academic setting and sets a precedent for how you will fare as an MBA student.

But hold on — Don’t give up on your b-school dreams just yet...

Even though your GPA will be taken into account when your application is reviewed, it’s important to remember that admissions committees are looking for more than just high numbers. They are seeking to build a diverse student body with strong leadership potential.

A low GPA (under 3.0) is not the kiss of death when applying to business school... But it will require some compensation in other areas of your application. 

How to Balance Out a Low GPA in MBA Applications

1. Do well on the GMAT or GRE

Getting a killer score on this standardized test is imperative for those with low GPAs. Your GMAT/GRE score is the other statistical measure of your abilities; doing well will water down the negative impact made by your poor performance in undergrad. To determine the score you must get to compensate for a low GPA, look at the average GMAT score at your top schools and use that as a benchmark. 

2. Write Strong Essays (including the optional essay)

Getting a high GMAT/GRE score will demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are a competent learner, but it’s your essays that will communicate your ability to excel as a contributing member of their b-school community.

Here are some tips: Use your essays to emphasize your strengths. Stand out in a positive way by sharing unique stories about your leadership skills, team working experience, and personal values. Tell the committee how your individuality will contribute to their community. Get specific about why you are a good fit for their program and how their program will help you achieve your goals. Whenever possible, discuss the program’s teaching methods, extracurriculars, course offerings, professors, and other unique attributes. (Pssst — Going on a campus visit will come in handy here.)

This is important: Failing to mention your low GPA in the written portion of your application will not draw less attention to it. The admissions committee is sure to notice this glaring weakness so it’s imperative that you address it. (Here’s where the optional essay comes in.) 

When discussing a low GPA, be honest. Tell the admissions committee if there were extenuating circumstances that resulted in your poor performance (a loss in the family, illness, other responsibilities). No matter the reason for your low grades, be sure to explain that you have identified the root of your issue in undergrad, learned from your experience, and will perform better in business school.

3. Show Strong Work Experience

In general, we recommend all MBA applicants have several years of valuable experience to list on their resume. For those with low GPAs, this is even more important. Real-life, relevant work experience says as much about your qualifications as your undergrad GPA, especially if you’re working for a well-known company. If you don’t have recent work experience to show, you might be better off spending a few more years in the field before you apply for an MBA.

4. Take Supplement Coursework (if applicable)

There’s no getting around the fact that demonstrating a proficiency in quant is necessary when applying to business school. If your performance in quantitative courses is to blame for your low GPA, we recommend taking a few one-off classes at a local community college. Finance, stats, algebra, microeconomics, and calculus are all examples of courses that qualify as quant. Sign up for a few, perform well, and show the admissions committee your ability to excel in relevant academic courses. This will demonstrate growth, which many programs consider to be just as valuable as a high GPA.

5. Get Impactful Recommendations

Strong letters of recommendation aren’t enough to get you in to business school on their own, but they will help balance out a poor GPA. Choose you recommenders wisely and ask that they put emphasis on your quantitative abilities. If you gave a specific reason for your low GPA in your essays, be sure your recommender gives examples of how you’ve overcome that impediment, whether it’s your ability to multitask, manage your time, etc.

6. Apply in Round 1 (or Round 2)

Your best chance for acceptance is to apply during Round I. Why? Because more seats are available. Students with non-traditional backgrounds or weaknesses in their application are better off applying as early as possible. Stay on top of things by preparing for your application ahead of time. That way, you’ll be able to hit the ground running when it’s released. It’s never too early to work on your resume, sign up for more extracurriculars, or meet with an admissions consultant… so get started ASAP.

Which Business Schools to Apply to with a Low GPA

A low GPA doesn’t have to put an end to your dreams of attending a top MBA program, it just means that you might want to choose your safety schools more carefully. Put everything you have into your applications for your top target schools and keep your fingers crossed, but don’t forget to put equal effort into the applications at a few lower-tiered schools. Throughout the process of networking, campus visits, and interviewing, you might be surprised to find that one of your safety schools is actually the perfect fit for your experience and goals. 

Your list of where to apply should include 5-8 schools: 2-3 reach schools, 2-3 on-par schools, and 1-2 safety schools. Make sure you are honest with yourself about which programs fall into each of these categories. If you have a low GPA, here are some programs you might want to consider as on-par schools or safety schools:

On-campus Programs 

Canisius College: no listed GPA requirement Northcentral University: no listed GPA requirement Syracuse University: no listed GPA requirement Lynn University: no listed GPA requirement Saint Mary's University of Minnesota: minimum 2.75 GPA requirement

Online Programs

Capella University: minimum 2.3 GPA requirement Marshall University: minimum 2.5 GPA requirement University of Louisiana Lafayette: minimum 2.3 GPA requirement University of Northwestern Ohio: minimum 2.5 GPA requirement University of Tennessee Chattanooga: minimum 2.7 GPA requirement

Final Thoughts

Mitigating your weaknesses in MBA applications can be tricky. But when done properly, it’s possible to transform shortcomings into strengths. We recommend all applicants, especially those with low GPAs, have a consultation with an admissions expert before applying. If you are getting ready to apply for business school and need advice on how to craft your perfect application, set up a free consultation with an Admit Advantage expert today! Expert Staff

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How to Overcome a Low GPA in Your MBA Applications

Updated 1.14.21

One of the most common concerns we hear from clients is that their low undergrad GPA will prevent them from being accepted to the MBA program of their dreams. Whether it was because you chose the toughest major at your university, had a little too much fun, or were so involved in extracurriculars that you didn’t have enough time to study, the good news is that a low GPA can be one of the easier weaknesses to mitigate in your MBA applications.

If you’re like most applicants, college was several years ago and you’ve come a long way since then – you’ve begun your career, earned a promotion or two, and maybe even started managing a team. While these accomplishments help demonstrate your leadership potential and perhaps your analytical skills, they don’t tell the admissions committee whether you can handle a rigorous academic environment. Though MBA programs often emphasize the “programmatic” nature of the degree (the internships, seminars, experiential learning opportunities, conferences, trips, and networking), an MBA is still a master’s level degree with master’s level classes. The coursework demands that you can study, apply theories to cases, write essays, and pass tests.

The time-honored way for the admissions committees to assess your skills in this area is by looking at the combination of your GMAT score and your GPA. So, what can you do if your undergrad GPA is not at or above the average for your target schools ? The key is to focus on two things: 1) explaining and 2) overcoming.

Explaining a Low GPA

Note that I did not use the word “justify”. Explaining is not making excuses; explaining is simply stating what ‘it’ was and why ‘it’s’ better now (whatever ‘it’ was).

Don’t sweep anything under the rug or be cagey. If your GPA was low in your first two years because you were struggling with over-committing and not managing your time well, then it’s OK to say that it took you awhile to perfect your time management skills and learn to prioritize effectively. In fact, it shows a great deal of maturity and self-reflection.

However, you must immediately follow that statement with how you’ve overcome that issue (e.g., earned a top notch GPA in another master’s program, successfully managed multiple projects at work, etc). Be brief but specific – you don’t want them to assume that you are being vague because the real reason for your GPA is that you just partied too much.

This information, in addition to any other necessary explanations, will go into the optional essay component of the application. This is where you directly point out that certain areas of weakness, including a low GPA, are not reflective of the strength of your candidacy.

Overcoming a Low GPA

In addition to explaining why your GPA from undergrad was low, you also want to use the optional essay to share what you’ve done to demonstrate your academic ability.

The best “proof” is having earned a stellar grade in a post-grad class to show the admissions committee that you can handle the academics like a champ. A large percentage of our clients take some sort of online or in-person class to bolster their applications (I’d estimate over 50%). Fortunately, there are great options for every work and life schedule.

On the higher end of commitment level are live classes through a local community college or university continuing education department. These work well for people who learn best in a group setting and want to be held to a more concrete schedule.

Self-directed online courses offer more flexibility and may appeal to those who travel for work (in a non-COVID world) or have less control over their day-to-day schedule. Online classes also range in commitment level and costs. On the lower end of the commitment and time spectrum, costs $149 for modules covering topics like statistics, accounting and finance that can be completed in 20-40 hours. On the higher end of commitment and time is Harvard Online’s CORe program, which costs $2,250 and is estimated to take approximately 150 hours to complete. Of note, many estimate that a rather large percentage of HBS admits have taken CORe (this is anecdotal, of course). Other popular options include Wharton’s Coursera courses (target the graded versions) and UC Berkeley’s Extension .

Focus on foundational quantitative subjects you didn’t study in college (or performed poorly in) like accounting, statistics and/or calculus. By doing well in one of these courses, you can ask the admissions committee to look at your additional coursework grades as an indication of your ability to succeed in the classroom instead of your undergrad coursework. Typically, this demonstration, paired with a strong GMAT score, will help an admissions director to feel more comfortable with that aspect of your application.

Aside from increasing your chances, taking additional coursework shows your commitment and willingness to prepare for the MBA experience, which signals that you are ready to get as much value out of the program as humanly possible (and the admissions committee likes that!).

Katie McQuarrie

Katie is a passionate mentor and coach, helping her clients craft a unique, compelling story by leveraging her experience as a corporate executive, alumni interviewer, and campus recruiter. Before completing her MBA at Kellogg, Katie spent five years in banking where she learned practical finance skills as well as how to operate in a demanding, high pressure environment. She pursued an MBA in order to transition to an industry role where she could utilize her finance knowledge to drive change within an organization. Post-MBA, she worked in finance and strategy for a leading CPG firm, progressing to an executive role leading the finance function for a $2B business segment. Her experience managing diverse teams led to a passion for developing others. In addition to her day-to-day responsibilities, she led her firm’s MBA recruiting efforts and served as an alumni admissions interviewer for Kellogg.

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20 Must-Read MBA Essay Tips

Business essay tips

Business school admissions committees care about more than (just) your  GMAT scores and GPA —they want to know who you are and why you belong in their program . Your MBA essays are your best chance to sell the person behind the résumé. They should tie all the pieces of your business school application together and create a comprehensive picture of who you are, what you've done, and what you bring to the table.  Here's a roundup of our best MBA essay tips to keep in mind as you begin to write.

How to Write an Unforgettable B-School Essay

1. communicate that you are a proactive, can-do sort of person..

Business schools want leaders, not applicants content with following the herd.

2. Put yourself on ego-alert.

Stress what makes you unique, not what makes you number one.

3. Communicate specific reasons why you're great fit for each school.

Simply stating "I am the ideal candidate for your program" won't convince the admission committee to push you into the admit pile.

Read More: Find Your Business School

4. Bring passion to your writing.

Admissions officers want to know what excites you. And if you'll bring a similar enthusiasm to the classroom.

5. Break the mold.

Challenge perceptions with unexpected essays that say, "There's more to me than you think."

6. If you've taken an unorthodox path to business school, play it up.

Admissions officers appreciate risk-takers.

7. Talk about your gender, ethnicity, minority status or foreign background....

But only if it has affected your outlook or experiences.

8. Fill your essays with plenty of real-life examples.

Specific anecdotes and vivid details make a much greater impact than general claims and broad summaries.

9. Demonstrate a sense of humor or vulnerability.

You're a real person, and it's okay to show it!

BONUS: Don't Make These MBA Essay Mistakes

1. write about your high school glory days. .

Admissions committees don't care if you were editor of the yearbook or captain of the varsity team. They expect their candidates to have moved onto more current, professional achievements.

2. Submit essays that don't answer the questions.

An off-topic essay, or one that merely restates your résumé, will frustrate and bore the admissions committee. More importantly, it won't lead to any new insight about you.

Attend UNC's top-ranked online MBA program without putting your career on hold. See how.

3. Fill essays with industry jargon.

Construct your essays with only enough detail about your job to frame your story and make your point.

4. Reveal half-baked reasons for wanting the MBA.

Admissions officers favor applicants who have well-defined goals. However unsure you are about your future, it's critical that you demonstrate that you have a plan.

5. Exceed the recommended word limits.

This suggests you don't know how to follow directions, operate within constraints or organize your thoughts.

6. Submit an application full of typos and grammatical errors.

A sloppy application suggests a sloppy attitude.

7. Send one school an essay intended for another—or forget to change the school name when using the same essay for several applications.

Admissions committees are (understandably) insulted when they see another school's name or forms.

8. Make excuses.

If your undergraduate experience was one long party, be honest. Discuss how you've matured, both personally and professionally.

9. Be impersonal in the personal statement.

Many applicants avoid the personal like the plague. Instead of talking about how putting themselves through school lowered their GPA, they talk about the rising cost of tuition in America. Admissions officers want to know about YOU.

Read More: How to Ace Your MBA Interview

10. Make too many generalizations.

An essay full of generalizations is a giveaway that you don't have anything to say.

11. Write in a vacuum.

Make sure that each of your essays reinforce and build on the others to present a consistent and compelling representation of who you are, what you've done, and what you bring to the table.

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Your Complete Guide to Optional and Reapplicant MBA Essays

Jul 11, 2022

low gpa essay sample mba

UPDATE: This article was originally posted on July 6, 2018. It has been updated with new information and tips below. 

Part of the difficulty of applying for business school is figuring out how to present yourself while painting a consistent picture of your personality and achievements throughout the process.

However, if your case is different from most — perhaps you’ve got a lower-than-average GMAT score, perhaps extenuating circumstances have forced you to apply in Round 3, or perhaps you’re reapplying to business school — you will find yourself needing to discuss elements of your profile that fall outside the traditional MBA application. 

That’s where a special type of essay comes in: optional and reapplicant essays .

Done well, these essays can provide the additional context needed to give your application the edge it needs. If done poorly, your application is unlikely to move forward. 

To help you make the most of these kinds of essays, we’ve compiled our expert tips to help ensure you use these “special” essays to their full advantage. 

What is an optional essay and who should write one?

In the past, the optional essay section was often extremely open-ended, with questions like London Business School ’s optional question “ Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (this question is optional) (500 words). ”

This type of question was perfect for applicants to highlight another skill, activity, or experience that they wanted to share with the admissions committee but didn’t quite manage to squeeze in anywhere else. 

How times have changed!

Not only have essay questions become shorter in general , the optional essay has become almost standardized across business schools. 

Take Kellogg ’s optional essay from 2021, for example. The question asks “ If needed, use this section to briefly describe any extenuating circumstances (e.g. unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, etc.) ”. 

A nearly identical question is used for the optional essay prompt for most other top MBA programs, often with a limit of just 250 or 300 words .

The change in wording – and word limits – makes it clear that business schools do not want extra essays. They only want to hear about extenuating circumstances . 

Considering the fact that anything you write will add additional work for your reader – who already has a lot of material to read through for every applicant – and how important it is to precisely follow instructions, you must truly reflect on whether or not your case needs explaining in an optional essay. 

Good reasons to write optional essays include:

  • A low GMAT score or poor academic performance
  • Explaining your choice of recommenders
  • Explaining any gaps or confusing jumps in your work experience
  • Any relevant personal circumstances that have greatly influenced your application 

Though it’s tempting to fill every box with information about why you are a great fit for your dream school, resist this temptation and make sure, first and foremost, that you follow instructions . 

Really, though. There is no easier way to annoy the admissions committee than to flout their instructions. So make sure you really ask yourself, “Is my application truly incomplete without this information?”

Looking for example optional essays that cover a wide range of subjects? Our MBA Resource Center has dozens of successful sample essays, in addition to successful essays from countless schools, brainstorm guides, resume templates, interview mocks and answer models, and much more. Find out more about your one-stop shop for MBA application success here .

low gpa essay sample mba

What does a “good” optional essay include?

In a word: brevity . 

In some cases, the admissions officer reviewing your file has already read over 1,000 words before getting to your optional essay. 

This means that they don’t need to read a novel about why your boss is not writing one of your letters of recommendation. 

In most cases, a simple, straightforward explanation is more than enough to get the point across.  

If you need to explain a shortcoming in your application – such as a low GMAT score – you also want to make sure to provide evidence that you are still well-suited to add value to your target school’s MBA program and show any relevant growth in the area of concern. 

low gpa essay sample mba

For example, despite building a challenging, high-performance career in the financial markets, our client João’s quant score on the GMAT exam was lower than ideal. 

To show his score was not an accurate reflection of his abilities, he included this in his optional essay: 

“First, I would like to address my low GMAT quantitative score. Math has never been a problem for me. As such, I chose to pursue a career in the financial markets, a very quantitative industry. I have been improving my math skills, mainly in statistics and probability, for more than 10 years at university and in my career. I have also done professional courses in derivatives and risk management, and have passed through the first two stages of the CFA certification process. As a result, despite my low score, I strongly believe that I have the quantitative skills necessary to thrive in the Michigan MBA program .”

Though this is slightly on the long side for an optional essay, the candidate had ample evidence to present to offset his less-than-stellar performance. In the end, the essay was enough to earn him an admissions offer. 

Finally, be careful where you draw attention.

If your quant score on GMAT was 50 rather than an elusive, perfect 51, there is no need to explain this. More likely than not, the admissions committee member reading this optional essay will respond with an eye roll. 

As such, think carefully about where your application and/or profile may be slightly below average for the school to which you are applying and address only these issues. 

What is a reapplicant essay and who should write one?

Perhaps you applied to business school last year but weren’t quite able to land a spot at your dream school. 

That doesn’t mean you should give up on your business school dream! We have worked with numerous reapplicants who have secured spots at Harvard , Columbia , and other elite MBA programs only the second time around . 

As a reapplicant, however, you need to be conscious of the fact that you have a unique challenge that first-time applicants do not. First and most importantly, you must reflect on why you were not admitted the first time around. 

Though there are many factors that go into play, some of the most common reasons a candidate is dinged are: a low GMAT, a lack of clearly-defined goals, and a failure to demonstrate fit with his or her target school. 

As such, throughout your application, you must focus on showing the admissions committee how you have grown and evolved as a person and professional since your last application. 

One of the most appropriate places to do so is in your reapplicant essay. 

Let’s take a look at Columbia Business School’s prompt for reapplicants (especially critical given the fact that this is the only essay CBS allows reapplicants to submit). 

The question states:

low gpa essay sample mba

The question is perfect in its clarity. Columbia wants you to get to the point, showing them how you have grown and what your short-term and long-term goals are. 

Though not all business schools ask the question in exactly the same way, your task is the same: show them the “new and improved you.”

Keep reading for our top tips on how to write this essay (including past successful essays) in the next section. 

What does a “good” reapplicant essay include?

When writing your reapplicant essay, you must keep the word “delta” in mind. 

Defined as the “ an increment of a variable ,” in your application, delta should be defined to mean the difference between old you and new you.  

Though there are many ways to demonstrate “delta,” some of the most effective in a reapplicant essay include:

  • A higher GMAT score
  • Clarified or refined goals
  • Additional leadership or managerial responsibilities at work
  • Additional international experience
  • New or additional community service experiences

Let’s take our client Pedro for example.

The year before putting the Ellin Lolis Advantage to work for him, he had submitted an application to Columbia Business School that, among its greatest flaws, did not state coherent goals. Though Pedro had built a strong finance career, he focused his post-MBA goals in his first application on launching an art gallery. 

For the admissions committee, it was a bit too much of a jump, and Pedro was dinged without an interview. 

After coming to us and critically reviewing his application , we developed a new line of attack that leveraged his company’s desire to sponsor his MBA and give him a leading role in expanding the company’s regional presence.

Furthermore, we focused on showing how he had sought to grow as a leader both at work and in the community to really reinforce the value he could bring to Columbia. 

Here’s how he did that:

“Not being admitted to the Columbia MBA was a big failure for me, though I can now see it was important, as it helped me realize what passion to follow, where I needed to improve, and what I needed to do to accomplish these things. Thus, I took steps to come closer to reaching my goals. 

After going through a process of self-reflection and talking to many people, including the president of BANK, I realized that the bank has many opportunities for development, and not just in Brazil. BANK’s expansion throughout Latin America will require home-grown talent that is able to implement our DNA in a way that is compatible with local cultures and business practices. I want to play an important role in this process in two different ways. By acting as a connector, I will establish relationships with local players and open new markets to Brazilian companies. By building an adequate organizational structure, I will help prepare and manage our future leaders in this task. 

Having decided on my goals, I started working on my own development. Professionally, I improved my negotiation skills when helping clients avoid default in the current economic environment. Although I still don’t directly manage people, I formally took action in the bank’s institutional recruiting and coaching of interns. Additionally, I engaged in two external consulting projects to restructure the bank’s commercial department. These projects gave me greater insight into the areas of general management and organizational planning. 

Although I decided not to pursue the arts as a career, it remains a strong passion of mine. Therefore, I have continued to run and improve my volunteer organization “Integrarte,” which takes underprivileged children to museums to increase their interaction with art. Recently, I have taken steps to add an arts education component to the initiative and have been developing a methodology to scale the project with NGOs using a feasible, low-cost model. I believe that combining business skills with an inner passion for arts can help me continue to share this passion and impact others. 

Now that I am sure where I am going, the Columbia MBA is even more essential to enable my growth. I am looking forward to hearing Carlos Brito talk about the challenges of transforming a local company into a global giant. Also, attending classes such as “The Future of Financial Services” and “Napoleon’s Glance” will help me better understand the financial industry and improve my decision-making skills for the future. Outside of the classroom, I am excited to participate in the Arts and Culture Club and am interested in organizing a trip to Inhotim in Brazil to explore the combination of arts and social empowerment. 

Lastly, I also expanded my network of contacts, getting in touch with CBS alumni and current students, such as XXXX (Class of ‘XX), a close friend of mine. This enabled me to get to know the school even better and has only reinforced that Columbia is the best possible fit for my post-MBA goals. It is the only school that provides the combination of learning specific concepts of finance from top-level faculty and contact with people from all around the globe in a city where the cultural and professional possibilities are truly limitless.”

In your own reapplicant essay, you should similarly discuss how you have overcome any weak spots in your application and provide evidence that reinforces your strong interest in your target MBA program. 

Furthermore, if you have visited the school since you last applied, you may want to include a mention of how this visit shaped your view of the school and what it offers. Though we don’t feel that simply adding, “I visited campus earlier this year,” adds much value, showing the school the insights that you gleaned from attending classes and interacting with students – and how these insights reinforced that the school is the best fit for you – can definitely make your reapplicant essay more compelling. 

With those elements in place, you will be well on your way to reaching your long-awaited goal of attending an elite business school. 

Ask for an outsider’s perspective

Self-reflection of any type is challenging. 

It can be a complex task to identify weaknesses in your profile – reapplicant or not – and then develop a surgically precise strategy to address these weak spots and how you’ve worked to overcome them in your application. 

If you’re not sure exactly how to do this, we’d be happy to help you make this critical decision . 

At Ellin Lolis Consulting, we pride ourselves on offering personalized solutions to ensure you tell your best story. Perhaps that’s why we have a 98.9% success rate in placing comprehensive consulting clients in top business schools around the world.  

As our client – and successful CBS reapplicant – Pedro Kuczynski said, “ In a nutshell, Ellin Lolis Consulting is the X factor in preparing for any MBA. ”

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Should you complete the optional essay on your MBA application?

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Prodigy Finance - May, 20 2024

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Optional essay on your MBA application

If you’re just beginning to work on your MBA admissions essays, you’re likely filled with a combination of trepidation and optimism.

That makes perfect sense.

After all, there’s a lot riding on those words; your GMAT score is only a foot in the door, and your CV will prompt admissions officers to take another look. But once you’ve got their attention, your MBA essay can make all the difference between an interview request and the dreaded rejection letter. Writing the optional essay for MBA applications might seem unnecessary, but it can be used to your advantage. Your essay may convince business schools that you’re a worthy applicant, and encourage them to give you a seat.

So, should you complete that optional MBA essay?

Shouldn’t you make sure you do all you can to demonstrate your strong candidacy?

Unfortunately, this is another one of those blurry spots in the application process that you’ve got to consider quite carefully; there’s no blanket answer that works for everyone. On the other hand, there are a few guidelines you can use to help you decide whether to complete the optional MBA essay.

MBA application factors

Business schools consider various factors while deciding whether or not to accept you. They consider your GMAT or GRE scores, your GPA at the undergraduate level, your work experience, and your MBA application essay . Your MBA application essay is important because that is where your individuality will shine through. When you want to provide additional information or clarity on any part of your application, you should consider writing that optional essay. Through your MBA application, you need to convince the admission committees that you deserve a place at your desired university.

When to complete the optional MBA essay question

The optional MBA essay is your chance to explain any discrepancies in your application. If you’ve got a perfectly clean CV that you’re proud of and a GMAT to die for, then you probably don’t need to complete the optional essay. (Feel free to exhale now.)

4 reasons to complete the optional MBA essay question

However, if there are any inconsistencies, you’ll want to give that optional MBA essay a second chance. These are a few of the troubling areas to consider writing about:

  • Low marks in your undergraduate studies , or any educational opportunities undertaken since then. There are many reasons this could have happened, but if you don’t spell it out for the admissions team, they’re free to think the worst. For example, it is quite possible that you scored a low GPA, but have been performing extremely well in a sport or in some other extracurricular activity. You’ll want to highlight that in your optional MBA essay.
  • Low GMAT results . This test isn’t the end-all, be-all of MBA admissions, but a low score will raise more than eyebrows unless you explain the reasons behind it. If you’re wondering how to overcome a low GMAT score, writing that optional MBA essay is your solution.
  • A missing reference from your current employer . There are a few reasons why you’d choose not to request a reference from your boss ; it’s most likely that you don’t want your company to know you’re leaving. But if you don't explain this in your MBA essay, the admissions board might believe you’ve not behaved adequately in your present position.
  • Gaps in employment or education should be addressed in this essay. If you don’t mention that you were travelling the world, the board could assume the worst. And, even if it is the worst thing you can imagine – you can always turn it around to your advantage by demonstrating what you’ve learned.

How should you answer the optional MBA essay?

The optional essay is there for you to acknowledge the gaps in your application and to provide additional information to avoid lingering questions. You can’t assume that you’ll have a chance to clarify a gap when you get to the interview phase – you won’t get the invitation to speak if they can’t make heads or tails of your application.

Your MBA essay is not a place for emotion, however.

For example, if your final semester as an undergrad was marked by terrible grades that brought down your entire GPA, you want to let the admissions committee know why. If your dog was sick or you were consumed by your job search, say so in your MBA essay; whatever the reason, take responsibility for it.

What do admission committees want to see in an optional essay?

Any applicant completing an optional MBA essay should keep it as short and to the point as humanly possible.

It may not feel like an essay at all. If you only need two or three sentences to get your point across, then do so. Never expound because you think it’s too short; it’s not.

And, don’t tell the admission committees how they should look at it or feel about it. Indeed, you shouldn’t even mention how you feel about it. You should, however, explain what you learned from the experience and how it shaped you as a human being or a business leader.

Optional MBA application essay examples

To address the low GPA example, you could simply say, “My final term marks were lower than average as I was coping with an illness in the family. The experience taught me about dealing with unavoidable situations and my instinctive reactions to overwhelming factors. While it didn’t assist with my GPA, I was able to use this understanding to more successfully navigate the challenges when faced with a similar situation during my time with AB Company, where I employed better communication and delegation skills to overcome the shortfalls previously experienced.”

It’s less than 100 words, answers the why question, demonstrates that you recognise where you may have gone wrong, shows what you learned from it, and provides proof that you’re not stressed about what the low GPA could mean for your entire application.

Now, if you have a few gaps to address, it’s time to get cracking with that additional essay. If not, perhaps it’s back to revising your CV.

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The MBA Essay is Usually Not Optional: Why You Should Write It

Lana Silanteva

Lana Silanteva - 700+CLUB

Lana Silanteva is an Featured Contributor and the Co-Founder and Head of Verbal at 700+CLUB . 

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You’ve already spent weeks preparing your application for business school – not to mention the months you put into studying for the GMAT exam.

Now, you have all the mandatory components of your application ready: a thorough required essay, a great GMAT score you’re happy with, a recommender who can tell a compelling story of why you’re a strong candidate, and a top-notch CV to boot.

All that’s left is the optional essay.

Before you get started on crafting your optional essay, you need to know whether the optional essay is – or isn’t – right for you, the purpose of the optional essay in the first place, and how to write a strong essay that will get you admitted into your dream business school.

All of your questions – and concerns – will be answered below.

Is the optional MBA essay really optional?

Well, it depends.

For some prospective business school students, the optional essay is a chance to explain any shortcomings in your application. For others, the optional essay can help set you apart from other applicants and strengthen your candidacy.

Part of determining whether an optional essay is right for you depends on what type of essay the admissions committee is looking for. There are two main types:

Explain extenuating circumstances

Some business schools ask applicants whether they should be aware of any extenuating circumstances that could affect a student’s application. Here, an applicant could address potential weaknesses, such as a low GPA, low GMAT score, employment or education gap, or an unlikely choice of recommender.

An applicant should write this type of optional essay if circumstances or challenges in a candidate’s life affected the strength of their application. For example, working part-time during school to support your family or dealing with an illness are extenuating circumstances that could have affected an applicant – such challenges could have lowered your GPA or GMAT score, or caused education or employment gaps in your CV. In such cases, the optional essay would allow the admissions committee to assess you more fairly.

If an applicant did not experience difficult circumstances that affected their application, then the optional essay is not necessary – instead, an applicant will be assessed purely on the merits of their application.

Provide additional information

Other business schools ask applicants open-ended questions about any other information that would be helpful for a student’s application. Essentially, business schools are asking if there is anything else they should know.

With this type of optional essay, applicants have the opportunity to tell their story. Every student is more than just numbers on a page – while a high GPA and GMAT score are impressive, business schools want to know more about why you want to attend their business school and how you can contribute to the learning community.

You can share achievements in your life, experiences, skills, or personality traits that haven’t yet been revealed in the other components of your application. Sharing these additional details will strengthen your application by painting a fuller picture for the admissions committee of more reasons to consider you as a future student.

It is highly recommended for all applicants to write the optional essay if the admissions committee is requesting additional information – after all, this type of essay is giving you the chance to shine and tell your story on your terms.

I’ve already taken my GMAT exam and submitted my CV, why should I write an optional essay?

There are many reasons to write the optional essay, depending on the type of information the admissions committee is looking for. Here are some reasons you should consider:

Academic weakness

A grade of C or lower on your academic record or a low GPA should be explained to the admissions committee. The optional essay is your chance to share why you may have academic weaknesses and, most importantly, how you worked to improve your academic performance.

Low GMAT score

The GMAT is a critical component of your application, but you can still be admitted if you provide a clear explanation for a lower score.

Any circumstances that made it challenging to excel at the GMAT should be discussed in your optional essay. Also, be sure to highlight how your other achievements and skills continue to make you a strong candidate.

Education gap

Taking time off during your studies won’t stop you from being admitted. With the right explanation for the admissions committee, you can show them why you would be a great fit for the MBA program.

Explain why you may have spent time on academic probation, for reasons such as personal hardship or family difficulties. 

Employment gaps or career changes

You may need to explain to the admissions committee why there are gaps of several months between experiences on your CV. Make sure to highlight positive experiences that you had during your time off, such as professional development courses, volunteer opportunities, or extenuating circumstances like having to care for a family member.

If you’re transitioning to the business field from another profession, the admissions committee will want to be sure you made a careful, thoughtful, and considered decision. Use the optional essay to explain why you think an MBA is right for you.

Recommender choice

Not all MBA applicants can comfortably approach their current employer for a recommendation. Perhaps your employer isn’t aware of your MBA plans yet or you haven’t worked at your present company for a long enough time to receive a stellar recommendation.

The optional essay can prevent the admissions committee from making negative assumptions about your relationship with your employer.

MBA preparedness

Not all applicants come from a business background. In fact, business schools would love to hear about the diverse experiences that draw applicants to their MBA program.

The admissions committee, however, still wants to be sure that you are prepared for the academic rigor required of an MBA program. Discuss courses that you took to get ready for business school, like calculus, economics, and statistics.

Additional valuable experiences

Beyond your GPA, GMAT score, and CV, you may have valuable personal experiences that make you stand out as a candidate.

Volunteer experiences, leadership roles, and other accomplishments might not fit into the other application components. The optional essay is your opportunity to add more value to your application and create a narrative of how your experiences brought you to the MBA program.

Delayed MBA

The MBA program attracts students with a wide array of experiences. For personal or professional reasons, some applicants only realize an MBA is right for them later in their careers – and that’s okay.

In the optional essay, show the admissions committee why you believe an MBA is the next step for you, regardless of where you started.

Can optional essays hurt my chances of being admitted?

As long as you’re providing the admissions committee with an honest picture of who you are as a candidate, then an optional essay will not hurt your chances of being admitted.

In most cases, an optional essay can strengthen your application, because it can explain any weaknesses and highlight additional skills or experiences that make you a top applicant. 

If your weaknesses are explained and all your strengths are communicated in your application, then your optional essay will serve to complement your candidacy.

How do I succeed at the optional essay?

The optional essay is a chance for you to explain any discrepancies and add value to your application by revealing more strengths and experiences.

To write a successful optional essay, make sure to leave it for last when you are preparing your application. Once all your other application components are ready, you can better assess whether you need to address weaknesses or give more details about why you belong in an MBA program.

Once you determine that an optional essay is going to help your application, ensure that the additional details you are providing can’t be included elsewhere in your application. The admissions committee has a lot of applications to consider, and you must be sure to include all the necessary details in each component of your application.

If instructions are provided, be sure to follow them. Each school may have a different word count or other expectations for the optional essay, so writing a different optional essay for each school is recommended.

Keep your essay focused and don’t use excessive space to get your point across. Add insights you gained from the experiences you are including and if discussing your weaknesses, explain how you worked to address them.

In writing your optional essay, it is vital to be as clear and concise as possible. You should avoid unnecessary details and information that is included in other parts of your application. Instead, focus on key points that make your application stronger.

The bottom line

The optional essay is – usually – not optional.

Most applicants will want to consider writing it to explain extenuating circumstances, address potential weaknesses, or add valuable details that strengthen their chance of being admitted.

The optional essay is your opportunity to shine – make sure the admissions committee knows all the facts to make the case that you are the MBA applicant that they’re looking for.

Lana Silanteva is an Featured Contributor and the Co-Founder and Head of Verbal at 700+CLUB . 700+Club is a student-centric, venture-backed online test prep and admission consulting company. Every year they help thousands of students achieve their best scores and get admitted to the top B-schools around the world. At 700+ Club, they believe that test preparation should be fun, engaging, innovative and result-oriented. With 99%-ile teachers, innovative  and digital learning tools, and a comprehensive methodology, they are certain that you will achieve your best test score. They say about themselves: "We are not a test prep company, we are your test prep support system."

How to get into an MBA program with low GPA

Featured Expert: Aali Malik, MBA

How to Get into MBA Program with Low GPA

Are you wondering about how to get into an MBA program with low GPA? Then, you have come to the right place. In this post, we will be looking at how to get into grad school with a low GPA using methods available to you that include submitting a supplemental essay and looking through the admission requirements of different business schools.

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

Article Contents 9 min read

Does a low gpa mean an end to your mba dreams.

Let us start by saying that a low GPA doesn’t necessarily mean that your dreams of an MBA education are dead. Although admittedly, it will be more difficult to get that seat in an MBA course, it doesn’t mean that there is absolutely no hope for you.

What is considered a low GPA?

There is no one particular answer to this question, but generally, a score lower than 3.4 GPA may be considered a low GPA. If you wish to target the top MBA programs, you may want to have a safe ground at 3.4 and above.

The average GPA score to join an MBA course for the top 50 universities lies between 3.4 and 3.7.

There are several options available to you if you want to get into an MBA program with a low GPA score.

First, you can opt for business schools that accept candidates with lower-than-average GPA scores. These types of schools accept students with GPA scores that are as low as 2.25 (and average out at 2.75). They accept candidates like you without compromising on the quality of education.

Examples of such universities include Texas A&M University and Niagra University.

You can do some research and find some MBA programs which occasionally accept applicants with low GPA scores. And then, call MBA admissions, if necessary, to make sure you would not waste the application fee.

Remember, though – these colleges are still elite institutions that are just as challenging to get into and often have acceptance rates of less than 20%. While they have lesser academic and extracurricular expectations from their new candidates, the number of students that apply to join them is fewer and that means each eligible candidate has a better chance of getting accepted.

Alternatively, you can also opt for business schools that offer highly-recognized MBAs via their online courses. Good examples here are the University of Southern California (Marshall) and George Washington University.

If you are still in your last semester in college and need to make that one last effort to improve your GPA score, then this is the time to pull all the stops. Here are a few tips to help with that last-minute effort:

Attend classes

This is a simple solution. Now is the time to start attending all your classes. Make sure you pay attention in class and actively participate in getting the most out of each lecture. This will help with scoring highly on final exams and midterm tests.

Take courses that can increase your GPA

If you think you are still lagging in a subject, or think that you may need help with it, try making up for it by taking extra classes. Opting for tuition is also a worthy investment in your future. If you want to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have acquired more in-depth knowledge than your GPA score shows, taking one or more courses might do the trick. Earning an A in a standalone calculus class would show that you’ve mastered that key material.

As an aspiring MBA candidate, you need to make sure you have strong mathematical and analytical skills. Therefore, if you’re not already, you should take the following courses and earn at least a B+ or higher in each one of them: Calculus, Microeconomics, Statistics, Accounting, and Finance or Corporate Finance.

If these are not your forte, you may want to take courses that you excel in. Many MBA programs do not really care about what courses you took and what you majored in if you got a high GPA. Try to take classes in dsiciplines that you enjoy and do well in.

Working on your MBA statement of purpose? Check this out:

Now is the time to catch up on all outstanding assignments. Perhaps, the thought of scoring a low GPA will motivate you enough to go above and beyond with your assignments. Every single assignment will help with increasing your GPA score – so don’t hold back.

Seek help from people who can help

You can seek help and advice from the people in your academic life. Examples here would be your advisor, professors for the courses that you’re doing poorly in, your college’s learning center or even the best MBA essay consultant you can get your hands on. These people can help you with your grades, your essays, and your general application.

If you are no longer a student

There are several ways you can compensate for a low GPA score if you are no longer a student. These include:

Improve GMAT or GRE scores

The very first thing you need to do is to make up for the low GPA score by scoring very well on the GMAT or GRE. Try to improve your GMAT scores.

Remember, you are allowed to take the GMAT exam once every 16 calendar days, for no more than five times in a rolling 12-month period, and no more than eight times total in your lifetime.

This standardized exam is often required when applying to an MBA program, and most business schools require candidates to submit their total score before they decide whether to admit them.

To help you determine the score you need to get to compensate for a low GPA, you can look at the average GMAT score at the business school of your choice and use that as a benchmark.

Many applicants underestimate the importance of MBA admission essays when applying to business schools. Application components like MBA Motivation Letter or MBA videos essays are an excellent opportunity to provide more context for your lower GPA. They are the most important part of the application where you can explain not only the low GPA – but also everything you have done since to improve your chances of getting into an MBA course.

You can use an MBA diversity essay to describe your background – including how difficult it was to pursue your college degree and all the effort you put into achieving it. It can also be used to show the admissions committee that you are a hard worker, despite a low GPA score. Perhaps, you had to overcome great odds to get where you are today. Let them know all about it.

The supplemental essay is a good way to explain extenuating circumstances. You can use optional essays to let the admissions committee know if your grades suffered because of unforeseen circumstances that you had no control over.

Here is a sample essay:

Dear Members of the Admissions Committee at [INSERT BUSINESS SCHOOL NAME],

As you go through my transcript, you, the review committee, may notice a significant drop in my GPA score from the start of my third year in college. I have no one to blame but myself, but please know that I have a good reason and I hope to convince you it is so.

After maintaining a cumulative GPA of 3.77 for my first two years, I had to make a voluntary withdrawal in my third year following my poor performance in Algebra, Investment Analysis, International Trade, and Economics.

The reason for my poor grades and my subsequent withdrawal was the illness, and then passing away, of my father.

Right at the start of my third year at ACME College, my father fell ill and was forced to require full-time home care. As the only child in the family, I had to spend more and more time looking after my father.

It also meant that I needed to work extra hours – to care for him as well as pay my way through college. This became too stressful as I couldn’t cope with working 10-hour shifts, taking care of my father, going to classes, and studying.

As my father’s health deteriorated further, I also found it mentally taxing to cope with the fact that I may lose him at any given time. Seeing him suffer every single day didn’t help either.

It was then that my performance in class and my GPA scores started to be affected. By that time it was obvious that my father wouldn’t recover and was left with a few more days to live, I couldn’t even think straight. And hence, my withdrawal.

After my father’s passing, I was determined to get my life back on track and try to achieve as best grades as I could because I knew it would make my father proud.

I went back to school and retook all necessary classes and tuition to sort my weak grades out. By graduation, I was able to push up my GPA to the levels you see today.

I am proud to say that I think my father would be proud of my overcoming that hardship and being able to pull up my socks and continue to improve myself. If there is one lesson I have learned from all of this is that we should never give up, even when we are down and out for the count. There is always one more chance to take.

I hope that you will be able to consider these facts as you consider my application for an MBA at your esteemed institution.

Try applying to business school with 2-5 years of work experience with increasing responsibility. A powerful MBA resume will help offset a poor GPA score – to some extent. Showcase your background in business and your valuable experience. This can help outweigh your not-so-strong academic background, since work experience is extremely valuable for MBAs.

Try to write a resume that aims to impress the admissions committee. But, remember that an MBA resume is not like a regular job resume. It does not demonstrate functional skills or specific qualifications, but rather showcases the impact you have made in a business with your leadership skills. It should include your achievements and experiences that tell a story about your suitability for business school and why you have chosen to apply to an MBA program.

Make sure your letters of recommendation talk about strengths and abilities

Your MBA recommendation letters should come from people who can testify to your professionalism and suitability for an MBA, above all else.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the recommendation letters leave out showing you are of good character, but it should take second place to demonstrate your capabilities as a leader and a team player in the business field. They should also mention examples of how you’ve overcome obstacles, your ability to multitask, and how you manage your time effectively – everything that is needed to become a well-rounded leader in the business field.

It wouldn’t hurt either if the recommenders themselves were captains of industry who have impressive records.

Do not underestimate the power of volunteering

Try to include any volunteering activities in your resume and MBA personal statement ; it could help you score that single point that makes your application stand out from that of the other applicants.

Especially beneficial would be any volunteering experience that included both charity work involving direct contact with people as well as involving logistics coordination and leadership skills.

Apply in Round 1 or Round 2

In case you didn’t know, most MBA programs have three rounds of admission: Round 1, Round 2, and Round 3.

Any candidate with a low GPA score would be well advised to apply in the first round and the second round at the latest.

The main reason for this is that there are more spots available during the first and second rounds. Most of the schools only hold the third round to make sure that any remaining spots are filled. And needless to say, the competition is fierce for those few remaining seats.

You need to ask the school if there is anything you can add to make sure you meet their expectations and make the MBA application process a successful one.

There could be supplemental information, maybe even an interview or a face-to-face that could increase your chances of getting that seat.

Preparing for your MBA interview? Check this out:

We hope you now know how to get into an MBA program with a low GPA. The main thing is that you follow all the advice we have given you in this post and continue to apply to as many business schools as there are on your wish list.

Never give up your dreams of getting that MBA – just keep improving your application process.

The short answer is, “Yes!”

The long answer is that most business schools expect students with lower GPA scores. They look to diversify their student body. They also have a realistic outlook on the candidates that apply to their admissions committees – not everyone has a high GPA score.

Also, remember that one character they are looking for is resilience or persistence. By applying with a low GPA you are showing that you do put some effort into achieving what you aim for.

Yes, you can reuse your letters of recommendation. But, you always need to make sure that all the information on them is still valid and accurate – including dates, contact information, and the willingness of the people to stand by their testimonies.

The admission process, to any MBA program, is always a highly competitive affair; having some work experience is one of the things you would want to increase your chances of getting a seat – especially when you have a low GPA. While you’re still eligible to apply, it would be wise to do so with some working experience (at least 2 – 3 years).

Well, for the most part, the business school that you are applying to will have instructions on the length of all supplemental or optional essays. If they don’t have any information about it, you should go ahead and ask. The recommended length for the essay though ranges from 350 to 900 words.

The best people to ask for a letter of recommendation are your immediate supervisors. This is especially true if you have (or had) a good working relationship with them. They should also be able to testify to your good work ethic and leadership skills. They should also be people who would be willing to testify via phone calls – because the business school could call them up.

Most business schools will ask for two or three letters of recommendation. However, it is always best to check with the specific school to find out their requirements.

Yes, most business schools accept candidates with MBAs from other schools. The operative word here is “most.” So, do some research and find out if your particular business school of choice allows it too.

Again, most universities do not have a preference for one test over the other. If you submit multiple test scores from GMAT or GRE to a school, they will most likely only consider the highest score from all test sittings. However, always check with the schools you are applying to whether they have a preference.

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How to explain low GPA in Personal Statement? (with Examples)

low gpa essay sample mba

by Talha Omer, MBA, M.Eng., Harvard & Cornell Grad

In personal statement tips & advice.

The  Statement of Purpose (SOP), also known as the personal statement  allows you to give a deep insight into your ambitions and motivations to pursue a particular course at a university.

Bonus Article Sample Personal Statement that explains a low GPA

Credentials like Grade Point Average (GPA) and Standardized tests like the GRE and GMAT only tell about your aptitude or academic excellence. In contrast, the personal statement gives insights into your mind. Of course, not everyone has a stellar GPA and test scores; therefore, a very commonly asked question by such applicants is how they should  explain their low GPA in the SOP .

In most cases, it is best not to allude to your low GPA and instead focus on your strengths. But if you think that you have excellent reasons to justify your low GPA, then you should go ahead and clarify yourself.

Mentioned below are different reasons that you can use to explain your low GPA. Please note that you should always be honest about yourself and not come up with any false reasons to clarify your low GPA.

In this Article

Personal Problems

Good grades in major subjects, financial problems, relevant work experience, recommendation letter, when is it not okay to address a low gpa, when is it okay to address a low gpa.

A very common reason that can justify your bad performance in one semester can be personal health or unfortunate personal reasons. You should explain this very politely, and there is no reason to get emotional and all. And also note that, this reason can defend your low grades in only one semester and that blaming health or personal misfortune to justify multiple bad semesters could go against you.

I recommend reading this  fantastic Oxford University personal statement  that describes how personal health issues caused a low GPA and what the student did to overcome it.

If you have a low overall GPA but have excellent grades in your major subjects or the field towards which you want to align yourself, then you can always use that to reinforce your passion in the particular subject area.

Another way to explain your low GPA in the personal statement can be related to financial problems. For example, you had to study and work at the same time to make ends meet. In trying to do so, you were not able to entirely focus on your studies, and this would go in your favor. But again, don’t try to create an emotional drama; explain your reasoning in 2-3 lines.

You can also take some time off before your application and take a few steps to offset your low GPA. You can mitigate low grades by mentioning your relevant work experience (internships, etc.), workshops or certifications, extra courses that you took, and excellent scores in standardized testing like GRE, GMAT, etc.

If you don’t have any of the reasons mentioned above to justify your low GPA, then the best way is to seek the help of a faculty member who wrote your reference letter. Your faculty member can be the best person to claim that your grades don’t translate your potential and abilities and that you are motivated in your field of study. Your referee can mention these things in a few lines in your letter of reference. Take some time to get yourself on good terms with your faculty members and ask them to write excellent reference letters for you.

It’s good to remind yourself that the admissions board literally go through thousands of applications each year. They are well-acquainted with the myriad reasons students bring up to address their poor academic performance. Hence, it’s not always a good idea to explain a bad grade especially if:

  • The low GPA is a common occurrence.  Let’s say you are an all-A student but got a C or a lower grade in one subject then it’s completely fine to explain it. However, there is no point in explaining if all your grades are C’s and Ds throughout your academic career. In that case, you should let your other achievements, such as internships, work experience, extra-curriculars, speak for themself.
  • You don’t have a good enough reason. Some people claim that they don’t perform well in examinations, and therefore, their GPA is not a clear indicator of their abilities and motivations. Also, some people say that the methodology of grading adopted in their universities prevented them from scoring well. Such reasons are least likely to work since the undergraduate GPA is not calculated based on one particular exam. You won’t be making any point, instead, you would be wasting a few lines to distract the admission committee members from the subject matter.   Even if most of your grades are good but one or two are not, only address them if you have a good reason. For example, mixing up with a bad crowd, or partying excessively and missing out on studies is not a good example. The reason you got the low GPA must be unique and extenuating.

Addressing a low GPA or a bad grade in your personal statement or college essay is not something that is frowned upon. However, an important precursor is that you must have a legitimate reason for why you got that bad grade. Even the most hardworking and smartest students have their off days, and a one-off bad grade or a bad GPA in a semester isn’t the end of the world. If you have a sincere justification for your shortcoming, addressing it is completely fine.

For example, the following scenarios can offer justification for a bad grade:

  • You got extremely sick and had to take a break from studies
  • A close family member underwent a medical emergency and you had to be there for them
  • The passing away of a close friend or family member
  • Financial hardship such as having to work a job while studying to support yourself

These are just a few examples to drive home the point and surely everyone’s circumstances will differ. A good rule of thumb is that whatever reason you cite, it should be specific and believable. Making up extraordinary and/or vague stories to cover up your bad grade is not a good idea. Keep it sincere and present it without embellishments.

Some universities allow applicants to add an addendum to explain more about themselves. This can be an ideal platform for you to tell your reasons. But again, keep the reasoning brief and to the point. Do check with the university if it allows you that luxury or not.

While mentioning all these reasons, you have to be careful that you are polite, brief, rational, and well reasoned. Otherwise, rather than doing good, referring to your low GPA can backfire and work against you.

In the end, once again, I recommend reading this  sample personal statement  that explains low GPA. You can learn from this sample and incorporate something similar in your application essay.


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MBA Resources

Navigating low GMAT/GPA scores in MBA Applications – A Guide to Success


MBA & Beyond Team

07/01/2024 | 1:00 pm

Is your low GMAT/GPA score in the way of your MBA dreams? Don’t despair! While a strong score is beneficial, it’s not the only factor determining your success in MBA applications. 

This insightful webinar by MBA&Beyond will equip you with the knowledge and strategies to navigate low GMAT/GPA and make your application shine.

low gpa essay sample mba


First, let’s acknowledge the impact of low GMAT/GPA . A lower score can raise questions about your academic preparedness for the rigorous MBA curriculum. However, admissions committees also understand that standardized tests are not a perfect measure of potential. 


When targeting business schools, the importance of your undergraduate GPA can vary. Here’s the deal: If your undergrad GPA is less than stellar, it’s not the end of the road. What truly matters is how you address this shortfall. This is where optional essays come into play. Optional essays provide additional information to the adcoms that may not be covered in other parts of your MBA application. Use them to explain your low GPA well, closing the loop on any questions. Read more: How important is your GPA for top MBA programs ? 

Strategies to Improve Your Scores:

While addressing your scores is crucial, there are different approaches to consider:

1. Retaking the GMAT/GRE: This is a direct way to improve your score, but it requires dedication and proper preparation. Read more: Twelve practical ways to improve your GMAT score!

2. Alternative Assessments: Some schools offer alternative assessments like essays or online tests. Explore these options and see if they align with your strengths.

3. Showcasing Strengths Beyond Scores: Highlight relevant academic achievements, like strong performance in specific courses or independent research projects.

4. Overcoming Low GPA Hurdles: If your GPA is lower than expected, explain any extenuating circumstances honestly and showcase how you have learned and grown from those experiences. Read here: How to justify a low GPA in your MBA application?


Business schools are more interested in who you are and what you’ve accomplished outside the classroom.

Think of your application as a showcase for your leadership, personal growth, and real-world experience. Highlight your extracurriculars . Have you tackled challenges, learned from setbacks, and emerged stronger? Do you have the vision and drive to be a future global leader? These qualities matter more than a perfect GPA.  Read more: How to exhibit leadership experience in your MBA application ?

So, ditch the drama and focus on showcasing your full potential. Tell the story of your journey, highlighting your experiences, learnings, and growth. This multi-faceted approach will have a far greater impact than a single number. 

Want to pursue an MBA but not sure if your profile fits?

Talk to our Profile Experts to know your chances for a top MBA Program.

Crafting Effective Application Materials:

1. Emphasize Your Uniqueness: Use essays to tell your story, highlight your strengths, and explain any low scores honestly.

2. Positive Spin on Low Scores: Frame your low score as an opportunity for growth and demonstrate how you’ve overcome challenges.

3. Develop a Compelling Narrative: Weave your experiences, strengths, and goals into a coherent narrative showcasing your success potential.

4. Recommendation Strategies: Seek recommendations from individuals who can speak to your academic abilities, leadership potential, and work ethic.

5. Interview Preparation: Practice your interview skills and prepare to answer questions about your low scores confidently and constructively.

Read here: How to build your MBA Application 101? 

A low GMAT/GPA shouldn’t hinder your MBA dreams. By understanding the holistic review process, showcasing your strengths beyond scores, and crafting compelling application materials, you can demonstrate your potential and secure admission to your dream school.

Ready to take control of your MBA application? 

To Watch the full webinar episode by MBA&Beyond and gain deeper insights and expert advice, click the link below.

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Optional Essay Dos and Don’ts

August 11, 2023

Donna Bauman

When completing your MBA applications, it’s tempting to answer every possible question. The optional essay, however, has the word “optional” right in its name. MBA programs value self-awareness in their applicants; you can demonstrate this by recognizing what material is appropriate to include—if any—in the optional essay.

Quite simply, the optional essay—and it really could be called a series of optional statements—exists only to address questions that an admissions committee member might have after they review the required application materials. These questions usually center on your choice of recommenders, your academic readiness, or your career potential. MBA programs provide some guidance in their applications about the most common reasons to complete the optional essay. For example, Dartmouth Tuck offers this guidance on its website:

The following essay prompt is optional: Please provide any additional insight or information that you have not addressed elsewhere (e.g., atypical choice of references, factors affecting academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes). Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application. (300 words)

This is not the place to add another main essay. If you had a particularly difficult semester academically, it could be helpful to share some context for what was happening in your life during this time. If you have a six-month gap in your resume, provide some details to help the admissions team understand your situation.

Admissions officers have always worked exceptionally long hours and have more than enough to read with regular essays and their always-overflowing email inboxes. They don’t want to read any more than is necessary to evaluate your application. If you still think the optional essay applies to you, here are a few tips:

1. Address concerns directly.

Have a trusted advisor review your resume and application to see what questions they have, and then address their concerns head on. If you are working at two jobs at the same time, be clear about which job is your primary focus. Address any significant gaps in your work history or anything that could be confusing or unclear to the admissions committee. If you were laid off from your job and it took you six months to find a new one, explain this and briefly mention how you have grown from the experience. If you were relocating as a trailing spouse or had visa issues that played a role in employment gaps, explain that. Stick with facts and not opinions when addressing sensitive topics.

2. Explain your recommender choice if you are not using your direct supervisor.

If you are not using your direct supervisor as a recommender , explain your reasoning. Perhaps you have only worked for your current supervisor for a few months. Alternatively, if you fear a promotion or raise is at risk by sharing your MBA plans with your direct supervisor, explain this in your optional essay. Admissions committees understand such concerns. Simply explain your rationale for your recommendation choices and why the recommenders you chose are qualified to write your recommendations.

3. Offer context for a low GPA .

There is a difference between providing context and making excuses. For example, own that you were not mature enough to focus on academics early in college, and then offer an example of how you are now ready for rigorous academic work. Consider taking a quant class for academic credit to demonstrate that you can master the topic with an A or B grade. If you do not score well on standardized testing, provide other evidence of your quantitative readiness for an MBA program.

4. Show that you have grown.

Self-awareness and the ability to learn from your mistakes are highly valued by admissions committee members. If you have any past disciplinary actions (e.g., academic suspension or arrest), state how you learned from your past mistake and make it clear that it will not happen again.

1. Offer any excuses or blame.

This is not the place to throw shade at anyone—past bosses, professors, or companies. Simply provide some context to help the admissions team understand the situation.

2. Write a novel.

In fact, you don’t even have to write an essay. If you can clarify and provide the necessary context in just a few sentences, do that.

3. Ramble on to other areas.

Do not try to sneak in a few more points that you ran out of space to discuss in the required essays. If you do this, you risk harming your overall application.

4. Address problems that don’t exist.

No one has a perfect application! Although you might feel bad about the C you got in your “Microeconomics” course, if your overall GPA is strong, there is no need to call attention to one or two C grades on your transcript.

By providing brief explanations for any parts of your application that are confusing, you enable the admissions reviewer to avoid spending precious time deciphering the details of your past and instead conduct a thorough and holistic review of your application. 

If you have any questions about your situation, reach out to a member of our admissions counseling team for a free consultation .

Dartmouth Tuck School of Business GPA Optional Essay Recommendations

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How to justify a low GPA in your MBA application?

MBA and Beyond

GPA is considered a vital aspect of your profile for your applications to top B-schools,  mostly because it claims to be an objective indicator of your academic accomplishment in undergrad. And that is why applicants with low GPAs are quite anxious about their chances at their target schools. 

But let me break this myth for you- Low GPA is a teeny-tiny part of your application. It indicates your sincerity in undergrad and helps B-schools know if you’d survive the academic rigor. MBA applicants would have so many changes to their profile, and there are tens of other ways to explain your low GPA and compensate for it. 

Sharing a secret (do not share!)- our founder is a low GPA MBA graduate, but that did not deter him or his many other very successful applicants with low GPA MBA aspirants from getting into their dream b-schools! 

You can read about some success stories related to low GPAs. It may help you be more confident and create an action plan for yourself.

So, let’s talk about how you can deal with a low GPA in your MBA application. This article will help you understand the impact of a low GPA and lay an action plan for you to strengthen your MBA application despite a low GPA. 

Here is a snapshot of the article:

What is considered ‘low GPA’ by top B-Schools?

What impact does your GPA have on your chances in a full MBA program?

What does a low GPA indicate about you?

How do i explain my low gpa, action plan to strengthen your application despite low gpa.

A GPA of less than 3.0 may be considered a “bad GPA,” at least for T10  B-schools. However, 3.2+ is a decent starting position if you wish to apply to the finest MBA programs (M7) or T10.

Although GPA is a popular instrument used by universities and colleges to assess student academic success, it is not the only indication that accurately characterizes a student’s performance.

Overall, each business school assigns a different weight to GPA (no one knows the quantum of these ingredients!), so even if you have a 2.5, you’ll still have a good chance of getting into your top choice, but mark it; if your GPA is poor, you must improve on other aspects of your MBA application.

What impact does your GPA have on your chances in a top MBA program?

GPAs provide adcoms indications of how you’ve been doing academically, which fields interest you the most, and how you’ve spent your college time. Essentially, it serves as a mirror to your undergrad, showcasing your performance, record of successes, reflection on your ambitions, and majors you were interested in.

The student is a poor test taker; nervousness, stress, and other factors take control, and the student performs poorly despite knowing the content.

The student did not study or complete their assignments which shows that you were not diligent and raises questions of the same in one’s MBA curriculum.

The student studied, but there was a lack of foundation, so they could not comprehend the new subject and could not perform well in class.

All the B-schools have an optional essay to explain any gaps or low GPA in your profile or anything else you would like to tell the adcoms that may make a stronger case for you.

How to tackle Optional Essays in your MBA applications?

Use this essay to describe the ‘Why’ of your low GPA and be genuine about it. 

And, be short but specific—you don’t want to leave anything to speculation or leave your case of low GPA weaker. 

Don’t brush something under the rug or be evasive. For example, suppose you had a low GPA in your first two years because you struggled with over-committing and not managing your time properly. In that case, it’s okay to admit that it took you some time to master your time management skills and learn to prioritize successfully. But, in reality, it demonstrates a high level of maturity and self-reflection.

When a decline in grades is caused by great hardship, explain why: you should not be afraid to remark if your grades are bad due to unusual circumstances, such as working part-time because a parent lost a job.

GPA is an indicator of diligence and academic rigor. You can also discuss your work experience to highlight your quantitative and analytical aptitude. B-schools prefer low GPAs and high GMAT scorers for intellectual reassurance. 

What should you do if you have low GMAT?

If you have encountered any other challenges that have prevented you from earning your highest scores, you can also highlight the case of a low GPA in the Optional Essays. 

The first step is to know that having a low GPA is not a big deal! It is big enough to tackle it well in your MBA applications by explaining and compensating (and there are sure shot ways for it) but not big enough to be anxious about it. Here are some tips (and reminders) for you-  

 Make your Profile and your MBA application strong- Both aspects are different, and you must work on both of them. To make your Profile strong, introspect deep into your profile, get expert opinions, research and networking and identify your strengths and weaknesses. 

To make your MBA application strong, you need to have a roadmap. Understand the different aspects of an application and start working on each of them over a decided period.

The coffee roadmap 

  Compensate for your low GPA- The GMAT is the best way to compensate for a Low GPA. You can also take some courses like  CORe, edX, MBAMath, or any certifications earned such as CPA, ACCA, and CFA would highlight one’s academic rigor. 

Bring out a unique & authentic personality-  An application is much beyond GPA, even GMAT. It is about your fit into the community of the school. If you are a 4.0 GPA and 780 GMAT but do not fit well into the school’s culture and society, you are pretty much out of the picture. Schools need to know how they can contribute to the cohort. So, work on highlighting your fit to the school in all the aspects- culture, values, the community of the school. And for that, you need to introspect very deep into yourself and should have a solid understanding of what your target schools are looking for.

See how we are helping applicants in bringing a 100% unique application.

Weave a collinear story- As we highlighted above, the game is much beyond scores. Do schools need to know how they will help you achieve your goals? Of course, you need to weave a collinear story of your work experience, your short-term and long-term goals, and why you need an MBA. And it must make sense. Because if you are saying that I am a marketer and I want to become a tech leader in FAANG, it just is unreal! And if you fail here, trust us; nothing else matters.

How to weave a strong, collinear story around your goals?

I hope this article helped you gain confidence in your profile and chances at your dream schools. If you put dedication and the right strategy into your application, the sky is the limit. We have worked with so many applicants with low GPAs, low GMAT, common and basic profiles, or gaps that did not make them the best.

We are happy to hear your story and evaluate your chances at your dream schools if you'd like. You can talk to our experts by requesting a Profile Evaluation call here. We aim to add as much value as possible to each applicant’s journey! 


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10 Best Questions to Ask an MBA Student or Alum

ask an MBA student

The journey to get an MBA is an exciting step in your professional and personal development. One of the best ways to gather insights about a business school is to speak with current students or alums. They can provide a unique perspective you won’t find in brochures or official websites. To make the most out of these conversations, asking the right questions is crucial. Here are the ten best questions to ask an MBA student or alum to get a well-rounded understanding of a business school.

Curious about your chances of getting into a top B-school? Contact us to talk strategy with a  free 15-minute advising session  with an SBC Principal Consultant.

Question 1: Why did you choose this business school?

This question can help you understand the main factors influencing their decision. Their answer might highlight the school’s reputation, specific programs, faculty, culture, or location. These responses will reveal what sets this school apart and whether those factors align with your priorities and career goals.

Question 2: What was your experience like during the admissions process?

The admissions process can vary from one school to another. Learning about their experience can provide valuable tips on navigating the application, preparing for interviews, and managing deadlines. It can also highlight any unique aspects of the school’s admissions process you should know.

Question 3: How would you describe the academic environment? 

Understanding the academic rigor and support systems in place is crucial. Ask an MBA student or alum about the quality of the faculty, class sizes, the level of collaboration versus competition among students, and the availability of academic resources. That will help you assess if the educational environment suits your learning style and goals.

low gpa essay sample mba

Question 4: Can you share insights on the campus culture? 

Campus culture plays a significant role in your MBA experience. Ask about the social atmosphere, diversity, inclusion, student organizations, and extracurricular activities. Understanding the culture will help determine if you feel comfortable and engaged in the community.

Question 5: What opportunities are available for networking and career development? 

Networking and career development are vital components of an MBA program. Ask an MBA student or alum about the strength of the alumni network, the availability of career services, internship opportunities, and on-campus recruiting. These factors can significantly influence your post-MBA career prospects.

Question 6: How has the MBA program impacted your career? 

This question allows you to gauge the tangible benefits of the MBA program . Alums can share their career progression, job placements, salary increases, and how they have applied the skills and knowledge gained from the program. This information is critical in understanding the return on investment for the MBA.

low gpa essay sample mba

Question 7: What are some challenges you faced during the program? 

Every MBA program has its academic, social, or logistical challenges. By asking about these, you can get a realistic picture of what to expect and consider if you are ready to handle similar challenges. Additionally, you can learn how the school supports students in overcoming these obstacles.

Question 8: How accessible are the faculty and administration? 

Faculty and administrative support can greatly enhance your MBA experience. Ask an MBA student about their accessibility, responsiveness, and willingness to mentor students. A supportive faculty and administration can provide valuable guidance and foster a positive learning environment.

Question 9: What has been the ROI of this MBA program for you?

While financial gain is not the only reason to pursue an MBA, understanding the program’s return on investment (ROI) is essential. Inquire about the cost of the program, availability of scholarships, average starting salaries of graduates, and long-term career advancement. This will help you evaluate if the financial and time investment is worth it.

low gpa essay sample mba

Question 10: Would you recommend this MBA program to others? Why or why not? 

This is a straightforward question that can yield honest and insightful answers. Alums and current students can provide a holistic view of their satisfaction with the program and highlight its strengths and weaknesses. Their recommendation (or lack thereof) can foreshadow the program’s quality and fit for you.

Asking the right questions can  enhance your understanding of a business school and help you decide where to pursue your MBA. Remember to approach these conversations with an open mind and respect the time and insights students and alums share. Their experiences can provide invaluable guidance as you navigate your MBA journey. Happy networking, and best of luck with your applications.

Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs. From our  All-In Partnership  to interview prep, essay editing, resume review, and much more, we’ve got you covered. Contact us today for a  free 15-minute advising session  to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant. 

Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team .

HBS Admissions Board at Harvard Business School HBS MBA

HBS Admissions Board at Harvard Business School Kellogg MBA

Director HBS Admissions at Harvard Business School MBA, the Wharton School

HBS Admissions Board at Harvard Business School

Director HBS Admissions at Harvard Business School HBS MBA

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Ashley is a former MBA Admissions Board Member for Harvard Business School (HBS), where she interviewed and evaluated thousands of business school applicants for over a six year tenure.  Ashley  holds an MBA from HBS. During her HBS years,  Ashley  was the Sports Editor for the Harbus and a member of the B-School Blades Ice Hockey Team. After HBS, she worked in Marketing at the Gillette Company on Male and Female shaving ...

Kerry is a former member of the Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS). During her 5+ year tenure at HBS, she read and evaluated hundreds of applications and interviewed MBA candidates from a wide range of backgrounds across the globe. She also led marketing and outreach efforts focused on increasing diversity and inclusion, ran the Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP), and launched the 2+2 Program during her time in Admissions. Kerry holds a B.A. from Bates College and  ...

A former associate director of admissions at Harvard Business School, Pauline served on the HBS MBA Admissions Board full-time for four years. She evaluated and interviewed HBS applicants, both on-campus and globally.  Pauline's career has included sales and marketing management roles with Coca-Cola, Gillette, Procter & Gamble, and IBM.  For over 10 years, Pauline has expertly guided MBA applicants, and her clients h ...

Geri is a former member of the Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS).  In her 7 year tenure in HBS Admissions, she read and evaluated hundreds of applications and interviewed MBA candidates from a diverse set of academic, geographic, and employment backgrounds.  Geri also traveled globally representing the school at outreach events in order to raise awareness for women and international students.  In additio ...

Laura comes from the MBA Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS) and is an HBS MBA alumnus. In her HBS Admissions role, she evaluated and interviewed hundreds of business school candidates, including internationals, women, military and other applicant pools, for five years.  Prior to her time as a student at HBS, Laura began her career in advertising and marketing in Chicago at Leo Burnett where she worked on th ...

Andrea served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.  In this role, she provided strategic direction for student yield-management activities and also served as a full member of the admissions committee. In 2007, Andrea launched the new 2+2 Program at Harvard Business School – a program targeted at college junior applicants to Harvard Business School.  Andrea has also served as a Career Coach for Harvard Business School for both cu ...

Jennifer served as Admissions Officer at the Stanford (GSB) for five years. She holds an MBA from Stanford (GSB) and a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Jennifer has over 15 years experience in guiding applicants through the increasingly competitive admissions process into top MBA programs. Having read thousands and thousands of essays and applications while at Stanford (GSB) Admiss ...

Erin served in key roles in MBA Admissions--as Director at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and Assistant Director at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB). Erin served on the admissions committee at each school and has read thousands of applications in her career. At Haas, she served for seven years in roles that encompassed evaluation, outreach, and diversity and inclusion. During her tenure in Admissions at GSB, she was responsible for candidate evaluation, applicant outreach, ...

Susie comes from the Admissions Office of the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she reviewed and evaluated hundreds of prospective students’ applications.  She holds an MBA from Stanford’s GSB and a BA from Stanford in Economics. Prior to advising MBA applicants, Susie held a variety of roles over a 15-year period in capital markets, finance, and real estate, including as partner in one of the nation’s most innovative finance and real estate investment organizations. In that r ...

Dione holds an MBA degree from Stanford Business School (GSB) and a BA degree from Stanford University, where she double majored in Economics and Communication with concentrations in journalism and sociology. Dione has served as an Admissions reader and member of the Minority Admissions Advisory Committee at Stanford.   Dione is an accomplished and respected advocate and thought leader on education and diversity. She is ...

Anthony served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise. During his time as a Wharton Admissions Officer, he read and reviewed thousands of applications and helped bring in a class of 800+ students a year.   Anthony has traveled both domestically and internationally to recruit a ...

Meghan served as the Associate Director of Admissions and Marketing at the Wharton MBA’s Lauder Institute, a joint degree program combining the Wharton MBA with an MA in International Studies. In her role on the Wharton MBA admissions committee, Meghan advised domestic and international applicants; conducted interviews and information sessions domestically and overseas in Asia, Central and South America, and Europe; and evaluated applicants for admission to the program. Meghan also managed ...

Amy comes from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania where she was Associate Director. Amy devoted 12 years at the Wharton School, working closely with MBA students and supporting the admissions team.  During her tenure at Wharton, Amy served as a trusted adviser to prospective applicants as well as admitted and matriculated students.  She conducted admissions chats with applicants early in the admissions ...

Ally brings six years of admissions experience to the SBC team, most recently as an Assistant Director of Admission for the full-time MBA program at Columbia Business School (CBS).  During her time at Columbia, Ally was responsible for reviewing applications, planning recruitment events, and interviewing candidates for both the full-time MBA program and the Executive MBA program. She traveled both internationally and dome ...

Erin has over seven years of experience working across major institutions, including University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School, and NYU's Stern School of Business. At Columbia Business School, Erin was an Assistant Director of Admissions where she evaluated applications for both the full time and executive MBA programs, sat on the admissions and merit scholarship committees and advised applicants on which program might be the best fit for them based on their work experience and pro ...

Emma comes from the MBA Admissions Office at Columbia Business School (CBS), where she was Associate Director.  Emma conducted dozens of interviews each cycle for the MBA and EMBA programs, as well as coordinating the alumni ambassador interview program. She read and evaluated hundreds of applications each cycle, delivered information sessions to audiences across the globe, and advised countless waitlisted applicants.

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SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Wharton, Booth and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team: Meet Anthony , who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Kim , who was an Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Chicago Booth.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation .

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Poets&Quants’ 40-Under-40 Best MBA Professors Of 2024

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low gpa essay sample mba

Jun Li and Andrew Wu are linked by many “boths.”

Both are accomplished professors at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. They are researchers at the top of their fields, winning multiple honors for their work. Both were finalists for Financial Times Research Impact awards.

Both earned their PhDs at The Wharton School. It’s where they met, actually. Li noticed Wu staring at her from across a Philadelphia bar and asked if he knew her. They didn’t realize they were in the same program until they got to talking.

Both are parents to four and six year olds about to turn into five and seven year olds.

And today, both are featured on Poets&Quants’ annual list of the 40 best MBA professors under the age of 40. It’s the first time (we think) we have featured a married couple in the same year, both selected on their individual accomplishments and merits.

“It is beyond our expectations, really exciting,” Li tells P&Q. “Thinking about all these years working together – both as family and partners – it is really rewarding. I tell people all the time that Andrew is the best co-author I’ve ever had.”

More on that a little later.


We at Poets&Quants are proud to announce our collection of the 40-Under-40 Best MBA Professors for 2024. This is the 12th edition of our annual recognition, and our goal remains unchanged: To identify and celebrate the most talented young professors currently teaching in MBA programs around the world.

low gpa essay sample mba

Federica De Stefano, HEC Paris

Professors on this year’s list come from 34 different business schools. That includes 15 schools outside of the United States, more than in any other year. The United Kingdom has the most professors outside the USA at five, while France has three and Spain has two. The list also includes professors from China, India, Italy, Mexico, and the Netherlands.

Five schools have two professors each:

  • Kelley School of Business, Indiana University
  • Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
  • MIT Sloan School of Management
  • NYU Stern School of Business
  • The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

We also honor 21 exceptional women, the most we’ve ever recognized in a single year. Included is Federica De Stefano , 36, Assistant Professor of Management and Human Resources at HEC Paris.

She was diagnosed with cancer for the first time in her early 20s, one week after graduating with her Master of Science. As a research assistant at Bocconi University, she started reading research on work, careers, and human resources. That’s when she knew she wanted to be a business professor.

“That research had a tremendous impact on my ability to navigate that phase of my life in an informed way. It answered some of my questions and left me with some more. I therefore decided that I wanted to find those answers to support people like me in navigating their work life, and that a business school was the right place to develop and share knowledge on this topic,” she says.

“As a survivor, I’m grateful for the so many amazing humans who have made this possible, giving me time and space to recover. I’m grateful for the other survivors I’ve met and who don’t cease to inspire me. I’m grateful for my mentors and co-authors who have been kind, patient, and not giving up on me. I’m grateful for the institutional and human support of my colleagues at HEC Paris during my disease and recovery. I’m eternally grateful for the unwavering support of my family and my beloved partner, who never gets tired of reminding me that ‘we’re going to be fine.’”


At Poets&Quants, we love a good trailblazer. Along with our first married pair of professors, 2024 has several examples of the youngests, the firsts, and the rising stars.

Jennifer N. Wynn , 39, is the first Black woman to be a full-time faculty member at NYU Stern School of Business. She is the creator of the popular Stern courses Difficult Conversations and Inclusive Conversations.

low gpa essay sample mba

Oliver Hauser, Exeter University

At 35, Oliver Hauser is the youngest full professor at Exeter University in England. He is a Professor of Economics and interim co-director of the Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. He’s also faculty affiliate at Harvard University’s Sustainability, Transparency and Accountability Research Initiative. Outside of the business school, he’s served as advisors to the UK Cabinet Office; the UK Department for Science, Innovation and Technology; and BBC Children in Need.

“Oliver is the rare academic professor with such deep and meaningful insight into the world of practice that the students in his classroom actually feel like they are in the middle of real-world situations,” says Siri Chilazi, a researcher at Harvard University.

And Corinne Low , 39, is the first out, queer woman of color to receive tenure at The Wharton School. She created the popular “Economics of Diversity and Discrimination” course, a core part of the new DEI major.

“Professor Low’s class is one of the most impactful that I’ve taken at Wharton. It has prompted the most (and some of the most thought-provoking) conversations with classmates/friends/family outside of the classroom,” writes student Genny Silva.

Agni Orfanoudaki , Associate Professor of Operations Management at University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, is the youngest entrant on this year’s list at 29. The average age of all professors is 36.6.


Many of the professors on the list research the topics at the cutting-edge of business, technology and the future of work: AI, machine learning, sustainability, etc. Others engage directly with the biggest problems of the day.

Darden’s Gaurav Chiplunkar is analyzing a dataset with billions of individuals across 90 countries and spanning five decades. He’s looking to understand how economic development affects people’s movement through the work force.

low gpa essay sample mba

Rahul Bhui, MIT Sloan School of Management

“Our findings reveal a striking narrative: while traditional economic progress has seen men migrating from agriculture to manufacturing and services, women, in contrast, are more likely to exit the labor force altogether before re-entering at higher levels of economic development, and often within the service sector,” Chiplunkar says. “Despite significant advancements over these decades, women continue to be disproportionately relegated to clerical and secretarial roles, with managerial positions remaining elusive, even in the most developed nations.”

In his research, Jermain Kaminski of Maastricht University School of Business and Economics combines methods from machine learning and natural language processing with a specific focus on large text, audio and video data in entrepreneurship. He is a co-founder and co-chair of the Causal Data Science Meeting.

And Rahul Bhui combines cognitive science, computational neuroscience, and behavioral economics in his research to reveal the deep unifying principles that capture both rationality and irrationality. He is an Assistant Professor of Marketing as well as the Class of 1958 Career Development Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

“My goal is to unravel a paradox of human nature: how can we be so smart and so stupid at the same time? Yes, this is a serious question,” Bhui says.


Overall, we received more than 1,000 nominations from students, colleagues, business schools, and professors themselves. P&Q’s editorial staff evaluated each nominee on teaching (given a 70% weight) and research (given the remaining 30% weight).

For teaching, we considered the nominations received — both quality and quantity. For example, if we received a hundred or more nominations for a professor but there was little substance to the nominations, they weren’t as likely to score as highly as the professor that received a dozen in-depth and thoughtful nominations. We also considered any teaching-related awards the professors have won.

For research, we looked at the volume and impact of the professor’s scholarly work. To do this we examined Google Citation numbers as well as major media attention received by the professor and his or her research work. Lastly, akin to teaching, we considered research awards and grants the professors have received.

low gpa essay sample mba

Jun Li and Andrew Wu, both professors at Ross School of Business were married in 2014. They met in their PhD programs at The Wharton School. Courtesy photo


Together, Li and Wu have published four papers. Now that their kids are starting school, they expect that number to pick up.

Their first paper on companies adopting ESG and its impact on society took just one month – from ideation, to finishing the paper, to sending it off to the journal. They talked about it on the way to work, at work, and they talked about it on the way home. They didn’t have to wait for email replies or meeting schedules because the other was typically right there or in the next room.

“I have no other project ever beat that,” Li says.

Both Li and Wu say they have found a home at Ross. A place where they are supported, have inspirational mentors, and teach highly impressive students. Both just recently received tenure.

“Ross is a school of explorers, innovators, and risk takers – both faculty and students,” Wu says.

Students are out there building companies and raising tens of millions of dollars. Engineers and other disciplines are teaming up with Ross students to build out their inventions. When Wu wanted to start a new FinTech program upon joining Ross back in 2016 – before Bitcoin was a thing – the school said go for it. Ross was one of the first B-schools to offer FinTech on a large scale.

“And now we’re doing the same thing for generative AI,” Wu says. “I said, we’ve got to integrate this thing into our business education; it’s going to be tremendously transformative.

“I think both of us are now engaged with building out the next chapter of integrating generative AI into the classroom and also in research.”

NEXT PAGE: The entire roster of P&Q’s 2024 40-Under-40 Best MBA Professors

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.

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