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How to Address the Problem of Low Undergraduate Grades When Applying to Grad School

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

It is commonly believed that only those with fantastic undergraduate grades can apply for graduate studies. This is far from the truth. Having low undergraduate grades should not prevent you from applying to graduate school. If you want to know how to work your way around low undergrad grades, keep reading.

Your grades are only one component of the graduate school application. There are other factors that the admissions committee considers when selecting candidates for admission. Therefore, you need to work with some strategies that would present you as a worthy candidate, regardless of what your grades are.

Here are some strategies that can help you address the problem of low grades when applying to grad school.

  • Ensure you apply to schools that consider non-academic prowess alongside academic track record

Even though all graduate schools consider academic performance, some schools pay attention to non-academic skills such as leadership skills, business acumen, industry-specific skills and work experience.

For example, if you are applying for an LLM in corporate law, you need to build valuable work experience in the field of corporate law. It may take some time, but it is definitely worth it. When applying, you can showcase the skills you have gained over time and how your work experience has equipped you with the knowledge to thrive in your chosen program.

In light of this example, you must carefully examine the requirements and information that universities provide on the program requirements. Also, you could take a look at the school's values and alumni. If these show that the university celebrates real-world experience, then you can rest assured that your non-academic prowess will make up for the low grades. As such, you must be strategic when selecting the schools to apply to.

Eliminate all sentiments about the fame of the school or where the school is located. Your focus should be on choosing schools that celebrate non-academic prowess as well as academic excellence.

  • Demonstrate how your value exists outside of your undergrad grades

Applying for a graduate program is about demonstrating your value to the chosen school. If your grades cannot communicate this, you must find another way to highlight how valuable you are. The most effective approach is to inform the school how, when and where you have added value.

What mark have you made in your niche?

Which programs have you volunteered for?

Which organizations have you worked for? How did you improve the practices, processes or revenue of the organisation?

How have you added value to your community or your alma mater?

You must prove to the school that you have the potential to add value wherever you are, despite your grades.

  • Use the additional essay section to explain why you had low undergraduate grades

An admissions' committee might interpret low academic grades as an indicator of the candidate's inability to commit to a goal or prioritize excellence. When applying to grad school, you need to give an explanation that puts your low grades in context.

For instance, you could note that you had to cater to your parents or run a business or work odd jobs to sponsor your education. This shows the admission committee that your low grades are results of unfavourable circumstances and not your values.

  • Highlight the final years of your undergraduate study

If you had good grades in your final years of undergrad study, you may want to draw the attention of the admission committee to this. Back it up with convincing reasons why your academic performance was initially poor. Such reasons could range from financial problems to long-term sickness.

Grades should not define your prospects of getting into grad school. However, you must present yourself as a candidate that has the potential for excellence even if your academic track record is not impressive. If no available activities or initiatives can demonstrate your value to the school, you should re-strategize and engage in activities like fellowships, community projects, volunteering and initiatives that can position you as a valuable candidate.


A low undergraduate dream does not mean your study abroad goal is doomed. Join our signature program, the Graduate School Application Bootcamp. Let's teach how to submit applications that cannot be ignored and improve your chances of getting into your dream school.

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