Is 3.6 GPA Good For Grad School

Last Updated on December 13, 2022 by

According to the Council of Graduate Schools’ Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees, there were a total of 2.2 million graduate school applications submitted to colleges and universities around the country for the 2016 academic year. With that many applicants competing for spots, students may be concerned about how well they fare against the competition if they don’t have high grade point averages (GPAs). However, a low GPA does not have to keep students from getting into graduate schools. In this guide, we provide information on how students can still be accepted into an advanced degree programs despite having a low GPAs, as well as what other criteria schools consider when evaluating hopeful students.

Why Your GPA Matters

Although grade point average is not the only thing that makes a prospective student a good candidate for a grad school program, it is an important factor — but how much of a factor depends on what schools students are interested in attending. For more competitive programs, a 3.0 or even higher may be the minimum GPA accepted, but in other cases, schools are more flexible and will admit students with a minimum 2.5, or they may have no GPA cutoff at all.

The reason schools consider GPA is because it can be an indicator of how serious students are about attending graduate school, as well as a predictor of how well they will perform when they get there. However, the minimum grade point average that schools require can be based on a few factors, including the field a student is pursuing and whether he or she is seeking a master’s or doctoral degree.

7 Other Factors That Help with Grad School Acceptance

Although GPA is an important factor that grad schools look at when evaluating prospective students, it’s not the only one programs consider. The following are some other factors that graduate schools will use when evaluating students.

Personal statement.

Just as with undergraduate school applications, personal statements can help students bolster their grad school applications by allowing admissions committees to get to know them better, which is especially important since a low GPA may cause a school to have reservations about a candidate. Students should use their personal statements not only to show off their writing abilities, but also to discuss why they’re interested in these particular schools and programs, what they bring to the table that will help the departments to which they’re applying and how completing the degree will contribute to their career goals.

GRE scores.

Whether or not students are required to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) depends on their specific programs of interest. Although GRE scores are optional for admission to some schools, students with low GPAs can mitigate them by performing well on the test. This can also demonstrate to schools that students are serious about getting their graduate degrees, despite their undergraduate grades.

Letters of recommendation.

Students who want to go to grad school should make an effort to build rapport with some of their undergraduate professors, so they have people who know them well who can vouch for them when they apply to advanced degree programs. As a result of these relationships, professors can write recommendations that provide insights about students that grades alone cannot.

“Letters of recommendation are similar to references for employment,” said Dana Bearer, associate director of transfer, adult, and graduate admissions at Clarion University. “Graduate programs review these letters to gain a better understanding of the total student.”

Resume.

A strong resume with industry-relevant experience can help students stand out in a sea of applicants, despite having low grades. Any experience gained through internships, jobs, extracurricular activities or research projects is a great way for students to demonstrate their skills and interests in their fields.

Student goals.

When applying to graduate schools, students should be clear about their career goals and what they can get out of a graduate program. Schools want to admit students who will benefit from earning their degrees, so prospective students should make sure their goals are congruent with the educational opportunities that the programs they apply to are offering.

Admissions interview.

Meeting faculty members in a program is another great way for students to boost their grad school applications as well as get the information they need to choose the right schools. Students can use the interview as another opportunity to explain why they want to attend specific programs and what their aspirations are, as well as provide information about why their GPAs are low.

Tryout performance.

While students may not initially be admitted into graduate programs because of their grade point averages, they may get the opportunity to take classes on a provisional basis for a chance to gain full admission.

“At Missouri State, we have a method for individuals who do not meet our undergrad GPA minimum standards to enroll as non-degree-seeking graduate students and ‘try out’ up to nine credit hours of graduate classes to see if they can earn decent grades — and, if so, they can usually use nine hours of graduate coursework with a 3.0 or higher GPAs as a substitute for their undergraduate GPAs,” says Douglas Gouzie, graduate program director for the Department of Geography, Geology, and Planning at Missouri State University.

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Understanding Grad Program Competitiveness

The Council of Graduate Schools reports that for the 2016 school year, 48.7 percent of students who applied to master’s degree programs were accepted, while the acceptance rate for doctoral programs was 22.2 percent. With this in mind, students should take a realistic approach when choosing which schools they will apply to and do as much research about the schools they’re interested in as possible so they know what their chances of acceptance are.

“Research into a graduate program is often more important than the research students did for their undergraduate degrees,” Bearer says. “Graduate programs have higher expectations of students and therefore are more competitive when it comes to being accepted. Students should take advantage of the opportunity to speak with graduate admissions counselors, who will help students understand the expectations of graduate school.”

By speaking to an admissions counselor, as well as the faculty in a department, a student can get a clear idea of whether or not there is a realistic chance of getting into a program. However, that is not the only useful information to be found in visiting a school: A student can also learn if a program is the right fit. Although a graduate school may sound good on paper, it doesn’t mean the culture will match with a student’s needs or that it will be good working with that faculty.

Students who evaluate their chances of getting into specific schools may initially end up disappointed, but, according to Gouzie, not getting into a highly competitive school may actually be a good thing in the long run for some students.

“Who wants to go be in a program where he or she is the least-prepared student by far and will constantly have to work twice as hard to even get the lowest passing grade in the class?” Gouzie says. “Yes, maybe the ‘top program’ is worth stretching yourself for, but if you cannot complete it or it makes you ill from stress or it leaves you with a really low GPA on your resume (or ‘last in your class’ ranking), is that program name really going to help you get your dream job? I have found many students who found good quality programs where they had faculty mentors who went out of their way to help the graduating students network or land jobs, and where they were much happier at the second- or third-ranked (or even middle-ranked) program because that program had friendly alumni, a great set of classmates and camaraderie and very helpful faculty.”

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A Low GPA Doesn’t Have to Keep You from Your Grad School Dreams

According to the Council of Graduate Schools’ Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees, there were a total of 2.2 million graduate school applications submitted to colleges and universities around the country for the 2016 academic year. With that many applicants competing for spots, students may be concerned about how well they fare against the competition if they don’t have high grade point averages (GPAs). However, a low GPA does not have to keep students from getting into graduate schools. In this guide, we provide information on how students can still be accepted into an advanced degree programs despite having a low GPAs, as well as what other criteria schools consider when evaluating hopeful students.

Why Your GPA Matters

Although grade point average is not the only thing that makes a prospective student a good candidate for a grad school program, it is an important factor — but how much of a factor depends on what schools students are interested in attending. For more competitive programs, a 3.0 or even higher may be the minimum GPA accepted, but in other cases, schools are more flexible and will admit students with a minimum 2.5, or they may have no GPA cutoff at all.

The reason schools consider GPA is because it can be an indicator of how serious students are about attending graduate school, as well as a predictor of how well they will perform when they get there. However, the minimum grade point average that schools require can be based on a few factors, including the field a student is pursuing and whether he or she is seeking a master’s or doctoral degree.

7 Other Factors That Help with Grad School Acceptance

Although GPA is an important factor that grad schools look at when evaluating prospective students, it’s not the only one programs consider. The following are some other factors that graduate schools will use when evaluating students.

Personal statement.

Just as with undergraduate school applications, personal statements can help students bolster their grad school applications by allowing admissions committees to get to know them better, which is especially important since a low GPA may cause a school to have reservations about a candidate. Students should use their personal statements not only to show off their writing abilities, but also to discuss why they’re interested in these particular schools and programs, what they bring to the table that will help the departments to which they’re applying and how completing the degree will contribute to their career goals.

GRE scores.

Whether or not students are required to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) depends on their specific programs of interest. Although GRE scores are optional for admission to some schools, students with low GPAs can mitigate them by performing well on the test. This can also demonstrate to schools that students are serious about getting their graduate degrees, despite their undergraduate grades.

Letters of recommendation.

Students who want to go to grad school should make an effort to build rapport with some of their undergraduate professors, so they have people who know them well who can vouch for them when they apply to advanced degree programs. As a result of these relationships, professors can write recommendations that provide insights about students that grades alone cannot.

“Letters of recommendation are similar to references for employment,” said Dana Bearer, associate director of transfer, adult, and graduate admissions at Clarion University. “Graduate programs review these letters to gain a better understanding of the total student.”

Resume.

A strong resume with industry-relevant experience can help students stand out in a sea of applicants, despite having low grades. Any experience gained through internships, jobs, extracurricular activities or research projects is a great way for students to demonstrate their skills and interests in their fields.

Student goals.

When applying to graduate schools, students should be clear about their career goals and what they can get out of a graduate program. Schools want to admit students who will benefit from earning their degrees, so prospective students should make sure their goals are congruent with the educational opportunities that the programs they apply to are offering.

Admissions interview.

Meeting faculty members in a program is another great way for students to boost their grad school applications as well as get the information they need to choose the right schools. Students can use the interview as another opportunity to explain why they want to attend specific programs and what their aspirations are, as well as provide information about why their GPAs are low.

Tryout performance.

While students may not initially be admitted into graduate programs because of their grade point averages, they may get the opportunity to take classes on a provisional basis for a chance to gain full admission.

“At Missouri State, we have a method for individuals who do not meet our undergrad GPA minimum standards to enroll as non-degree-seeking graduate students and ‘try out’ up to nine credit hours of graduate classes to see if they can earn decent grades — and, if so, they can usually use nine hours of graduate coursework with a 3.0 or higher GPAs as a substitute for their undergraduate GPAs,” says Douglas Gouzie, graduate program director for the Department of Geography, Geology, and Planning at Missouri State University.

How to get into grad school with a low undergraduate GPA

Understanding Grad Program Competitiveness

The Council of Graduate Schools reports that for the 2016 school year, 48.7 percent of students who applied to master’s degree programs were accepted, while the acceptance rate for doctoral programs was 22.2 percent. With this in mind, students should take a realistic approach when choosing which schools they will apply to and do as much research about the schools they’re interested in as possible so they know what their chances of acceptance are.

“Research into a graduate program is often more important than the research students did for their undergraduate degrees,” Bearer says. “Graduate programs have higher expectations of students and therefore are more competitive when it comes to being accepted. Students should take advantage of the opportunity to speak with graduate admissions counselors, who will help students understand the expectations of graduate school.”

By speaking to an admissions counselor, as well as the faculty in a department, a student can get a clear idea of whether or not there is a realistic chance of getting into a program. However, that is not the only useful information to be found in visiting a school: A student can also learn if a program is the right fit. Although a graduate school may sound good on paper, it doesn’t mean the culture will match with a student’s needs or that it will be good working with that faculty.

Students who evaluate their chances of getting into specific schools may initially end up disappointed, but, according to Gouzie, not getting into a highly competitive school may actually be a good thing in the long run for some students.

“Who wants to go be in a program where he or she is the least-prepared student by far and will constantly have to work twice as hard to even get the lowest passing grade in the class?” Gouzie says. “Yes, maybe the ‘top program’ is worth stretching yourself for, but if you cannot complete it or it makes you ill from stress or it leaves you with a really low GPA on your resume (or ‘last in your class’ ranking), is that program name really going to help you get your dream job? I have found many students who found good quality programs where they had faculty mentors who went out of their way to help the graduating students network or land jobs, and where they were much happier at the second- or third-ranked (or even middle-ranked) program because that program had friendly alumni, a great set of classmates and camaraderie and very helpful faculty.”

How to Get Into Grad School: Strategies to Maximize Your Admissions Odds —  Shemmassian Academic Consulting

Best Schools to Get into with a 3.6 GPA

Is a 3.6 a good GPA in high school?

Grades are an important factor in the admissions process because they offer colleges insight into your academic capabilities and potential. However, because academic standards can vary significantly from school to school, GPA isn’t an objective measure. Moreover, admissions committees look at many different components of your profile when evaluating your candidacy.

Equivalent to a low A-, a 3.6-grade point average is certainly a competitive number. However, many students who apply to the most selective schools have even higher GPAs on a 4.0 scale, so it’s important to understand your chances of admission to top colleges.

Which factors impact college acceptance?

College admissions decisions depend on numerous factors, including the rigor of your course curriculum (whether you’re taking the most challenging courses, including honors and AP classes and exams, that your high school offers), your SAT or ACT scores, extracurriculars, essays, and other information.

Many elite colleges, with the exception of some large public universities, perform a holistic review of candidates. This means that they go beyond the empirical data, like your GPA and test scores, to factor in personal qualities such as intellectual curiosity and leadership, as evidenced in other components of your application including your essays and interview.

That’s not to say your GPA doesn’t matter; in fact, it’s one of the most important indicators of your academic performance. Still, you should make sure your application adequately reflects your achievements across multiple areas, such as extracurriculars, in addition to a strong GPA.

Why does GPA matter?

Your GPA is an indicator of your academic performance and can show admissions committees whether you’re up to the task of taking on a rigorous college curriculum. While your performance in high school won’t necessarily reflect your performance in college, it’s important information for admissions committees to consider, since they can’t accept everyone who applies.

You should bear in mind that colleges know that no two high schools measure performance identically, and a 3.6 at one school could be equivalent to a 4.0 at another. It’s more important to admissions committees that you’re taking the most challenging curriculum available to you and are performing well against your peers. That’s why they also look at measures such as class rank and test scores, among other indicators like extracurriculars.

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Top colleges with an average freshman GPA of 3.6

So, which colleges admit students with a GPA of 3.6? Many top-tier institutions do, but these are among the best in which the incoming freshman class had an average 3.6 GPA in high school.

School nameTypeStateRegion
American UniversityPrivateDistrict of ColumbiaMid East
Boston UniversityPrivateMassachusettsNew England
Clarkson UniversityPrivateNew YorkMid East
Drexel UniversityPrivatePennsylvaniaMid East
Fordham UniversityPrivateNew YorkMid East
New Jersey Institute of TechnologyPublicNew JerseyMid East
New York UniversityPrivateNew YorkMid East
Oberlin CollegePrivateOhioGreat Lakes
Pepperdine UniversityPrivateCaliforniaFar West
Southern Methodist UniversityPrivateTexasSouthwest
Temple UniversityPublicPennsylvaniaMid East
University at BuffaloPublicNew YorkMid East
University of IowaPublicIowaPlains
University of OregonPublicOregonFar West
University of San FranciscoPrivateCaliforniaFar West

Steps to increase your GPA

Looking to improve your chances of gaining admission into a competitive college or university? Raising your GPA can be one of your best bets. Here are some steps to try:

1. Account for weighting.

A weighted GPA takes into account the rigor of your curriculum, adding additional points for honors, AP, and IB courses. An unweighted GPA strictly reflects your grades, not how challenging your courses are. It’s important to recognize that many colleges will unweight GPAs when recalculating them according to their formula. Still, admissions counselors appreciate when students challenge themselves with a demanding course load and will factor this into admissions decisions.

2. Play to your strengths.

If you’re struggling in a challenging course or courses outside of your specialization, consider focusing on taking honors and APs in your better subjects rather than trying to overdo it in weaker ones. For instance, if you’re strong in the humanities but weaker in math, take APs in English and history, rather than calculus. That way, you’ll still be showing colleges that you challenge yourself without having to sacrifice your GPA for a course outside of your area of interest and expertise.

3. Engage a tutor or mentor.

A tutor or mentor can help you find ways to tackle weak areas and improve your approach to assignments and tests. Tutors could be peers who have recently completed a course, or paid professionals. Whether it’s a friend or a teacher, a tutor can help break down concepts in ways that make the most sense to you in a one-on-one setting.

Improving your GPA can be tough, but not impossible. Check out Improve Your High School GPA With These 5 Strategies for more tips on how to strengthen your academic profile.

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What if you don’t have time to increase GPA?

If you’re an upperclassman who simply doesn’t have the time to improve your GPA, it’s not the end of the world. Here are some alternative strategies for strengthening your profile to consider.

1. Don’t panic.

A 3.6 GPA is nothing to frown at. As noted above, there are plenty of excellent colleges and universities whose incoming freshman class achieved an average GPA of 3.6. It’s also not out of the question that you could be accepted to an Ivy or another top-tier college with this GPA.

It’s important to remember that many highly successful professionals peak well after high school. While you should always strive to do your best, your performance in high school won’t dictate the rest of your life. Whether you end up at your first-, second-, or third-choice college, it’s ultimately up to you to make the most of your college experience by taking advantage of academic and extracurricular opportunities, actively searching for internships, using your school’s resources, and more.

2. Retake standardized tests.

Your GPA is not the only component of your academic profile that colleges will consider. Standardized test scores are also very important, and they can often be easier to improve than your GPA. After all, your GPA accounts for several years of courses. When it comes to evaluating standardized test scores, many colleges will only look at your highest SAT or ACT scores, so taking the test more than once could work in your favor.

Be sure to work on strategies to improve your scores in between sittings, because your score won’t go up on its own; you need to be making active changes to improve it.

3. Concentrate on your extracurriculars.

Even if you’re not an academic superstar, chances are you have talents in other areas. Focus on building up your extracurricular profile to highlight these strengths, demonstrating leadership and initiative in school clubs and outside activities. For instance, perhaps you’re an actor and take on leadership roles in your school’s drama club, and seek out performance opportunities or internships at a local theater. Wherever your talents lie, show colleges that you excel outside of the classroom.

Want to know how your GPA impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!


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