Picture it: you’re finally ready to earn your master’s degree. You’ve been out of the classroom for a few years, maybe more. (Maybe a lot more.) As you’re gathering all the documents you need for the application, you see your undergraduate grade point average (GPA). Your heart sinks. You wonder: can I even get into a competitive program with an average like this?
If your GPA doesn’t reflect who you are today, don’t think you’re alone. This is one of the most common worries of working professionals who apply for a graduate program. The good news: academia understands that life happens. Your graduate-school application is less about who you were then, and more about how you’ve grown into the person you are now.
Don’t get us wrong; your GPA does matter to some degree, especially in competitive programs like ours. Your GPA proves that you have the fundamentals to be successful in a school’s graduate program. But it isn’t the be-all, end-all of an application. Admissions reviewers look at the entire package to see if you’ll thrive at their university. And there are some easy ways to beef up the rest of your application to show personal growth and supplement your GPA.
Focus on your personal statement.
It might feel weird to brag about yourself, but this is the time to do it! Your personal statement isn’t just a cover letter for the application; it’s one of your biggest chances to impress the reviewers and showcase how you’ve grown since undergrad. Use the space (approx. 3-4 paragraphs) to paint a picture of your journey. Highlight your accomplishments and outline your educational and career goals. If there were extenuating circumstances that crashed your GPA, this is where to talk about them. But be sure to also show how you overcame those obstacles! (Bonus: click the link at the end of this article for more help on your personal statement!)
Get the right recommendations.
When choosing folks to recommend you, think carefully. You want recommendations from people who can speak to skills and talents you have that are relevant to your program of interest. This means technical skill-sets, and also softer skills: for instance, your willingness to learn and lead in different settings. While peers might seem to know you best, the most trusted recommendations will come from your managers, directors, and former professors/instructors.
Prove your smarts by taking a graduate course.
This is a way to show in real time that you can handle graduate-level coursework, and potentially land yourself a reliable, relevant reference! Introduce yourself to the professor and talk to them regularly about the course and your educational goals. Be sure to choose a course in your field of interest, and include final grades in your application.
Show who you are today.
If you have the opportunity to attach/mail in additional documents, go for it! This is your chance to give the reviewers a holistic picture of you as a potential student. Include a recent resume to show your professional background and skills, and attach any publications you’ve written or other accolades you’ve received.
And lastly, remember: we were all nineteen once. Colleges especially understand this. So don’t be afraid to apply! Show off your growth and accomplishments as a working professional, and you’ll be on your way to a great application. Good luck!