Can you get into a good MBA program with a low undergraduate GPA?
Can you get into the great?
Also yes—and by 2021, many applicants are doing just that. At Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business, a member of the Class of 2023 earns admission with a grade point average of 2.6 points. At the Chicago Booth School of Business, one enters with a 2.7 GPA. And at Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, one outstanding candidate was admitted with a 2.4 — a year after the school accepted an applicant with a 2.5.
We can conclude some exceptional cases even when we have less data to parse. Among business schools reporting an 80% intermediate GPA in their class profile, the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business reports a range of 2.93-3.78; Georgetown McDonough School of Business reports 2.85-3.79; and several schools, including Columbia Business School, UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, and Duke Fuqua School of Business, report ranges with a lower end of the low 3. The Indiana Kelley School of Business, alone among its peers, took a different tack, reporting that 15% of its most recent MBA class had a GPA between 2.5 and 2.99, while 47% of the class submitted scores between 3.0 and 3. ,49.
TOP MBA PROGRAM FOR S1 GPA: STANFORD GSB
So a message to all the B students out there: It is indeed possible to get into your highly ranked target MBA program. But before you get too hung up on your prospects, pay attention to the average reported GPAs at the top schools—and the fact that they’re increasing in most places, after a one-year decline in 2020.
Again in 2021, the Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA program reported the highest average undergraduate GPA, at 3.78, with Northwestern Kellogg (3.70), University of Alabama Manderson Graduate School of Business (3.70), Harvard Business School (3.69), UC-Berkeley Haas (3.67), and Arizona State Carey School of Business (3.63) round out the leading averages among the top 50 B schools. Three schools are at 3.60: Chicago Booth, Penn Wharton, and USC Marshall; Yale School of Management reports a median score of 3.69.
Meanwhile, GPAs are up two-thirds of top US schools in 2021. More on that below.
A BIG GPA CAN’T REPLACE A WEAK ESSAY
There is perhaps no more maligned data point in the MBA world than an undergraduate GPA. This, at the same time, is useful as a measure of student learning capacity and test-taking ability, while also by no means a revelation as a marker of class quality. No wonder most of the B schools without complaining give an average GPA with class profile every year. You can’t say much, if anything, from him; large numbers definitely look good on a class profile, and middle numbers are easy not to stress.
As Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, wrote in 2021:
“Ask most admissions committee members and they’ll tell you it’s the sum of many sections—there’s no one ‘most important’ part of an MBA application. It’s the essays, interviews, and recommendations that ultimately reveal people off paper. Interesting essays, recommendations, and interviews can provide context for a low GMAT score or GPA. But the opposite is not true. A strong number will never replace a weak essay or disorganized negative recommendation.”
REDUCE THE EFFECTS OF COVID
But let’s look at the data.
Between fall 2016 and fall 2021, 34 of the top 51 US B schools saw positive growth in their grade GPA, whether they reported the average or median; four schools are even, and 11 schools are negative. The biggest increase occurred at USC Marshall, with average GPA growing 0.23 points to 3.60, followed by University of Georgia Terry College of Business (0.14 to 3.44), Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business (0 .14 to 3.45), and Alabama Manderson (0.13 to 3.70). Overall, 10 schools experienced an increase of 0.10 or more over six years. The largest six-year decline occurred at the University of Washington at St. Louis Olin Business School, whose GPA fell 0.16 to 3.30, and Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, whose GPA fell 0.10 to 3.42.
Last year we reported that only 21 schools out of 50 schools could claim a GPA increase from 2016 to 2020, while seven schools were even and 18 were negative. Obviously, the effect of Covid-19 on students’ study habits has diminished.
In the top 25, Northwestern Kellogg saw its biggest six-year jump, by 0.10 to 3.70. Across the other top schools, two schools were even, 18 were positive (with a mean increase of 0.06), and five were negative (mean decrease: -0.034). Compare that to last year when we reported that four schools in the top 25 were even, 12 were positive (average growth: 0.06) and nine negative (average decline: -0.048).
SEEING THE 2 YEAR TREND
Looking at a 2 year window is always dangerous because most of the fluctuations are small and insignificant. But it’s still possible to distinguish patterns. By 2021, out of 51 schools in P&T ranking, nine even year-over-year, compared to 19 (out of 50) between 2019 and 2020; 27 were positive (compared to 14), and 15 were negative (down from 16). The biggest gains were in Emory Goizueta (+0.16 to 3.36), Cox High School (+0.15), Maryland Smith (+0.11) and Miami Herbert (+0.11); the largest decline was 0.10, across four schools: Columbia, Washington Olin, Utah Eccles, and Tennessee Haslam.
Across the top 25, 16 schools saw year-over-year increases in undergraduate GPAs in 2021, up from just seven last year, while only six were negative, down from nine.
See next page for GPAs for the last six years at the top 50 US business schools.