Like many college students, I spent the first few semesters of college adjusting to living alone for the first time and partied way too much. I am now in my junior year and have decided that I want to go to graduate school. My GPA has taken a bit of a hit from my yearly years. What can I do to recover from a few years of partying to go on to grad school?

--Struggling GPA

Dear Struggling,

Lower GPAs due to early transition issues from high school are fairly common.

There are several things one can do to try to counteract the effects of a lower GPA.

As the three most important factors of most graduate admissions committees are GPA, GRE and experience, it is important to distinguish one’s self on both the graduate record exam (GRE) and experience in the field of interest to try to balance the lower GPA. While a very strong score on the GRE is a good predictor of acceptance to a graduate program, it cannot completely eradicate the problem of a lower GPA. Therefore another possible solution is an explanation of the lower early grades on one’s personal statement, which is required as part of the application process for most graduate programs. If you can show improvement in the last 60 hours, and give some examples as to how you have matured, this can work well into a personal statement that emphasizes lessons learned, a willingness to adjust one’s habits, and hopefully success in in your upper division courses as your study habits improved. The personal statement is also a good place to explain any extenuating circumstances that may have lead to poor performance, such as problems at home, or documented problems transitioning to college through departments such campus life. Letters of recommendation are also important for graduate school admission, although they are not weighted as heavily as GRE scores and GPA. If you have performed well in a course, and have a good rapport with the professor, he or she may be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. When asking the professor a letter of recommendation, it is important to state your early grade history, and ask them if they would be willing to address possible explanations for the lower GPA in contrast to improved performance in later course work, as well as their opinion of your current ability to complete graduate level course work.

A final option to consider is to complete a Master’s degree first, especially at a school that has lower grade point requirements than the Ph.D. programs, and some of the more competitive Master’s program. There are also a few “transitional master’s” programs around the country designed for students who did not quite meet the qualifications to enter graduate school immediately following their undergraduate education. These transitional programs are usually shorter in length, (1-2 years, as compared to 3), and don’t require a thesis. While this will take more time, it will still allow you to reach your long -term goal of attending a graduate school that meets your employment and life style needs.

--Pamela Stuntz, PhD

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