GRE or GPA. Which is Important?
“I want to apply to Harvard!! I want to study with the top students and from the best faculty in the world. I also want to party hard. Then I will work for Apple/Google/Microsoft and will be the next big thing in the corporate arena. Oh but wait my GPA – I have 2.8 ?”
Such thought always crosses aspiring applicants minds when they plan to pursue higher education in US and other top universities from around the globe. Some of us in Pakistan are very smart and have the right profile: stellar GPA, perfect GRE scores and a great story to tell in the personal statement. However most of us are not that smart. Majority of the applicants have a mix bag and therefore lack the confidence to apply due to one reason or the other – either a low GPA or a bad test (GRE/GMAT) score. Others do not have a good narrative to illustrate on their essays while some are too lazy to apply.
Most of us from Pakistan do not have an ugly profile per se but what they lack is a holistic sense of application. Worrying about a low GPA, or a poor GMAT/GRE score is pointless because a complete application doesn’t solely relies on just one aspect of your personality. Your GPA might be low, but you may have a perfect quant score in your aptitude test. Or you might have a bad aptitude test score but you may be a class topper. If you don’t have both, you might have an interesting story to tell about yourself. Your work experience, your personality, your story on the essay may take you to places.
The usual suspects: You need to know the usual suspects of your application. These are vital statistics, which you need to prioritize in order to get into your dream schools. One suggestion is to check the requirements of the program you are going for. If you are applying for an engineering degree or mathematics and economics per se, you need to concentrate more on getting the right mix of courses and perform well in them. In this way, you may have a bad GPA but your SGPA (specialized GPA) may tell a better story. Similarly, if you are looking for quantitative intensive programs, then you need to concentrate on quantitative part of your aptitude tests. Contrarily, for programs such as political science, history or linguistics, you need to have a better verbal score and concentrate on polishing your verbal part of aptitude tests. Area of interest should be a big indicator. It should highlight the usual suspects of your applications. In this way you can make sure that you get them right.
An ideal case is where both GPA and GRE/GMAT of your application are strong; an alarming case is if both your GPA and GRE/GMAT scores are low. We go for a much more practical case. GPA or GRE/GMAT, you need one of these two to be strong to truly reflect your academic prowess. While it is observed that the GPA scale is different for different countries, GRE/GMAT are standardized tests. So even if your GPA is low and if you work hard and score well on the GRE/GMAT your chances of securing admission in a good school will be higher. Experience shows that there are students who got accepted with a low GPA but with a higher standardized score. This is because these score indicate the aptitude of the student. Whereas GPA may suffer due to many reasons, these score indicate the capability of an individual.
Ammar Awan, a PhD candidate from a top Engineering university in the US says “what if I tell you that I know a person who had 2.7 gpa and is now at UCLA. Talha’s message is an effort to debunk the myth and negativity around GPA. All he and others like him are trying to inform is that do not loose hope. GPA is just one part of your application, you can try hard in other areas and project yourself as someone who is motivated and understands that one failure in life should not lead to a stream of failures and that after doing the mistake of getting less GPA, there is still a WORLD of opportunities around us, IF we want to look at it that way!”
The key areas to focus on admissions application
Most people ignore other areas of their applications; they go on vital statistics (GPA, GRE/GMAT scores) and ignore their essays. They can be a great singer or have done social work, which may make them stand out of the crowd. A big problem which students face is that they are unable to express themselves in the essay. An essay is your way of making a mark. You can convince the adcoms that you are capable of taking the next big challenge in your life: i.e. the grad school. So I suggest you take some professional help. I am not selling you the idea of consulting, but your profile is a sort of a blind area to you. You need someone who can extract various facts about you. Then you make them knit and string those facts into a beautiful canvas, which portrays you perfectly. Getting in touch with an acquaintance that has successfully been through the process and discussing your profile with them is a great starting point. But you need to engage with such people actively so that they don’t give you their recipe. Rather they cook a story, which contains your own flavors. A great essay can cover up for your low GRE score, it can explain your academic shortfalls and how you learnt the hard way, it can do wonders if done correctly.
To sum up, I can say that do not lose hope if your GPA is low. GPA is not the only thing adcoms are looking for. Some of the universities have a very elaborate application form and this gives you an idea that transcripts are just one part of the jigsaw. A lot depends on the choice of your program. Even if you fall short of GPA, work hard to perform well on the standardized tests. Express yourself articulately in your essays. Use every opportunity given by admissions committees to explain your profile to the committee. It can cover up your shortfalls for GPA and you can secure admission in a very good school.