How to explain low GPA in Personal Statement?

Posted by on January 14, 2014 in Personal Statement | 39 comments

The Statement of Purpose (SOP) also known as the personal statement allows you to give a deep insight into your ambitions and motivations to pursue a particular course at a university. Credentials like Grade Point Average (GPA) and Standardized tests like the GRE and GMAT only tell about your aptitude or academic excellence – whereas the personal statement gives insights into your mind. Of course not everyone has a stellar GPA and test scores, therefore a very commonly asked question by such applicants is regarding how should they explain their low GPA in the SOP.

In most cases, it is best not to allude to your low GPA at all and rather focus on your strengths. But if you think that you have very solid reasons to justify your low GPA, then you should go ahead and clarify yourself. Mentioned below are different reasons that can be used to justify your low GPA. Please note that you should always be honest about yourself and not come up with any false reasons to clarify your low GPA.

Personal Problems

A very common reason that can justify your bad performance in one semester can be personal health or unfortunate personal reasons. This should be explained very politely and there is no reason to get emotional and all. And also note that, this reason can defend your low grades in only one semester and that putting the blame of all your undergraduate grades would in fact go against you.

Good Grades in Major Subjects

If you have a low overall GPA but have very good grades in your major subjects or the field towards which you want to align yourself, then you can always use that to reinforce your passion in the particular subject area.

Financial Problems

Another way to explain your low GPA in personal statement can be related to financial problems. For example you had to study and work at the same time to make ends meet. In trying to do so you were not able to fully focus on your studies and this would go in your favor. But again, don’t try to create an emotional drama; just explain your reasoning in 2-3 lines.

Relevant Work Experience
You can also take some time before your application and take a few steps to offset your low GPA. Low grades can be mitigated by mentioning your relevant work experience (internships etc), workshops or certifications, extra courses taken and excellent scores in standardized testing like GRE, GMAT etc.

Word of Caution

Some people claim that they don’t perform well in examinations and therefore, their GPA is not a clear indicative of their abilities and motivations. Also some people say that the methodology of grading adopted in their universities prevented them from scoring well. Such reasons are least likely to work as the undergraduate GPA is not calculated on the basis of one particular exam on your particular bad day. In other words, you won’t be making any point, rather wasting a few lines to distract the admission committee members from the subject matter.

Some universities allow applicants to add an addendum to explain more about themselves. This can be an ideal platform for you to explain your reasons and reserving your SOP for mentioning your strengths. But again, keep the reasoning brief and to the point. Do check with the university if it allows you that luxury or not.

If you don’t have any of the aforementioned reasons to justify your low GPA, then the best way can be to seek the help of faculty member who wrote your reference letter. Your faculty member can be the best person to claim that your grades don’t translate your potential and your abilities and that you are really motivated in your field of study. Your referee can mention these things in a few lines in your letter of reference. So, take some time to get yourself on good terms with your faculty members and ask them to write excellent reference letters for you.

While mentioning all these reasons, you have to be careful that you are polite, brief, rational and well reasoned. Otherwise, rather than doing good, referring to your low GPA can backfire and work against you.


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    dear Sir I am doing D;Pharma and planning to do further studies can a apply for FB

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      Hi Asna, Of course you can 🙂

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    please help i am applying for MS in education

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    sir,,,,,,, plz,, tell me minimum and maximum CGPA requirement for apply M.E or MBA or MS…..

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      Hello, To check specific requirements for GPA please check with the individual university and program.

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    Hi.I want to know the minimum cgpa?

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    AOA sir.
    i hv done my BS(HONS) in zoology now i want to apply for M.phil in immunology
    can i apply for this??

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    I have done my MSc in Applied Psychology with first division and MBA in Finance from UK with a Merit Award but as throughout my professional career I have been working in educational institutions, therefore I would like to do my PhD program in Education as an educationist. I would like you to guide me regarding this. Thank you.

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    Im now applying in an MBA program. My university administrator told me that : “I wanted to let you know that our department has reviewed your application and we’d like to recommend you for admission. However, because your Graduate GPA was calculated at a 2.66 (which is below the minimum requirement of a 3.0), we will need to request Special Approval for you to be formally admitted. Therefore, it would really help if you could write an essay explaining your low GPA and how you plan on succeeding in the MIM program. Once you send me this, we will put your application through for special review.”
    How many words should I write in that essay? Do you have in recommendation for my case?

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      Hello – it should be no more than 250 words explaining reasons for a low GPA!

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      I’m asking a Master Degree at a university which requires a min GPA of 2.74 and do have 2.57 . I had a real bad semester on my second year. I was in pre-Med and did not do well in physics and biology. Once I switch to liberal arts my grades improved and I was in a field that I much enjoyed

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    I need help writing an essay about this gpa statement should explain your low undergraduate coursework gpa as well as the reasons you believe you will be able to be successful in a rigorous masters degree program 300 words max

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    dear sir talha omer,
    i want to apply for full bright scholarship for MS in mechanical plz help.

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    Great article!. I had a pretty low gpa in my undergrad (2.75). Started off my freshman year with a 2.0 but by the end i was able to raise to a 2.75. Anyway, I want to apply for grad school and they ask for a 3.0 GPA, but i was also a double major in college (Accounting and Sport Management), played football for four years in college, was President of the Accounting Association and Treasurer of another club, and have worked as an accountant for 2 years since graduating….is there a certain way you recommend me go about this in my statement? Do you think all the extra curricular’s will help out with the low GPA? Thanks!

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      Hello Jimmy, Thanks for the message. So if your program requires a minimum GPA of 3.0 then all the extra curricular’s won’t cut the deal. Such programs are very rigid when it comes to GPA requirements and they won’t budge. Your best shot would be to apply to those programs which do not have stringent GPA requirements.

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    I am applying for a graduate program in school psychology and have a gpa of 2.4. minimum requirement for the university I am applying for is 3.0 and possibly 2.7 gpa. I got low grades in the first semester of school due to trying to maintain good grades and also trying to find a jab to pay rent as I was living on campus. My grades got so low I financial aid would not cover me and was forced to move back home because I could not affort school. I then went back to community college to raise my grades and transfer to a university. I was accepted and then halfway through school I had 2 family losses along with relationship issues which caused my grades to drop decreasing my gpa. I continued to work hard to graduate and even added a minor to my degree. Since graduating I have been working in my field gaining experience for the past 3 years. I graduated in 2016. Would you recommend I explain both reason for low gpa or what would you suggest.

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      Hello – Oh yes you should definitely explain your LOW GPA reasons since 2.4 is a very low GPA.

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    i wanna ask on the website of GRE it is mentioned that new deadline for Gre taking test is 31 may but on GRE registration side there isn’t any date other than 11 nay for test what does it means?

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      Yes, the deadline has been extended to 31st May for taking the GRE. But the deadline to submit the application is 16th May

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    Hello if my GPA is on the border line 3.0 and the minimum for my program is also 3.0. Do i still need to write an essay explaining my GPA score?

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      Hello – yes it is a good thing to explain a LOW GPA – simply because if you have valid reasons, it can help you improve the quality of your app!

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      Great piece of work! I am applying for a Masters in Geology. I graduated almost 3 years ago with GPA of 3.14.
      I had a pretty tough freshman year back then. I was trying to fit in, find my balance and I was taking a lot of courses (about 11) per semester and most of these courses were general courses none were Geology-related. My sophomore year I was taking about 9 courses, I did well in few core courses. My junior year actually recorded appreciable improvement. I was able to raise my grade from my previous year by 37%. Of course they were all Geology courses. By senior year, I was able to even increase my GPA.

      I want to be able to effectively communicate this experience in my SOP. How do you think I should be able to explain my low GPA?
      Thank you.

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        Hello Betty – my team can help you with putting it down on paper. Why don’t you email us what you have written so far and what you want to add at

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    Hi. Please guide me.

    I hold a BA in Electronics Engineering, and I want to continue in Master of Computer Science. My GPA is lower than 3.0, and the only reason is that I was lazy about that.
    However, after my graduation, I found my way, and after six years of perseverance and self-learning, I am a full-time engineer with 6+ years of experience in my field. Additionally, I’ve done three big projects in Electronics.

    How to explain my poor GPA in SOP?
    Should I explain that in the SOP or separate letter?

    Thank you.

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      Hello – Explain this in your SOP – no separate letter is needed.

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        Thank you so much Talha.

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    I am applying for Phd in chemical engineering in McGill University being a masters in chemical process Engg from Unsw, Sydney. Because of wrong subject enrolment My GPA got affected. I am mentioning that in my statement of purpose. Nevertheless, I need a help to crosscheck this statement of purpose for me.

    Can I have the email address to which I can send my SOP.

    Much Thanks

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    Hi! Loved the article! Concise and brief.

    My GPA dropped in the 4th and 5th semesters because I spent a lot of time watching TV series and did not concentrate on studies much. However, the GPA in the later semsters is an upward graph.

    How could I write this in my SOP?

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