How to Overcome Low GPA in your Fulbright Application?
It is widely believed that only applicants with a high GPA are able to bag the Fulbright scholarship. I know many people who can be strong candidates for the scholarship but are hesitant to apply due to their less than ideal past academic performance. For them my advice is this, “Do not fret and do not give up so easily.”
Like any application for a graduate program, the committee at United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP) considers a number of factors when assessing an application for the Fulbright award and GPA is just one of them. GPA, Major GPA, GRE scores, recommendations, resume and essays, which include the personal statement and study objectives, are all factors that are considered. USEFP itself states that applicants should apply even if they are ‘good but not great students’.
There are a number of ways in which a low GPA can be tackled in the Fulbright application. It is best to address the issue head-on since a low GPA would definitely be noticed and will not be overlooked in the application. If there is a specific reason for the bad grades, explain that in the personal statement but do not give excuses. Secondly, timing is of significance as well; if you scored poor grades in the first few semesters but were able to bounce back and improve your grades in the subsequent semesters that can be highlighted as a strength in your essays. This can be used as an opportunity to show how you were able to turn things around and improve your performance by streamlining your priorities or working harder. Even more important is your major CGPA; for instance if you are planning to apply for a graduate program in economics, then Fulbright will look closely at your grades in the economics courses you took in your undergrad.
Here is an excerpt from a successful Fulbright application 2017 where the successful candidate gave proper reasons to justify his low CGPA of 2.6.
During my undergraduate studies at LUMS, I was heavily involved in student activities, leadership roles and social projects requiring spending months in rural areas. In addition to working at a small village for almost 10 months in my junior year (during which time I used to spend my complete weekends at the village and weekdays travelling between college and the village) I organised orientation weeks, TEDx LUMS, headed the student council, lead my team to the second place at a national business plan competition, worked at the United Nations, and interned at several multi national companies such as Pepsi and Nestle etc. In my final year, I also assisted a non-profit startup, MAKTAB, to aid more village students with their educational needs by collaborating with big NGOs. Seeing an invaluable opportunity in the growing educational technology space, I have been working with them to make this a success and have been currently putting tremendous effort in partnering with other non-profits and human rights organisations; looking for capital and developing the business plan.
Although these leadership experiences taught me many valuable lessons in teamwork, perseverance, and business intelligence, I learnt the very important lesson of maintaining balance. I lost academic focus and my grades suffered in my sophomore and junior years. Thus, I do not view my undergraduate performance during these two years as an accurate representation of my academic abilities. However I have now set things right and in my last semester I got a GPA of 3.5 and scored 316 on the crucial GRE exam with a 110 on the TOEFL, which is a better reflection of my potential to succeed in an academic setting while working in an analytical and complex job. I hope these experiences will help me become a business graduate at Columbia business school, which has been my dream destination – I’m sure that I can achieve my goals by benefiting from its enriching program.
Furthermore, you can prove your capability and ameliorate your academic performance by enrolling in short but relevant courses. Many universities allow people to enroll as a non-degree seeking student and this can be an amazing opportunity for you to not only improve your grades but also exhibit your dedication to exceling in your career. However, if your daily routine does not allow you to enroll in on-campus classes, there is always the option to enroll in online courses. EdX, Coursera or a university’s own online courses are all options where you can enroll in courses for free or a pay a fee in order to receive certification (transcript in case of a university). A word of caution though, do not expect online courses to be a walk in the park since many courses are demanding and academically challenging as well.
High GRE scores can also help to prove one’s academic prowess. A stellar score on the test can supplement the academic record and help to show that you can handle the graduate coursework. You should especially focus on achieving a high score in the section most relevant to you; for instance the quantitative section for engineering or economics graduate programs and the verbal section for arts or political science programs.
Lastly, recommendations and professional work experience can also help to bolster your application. Getting a good recommendation is not only vital but it can also help to prove your capabilities so that a low GPA can be overshadowed. Getting an academic or professional recommendation from the right person is extremely significant. If your recommender is a respectable member of your field and can vouch for you, this can allow you to prove that you have overcome your academic shortcomings. In many fields professional work experience and recommendations may actually be weighed more, where learning on the job is highly valued, for instance for public policy and business administration.
When all of these components of the application are cumulatively assessed you will have ample opportunity to show that you are a good applicant for the Fulbright award so do not let a low GPA hold you back from applying.