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.
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.
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.