How to Overcome Low GPA in your Fulbright Application?

Posted by on April 23, 2017 in Fulbright Scholarship | 24 comments

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.


  1. Avatar

    Hi Talha,

    I am ACCA member. As you know that in ACCA the scores do not matter and number of attempts do, I only focused on passing the exam, all of which I did in first attempt and minimum time period. What I am not sure about is how does USEFP calculate the GPA/grades etc for assessment/comparison with other applicants?

    • Avatar

      Hello, Fulbright will look at your GRE scores primarily to assess your academic aptitude. Moreover, for ACCA they also emphasize on the work experience.

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    Hello Talha, I just graduated with 3.41 cgpa , is it enough and do I have any chances?

    • Avatar

      From the GPA perspective, yes it is enough!

  3. Avatar

    i have graduated with cgpa of 2.4 , do i have the chances?

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    Hope you’re in the best of health. Could you please help me finding a sample personal statement for UGARD.

    • Avatar

      Waalaikum Asalam, Unfortunately most UGRAD students don’t allow us to share their essays. Thanks

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    Most universities require 2 recommendation letters, do both of the letters need to be from faculty members or ex-employers can also be considered for the recommendation letter? I’m planning on applying for PhD.

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      At least 1 letter should be academic.

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    Dear Talha,

    I have graduated with CGPA of 2.4 and after reading your write up this probed me to atleast give it a go. I have few questions?

    – What is an ideal GRE score?
    – I graduated in social sciences but throughout my 5 yrs of professional experience I have been associated with Sales and Account Management genre. WHat program do I need to apply for my masters?
    – Currently I am enrolled in an MBA program and i am half way through it. Can I share the academic details of my MBA? Since I have good CGPA in MBA or do I need to apply on the basis of my undergraduate degree?

    Looking forward.

    • Avatar

      Hello Shahzaib,
      -So an ideal score is 320+
      -Well since you have 5 years of experience, you MUST apply to programs that directly related to your work experience. Do not apply in programs related to you undergrad degree only.
      -Well if you are already doing an MBA, you will most likely not get into a good MS program since top programs are very selective when it comes to not selecting students who already have a Masters degree. Another MS and that too after an MBA is hardly justifiable.

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    Helo. How r u.
    I am graduate of Dental . Unfortunately my academic score is not good.I got supplementary in first 3 year but managed to score 62% in first attempt.I want to pursue my masters in public health or dental biology,
    Do i have any chnce in getting FB .What should i do to cover my low %.
    From Rural Balochistan

    • Avatar

      Hello – You must focus on getting a good GRE score (315+) to compensate your low %.

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    Hi , Talha
    Im currently in my 4th semester in Electrical Enginnering degree , ive got a cgpa of 2.76 as of third semester and ive failed probability and statistics in this one . I am actually facing quite extreme pressure of securing good grades and due to that im on an emotional breakdown right now and even sometimes due to this pressure i feel like i need to quit and consider being SUICIDAL. What are my chances to improve and Is there any way i can secure a better CGpa which will be closer to 3.0 Atleast. KIndly guide me

    • Avatar

      Hello Taimour, Well, in my opinion, you should not worry too much about the GPA. There are so many options out there to pursue higher education or good jobs without having a great GPA. What matters is that you have passing grades as that is a qualification for most of these programs. Also, I will advise you to focus more on the important subjects that are of interest to you. You can try to get better grades in those.

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    Assalam o Alikum
    I aspire to get Fullbright scholarship for phd. I have got 3. 20 cgpa in mphil and 3.70 in masters. Will the decline in my mphil cgpa affect my application for phd?

    • Avatar

      W/S Maryyam, Your GPA is fine for FB admissions. Don’t worry about them at all.

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    Hello Sir, I have a CGPA of 2.2 in Mechatronics Engineering from NUST. I wanted to ask which university should I apply for and can a high GRE score help me get some scholarship or financial assistance ?

    • Avatar

      Hello – Well depends on your GRE score. You need a high score 315+ first and then look for programs to apply to.

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    Hello Brother, currently I’m in 3rd semester and my CGPA is 2.5 with one compart paper of 2nd semester I will clear it in 4th semester with high geade inshallah,
    in 3rd semester I have worked hard to improve my CGPA and I’m sure it will work IA
    I want to apply for fulbright scholorship is there any chance to get the scholorship this year?
    Or I should wait till next year?
    And If I apply this year can I apply next year and can one time apply spiol my next time chance???

    • Avatar

      you can apply for Fulbright either in your 8th semester or after you graduate.

  12. Avatar

    How are you doing?
    Thank you for your kind and help

    Currently, I’m preparing myself to apply for FB but my GPA is low (60) but I have 3 years of experience in my field and I have participated in many exchange programs in United States and out of it
    And I’m working hard to get a high GRE score
    BUT I’m afraid that I can’t apply with my low GPA

    • Avatar

      Hello. You can apply but your chances will be very low. Avg CGPA for FB is 3.5+ and below 3 GPA, the chances are extremely slim

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