How Important is Your GPA?

By Kelli D Smith  |   Submitted On January 16, 2009

Most employers and graduate schools use a 3.0 GPA as a cut-off point for applicants. Once it’s above that, the exact number usually becomes less important. If your GPA is below the 3.0 threshold, you may wonder about the negative effects your GPA can have on your career or graduate school applications. However, there are ways to overcome a low GPA and minimize its possible damage to your future employment prospects or graduate education opportunities.

Do I Have to Tell Employers My GPA?

Yes, and you should be honest with them. If you don’t put your GPA on your resume, particularly for your first job after graduation, you can expect to be asked about it during the interview.

The trick is where you put the emphasis. If your GPA within your major is higher than your overall GPA, tell them: 2.9/4.0 major GPA, 2.2/4.0 overall GPA. Likewise, if your GPA has improved you can emphasize that: 3.3/4.0 since fall 2008, 2.5/4.0 overall. Finally, if you had to work while studying, employers may take that into account, so it’s worth mentioning: 2.5/4.0 GPA, worked 20 hours per week throughout school year.

How Low Can My GPA Go?

While many employers may 3.0 as their cut-off point, some may be more flexible than others depending on your skill set.

Yet, when asked to rate the qualities employers find most important in a candidate, in the 2007 Job Outlook Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), GPA was ranked number 17 of the top 20. This means a low GPA isn’t necessarily insurmountable–you have 16 other qualities you can enhance to overcome it.

The top 5 most important skills to employers are, in order:

1. Communication skills

2. Honesty/integrity

3. Interpersonal skills (relates well to others)

4. Motivation/initiative

5. Strong work ethic

Best Way to Overcome a Low GPA

Written and verbal communication skills have consistently been ranked as the number one quality employers seek since 1999. However, they have trouble finding candidates with those skills, as they also ranked good communication the hardest quality to find in job applicants.

Graduates who can express themselves clearly, both orally and on paper, may have a significant advantage over the competition. You can prove your communication abilities both on your resume and in the interview, giving you two chances to shine.

GPA and Graduate School

Graduate schools do put significant weight on your undergraduate GPA, but again it’s not the only factor they consider. First of all, not all graduate schools look at your overall GPA. Many only look at your GPA from your junior and senior years, while others only look at your GPA in your major.

The weight each graduate school puts on your GPA also depends on several variables, including:

o The competitiveness of the graduate school

o Whether the school places greater value on work experience, internships, or a portfolio of work

o The undergraduate schools reputation: a student with a lower GPA from a highly ranked university may get accepted over a student with a high GPA from a lower quality school

o Strong test scores.

o Excellent letters of recommendation

The bottom line is that while employers and graduate schools traditionally look at your grades, mitigating circumstances and strong skills in other areas can certainly help you overcome a low GPA. So put your energy into the other areas they find important.
Kelli Smith is the senior editor for Edu411 is a career education directory for finding colleges and universities, training schools, and technical institutes.
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