Undergraduate GPA is the most common criterion used in admission, but it is not an infallible predictor of graduate success.
If you discover that your GPA is low, either in terms of being below the minimum required for admission, or low by comparison with other persons applying to a particular program, you need to find some ways to offset the lack of a high GPA. Since graduate programs often use multiple criteria for admission, this is not as difficult as it may seem at first. By gathering strong recommendation letters, scoring well on admissions tests, doing internships or post-baccalaureate employment in the field, you can offset the effect of a low GPA.
It is also appropriate to call attention to non-academic circumstances which may have prevented your GPA to accurately represent your capacity, so as to place your record in an appropriate context. If circumstances affected your performance, you can describe them and indicate what steps you have taken to overcome those circumstances. Such explanations can either be incorporated in your statement of purpose or written up as a separate statement to be included with your application form. The important thing is to phrase your explanation so that it does not sound like excuse-making. Having others read and critique your statement can be very helpful here.
If your GPA was the result of a learning disability or other such condition, you will have to decide whether or not to disclose the disability in explaining your academic performance. Federal law prohibits discrimination in admissions on the basis of disability. It is even illegal to require applicants to disclose disabilities on an application form. But many students feel that disclosing their disability in the admissions process places them at a disadvantage. I can’t argue that they are wrong.
I will say this: if you can show that, once your disability was identified and you began to receive necessary accommodations, your performance was much stronger than it previously was, or better yet equaled or exceeded the minimum required for admission, you have placed yourself in a strong position. If you show that reasonable accommodations put you on an equal footing with the other applicants to the program, the program can’t disqualify you on the basis of your disability.
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