How should I market myself to tier-1 schools (if I have a poor undergrad GPA)?

My goal is to attend an Ivy League (or equivalent) school to get a JD, MDiv, or MPA/MPP.

I graduated from the US Air Force Academy with a 2.4 GPA. Not so great, I know, but I then went on to get both an MM and MBA from a low-Tier school with a 3.9 GPA. I’m currently on a 1-year tour in Iraq, too.

At the same time, I’m very much a Caucasian from the Midwest so I struggle with how I can best present myself to an admissions board.

My question to you, as an Ivy post-grad alum, is how should I market myself to these Tier-1 schools?  Or does my poor undergrad academic performance eliminate me right off the bat?

The Harvard MBA Says:

First of all, Lieutenant, my thanks to you for serving our country.  Your dedication is appreciated by your fellow Americans.

I can’t speak for Law, Divinity, or Public Policy schools, but I can tell you that your undergraduate academic performance wouldn’t have precluded you from attending HBS.  Many of my HBS classmates, including a number of former academy graduates and other officers, will freely admit to relatively poor academic performance at the undergrad level. (They will also freely admit to being Caucasian as well)

HBS lists three criteria for admissions:

  1. A habit of leadership
  2. Capacity for intellectual growth
  3. Engaged community citizenship

Your undergrad GPA is only relevant to one of those three, and the dedication you’ve shown since then should help allay concerns about your previous record.

This is not to say that superior undergraduate academics don’t help; more HBS students went to Harvard as undergrads than any other university, and all other things being equal, HBS will always choose the superior academic performer.

Therein lies the key to getting admitted to elite schools–if you aren’t a superstar academically, focus on being a superstar in other ways, so that all other things are decidedly unequal.

How can you be a superstar?  This deserves a blog unto itself.  Fortunately, my friend Cal Newport has done just that, with Study Hacks.


  1. Krishna
    Posted August 11, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Hello Sir/Madam,

    I am Krishna Prasad from India-Bangalore and I have secured 44% in Bachelor of science and 65% in Master of Science. I would like to know if I perform well in GMAT with a high score and all the required criteria will I get admissions in your university.I am confused in calculating GPA and hence I have declared by result in percentage.Thank you


  2. dip
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    sir i got very low gpa….2.42…i want to apply for mba in tourism…will i get admission ….?i m studying in cyprus but i want to go abroad to study for mba….i m really confused…will i get admission for mba?

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