Ask the average applicant to graduate school in psychology and they will likely recite GPA and GRE scores as the top admissions criteria. They have intentionally spent many hours studying for their classes to achieve an excellent grade point average. It may seem like you have a slim chance of getting into graduate school without a top GPA from the outside looking in, but that is not the truth. If you indeed have a less-than-stellar GPA, you can still fulfill your dreams of earning a graduate degree in psychology. Here are some strategies to achieve a well-rounded graduate application package without graduating magna or summa cum laude.
1. Is your GPA as “subpar” as you might think?
This might seem like a silly question, but plenty of applicants obsess over their GPA as if it is the sole “make or break” criteria to get into psychology graduate programs. The reality is that it is not. If you have a GPA in the 3.0-3.5 range, you can STILL earn an acceptance letter to grad school – no matter what published statistics say on university websites. Even if your GPA is in the low 2.0-range, it is still possible for you to go onto advanced study in psychology.
2. Is your grade point average substantially higher in your major?
Take a quick inventory of your transcript. It is becoming more popular for graduate school applications to ask for your overall GPA and then your GPA in your major. Most applicants don’t necessarily realize it, but if you calculate your average GPA in your major, you may very well have a high GPA where it matters most. Even if you grad school application doesn’t ask for overall GPA in your major, if you can demonstrate a higher GPA it makes sense to bring this to the attention of the graduate admissions committee.
3. Do you have an explanation for your low grades?
Did you not take your classes as seriously as you should have Freshman or Sophomore year? Did goofing off lower your GPA, but you were able to bounce back with a substantially higher GPA in your latter college years? If so, mention “your story” as an overall theme for your personal statement. Being able to boast a higher GPA during your Junior or Senior years (and presenting a convincing argument for why this makes you an ideal candidate) may be your ticket to get into graduate school.
4. Is your graduate application package well-rounded?
Ask a graduate admissions committee member and they will tell you that GPA isn’t everything. It may not even be the most important factor in admissions decisions. If you have a subpar GPA, you will want to balance this with great GRE scores, lots of practical or research experience, a thoughtful and well-written personal statement, and exemplary letters of recommendation.
You may want to strongly consider applying for master’s degree programs rather than Ph.D. programs. Usually doctorate programs admit those “superstar” students who have near perfect GPAs and GRE scores. Instead, master’s degree programs typically have more lenient admissions criteria than Ph.D. programs. Successfully gaining admission to a master’s degree program allows you to “start the clock over” and post a brand new grade point average. For many students it is a second chance to solidify chances of getting into psychology Ph.D. programs.