Grades are not always the most important factor for getting into graduate school

It is easy to see why students assume that admission to graduate school depends mainly on obtaining or surpassing some minimum grade-point average. After all, that is the main qualification for admission to many undergraduate programs. However, this is often not the case when applying to graduate school.

It is definitely true that in most graduate programs your grades are an important criterion for evaluating applicants. What is important to realize is that this is only one of the important criteria, and that a shortcoming in your grades can often be compensated for by excellent performance on some of the other important criteria.

Compensation in other areas of evaluation is really key when applying to grad school with mediocre grades (by mediocre, I mean between B and C (not Ds), this includes things like having strong letters of recommendation, a well-thought out statement of purpose (SOP) that perhaps addresses the reasons for mediocre grades in one or two classes (be careful here, they need to be legitimate and reasonable circumstances that have led to getting a few Bs or Cs…).

Probably one of the best ways to compensate for mediocre grades is to get experience in the field in which you plan to study. Whether it be research or practical experience, doing so, shows that you are serious and committed to the area of interest and are likely to succeed while in grad school.

You still don’t think you can get into graduate school with Bs? In fact, hundreds of students across North America do so every year. My personal history is proof that a typical student can overcome mediocre undergraduate grades and get into graduate school, earn a Masters degree and Ph.D., and have a successful and prestigious career. It took me five and a half years to complete a four-year program and finally earn a B.Sc in Psychology. My GPA was not very competitive when I applied to graduate school — my average was between B and B-plus. Still, I was accepted into a Master of Science program and later into a Ph.D. program. For more advice on grades and grad school, check out these frequently asked questions.


  1. Hi, Colleen. What you’re saying about the need for grades is accurate — its a conundrum. Certainly, no one should strive for anything other than top grades, as As and A-pluses never hurt one’s cause. But, you are right to say that even the superb grades do not guarantee acceptance. Another comment you made was that “higher grades sort of guarantee a scholarship which in turn sort of guarantees acceptance.” I agree, emphasizing the phrase “sort of” in both instances. You must keep in mind, though, just what kinds of grades we are talking about, here. I would say that many students have very high grades — close to an A average — but fail to win a graduate scholarship. Those awards tend to go, more often than not, to students with straight As, and at least a few A-pluses. For many excellent students, this is an impossibility because they still receive occasional B+ or A- grades, which does not lessen the likelihood that they will be successful in graduate school, but does greatly lessen the likelihood that they will win a scholarship and get that almost-guaranteed ticket into a good graduate program.


  2. Hello Dr. Mumby,

    I attended your presentation this afternoon (Nov.5/09) and found it interesting and informative. The issue of getting into grad school presents a conundrum for me; in the sense that (1) I don’t need high grades to get accepted into graduate school but that is no guarantee I’ll get in …on the other hand….. Higher grades sort of guarantee a scholarship which in turn sort of guarantees acceptance. Nonetheless, the guidelines concerning reference letters and statement of purpose are helpful. You will send me the electronic copy of your book, yes?

    Thanks again for the information.
    Colleen Flint


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