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How to Overcome Low Grades for Top MBA programs?

Updated: Mar 13

When it comes to targeting top international business schools for MBA programs, the academic history of aspirants becomes a subject of rigorous evaluation - often leading candidates to make incorrect assumptions about their chances or lack thereof, for their dream business schools.

Obviously, academic history matters. Top MBA programs are extremely rigorous, especially on the quantitative front. So when candidates have solid grades to back them up, b-schools are happy to trust them easily about their potential future performance.

The academic history helps business schools evaluate the potential academic performance of candidates during the degree course.

However, many candidates with low grades and not-so-stellar academic backgrounds are often left wondering if they still have a shot at top MBA programs.

In this article, we try to address these concerns, and highlight some steps that such candidates can take to overcome their low grades for Top MBA programs.

photo of students in graduation hats with text overlay

Step 1: Face the Truth.

If your academic grades are not up to the mark, there's no running away from it. Good or bad, it is a part of your profile. They will not disappear, they will not be "not evaluated", they will not be "covered up" by anything you do. Face the truth, and accept your mistakes.

Most top b-schools provide you extra space to highlight any specific aspects of your profile. In case you have low grades, make sure that you use this space to tackle it head-on and explain the low performance. That will not only help you act proactively and address potential questions for the AdComs, but also allow you to present a matured persona.

When you explain the dismal performance, ensure that you provide genuine reasons, rather than trying to defend or justify your mistakes.

At the same time, you should also accept that while it may work for some schools, others might be less forgiving. So, keep realistic expectations.

Step 2: Assess the Damage.

Identify what is really lacking in your profile. Is it just that you have low grades? Or do you also come from a non-traditional background? Maybe you have hardly taken any quantitative subjects throughout college?

What exactly is your problem?

Your answer to this question should be crystal clear to you.

Step 3: Overcoming Low Grades for Top MBA Programs!

Once you have identified your core problems, there are a few solutions that could apply to you.


Getting a great GMAT/GRE score is the first step towards redeeming your low grades. What is a great score, you ask?

Aim to be above the average score at your target schools.

However, unlike popular belief, GMAT/GRE will not erase your past mistakes. They can definitely help you showcase your quantitative abilities to the business schools, and are quite an important aspect of the applications, but they will not whitewash everything. At the end of the day, test scores account only for a part of the overall evaluation.

Extra Courses

If you haven't taken many quantitative courses, or have had dismal performance in them, taking a few such college level courses and securing great grades could help strengthen your cause.

Certification Programs

Many candidates, with interests in specific fields, often go for different certification programs or professional courses such as the CFA, FRM or others. Do these programs add value? Absolutely. However, you should be aware that they would add value only if they are aligned with what you aim to do, or have done.

For example, if you are a finance professional, and would like to move into Investment Banking role post-MBA in Wall-Street, a CFA charter could add a lot of value to you.

However, if your goal is to become a product manager at tech-firms in the Bay area post-MBA, CFA would probably be the least useful certification for you. In such a scenario, potential courses and programs in product management would add much more value.

Pre-MBA Prep Business Courses

Apart from all these above steps, there are few programs such as the Harvard CORe which can help you get a solid grasp of business fundamentals before you begin with your MBA.

Many b-schools consider such programs as extremely value-adding for the candidates since it signals a strong intent from the candidates towards an MBA. Further, performing well in these programs can also provide an additional data point to the AdComs to evaluate your candidature.


While all these steps could add value to one's profile, candidates should also keep in mind a very important aspect - the timing of doing things.

Except for GMAT/GRE scores, most of these aspects require preparations over years, and doing extra courses or certifications just before applying to business schools in a last-ditch effort to salvage anything and everything does not help candidates much. Instead, it showcases a lack of planning from the candidate, which can backfire tremendously.

And even then, managing your expectations is key. As we mentioned earlier, while all these steps could work out well for few schools, for others it may still fall short.


Piyush Ranjan is the founder and chief consultant at Management Masters. Over the years he has helped candidates get into top international business schools such as Wharton, Kellogg, London Business School, HEC Paris, Cambridge, ISB and others.

If you would like to get a detailed personalized profile evaluation with him, reach out to us at


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