How To Get Into College With A Low GPA

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A student in the library reading with a pile of books beside him

How to get into college with a low GPA

Can you get accepted into an Ivy League or top-tier college with a low GPA? The short answer is yes. While not everyone with a 3.3 GPA will get in, we’ll discuss some of the nuances of how to get into the Ivy League with a low GPA.

We’ve seen students with perfect 1600 SAT scores and 4.0 GPA’s get turned down by the Ivies. We’ve also worked with lower-achieving students with 1180 (out of 1600) SAT scores and 3.3 GPA who get accepted into an Ivy League school (Yes, 3.3 GPA – you heard that right – ).

What it all comes down to is how you demonstrate your personal qualities, leadership, and commitment to your community through your application. This takes the form of personal statements, extracurricular activities, and recommendation letters that help admissions officers determine whether or not to accept you. 

Three students walking in the school campus.

The biggest mistake students make is not taking their application seriously enough. This tends to happen with overachievers, who believe that their grades, test scores, and even national academic awards are enough to get them in. 

So yes, do pursue your passions and your interests, and work as hard as you can during your four years of high school. Just remember to capture and express all of your personal qualities in the college application itself, and write a genuine, engaging personal statement that helps admissions officers understand the qualities that define you.

At the end of the day, the truth is that admission to Ivy League schools is highly dependent on how well you present yourself on paper– especially your personal statement.

So yes, you can get into a top-tier college with a low GPA. But you will have to make up for your low GPA somewhere else.

Let’s face it: a higher GPA and a higher SAT score will increase your chances of getting in. But these days there are tens of thousands of students with perfect GPAs and SAT scores. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to get you admitted into the school of your choice, either.

At AdmissionSight, we always stress the importance of crafting a strong application to demonstrate your story to admissions officers

How you think and approach the world around you, your sense of intellectual curiosity, leadership or community involvement will be very important– Especially if you have a lower GPA.

Who you are as a person – and the values that ultimately define you – are what the admissions officers want to know. Beyond your test scores and grades, this is what will get you into a top tier college with a low GPA.

The lowest GPA student we’ve ever helped get into an Ivy League school had a 3.3 unweighted GPA. While we’re not saying that we could get anyone in with a 3.3 GPA, it has happened. The only reason this was possible was because the student (with our help) wrote an excellent application and personal statement. We’re proud to say the candidate is graduating from University of Pennsylvania with a degree in biology.

So yes, you can still get into a top university with a 3.3 GPA. But you need to supplement that with a powerful essay that showcases your story. First-time applicants, especially the highest achieving students, tend to overlook the importance of the essays, which creates an opportunity for students with lower GPA’s.

A group friends in the middle of a pathway looking at each other's notebooks looking happy

High-achieving students tend to mistakenly believe that their scores and grades are enough to carry them through. But every student who has gone through this process and ultimately received an acceptance letter will tell you the essays are extremely important.

While it’s rare for someone with a 3.3 unweighted GPA to get into Stanford, it’s not impossible. You can compensate for your grades with national awards or strong extracurriculars. Or, you might have a killer personal statement that seals the deal for you. Other factors involved include demographics, your upbringing, your ethnicity, among various factors outside your GPA.

Contrary to common misconception, there’s no “minimum” GPA at Ivy League schools. If you look at their websites, they’ve accepted students with as low as a 2.5 GPA – probably athletes. At AdmissionSight, we’ve  gotten a non-athlete, non URM into an Ivy League school with a 3.3 GPA.

In fact, we’ve even helped a student with a 3.0 GPA and ~1100 SAT score get into Berkeley. We’ve helped another student with a 4.0 GPA, 1450 SAT, 680 Math Level 2, 730 History, and 2’s and 3’s on AP exams get into Yale. Yes – it’s totally possible. And we have their applications to prove it.

While the odds are against you with a weak academic profile, we’ve helped many students with poor GPA’s / grades get into top universities. With a stellar application (personal statements, supplemental materials, recommendation letters, supplementary essays, extracurriculars, interviews), you still stand a good change of being accepted. But your application has to be perfect in every way. It must showcase your personal qualities, leadership, commitment to your community, and passion in areas you can clearly demonstrate.

Two students walking in the campus.

We’re proud of the work that we have done. Our track record of accomplishments of helping students get into a top tier college with a low GPA include:

  • a student with 1180 SAT, 3.3 GPA get into the University of Pennsylvania
  • a student with 2090 SAT / 690 SAT Subject Tests and literally 2 years of high school transcript get into UC Berkeley
  • a student with 3.7 GPA, 2090 SAT / 700 SAT Subject Tests get into the University of Chicago
  • a student with only 3 AP exams under the belt and no Subject Tests get into Yale
  • a student with a 2.7 undergraduate GPA and 720 GMAT get into Harvard Business School.

…the list goes on.

Admissions is a holistic process, and sometimes, candidates can get in without meeting certain academic standards. But in order to do this, they will need to share a compelling story through the application. This is ultimately what you need to do if you want to get into college with a low GPA.

At AdmissionSight, we work with all kinds of students from different backgrounds. What they all have in common is a desire to get into their dream schools. If your transcript doesn’t reflect your whole potential, let us help you put your best foot forward. We have over ten years of experience crafting customized roadmaps that take into account a student’s strengths and their weaknesses. Contact us today to set up a free consultation.


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