Do Grad Schools Look at Individual Grades or Overall GPA?

graduate school grades gpa

While graduate admissions committees don’t necessarily disregard other grades, generally, they consider your major Grade Point Average or GPA a better representative of your grades.

Graduate schools are mainly concerned about you completing the graduate program. This means graduate admissions are done on the major level and not on the university level like undergraduate admissions.

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If you have a satisfactory or excellent major GPA, this will send a message to the graduate admissions committee that you have the drive and aptitude to complete the selected program. However, if you come from a different field, your major GPA would not be the priority. It will be your overall Grade Point Average instead.

Another case would be when the admissions team is choosing between two candidates with comparable major grades, then the one who has achieved better results will have the upper hand in the application. Generally, graduate schools are looking at the whole package, so they will see whether you have the capacity to conduct and complete research. 

Additional Resources:

What is the role of your GPA? 
What are cumulative GPA, major GPA, and overall GPA?
How important is your Major GPA?
What Is a good GPA for grad school?
What are the typical GPA requirements?
How do you maintain or raise your GPA?

What is the role of your GPA? 

Your GPA or Grade Point Average is an important indicator of how well you did in your courses on average. It may make or break your graduate school application. GPA scale is usually between 1.0 and 4.0. It assumes a grading scale of A, B, C, D, F, where each grade corresponds to several grade points. An A would equal four and F to zero.

Your GPA shows your scores in the semester, term, and year. It can rise and fall during your entire academic experience, but you can improve it depending on your academic progress and academic goals. Although graduate school requirements may vary, your GPA is used to evaluate whether you meet the graduate program’s standards and expectations. 

What are cumulative GPA, major GPA, and overall GPA?

Let no confusion cause you stress over your GPA. One must understand that both cumulative GPA and major GPA are average grades of a student. What’s the difference? Cumulative GPA is obtained for shorter periods like terms or a semester. Your overall GPA indicates your average grades throughout your time at the university. Unlike cumulative and overall GPA, your major GPA refers to the grades you receive in the major that you have chosen.

For example, if you major in Economics, your major GPA is based on the grades you obtain from all your Economics classes and other classes specific to your major. Your major GPA determines your eligibility to continue in the program for students who belong to the honors program. 

How important is your major GPA?

As mentioned above, some graduate schools will request a major GPA or even require a specific major GPA from their applicants. Some students obtain a high major GPA with a low overall GPA, while others get vice versa. For instance, if your major is biology, and you did excellent in it, but very badly in classes not related to biology, it may not be an issue. As long as you apply for a program mainly rooted in biology or life sciences, the overall GPA may not be given much attention by the admissions committee. 

What is a good GPA for grad school?

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Categorically ideal to graduate school is a GPA of 4.0, but a minimum of 3.0 or 3.5 is what graduate schools typically demand.

Graduate schools will set a specific GPA cutoff. This is the lowest grade you obtain needed for you to qualify for graduate school admissions. However, if you have a low GPA, this does not mean you no longer have the chance to get your advanced degree.

GPA expectations vary largely on the graduate program. Several graduate schools are flexible and accept applicants with a minimum of 2.5 GPA or no GPA cutoff at all. And as a matter of fact, these schools go from competitive schools to prestigious ones.

A low GPA is allowable provided that applicants make up for what they lack in other requirements. Usually, graduate schools will specifically ask you to supply a letter explaining your low GPA and how you intend to recover and complete the program.

What are the typical GPA requirements?

GPA requirements also vary on whether you are seeking to get a master’s or a doctoral degree. Generally, master’s program admissions accept lower GPAs than doctorate programs. For instance, some schools will require at least a 3.0 GPA for master’s program admissions and a 3.5 GPA for doctoral programs.

The field of study you choose will also have an impact on the GPA requirement. Popular graduate school fields such as Business Administration, Electronics & Communication Engineering, Education Leadership & Administration, Accounting, and more will most likely demand some of the highest GPA expectations. This is obvious because these fields are popular and will lead you to lucrative jobs in the future. 

How do you maintain or raise your GPA?

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Maintaining or raising your GPA is never easy. On the flip side, there are many ways to do it:

  • Set a GPA goal.
  • Take courses actively.
  • Take summer courses to progress more quickly.
  • Don’t skip classes.
  • Organize your assignments, quizzes, and homework.
  • Ask about your grades by going to your teacher.
  • Get a tutor.

Keep in mind that your Grade Point Averages are not everything. There are still other achievements that grad schools care about. You have other chances of proving your worth by outlining your abilities and showing that you are smart, disciplined, and creative.


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Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor