The Tuesday Q&A: Low GPA, Low GMAT… Do I Have A Chance?

QUESTION:

I’m a 24-year-old girl from India. I passed out of an engineering grad school with not-so-good academics (57%), but was involved in a bunch of extra curriculars: I was a drummer in a local heavy metal band, played in my college band, was the cultural secretary in college, organized fests, won awards for debates, etc. I have also done a lot of community service, like scribing for blind kids, volunteering at orphanages, etc.

As you can see, I’ve done a LOT… besides succeed in my academics. Also, my GMAT is a paltry 660 (q41, v40).

My target schools are Emory, Georgetown, University of Maryland, Smith and Darden (which is a long shot…)

My question is just this: Are these schools possible in terms of my track record, or am I being too ambitious?

ANSWER:

Thanks for the note.  I LOVE your unusual background!  How many heavy metal female drummers from India do you think are applying to Emory this year?  Not that many.

So, let’s talk good news and bad news.

The bad news is that your grades will be real obstacles here.  Your GMAT is low, even by the standards of some of the schools that you mentioned.  Any chance you can retake it and NAIL the thing? Maybe prepare now, take it again this year and apply in R1 next year? With a 700 GMAT, I’d say that I like your chances.  You can talk your way out of a low GPA if you have solid GMAT.  Problem is, you don’t really have either one going for you. So right now, that will be a struggle.

The good news is that you DO have a chance.  Let me ask you this, though.  Do you want to stay in the States after school?  Because if yes, then you should add a few schools to your list and apply in the areas you want to stay in.  Do you like NYC?  Then apply to schools on the Northeast, like BC or Carnegie Mellon.  Even Rutgers.  Do you like the midwest?  Consider Ohio State or Michigan State.  Or try your hand in California at USC.  You have a shot at the schools you mentioned (why not shoot for UNC or Cornell as a stretch), but it will be a challenge for sure.  And if you’re dead set on starting a program next fall, you need to open up your chances a bit. You should apply to seven schools at least, and a broad range including some safer choices.

And needless to say, your main opportunity to shine will be through those essays.  You need to tell a story, and sell it with the kick and authority of Lars Ulrich.  And I’m sure you will.

By the way, ‘Run to the Hills’ is clearly of the best metal songs of all time.

Good luck!

— Jon Frank

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