When you have a low GPA, things get tough. It’s difficult to find scholarships, apply to graduate school, and even speak to your parents. However, the real horrors come when forced to explicitly discuss your GPA.
No matter how many times you brush it aside and avoid the conversation, the question of GPA will arise. Instead of running from it, let’s face it. It’s time you prepare for the question.
5 Simple Steps to Explain Your Low GPA
Step 1: Brainstorm / List Your Reasons
Spill all of your thoughts and frustrations of why you did poorly in school onto paper. Empty your mind of the mayhem. The more calm your thoughts, the more focused your reasoning. It’s important you be brutally honest. Don’t short change yourself.
Some likely reasons your grades were poor:
- You were lazy in school
- You never cared for grades
- You meant well, but didn’t quite care enough to get the A
- You were chasing men (or women)
- You fell in love
- You pledged a fraternity or sorority and being cool was more important
- You were told grades didn’t matter
- You were insecure, and didn’t want to draw attention to yourself, i.e. preferred mediocrity
- You were told no matter how bad you did, “they’ll get better”
- You were stressed by finances
- You were stressed by familial obligations or catastrophe
- You aren’t really too bright
The heart of the dilemma will come from a combination of these reasons. Don’t stop until it’s all out.
Step 2: Select Your Two (2) Reasons
From your newly generated list, pick TWO (and only two) to use in your explanations. They don’t have to be your most personal or private secrets, but they have to be convincing and relatable. You’ll have an urge to include more, or just focus on one, but two is really the magic number.
If you go over two:
- Folks will quickly zone out and lose interest in what you’re saying. I’ve been a recruiter, and found myself doing the same thing despite having a low GPA myself.
- No one likes a whiner or complainer. Giving a litany of reasons/excuses sounds pathetic and self-inflated.
- Recruiters made up their minds within the first few seconds. If they felt it initially, then you’re in good graces. But if not, then the nuances of your explanation won’t sway them the other way. Droning on will only make it worse.
If you go under two:
- If your first reason isn’t convincing, you’ll scramble for an additional one and simply embarrass yourself. Without crafting these responses beforehand, you’ll say something you didn’t mean. Don’t rely on your mental acuity to find a good reason in the moment.
- The recruiters were receptive, but it didn’t take it the full mile. Your second reason will knock it home. Consider it icing on the cake.
- Your response will be too short. They’ll expect a little girth to the explanation. If it only takes you 10 seconds, they’ll be left wanting more–not in a good way. Life is complex, so don’t sell it short.
An Example: My GPA Story
When I was crafting my GPA story, I had no catastrophic events to blame. Everyone in my family was healthy. I was healthy. I didn’t have any financial stressors. I simply couldn’t keep up and balance everything going on in my life.
A bit of texture to my situation, I studied engineering. Within my second year, I pledged a fraternity in hopes of growth and development. It’s purpose was heavily rooted in community impact and progress. This however, didn’t stop us from hosting parties, chasing women, and generally being the center of attention on campus. I don’t classify myself as being very smart. Engineering (although I loved it) wasn’t my forte–I struggled to apply the gritty theoretical details. Despite my struggles, I do still enjoy the basics.
After pledging, I lost all of my “engineering” friends and ultimately had no one to study with. Once that set in, school always felt secondary. Despite working my butt off to balance responsibilities and stay afloat, I kept dropping the ball. The last two years were met with intense frustration, and possibly depression. I was determined to somehow “figure it all out” before I graduated, but never did. Hence, I graduated with a 2.59.
Posting my brainstorm here would be enormous, so I’ll cut to the chase. After much honing and refining, my reasons boiled to this:
- I was extremely busy doing fraternal work hosting events, running programs, and servicing the community all as part of our goal to impact the community.
- I had people in my ear saying grades were unimportant. They weren’t everything, and that “it would work itself out.”
These two reasons allowed me to draw the conclusion:
I did not understand the importance of grades, and thus focused on several other things outside myself that I thought would bring me just as much success as otherwise.
Step 3: Get Rid of the Negative
It’s time to vet your writing and get rid of the negative. Negativity will kill your momentum. Most people’s inclination is to admit some fault or guilt, but don’t. Take a look at my un-revised explanation below. Try to identify everything I’ve done to clean it up:
I did not understand the importance of grades, and thus, allowed them to suffer. Folks told me that grades weren’t so important and that it was better to build a person around them. So that’s what I did. Now though, I’ve learned my lesson and only strive to be excellent.
This response is different from the first in that,
- I admitted to allowing my grades to suffer. I fall into the trap of saying “Yes, my grades aren’t too good.” You have to frame them as though nothing is wrong, or that you’re better because of it.
- I didn’t take responsibility for my actions. I blame other people for my grades.
- I stated that I learned a lesson, implying that things indeed went wrong and I struggled through them. Do not admit the struggle you’ve endured with poor grades. It will give them reason to wonder if should give you a hard time too. Maybe others are seeing something they aren’t.
Leaving out the negativity keeps the listener focused on the positives. It closes the door on untenable lines of inquisition. Work to really hone your words. This is critically important for the rest of your budding career. You’ll go through many iterations before condensing it down to something simple, clear, and convincing.
Step 4: Practice and Remove the Kinks
All of this preparation will be for naught if you don’t deliver it properly, so make sure you go the full mile. Recite it as many times as you can, and under as many situations as you can.
You never know something until you can do it when the pressure is on. So practice with your mother, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend, career counselor, or wall.
Step 5: Internalize and Believe It!
Last, but not least, none of your hard work will convince anybody if you don’t believe it yourself. Believe that you’ve got what it takes!
Believe, that although your GPA is terrible, you still have the resolve, mettle, and grit to get the job done.
If you run through this process honestly, I guarantee that you will feel cool and confident the next time you’re discussing your GPA. In fact, you may even impress some people. Get to work!
Don’t forget to comment and share your story. Don’t fear, we’ll all Underdogs here.
Read More to Improve Your Profile
As an aside: if you really don’t feel that what you’ve got in your repertoire will get you through this mess, read Stop Beating Yourself Up Over a Low GPA and Building a Brag-a-Log to find some ways to build your skill set and professional profile. There’s plenty to still do. You can dig out of whatever hole you think you’re in!