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How to explain low cumulative GPA but high major GPA

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Hiya peers!


I am new to this site but have already ready several useful threads. I am not so good at the searching so sorry if this has been discussed, but what are people's thoughts on how to explain a somewhat lower-than-wanted GPA? 


My undergraduate career was very academically disjointed: Enter as Psychology major with intentions for pre-med. Take biology and chemistry, do decently. Take Organic Chemistry, do horribly. Discover History as passion junior year, declare minor. Give up pre-med. Take 3-4 history classes that year. Summer before senior year: declare double major in history and psychology, since I was basically finished with my psychology degree minus one class and decided to pursue history full time (5 history classes/semester). This was obviously very straining, with so much reading. That said, I did decently in most classes, shone in a few specialty classes that interested me, took part in a selective intensive field library course on rare materials, and did very well on my thesis all at once. I would have had a top GPA had I completed this major over the course of 4 years. I never ended up taking that last psychology class, so voila: history degree and psychology minor. 


My main issue is this: a cumulative GPA of 3.19. My history major GPA, depending on which interdisciplinary electives I count towards it, is between 3.4-3.5 (still not stellar, but obviously much better when you take Organic Chemistry out of the equation.) Is it worth distinguishing the two? How where to explain?


If a school says that they have a min 3.25 GPA ("although there are exceptions") for their program- will they even look at mine?! womp


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If a school says that there are exceptions, I assume that they might consider most apps just under 3.25 as well (possibly to 3.0--but I'm guessing here!).


I don't think you need to explain your GPA per se. It will be evident from your transcripts. But you can talk briefly about your transition to history and finding the right academic fit.


You will need to balance your GPA with a strong GRE, a great SOP and writing sample, LORs, and POI contact, and of course you should highlight your major GPA on your CV.


Good luck!


PS I love your username.

Edited by midnight streetlight
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I wouldn't say anything. I had a 3.2 GPA overall because I did very poorly in science classes my first two years. Like you, O Chem didn't do my any favors. I got all As and B+s in my last two years. I got into all the schools I applied to. Granted, they weren't Harvard status, but they are perfectly good programs with nice rankings.


Apply to a range of programs and work on making your application the best it can be. You cant change your GPA now. Also, don't sell yourself too short. I wish I applied to a few tough programs that I ruled out based on my GPA. It sort of sucks to have such a strange regret. I had no idea this round of applications would go so well for me. It really is about the big picture!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I wouldn't bother.  It will be obvious looking at your transcript that the classes that brought down your average were the pre-med classes, and library science programs won't care that you did badly in organic chemistry.


I agree with the above.  My cum GPA was a 3.42 and my major GPA like a 3.6; I am in a very competitive field, so I didn't apply to any PhD programs except one, my "dream PhD program."  I assumed I wouldn't get in anywhere else without a master's first.  Lo and behold, I got into my dream PhD program.  It ended up working out beautifully because this program is perfect for me, but I wish I had had more confidence in the rest of my application (which was actually pretty outstanding - even my advisor said so, and apparently my application was handpicked by the chair of my department) and had applied to other places.  So don't sell yourself short!

Edited by juilletmercredi
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