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(Grad) GPA below 3.0


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Hi all -- I'm looking for some thoughts on my situation. Sorry for the long post.

I was a grad student in a different field at University X and went through some personal issues my 2nd year and my GPA dropped from about 3.45 to 2.85. As a result, I was placed on academic probation (you need a 3.0 to be in good standing). I left the program for various reasons (this was a couple years ago). I'm now looking to get a Master's in a different field (CS) and need to take a class or two this summer as admissions pre-requisites since I didn't major in CS in undergrad.

One (relatively convenient) place I could do so is University X (very few schools offer this course in the summer). My other option would be to go all the way across the country to University Y, which is probably a much harder school (and the class there requires much more time in class, so there's less free time to study). There are a couple other schools I might be able to go to (assuming I can still get into the classes by the time they look at my transcripts for pre-req verification).

My undergrad GPA was 3.7 (which included a 3.75 in 4 grad classes), I had a summer research project during undergrad, and since leaving that grad program, I've taken pre-req classes for CS admission as a non-degree student at a different school with a 3.9 GPA (including an A in 1 grad class). That 2nd year in grad school is clearly the one blemish on my record. I haven't taken the new GRE yet, but I'm expecting about a 170 Quant, 155 Verbal, and 4.5 Writing, which is good enough.

Would it be better to take a couple classes at University X this summer and bring my GPA up to 2.99 (assuming I get As)? (I don't know if there's an easy 1 credit class I could take for an opportunity to move my GPA above a 3.0.) Or just leave that school behind, go to a different school, try to get a 4.0, and hope schools will overlook that 2.85 come application time? Obviously 2.99 isn't very impressive, but it's significantly better than 2.85. Or would it not make a difference since these would be undergrad classes, and there would still be a 2.85 grad GPA? I believe summer doesn't count as a term as far as getting off probation is concerned, so I wouldn't be dismissed unless I still had below a 3.0 after the fall term (if I took fall classes as well). If this isn't the case, I won't chance studying at University X and possibly getting kicked out. Unfortunately the class only ends the day before my first application is due, so it's unlikely I'd have grades in soon enough to write down 2.99 on that application, but I'd still rush out an updated transcript obviously. My other applications are due a couple months later, so no issues there.

For what it's worth, I'm not looking to get into elite programs, but aiming for top 40-50 basically. I'm just applying to a few schools for the spring, so application numbers will be down I'm sure, and hopefully that makes them more likely to give my whole application a fair chance. My gut feeling says that it's better to just leave University X in the past and take the class elsewhere, considering most schools say they want to see a 3.5 GPA in any graduate coursework, which I clearly won't have.

Also, a couple somewhat related questions:

1. Is this something I would only address in my SOP, or do apps also ask about any academic probation you've faced? I can't remember what they asked when I applied to grad schools before (and it's too early for applications to be open already). I don't plan to make excuses for it, just to briefly explain that I faced some personal/health issues and I've proven I can be a strong student again by getting a 3.9 GPA at a different school since then (and an A in the one grad class I took).

2. When they ask for your undergrad and grad GPA on apps, do they ask for each school by school, or overall, or just at your degree-granting institution? My grad GPA from my undergrad school is 3.75, and my overall grad GPA from 3 schools combined is not very impressive, but it's at least over 3.0. Obviously they can figure everything out from your transcripts, but it may be easier or harder to get your app past the department secretary, depending on the answer.

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Going by the limited info on your situation, if I was in your position, I would lean toward University X.  I understand your reasoning behind starting fresh at a new school, but you yourself said it would be convenient to take classes at University X rather than move across country just for summer classes.  Plus, you said there's less time to study at the new school, so it seems you're more likely to do better (i.e. get A's) at University X.  If you do well, you can make a stronger case that your low GPA was an anomaly. When they look at your transcripts, instead of your most recent grades being poor, at least you can have those summer classes that show you recovered and finished stronger.  If you show improvement, maybe that will indicate to schools that you're not a quitter and you turned things around.


Regarding applications, based on the few I've encountered, some do (and some don't) ask for academic probation/dismissal/standing and an explanation either in the application or in the SOP / PS.  Once again, it depends on the school/program. I've seen applications ask for overall total GPA and some also ask for GPA per institution.


Whatever you decide, good luck with summer classes and applications.

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Thank you for your feedback. As it turns out, if I do take classes at University X, the GPA is a completely separate calculation from my grad GPA, so it wouldn't even help me bring my GPA up (though I wouldn't get dismissed as long as my non-degree GPA is above 2.3). I also got my official transcript from there today and it doesn't actually say anything about probation, so unless the app specifically asks about it, I'd just say my GPA plummeted in my SOP.

When I said convenient, I'd still have to move back, I just mean it's within a 1 day drive and not closer to a week's drive to get there. Some of the classes also require more pre-requisites at University X than elsewhere (which I have, but it could require more time and paperwork to get into the classes for this reason). There's only 1 class I really need to take this summer -- at University X, I only considered taking a 2nd class to help get my GPA up as much as possible, but that doesn't make much difference if my 2.85 is going to stay a 2.85.

Either way, I've shown that I've improved, even if I didn't improve at that school. Since leaving that program, I went to a different school and have gotten an A or A- in each class, including an A in a grad class I took. Right now I'm looking at getting into classes at the school I'm most interested in applying to (if I can get the pre-reqs verification done before the classes fill up); if not, it's probably University Y.

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