Good grades are a universal differentiator in gaining admission to reputed universities abroad. However, if all other parameters such as a good SAT/ACT/SAT II/GRE/GMAT score, reasonably good scores in the relevant subjects or work experience are met, then universities make allowances for an average Grade Point Average (GPA). They ask the student to justify the reasons for the below average grades. If the reasons for the low score are strong and acceptable, then you must clarify the same.

While justifying your low score may seem easy, a GPA justification essay is not only about justifying the low grades and attributing reasons for. You need to carry an in-depth analysis of the low scores and also inform the admissions committee of your takeaway or learning from this experience. Further, you also need to assure the Admissions Committee that this was a one-time drop in performance and that you are focussed and determined to excel in your chosen program during graduate studies.

The low GPA score justification can be attributed to the following:

Personal Problems – You can justify your low-performance level in one semester due to personal health issues or unfortunate personal reasons. This should be explained very politely and there is no reason to get emotional.

Good Grades in Major Subjects – If you have a low overall GPA but have very good grades in your major subjects or the field towards which you want to align yourself, then you can always use that to reinforce your passion in the particular subject area.

Financial Problems You had to study and work at the same time to make ends meet. Due to this, you were not able to fully focus on your studies. This would work in your favour. Avoid creating an emotional drama; simply explain your reasoning in a few sentences.

Relevant Work Experience – The negative effect of low grades can be diminished by mentioning your relevant work experience (internships etc.). You can also mention about attending workshops or certifications, extra courses taken and excellent scores in standardized testing like SAT, GRE, GMAT etc.


What will not work

You may claim that you do not perform well in examinations and therefore, your GPA is not a correct indicator of your potential and motivation. Also you may say that the methodology of grading adopted by the university prevented you from getting a good score. These reasons will not work as the GPA is not calculated on the basis of one exam on your bad day. In other words, you won’t succeed in making an acceptable point. Instead, you would end up wasting a few lines in distracting the admission committee from the actual subject.

When you do not have a good reason

Sometimes, you may not have the above-mentioned reasons to justify your low GPA.  At such times, you can seek the help of the faculty member who wrote your letter of recommendation. Your professor can be the right person to claim that your grades don’t reflect your potential and that you are genuinely motivated to pursue your field of study. He/she can mention these aspects in a few sentences in your letter of recommendation. So, prepare well in advance by maintaining good relations with your faculty members and request them to write excellent reference for you.

Use the right tone

While mentioning all these reasons, you need to be extra careful that you are polite, brief, rational and can logically articulate the reasons. Otherwise, instead of positively influencing the admissions committee, referring to your low GPA in a wrong way can backfire and reduce your chances of selection.

The following essay is an example of Grade Reflection or GPA justification:

I believe that grades are not an accurate and sole reflection of any candidate’s potential and overall ability as not everything can be measured by GPAs. In college, I took part in several extra-curricular activities and was part of International Society of Automation (ISA) student chapter where I held three different positions during my tenure as Jr. Co-ordinator, Public Relations Officer, and Chief Event Organizer. Managing academics with ISA was a demanding task and resulted in my grades dipping.   Determined to improve my grades, I learnt to be a better multi-tasker which resulted in better grades without sacrificing on my ISA and other responsibilities.


During my sophomore year, I was badly injured with a 90% ligament tear during a football tournament. The surgery and rehabilitation were even worse and it was a very daunting task managing my academics and ISA activities. This unfortunately had a negative impact on my grades. I remedied this situation quickly and I bounced back with better grades in my last three semesters. By participating in sports and student activities have improved my people and time management and organizational skills. This has helped me contribute academically, socially and professionally to other areas of my life. 


Here is an example of a Failure Essay:

Describe a situation in your life in which you have failed to achieve a goal. What did you learn from this experience? (Max. 400 words)

As part of the Oracle ERP team, I was the Technical Lead of a project for a Fortune 500 financial service company in London whereas my team was in India. The client’s upgradation of its IT application had shown up many defects and we were tasked to get this application which had high management visibility to work smoothly.

Being at the client site in London, I was the only one interacting directly with them and relying on my offshore-team to fix defects. Tight deadlines led to my putting additional pressure on my teammates to work long hours and forgo weekends. As all client escalations came to me to firefight, I became a taskmaster and in the process, lost my personal and human touch. Constant rounds of meetings and tight schedules meant additional stress and my inability to hand-hold members of my team who needed my support. I did not have the patience to listen to them as I just wanted the job completed. Few of my team-mates saw this opportunity as a challenge and rose to the occasion, while the others succumbed to the pressure and escalated against me. Their chief concern was that I was not available to them.

Though we succeeded in stabilizing the application, I consider this as a failure because I could not bring my entire team to share the common vision. I was not there to mentor those who needed help.  This resulted in my leadership skills being questioned impacting my appraisal and promotion that year.

I realize I should have given clearer roadmaps and background information of the project’s challenges to my team. It would have helped if I included them in a few client calls to appraise them of the client’s position.  I also wrongly expected every member to put in the same effort as me but I realize that some had other priorities which impacted their level of involvement. With time, I have learned to respect that.

I applied these learnings to my subsequent projects. Before recruiting anyone in the team, I lay out a clear set of expectations and guidelines and listen more to their feedback. I have also become more communicative especially when the team is up against difficult challenges and need special support. These steps have gone a long way in increasing personal team bonding and we have since stuck together even during trying times.


With this example, we come to an end of the GPA justification essay module.  You can also refer to other justification statements in the Sample Documents available on Converge.