Does Graduate School GPA Matter?


An illustration with "GPA" in large block letters. Graduate school GPA, or grade point average, does matter for your future.

The short answer is that, yes, your graduate school GPA matters.

But, of course, there’s a lot more nuance to it than that. Grades do lose some importance as you continue on your academic path. Colleges pick apart high school grades; graduate schools examine undergraduate transcripts. However, depending on your post-grad plans, your graduate school GPA could range from a pressing concern to an afterthought.

Rather than hitting a certain GPA mark, your main goal in graduate school is to develop a master’s-level understanding of your specialty and career focus. Even so, your grades will likely need to meet a higher standard than in college.

Most graduate schools require students to keep a higher grade-point average than during their undergrad years. Usually, these programs require a B (3.0) equivalent at a minimum. (Compare that with the C, or 2.0, floor that most undergraduate programs demand.)

A high GPA shows you are reasonably intelligent, are interested in your coursework and have a solid work ethic. No matter what you decide to do after graduate school—whether it’s pursuing a doctorate or another terminal degree, becoming a professor, continuing with research or finding a 9-to-5 job—those attributes will be essential.

These qualities will sell you to whoever is going to be making decisions about your next steps: an admissions officer, mentor, employer, etc.

GPA Is Just Part of Your Profile

Of course, there are other, equally important ways to convey your aptitude and tenacity outside a number. As you approach graduation, devote time to polishing up your resume, drafting cover letters, finalizing research and practicing interview skills. All those elements together will illustrate your academic performance and pull back the curtain on your future potential.

If you perform scholarly research during your graduate studies, you’ll want to collect evidence of what you did, whether it’s publications, presentations or research collaborations. Along with your GPA, these will be particularly important if you plan to continue in academia by seeking a professorship.

Some employers, too, use GPAs as indicators of job performance and potential. Not sure if you should include it on an application? If they ask, obviously, put it in. If not, talk to a contact at the organization, or a professor with experience in the field, to see if it’s expected.

The field you are entering will also make a difference. In fine arts, grades are typically less important, whereas law firms place a lot of weight on them. In business, the GPA might be part of the picture, along with the real-world experience you gained through internships or jobs during your studies. And, as with everything, it’s who you know as well as what you know.

Back to the short answer: Yes, GPAs matter. Study, work and write accordingly. But remember: A number is just a number. It’s one part of your picture.

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