Getting into Consulting with a Low GPA: 10 Great Strategies
Do you have a low GPA and are worried about whether you can get into consulting? Do you want to know how candidates I have worked with have gotten offers from McKinsey, BCG, and Bain with a low GPA?
In this article, we’ll go through:
- How important your GPA is to get consulting interviews
- The general GPA cut-offs used by consulting firms
- 10 actionable strategies to improve your chances of getting consulting interviews with a low GPA
- What to do if you don’t get any consulting interviews
How Important your GPA is to Get Consulting Interviews
When reviewing thousands of resumes, recruiters need to be able to distinguish strong candidates from weak candidates quickly. Since recruiters don’t have the time to completely read every single resume, they use basic screening criteria to reduce the number of resumes they need to look at.
The importance of your GPA in determining whether or not you will receive a consulting interview depends on whether you are applying as a student or a working professional.
If you are applying to consulting as an undergraduate, MBA, or advanced degree student, the first few things recruiters read on your resume are:
- The school(s) you have attended
- Your GPA at each school
- The names of companies you have worked at
- Leadership positions you have had in extracurricular activities
Since GPA is one of the first few things looked at, it is a very important component. If you have a low GPA, your application could be removed from the application pool before recruiters even have a chance to read the rest of your resume.
If you are applying to consulting as a working professional, the first few things recruiters look at on your resume are:
- The names of companies you have worked at
- Your role and achievements at each company
- The school(s) you have attended
- Your GPA at each school
For working professionals, GPA is still important, but less important than it is for students applying to consulting. Consulting firms care more about your work experience when hiring working professionals. However, a low GPA can still raise a red flag on your application.
So, why do consulting firms use GPA as a basic screening criteria?
While GPA does not necessarily measure intelligence, it is a quick way to assess a candidate’s capabilities.
Having a high GPA requires competence in basic skills such as reading, learning, writing, teamwork, and speaking. These are skills that consultants use every day.
Having a high GPA also requires discipline and hard work, qualities that consulting firms value. Consulting is a tough job. Firms want to know that if you are working on a difficult consulting project, you will have the resilience to persevere.
Although GPA is not a perfect measure of capabilities, it is the best single metric consulting firms have to determine whether a candidate would be a great consultant.
General GPA Cut-Offs used by Consulting Firms
The GPA cut-offs used vary by consulting firm and also by your major.
The top three consulting firms, McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, have the highest GPA cut-offs. Generally speaking:
- A strong GPA is > 3.7 on a 4.0 scale
- A low GPA is < 3.2 on a 4.0 scale
Less prestigious consulting firms may have lower GPA cut-offs because they are not able to attract the same level of talent that the top consulting firms attract. Generally, for these firms:
- A strong GPA is > 3.5 on a 4.0 scale
- A low GPA is < 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
However, the GPA cut-offs can also vary by major. Consulting firms know that some majors are more difficult than others at each school.
For example, if the average GPA of an engineering major at your school is 2.7 on a 4.0 scale, then a 3.3 GPA may actually be seen as a high GPA.
Conversely, if the average GPA of an English major at your school is 3.8 on a 4.0 scale, a 3.6 GPA may actually be seen as a low GPA.
Therefore, know that the GPA cut-offs outlined above are rough guidelines, not exact rules.
Typically, majors in science and engineering are perceived as more difficult than other majors. So, GPA cut-offs for these majors may be lower.
10 Strategies to Improve Your Chances of Getting a Consulting Interview with a Low GPA
If you have a low GPA, there are many different things you can do to increase your chances of getting consulting interviews.
1. Invest in increasing your GPA
If you are a student, invest in increasing your GPA as soon as possible. Students typically have two opportunities to apply for consulting, one opportunity for internships and another opportunity for full-time positions.
If you apply for consulting internships but don’t receive any job offers, you still have some time to increase your GPA before full-time recruiting. Take additional classes during the semester or take summer classes and focus on doing well in them.
Having one or two semesters with a high GPA can make a big difference on your overall GPA. Additionally, this will show an upward GPA trajectory, which can demonstrate to consulting firms that you can learn and improve quickly.
2. List your major GPA if it is higher
Calculate what your GPA would be if you only included classes that count towards the major you are studying. Sometimes, your major GPA will be higher than your overall GPA.
If this is the case, also list what your major GPA is on your resume.
For example, you may have a 3.5 overall GPA on a 4.0 scale, but your major GPA may be a 3.7. Listing a 3.7 major GPA will improve how your 3.5 overall GPA looks.
Remember, you’ll likely have to submit a grade transcript when applying to consulting firms, so never lie about what your GPA is. Consulting firms will be able to find out what your actual GPA is.
3. Round your GPA strategically
It is acceptable to round your GPA to the nearest tenth. For example, if your GPA is 2.95 on a 4.0 scale, round it to 3.0. This subtle change can make a big difference. However, if your GPA is 3.442, do not round. 3.442 looks slightly better than 3.4.
4. Develop a story explaining your low GPA
To increase your chances of getting a consulting interview, you will need a compelling story for why you have a low GPA. You will explain this story in your cover letter and potentially during networking events.
A low GPA indicates poor discipline, work habits, and competencies, so you will need to remove these doubts from recruiter’s minds.
Potential reasons for a low GPA may include:
- Dealing with health issues
- Dealing with relationship issues
- Adjusting to school
- Changing majors
- Spending too much time working while being a student
You should not think of this as making excuses for your low GPA. Instead, you want to demonstrate that your low GPA is not a reflection of your capabilities.
It helps if your GPA has an upward trajectory because it shows that you have made progress on overcoming the obstacles that prevented you from attaining a high GPA.
5. Network to get a referral
The most effective way to get a consulting interview with a low GPA is to get a referral. Referrals may not be a part of the official application process, but are a quick way to make sure that your application does not get immediately screened out due to a low GPA.
If you have a friend or colleague that works at the consulting firm you are applying to, ask if they would be comfortable giving you a referral. If you really hit it off with someone you met during recruiting events, you could also ask them.
Getting a referral means that someone at the consulting firm will send your name and resume to the head recruiter that is in charge of resume reviews. Your application will be reviewed more closely and a bit more favorably.
A referral increases the chances that your entire resume will be reviewed, not just your GPA. If the rest of your resume is strong, you may be able to get an interview with a low GPA.
You may need to explain to the person referring you or to the recruiter why your GPA is low. So, make sure you have a compelling story prepared.
6. Explain your low GPA in your cover letter
You should also include an explanation for your low GPA in your cover letter. This is the only part of the consulting application where you can provide further context beyond what is listed on your resume.
When recruiters see a strong resume, but a low GPA, they may look at the cover letter to see if there is a reasonable explanation.
7. Have high test scores
Test scores, like GPA, also indicate competency, discipline, and hard work. If you have a low GPA, you may be able to make up for it with very high test scores in the SAT, GMAT, or GRE.
Some students that have a low GPA and mediocre test scores choose to retake their SAT or GMAT to give themselves a better shot of receiving a consulting interview. Although this can make a difference, the reward to effort ratio is very low.
Therefore, if you are considering retaking your SAT or GMAT, you will need to decide whether the investment is worth it. You are likely better off focusing your efforts on improving your current GPA and networking to get a referral.
8. Have stellar work experiences or extracurricular activities
Stellar work experiences or extracurricular activities can make up for a low GPA. However, these experiences will truly need to be extraordinary since most candidates that get consulting interviews have strong work experiences.
Examples of stellar work experiences or extracurricular activities include:
- Working at brand name companies
- Holding leadership positions in large organizations
- Receiving prestigious awards or accolades
Make sure that you optimize your consulting resume to best highlight your accomplishments.
9. Don’t show your GPA on your resume
Most consulting firms ask you to list your GPA on your resume. Going against their instructions and omitting your GPA is risky and should only be used as a last resort strategy.
Many recruiters assume that if a candidate does not include their GPA on their resume, then the candidate likely doesn’t have a strong GPA. Additionally, since most consulting firms ask you to submit a transcript, recruiters can simply look at your transcript to find your GPA.
However, for less competitive consulting firms, you may be able to get away with not including your GPA on your resume if the rest of your resume is decent.
10. Crush your consulting case interviews
If you do receive consulting interviews, you may think that your low GPA issues are over with. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case.
Even if you make it to your final round consulting interview, your low GPA may still haunt you. Consulting firms will look at your overall application and interview performance to determine whether or not they should extend you a job offer.
If consulting firms are choosing between two candidates that both performed well in their consulting interviews, but only have one open spot, they’ll holistically look at each candidate’s profile. In most cases, they’ll choose the candidate with the more impressive resume, which includes GPA.
Therefore, even if you do receive consulting interviews, you’ll likely need to perform much better on case interviews than the average candidate. This is the only way to remove any doubt from interviewers’ minds that you are the best candidate to hire.
Take the time to learn and master case interviews.
What to Do if You Don’t Get Any Consulting Interviews
If you’ve followed all of these strategies and still did not get any consulting interviews, what can you do?
There are many different entry points into consulting, so even if you are not able to get into consulting now, there are still opportunities later in your future.
If you have just graduated from an undergraduate university, take the best job that you can get. Work hard to take on more responsibility, make a significant impact, and get promotions. Afterwards, you can apply for a top-tier MBA program, which will give you another opportunity to get into consulting.
If you are a working professional with less than seven years of work experience, you can also consider applying for a top-tier MBA program.
If you are a working professional with more than seven years of work experience, an MBA may not be worth it for you to pursue. Instead, focus on becoming an expert in your field. You can then try move into consulting as an industry expert.
Finally, even if you still can’t get interviews at McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, there are many other great consulting firms to work for. If you are really passionate about consulting, you may need to settle for working at a consulting firm that is not your top choice.
There are also many different types of consulting. Management or strategy consulting is the most prestigious, but also the most difficult to get into. If you really want to be a consultant, you may want to consider recruiting for other types of consulting:
- Technology consulting
- Financial advisory consulting
- Human capital consulting
- Economic consulting
Regardless of what you choose, know that even if you can’t get into consulting now, there are still opportunities in the future.
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