How Important Is GPA When Looking for a Job or Internship?

Let’s face it…. a strong GPA has never been detrimental when applying for jobs and internships. It can demonstrate that an applicant is intelligent, has a good work ethic, and takes his/her role as a student seriously. That said, I very often hear from students who think an extraordinarily high GPA is required to land an attractive job or internship. These comments don’t resonate with what I know to be true about Penn student outcomes… that most of them land great jobs with interesting employers, whether they have a 3.0 GPA or a 3.9 GPA. For that reason we recently embarked on a study to look more closely at the GPA ranges of Penn students entering various industries. We merged information from the Career Plans Survey for the Class of 2017 with GPA data at graduation. While we don’t have a 100% response rate to the survey, we did have information on a respectable 86% of the Penn undergraduate class, so know the results are grounded in solid data. What we found might surprise you.

The chart below shows the middle 50% of Penn GPAs for various industries. We have included below some of the more common industries that Penn students enter after graduation because we had enough data points to make the calculations meaningful. Penn students obviously enter many other industries, but we did not report on them because smaller numbers could skew the results more radically. (Note that MBB stands for the big 3 consulting firms – McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain; Bulge Bracket are the large investment banks, excluding boutique banks; and the Frightful Five Tech is Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet/Google.) The data clearly demonstrates that a 3.8 is indeed NOT required for any of these industries.

Middle 50% of GPAs for Penn Students Entering Various Career Fields

Employers consider a broad range of variables when deciding which students to interview. Yes, GPA is often one of those variables, but just as important are the skills students display on their resumes developed through coursework, internships, extracurricular activities, etc.

The non-tangibles are also essential. Has the student demonstrated an interest in the industry, job function and specific organization? Does the applicant demonstrate strong communication skills through the cover letter and on the resume? Has the applicant taken the time to network and get to know people at the organization? While it may not always seem fair, who you know (and more importantly – who knows you!) can make a big difference when employers decide which candidates they are going to call for an interview.

So, while an extremely high GPA is not a prerequisite for landing any of these jobs, a low GPA can present challenges when seeking jobs or internships. Here are a few things that Career Services advisors suggest to mitigate a lower GPA:

Consider why your GPA is lower. Some students may have a particular semester that is an anomaly because of an illness, difficult family situation, or simply being over-committed. Is there a way to explain this to a recruiter? For example, something like the following might work:

You may notice that I did not perform as well academically during the spring of my sophomore year. I wanted to let you know that I had mono that semester and was unfortunately not able to devote as much time to studying. I am happy to say that once I recuperated my grades rebounded, and for my most recent semester I achieved a 3.5 GPA which I consider to be more reflective of my abilities.

Did you do better in your major /concentration classes? Highlight that fact on your resume. Per Penn policies, be sure to include the number of courses included in the calculation. For example: Major GPA: 3.4 / 4.0 (7 courses).

Network, network, network. Once people get to know you (and your charming and engaging personality!), they are more likely to go out of their way to help you and more likely to overlook what might be considered a lower GPA. Make it a point to talk to people at the organizations of interest to you. Attend information sessions on campus, go to career fairs, or simply network by using the alumni tool on LinkedIn or the QuakerNet directory. While networking won’t guarantee you an interview, it can certainly go a long way towards making one happen.

Highlight Other Assets on Your Resume and Cover Letter: Every candidate should highlight their strengths on job applications. For some, that might be GPA. For others, it could be technical skills, great leadership abilities, or an amazing work ethic (demonstrated by working 20 hours a week and being highly involved in a campus club). Be aware of your personal strengths and highlight them on your resume.

Be prepared to talk about your GPA. While you don’t need to volunteer your GPA if not asked in an interview (and we recommend leaving it off your resume if it is below 3.0), you should be prepared to talk about it if asked. Take responsibility for it, don’t be overly defensive and don’t blame other people. Instead, think about aspects of your GPA that you might be able to talk about positively. For example:

When I came to college I did not have strong study skills and my grades suffered because of it. During sophomore year I discovered the college learning center and developed new ways to study more effectively. I’m happy to say that my GPA has risen every semester since.

Be flexible about the places you apply. Well known employers receive many thousands of applications from college graduates each year and can be very selective about who they interview and hire. (An article on reported that Goldman Sachs received over 250,000 applications from students in 2016.) There are thousands of other organizations out there that could be great places to work, but which are less well-known. Chances are that your resume will stand out more at a less well-known organization.

Talk with a Career Services Advisor. Career Services staff are here to help you with every aspect of your job or internship search and every situation is unique. If you have concerns about how your GPA may impact your job or internship search, please schedule an appointment to talk about your personal situation. You can schedule an appointment through Handshake (under the “Career Center” tab at the top) or by calling the Career Services office.

Author: Barbara Hewitt

Barbara Hewitt is the Executive Director of Career Services.