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.

Answering the Dreaded “Why isn’t your GPA Higher?” Interview Question

By Claire Klieger

Don't be tormented by your transcript.

This is the kind of question that most of us dread because let’s face it—we probably all have at least one class or semester that just didn’t go so well. In some cases that may be a mere blip in your academic performance and for others, it can be an all out bomb. Regardless, here are some tips to help you better prepare for such a question:

1)      Don’t divulge negative information unless specifically asked. Sometimes, a GPA or grade in course that really concerns you is not a big deal for the employer. If it is an issue, you are can be sure that the recruiter will ask about it so there is no need to volunteer negative information. You may think that by broaching the subject you will have a chance to explain the circumstances, but doing so without being prompted actually just shines a bigger spotlight on the potential issue. Take that C you received in a particular course. Especially if it’s in an unrelated discipline, chances that the recruiter may not even care but bringing it up on your own just draws attention to it.

2)      Avoid the blame or comparative game. When you try to displace the fault you not only come across as someone who complains (and may even be seen as whiney), but you also never know when you may inadvertently insult someone. For example, I regularly hear students in science or math heavy majors say to me, “well, if I had an easier major, like English, my grades would be higher.” What if your interviewer (like me) majored in English? I certainly wouldn’t have described the multiple twenty-plus page papers I wrote a semester or the probably thousands of pages of reading I did as an easy course load. Pointing fingers just doesn’t create a good impression.

3)      Take responsibility for your actions. Instead of blaming a bad grade in a class on your major, the curve or the difficult professor, ask yourself what was really going on.  Employers want to hire folks who can own up to their mistakes.  In particular, if you can focus on what you’ve learned from that experience so you won’t make a similar mistake again, you can alleviate employers’ fears about any potential “skeletons” in your closet.

4)      The best answer to a difficult question is always the truth, though you should consider your approach. What is real reason you had a rough semester? Perhaps you underestimated the time commitment of rushing a sorority or pledging a fraternity?  Maybe you got in over your head by taking three upper level classes in the same subject next semester? Simply state what happened without a lot of details or over explanations and then focus on how you learned from the experience, particularly if it allows you to focus on more recent positive events.

Example: “I struggled with adjusting to college life and didn’t manage my time as well I should have freshman year. However, since then, I’ve learned to more effectively juggle my responsibilities and prioritize and as you can see from my transcript, I’ve continued to improve each semester since then.

5)      Own your own story. Remember that interviewers are people too, who have made their own mistakes in life and are usually willing to overlook your own provided you have the right approach. It’s important to be comfortable in your own skin. If you are upfront and honest when asked a question without coming across as defensive you will project a self assurance that will put recruiters at ease.

Here is my favorite true anecdote from a few years ago: A student was hitting it off with a recruiter at an on-campus info session for a very prestigious consulting firm. However, her hopes began to dash when the recruiter asked her, “What’s your GPA?”  She could see that her response of a 2.76 made the recruiter’s face fall and so she said, “I can see that you’re disappointed,” and the recruiter agreed. The student lifted up her chin and said with a smile, “Let me tell you something. I’m the first person in my family to go to college and I am so proud of the fact that I worked hard enough to end up at Penn. I’m continuing to work hard here and I’m thrilled with my GPA.” Guess what? She ended up getting an interview.