How to get a PhD from a business school

How your undergraduate GPA affects your chances of being admitted to a PhD in a business school

Get your PhD from a business schoolIf you have already completed your undergraduate studies, short of committing fraud, there is pretty much nothing you can do to change your GPA score. If you have a GPA above 3.3, congratulations, you can focus your attention on other parts of your application. A low GPA can be somewhat of an eyesore for the admissions committee – it calls your academic potential into question and warrants a closer examination into what constitutes the low GPA (or the committee may simply glaze over your application, if you do only just as well or worse in other parts of your application).

Alright, that’s the bad news.  The good news is that a low GPA score is rarely an insurmountable disadvantage for PhD applicants. Depending on the program you are applying to and the classes that contributed to the bad GPA, your low GPA may not even be a disadvantage. Let’s assume that you are applying to a heavily quantitative field like finance or operations management. Now, if you aced all your undergraduate math courses, but still got a relatively low GPA because you flung the non-math courses which are not directly related to the PhD subject you are applying to, then chances are that your poor GPA would not detract from the strength of your application. You get the idea…

If however, your poor GPA was a result of you doing poorly in subjects directly related to your intended field of doctoral studies, then you might have a problem. In this case, you would want to seriously consider beefing up other parts of your application like the standardized tests (GMAT or GRE). If you have some relevant research experience or you know some professors who are willing to write glowing reference letters for you: good, that might offset the low GPA. If not you might want to consider taking a research Master’s program to gain extra credentials, or to gain additional research experience by being a research assistant under some faculty members in your intended field of application. Remember, at the end of the day, admission committees want to see evidence of your potential or record in producing publishable research, so if you can convincingly demonstrate that, it should be enough to override weaknesses in other parts of your application most of the time.

How to ace standardized tests like the GMAT or GRE

Standardized tests like the GMAT and the GRE are almost universal prerequisites for doctoral programs in business schools. Aim to achieve an overall score of 700 or above for the GMAT. For the GRE, aim to score above 550 for the verbal portion and above 700 for the quantitative section.

If you are applying for fields which are not heavily quantitative, like organizational behavior for example, then using a general guidebook, such as the Official Guide for GMAT Review or Cracking the GMAT (by Princeton Review) would probably suffice.

However, if you are applying to a heavily quantitative field like finance, or have a weak math foundation, then you would do well to get additional drills and preparation using guidebooks that are specialized in the quantitative portions, like Barron’s GMAT Math Workbook, or Nova’s GMAT Math Prep Course. Admission committees like to see excellent scores in the quantitative sections of the GMAT or GRE, on top of a good overall score.

I personally got an overall score of 730 on the GMAT, with a score of 6.0 on the AWA section. My strategy was to familiarize myself with the format, typical questions and the strategies used to tackle them, using the Official Guide for GMAT Review and Cracking the GMAT (by Princeton Review). During the last month or so, I used the free prep software (available at to simulate exam conditions (e.g. time constraints) and to increase my speed of answering questions. On hindsight, I could have scored even better on the quantitative section if I had practiced using the specialized quantitative prep books, and spend less time on the verbal and AWA sections which I think I was relatively good at to begin with. The lesson here is to quickly find out your weaknesses in the initial phases of you preparations, and really spending more time remedying those areas.

In my next article, I will talk about what are considered good reference letters for your application, and how to get them.