GPA might just be the most fearsome three-letter acronym. Sitting conspicuously at the top of your resume, your grade point average will be a quick and easy way for graduate schools and employers to form an impression of you, and it may often be the difference between whether they continue considering your application or throw it in the trash. Even once you enter the working world, your GPA can sometimes be a deciding factor in your salary—at least, it’s significant at the start of your entry-level salary.
Each industry treats your GPA differently; some place universal emphasis on its importance, while others put more weight on your work experience. We’ve come up with a list of fields and how they view GPAs in order to give you an idea of how that three-digit number will affect (or not affect) your chances of getting a job!
Robin Marks, associate director of career counseling and programming at the University of Delaware, says GPA is extremely important in law, but its importance can vary over time in your career.
“Top-ranked, large-scale law firms will rely heavily on law school GPAs to determine who gets interviewed and who does not,” Marks says. “However, should a new lawyer want to practice at a small firm, GPA will be taken into account, but probably not weighted as heavily in the hiring decision.”
The LSAC, or Law School Admission Council, which all prospective law students use to submit their applications (it’s a lot like the Common App for undergrad), gives a list of what law schools look for, and academic record is at the top of the list.
Nationally-ranked top law schools such as Harvard Law School and Yale Law School look for both the rigor of your college courses and your academic performance. Most schools don’t have a GPA cutoff, but the median GPA for Yale Law School’s entering class of 2017 is 3.91, so put your best effort in your courses and make sure that you’re academically prepared for the legal profession!
GPA is important in the business world, but not as much as in law. Experience plays a huge factor, so the further along you are in your career, the less your GPA matters and the more important it is to have experience and relevant skills for the job.
“In the business world, experience will always work in your favor, but certain employers will have stringent GPA requirements,” Marks says.
When you’re just out of college or business school, your GPA will definitely play a larger role in getting a job or internship, which is why looking for internship opportunities right now will really set you apart!
If you decide to attend graduate school for an MBA, (Master of Business Administration), your undergraduate grades will be a part of that application but won’t be as important as other skills you can demonstrate. The top three qualities that Harvard Business School looks for are leadership, analytical skills and community engagement. Analytical skills involve your grades and standardized test scores, but the other qualities can be demonstrated through volunteer work, jobs and personal accomplishments outside of the classroom.
STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are similar to law – some companies will look specifically for GPA requirements, but many others will weigh experience just as heavily.
“Many top firms will want or require a certain GPA, but engineering students with GPAs that might be slightly lower but have great internships and field placements will be sought after for other great opportunities,” Marks says.
STEM majors tend to have lower grades across the board, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not getting the GPA you expected. The five majors with the lowest GPAs are chemistry, math, economics, psychology and biology, according to a study by Wake Forest University.
If you’re a STEM major and you don’t find yourself with the high GPA you expected, you can still set yourself up for a successful career by following Marks’s advice and looking for valuable experience, particularly at startups or smaller companies who won’t weigh GPA as much and may help you grow more by learning on the job rather than in the classroom.
Journalism, communications and media
In journalism, GPA is part of the picture, but not all of it, says Mo Krochmal, executive editor of Social Media News NY and former professor at Columbia University.
“Potential employers will look at your school, your resume, your cover letter and any examples of your work as well as your references,” he says. “Internships are a very important part of your college experience, and the more you can get, the better package you build.”
Krochmal says, “hiring managers/editors are looking for people who are competent self-starters, motivated and sharp.” Great clips make a huge difference, he adds, so make sure to build up an impressive portfolio through blogging, writing for the school newspaper and maintaining a professional online presence.
If you’re looking to study journalism in graduate school, each program is different, Krochmal says. Some will consider a diverse set of skills and accept non-journalism majors who have strengths in computer science or digital media. With the wide variety of recruitment styles in the field, Krochmal has seen some employers ask for transcripts from graduate or undergraduate schools, so it’s good to stay on the safe side and never rule out the possibility that your grades will play a factor.
If you’re interested in becoming a doctor or physical therapist, your GPA is definitely important. After all, taking care of other people’s health is a high-pressure job, and schools want to make sure you’re up to the task!
“Fields with graduate programs that highly value GPA include medical school, physical therapy school, physician's assistant programs, speech pathology programs and … Ph.D. programs, including psychology and clinical psychology,” Marks says.
Most medical schools will require you to fulfill basic science and math courses in your undergraduate education as well as take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). Since it’s a highly specialized field, your academic performance in these subjects will be very important, although internships and work experience will help demonstrate your interest in the field.
Marks suggests being passionate about what you’re studying and getting involved on campus. She emphasizes that collegiettes need to be strategic and not try to take on every single opportunity that comes their way. If you see your grades slipping, it might be a necessity to cut back on your outside activities, but not completely.
In the end, a high GPA will set you up for great opportunities, but it’s just the educational foundation for all the amazing real-world experiences that will really count in your career!