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No matter what your friends may tell you, elite employers do care about your college grades. This is especially true for competitive summer internships and the most sought-after entry level positions. So with that reality check, what can you do about a lackluster GPA?

1. Switch gears on your grades ASAP. The sooner you start adding stronger grades to a mediocre average, the better. So if your social life or extra-curricular activities are interfering with academics, revamp your priorities. If you are having genuine difficulty in specific courses, seek out your professor or teaching assistant, or even hire a tutor. Do not wait until you are sinking into the quicksand, unless you want your main business communication phrase to be: “Do you want fries with that?”

2. Change your major. You may have originally selected a major that was simply too difficult for your skill set. It happens—it is part of the college experience to take risks, try challenging courses, and test your metal. But some majors wipe out some pretty smart people, especially engineering and science. In some universities, a Darwinian washout philosophy is the modus operandi. Maybe you need to dial back the level of difficulty of your major to find a more comfortable match with your aptitude and interests. If it takes five years to graduate, but you do it with a better GPA in a more fitting major, it’s worth it.

3. Take your major’s difficult courses during a favorable time at your own college or another school. Perhaps you do not have to take a killer course when it is most competitive (in a washout semester or with the highest achievers who determine the bell curve). Taking the course in the summer may facilitate more personal attention from the instructor. Or you may be able to get a tough requirement out of the way at a local accredited school, where the grade will not factor into your GPA.

4. If your major GPA is better than your total GPA, report only your major GPA on your resume. After all, your performance in your major is the highest priority for prospective employers in your field. If you have changed from a tough major to a more reasonable one, your new GPA should be more impressive. If asked in an interview, you should honestly report your total GPA. Most likely, your attempt to challenge yourself with rigorous courses in your former major will impress the prospective employer, as well as your realistic decision to switch majors.

5. Describe academic distinctions beyond the GPA on your resume. Were you on the Dean’s List for most semesters, even though one big “incident” tarnished your GPA? By all means report the Dean’s List distinction. Are you in your major’s Honor Society? Have you ever been granted any merit scholarships? All forms of academic recognition show your smarts and hard work.

6. Describe leadership activities related to your major on your resume. Have you been involved in professional clubs? If not, join something and seek a leadership position. I know it sounds like high school, but it is still essential. It will offer learning about your field outside the classroom, and provide networking opportunities with professors, students, alumni, and external organizations.

7. Describe research and assistantship activities related to your major on your resume. Approach a professor to volunteer your assistance (research administration or analysis, research subject, tutoring). This will give you valuable experience in your field, become a great conversation piece in interviews, and build your credibility with a professor who may be willing to give you a recommendation for a job or graduate school.

8. Talk about your skill set on your resume, not just black and white accomplishments. Okay, so you got a B in econometrics. But the fact that you survived econometrics shows that you are an analytical problem-solver. Wouldn’t an employer want someone like that? Look through your experiences over the years, and you will find common themes about your strengths. Don’t just assume an employer can figure them out. Spell out your strengths and their transferability for that occupation and organization.

9. Be willing to put your GPA in perspective in the interview. It is your job to sell yourself and overcome obstacles to your candidacy. If your freshman year grades weren’t stellar, but you found your feet and improved your performance, own up to your mistakes without whining and show how you turned it around. Redemption is a universal theme, and everybody loves a comeback kid. Just be honest, don’t make excuses, and demonstrate how mature, goal-oriented and  hard-working you are TODAY.

10. Don’t be too proud to use “warm contacts.” If someone who knows you well is willing to pass your resume along to another professional in a field of interest to you, be thankful for the opportunity. Even if you have a GPA blip, someone who can personally attest to your character may be able to put that in perspective with a prospective employer with whom he or she has credibility. Once the door is opened, however, it is obviously up to you.

Related posts: Does Your College GPA Matter? Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?, What Is Informational Interviewing? and College Internship and Entry-Leve Resumes.

 

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