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How to Get an Internship with a Low GPA

The thought of applying for a tech internship excites you, but there’s something holding you back—your low GPA. Sound familiar?

A less-than-stellar grade point average creates some barriers during the internship process, but it doesn’t mean you won’t eventually find the right fit.

Why GPA Matters for getting an Internship

Why does GPA matter, anyway?

The truth is, your GPA does often reflect your work ethic. No one gets a high GPA without working hard, and you certainly won’t have a 4.0 without demonstrating intelligence. A higher-than-average GPA is also a sign that you can “play the game” (i.e., meet expectations). Employers are more willing to hire someone with a high GPA because they’re more likely to meet workplace expectations.

How to Get an Internship With a Low GPA

Does having a low GPA mean your chances of becoming an intern are nonexistent? Not at all. You just need to approach the process differently. Specifically:

  • Apply to internships that are more likely to accept you
  • Network your way past the original screening process
  • Explain why your GPA is low (and how it has no bearing on your work performance)
  • Develop alternative signs of success
  • Demonstrate competence and grit in your application

What Types of Internships Don’t Care About Low GPA

Determine which internships are more likely to accept you and which ones aren’t. Unfortunately, there are some instances where a low GPA is almost certain to disqualify you from getting an internship.

Larger, well-known brands attract more competition, and you’ll have a harder time standing out from other applicants. Some companies have defined GPA cutoffs, so don’t bother applying for those internships. Additionally, certain sectors emphasize academic performance more than others. Software, engineering, and IT companies often seek interns with above-average GPAs.

Fortunately, many companies don’t care about your GPA:

  • Construction jobs
  • Sales roles
  • Front-line positions
  • Clerical jobs

Have you considered an informal internship?

Instead of applying for existing opportunities, create your own! Pinpoint a smaller business and ask them about developing an internship position. You’ll stand a much better chance when you don’t have to compete against dozens of applicants (especially when their GPAs are higher).

How to Get Past the First Internship Application Screen With a Low GPA

The biggest challenge you’ll face in the application process is getting through the initial screening. When a company sees your GPA on your application, the selection committee may toss your resume aside. The trick is to strategize.

Arrange informational interviews with the company you want to intern with. During this informal meeting, you can speak directly with members of the selection committee to explain why your GPA is low. You can also get direct tips for overcoming this issue when you apply for an advertised internship.

Also use this strategy to network with companies that don’t have established internships. Without competition, you’re more likely to secure a position.

Another way to pass the first application screen is to not list your GPA unless the company requests it. There’s no need to broadcast your subpar GPA if you don’t have to.

How to Explain Your Low GPA

You might have a perfectly legitimate reason for your GPA, but employers only see the number (at first). They may assume you’re lazy or incapable, but you can change their minds.

Instead of denying responsibility for your poor academic performance, convince them you’re the right choice for their internship. Consider the factors that led to your low GPA and develop a narrative to tell employers.

  • Are you an athlete that spent several days a week in training? Share your story. Your dedication to sports shows you’re a hard worker and explains why you couldn’t focus on academics.
  • Did you work to support yourself or family members? If you were working several hours a week on top of classes, your commitment to your family is a reasonable excuse for low grades.
  • Have you recently improved your GPA? Perhaps your cumulative GPA isn’t high, but you’ve recently improved your grades over the past semester or two. Or maybe you’re doing well in courses for your major but are struggling in just one area outside your major. Inform the company of the changes you’ve made to get back on track.

How to Develop Alternative Signs of Success When Your GPA is Low

While your GPA can provide clues to your work ethic, it’s not the only indicator. If you have a low GPA, you’ll need to give the internship hiring manager alternative signs of excellence. Prove to them that not only can you work hard, but that you also have a background rich in accomplishments.

  • Reference previous internships: Find an opportunity like the internship you have in mind. Offer to work for free, whether it’s for a college club, school department, or local business. You’ll build skills that outshine the competition.
  • Demonstrate extracurricular skills/accomplishments: Have you won awards or other recognitions in a club or sport? Highlight these on your internship application to show the employer you’ve worked hard (and have been recognized for it).
  • Start a business: You can start a small business to discuss during the application process. Running even an informal business (such as tutoring, computer support, etc.) shows you have initiative and follow-through.
  • Create a portfolio of work samples: If you’re interested in a sales internship, draft some sales scripts to prove you’re up to the task. Other ideas include writing marketing copy for a business, creating graphic designs in a software program, or building a custom-coded website template.
  • Focus on academics: A recent improvement in your grades can also support your application. Internship hiring managers will see that you’ve worked hard to make progress that isn’t necessarily reflected in your current GPA.

Demonstrate Competence and Grit in Your Internship Application

Once you get an interview, prepare as much as possible. Dress professionally, research the company, and practice answering questions through mock interviews beforehand. Treat every interview as if it were your only one. Remember, you may have to apply for 3-5 more jobs than someone who has a higher GPA.

Conclusion

Getting an internship with a low GPA isn’t impossible, but it does require more time and work. Explain why your GPA isn’t as high as it could be and focus on alternative signs of excellence. Other resources to help include:

By Taylor Thompson

Taylor is a co-founder at Purpose Built Ventures, where he helps launch mission-driven companies. Before Purpose Built, Taylor led growth at Almanac, strategy for Curious Learning, and product at PharmaSecure. His work helps 100,000s of people collaborate at work, 4 million children learn to read, and protects billions of medicines from counterfeiting. He has hired dozens of people, helped raise more than $50 million, and contributed to HBR.org as a researcher with Clay Christensen. Taylor is an Echoing Green Fellow, and he has degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School.

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