I would like to ask something about the master program. I'm a student from one of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and I have a bad GPA and an undergraduate history full of fails in the basic subjects like linear algebra and calculus. I have 22 fails on subjects and five of them have grades close to zero. My mean grade, concerning all the subjects that I have done until now, is 5.0 (in a 0-10 scale)

On the other hand, I've completed years of scientific projects in my undergraduate research area (these projects are sponsored by government) and I intend to publish at least two scientific papers in the next few years, before I conclude my undergraduate course. I've participate in various scientific meetings, too. So if you open my CV you will find more things than an average student; despite all of this, as I said, I simply have really bad grades.

Now, I would like to do a Master's degree or a PhD abroad. Obviously, due to my grades I'm in a bad position, but I know that some universities in Germany do not select the candidates by the grades just by the curriculum. I don't know...

I would like to ask: which kind of university does not select the candidates by the grades on undergraduate history? In general, what should I do?

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    Do you know why your grades are what they are? Have you tried anything to improve? It's certainly typical for some students to do well in class and not in research, or vice versa, but your "gap" sounds unusually wide.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 31, 2021 at 1:18
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    Regardless of your research aptitude, you will need to convince a graduate program that you can pass your coursework. Aug 31, 2021 at 1:18
  • @BryanKrause what do you mean by "gap unusually wide"? Aug 31, 2021 at 1:20
  • @ScottSeidman yep, but I know some programs do not care about that much about your undergraduate grades. Furthermore, how can I convince someone who just look at my grades? Aug 31, 2021 at 1:21
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    @BasicMathGuy: Right now you're just focused on the next step. You need to think about the longer term as well. In most countries and fields, the competition after you get a PhD is insanely competitive, much more competitive than the competition to get into a graduate program. What makes you think that your grades are not an indicator that you have trouble in that competition? Grades themselves don't matter in that competition, but there is a correlation between grades and success there; otherwise graduate admissions would not consider grades. Aug 31, 2021 at 1:26

3 Answers 3


This is only a partial answer, since I do not whether it is true that grad schools in Europe or elsewhere make decisions without considering your grades. Hopefully others from different parts of the world can write supplementary answers (or suggest edits to this one).

which kind of university do not select the candidates by the grades on undergraduate history?

Partial answer: not in the US or Canada. There are some other posts that discuss how to get a bad transcript past PhD admissions in the US. But to be clear, your odds of being admitted to a reputable program in the US as an international student after failing 22 classes are zero. Hopefully others can address this question for other parts of the world.

In general, what should I do?

In the short term, I think your only hope is to use your network. If you have been productive in research and are getting publications, then you presumably have an advisor or coauthors or others working in your field that are familiar with your work. One of these people might be willing to take you, or to recommend you to one of their contacts.

If you are wealthy and can afford to pay tuition in cash, then you may have some options as well.

Failing this, I think you are going to have a really hard time finding a spot. The competition for admission as an international student is quite intense. Perhaps someone will be able to name a country where grades are not taken into consideration, but even in this case, it is still very difficult to secure a spot as an international student.

Finally, I would point out that many people with stellar undergraduate records are unable to find a permanent position in mathematics research. So, I always recommend to all applicants to consider options outside of the university (both now and in terms of your post-PhD goals). As a lifelong student, it is easy to think that all intellectual life resides in the university and that all other careers entail mindless drudgery, but the reality can be quite different. And if you do not pursue a PhD now, you can also revisit it at a later time, by which point you may have more options.


Few things to note here.

If your application won't be rejected outright, you will be asked about your GPA. And you better show improvement over the past few years. If you've been partying hard instead of putting the time to the books, whoever reviewing your application might let it slide provided you show strong results in the last few years. Things happen, people have personal issues or just some hard time in their lives - it may all be written off. But you are at a disadvantage in a highly competitive field, and would only hurt yourself first and foremost if trying to go that route without high commitment.

With that said, there is one thing that raises some red flags in what you said... You mentioned in the comments that your grades improved for at least past 3 semesters, and in the post "I intend to publish at least two scientific papers in the next few years, before conclude my undergraduate course"... Just how long is your undergrad? Getting your results published takes time, and everyone is sounding like a broken record when telling undergrads that, but that's just a thing...

Speaking from experience, even if you have written reports on those government grants personally and have what peers are describing as publishable results, that does not automatically convert it into papers, especially if there is no supervisor to guide you through the process as you are just starting. Even if all you need to do is copy&paste from the reports and make it more concise, that still does not get you published papers. There is a work to be put in, and quite a lot of work at that - especially if you don't have it at almost the muscle memory level. There is a really big concern about the discrepancy between your perception of where you are with your current research and where you factually are. I do not mean it in a way that you are currently underperforming, just that like 9 out of 10 people intending to publish a paper or two during undergrad end up with none unless their supervisor gets involved.

Finally, a suggestion about networking proposed in other answers is a good one, but it also does beg a question - why do you want to do a MS/PhD abroad? Are there specific labs you want to get involved with? If so, get your results and put them forth in your application, they might get interested in them and you will get your shot at it. Or, at least, if they see value in you they might give you some way more valuable advice on how to proceed than the entirety of SE (again, networking!). It might be against their university policies to accept you with bad GPA but they might get put a word for you for some other lab in another university which could accept you.

To wrap it up:

  1. Commitment. Do take your work very seriously, especially in academia.
  2. Provable results. Start with putting your results together in a ready-to-show form, ideally publications. Conference papers and posters are just shy of that because they commonly lack a huuuge deal of pondering about what is the most valuable part of your research - that work is just kind of there.
  3. Networking. At the beginning of your career, people to help you navigate the academic world are especially significant. Collaborators are valuable. Until you have built a solid experience and reputation of your own, seek mentorship and help, work with more experienced colleagues.

Yes, there are master studies in Germany where your grades are not very important. In general, there is this systm called numerus clausus (NC for short), which basically tells you which average grade you need to have to be admitted. The NC is dependent on subject and university. The NC is not fixed, but is constantly adjusted dependent on a number of parameters, one of the most important one being the expected number of applicants. If you want to study medicine, the NC is often very high, in physics, it is often quite low. In areas where there are less applicants, sometimes there isn't an NC at all, meaning everyone that fullfills the basic requirements will be accepted. This is also the case for some Master programs. Here is a website that lets you search for NC-free programs ("whithout admission restrictions").

That being said, getting into a PhD program without a master in Germany is uncommon and not easy, and next to impossible with a "bad" bachelor. But if you find a good master course and improve your grades, a subsequent PhD might be possible.

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