Is it true that Tier-1 schools in the US use an automated GPA filter before an application is even reviewed. Especially for international students? If so, how does one go about getting past it and having their application reviewed?

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    In contrast to the two existing answers, at my tier-1 university the answer is yes. Admission to any graduate program at my university requires a GPA of at least 3.0/4.0 (or equivalent) for the last two years of undergraduate study. The requirement can be petitioned, but successful petitions are rare. (And yes, this means that I could be admitted to my own graduate program.)
    – JeffE
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 4:18
  • @JeffE: Humm...my undergraduate GPA is 0.1 higher than yours, so ordinarily I doubt I'd be admitted (or even be considered), but maybe with a successful petition? Commented May 22, 2017 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


In my experience, no. The only automatic filter is for the university's minimum required TOEFL score; this requirement is imposed by the university and is not under the department's control.

Furthermore, for international students coming from academic systems that the committee is less familiar with, the GPA is less informative. If you weren't familiar with the Italian system, for example, it would be hard to know what a grade of 27 represents. So in these cases the admissions committee is likely to rely even more on the letters of recommendation. For a successful application at a "Tier-1 school", the letters likely need to come from someone knowledgeable about the reality of such a program (perhaps they received their PhD from a comparable department, or taught there in the past) and make a convincing case that you could be successful there. Even an extremely strong letter saying "This is the strongest student in Country X this year" might not be sufficient, if the committee doesn't have sufficient information to compare that with other applicants.

Source: I have served on grad admissions at a Tier-1 math department.

  • The TOEFL requirement is imposed by the university's interpretation of the U.S. government's visa laws (the visas require "demonstration of proficiency in English," and having applicants take the TOEFL or IELTS is by far the easiest way to do this.) Commented May 21, 2017 at 14:52
  • In our case, I believe the university is also seeking to assure the quality of the teaching done by graduate students, who sometimes serve as teaching assistants. (In particular, our minimum TOEFL score is higher than many other schools.)
    – Tom Church
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 17:15
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    At the places where I've worked, we don't actually filter out the applications with low TOEFL scores, though there is a university-wide minimum. It's also not impossible for us to admit someone whose TOEFL score is too low. What would have to happen is that a faculty member would have to volunteer to interview the candidate and write a compelling memo about how their English is better than their TOEFL score suggests. The university might or might not accept this argument (it depends on how much trust they have in the department and faculty member). We rarely try this. Commented May 21, 2017 at 18:29
  • @Andy: And of course, doing this also satisfies the visa laws. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 12:07

I cannot speak for every graduate program; however, in my experience the answer is 'no.' The candidate is regarded as a total person and the GPA defines only one part of them.

Regarding getting past it: if the filter does exist those who put it in place believes it adds value. The only true way past it is to have a higher GPA than the filter. Apart from that, you can reach out to the department that you're interested in to show that you are more than your GPA.

  • Interesting to receive down votes with no rationale. Commented May 21, 2017 at 5:48
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    I did not downvote, but one reason might be that answering from your experience is not very useful if you do not include what that experience is. Commented May 21, 2017 at 8:07
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    I agree with @Tobias. Moreover, I know that some tier 1 graduate programs have GPA filters and some do not, so without further scoping your answer is not especially helpful. Commented May 21, 2017 at 15:53

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