How much does GPA matter once it is above 3.5 for OCR?

Hi fellow monkeys,

I know this type of question has been asked a few times, but I wanted to get a more modern perspective on GPA.

Once your GPA is higher than a 3.5 (the cutoff), how important is it in terms of getting selected? I understand that if all things were equal, you would pick the one with the higher GPA, but generally how significant is GPA in terms of making a decision if you have one person with a 3.7 and the other with a 3.9? At that point, would it just be a decision of who you liked more, or who networked more?

I always heard that GPA was more of a checkbox in that as long as you have a 3.5, you are deemed to be smart enough to do the job, and then everything else is considered.

Thank you!

Comments (20)

Oct 10, 2015 - 1:33am
abnba, what's your opinion? Comment below:

GPA also depends on what your studying. Harder the course, the more impressive a higher GPA. Other that that, once its above 3.5, your internships, the clubs your part of.. are more important i reckon

Oct 10, 2015 - 10:14am
wso_user, what's your opinion? Comment below:

GPA matter significantly more than I expected; actually one of the worst advice I got from WSO was not to focus on grades above a 3.5 and instead work on extracurriculars. A 3.5-3.6 GPA will absolutely set you back in terms of recruiting (varsity athlete/engineering majors excepted), and also in getting a good PE/HF job after banking and B-school admissions afterwards. Is it unfair? Sure. But I know there are top PE firms (more of the elite MM PE funds than the megafunds which interview more people) with 3.8+ GPA cutoffs.

Bottom line, get your GPA as high as possible. There is a large difference between a 3.5 and a 3.8. Some people say above 3.8 it doesn't matter as much, but I have also met many many people who differentiate between a 3.9 and a 3.8 and see the former as much more impressive. Maybe you wouldn't want to work with those people, but truth is they had those grades, they work at top banks and top PE firms, and they make the decisions on who to interview.

I'm sure there are 3.5 kids at top banks and PE firms, but those are more exceptions than the rule.

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Oct 10, 2015 - 12:07pm
MJK, what's your opinion? Comment below:

GPA matters and will matter, unfortunately, in the next phase of recruiting as well. I've been rejected from a lower MM firm for having below a 3.8 (barely).

Even at my current firm (very MM--think Blair, Baird) will be more hesitant on a 3.5 or a 3.6. We won't ding them based on that, but something needs to make your resume stand out and a 3.9 GPA is one of the things that can help (along with killer SAT / ACT score, an interesting major, good internships, networking with analysts / associates etc.).

Oct 10, 2015 - 12:56pm
OhhThatsGood, what's your opinion? Comment below:

If you attend a target school with OCR, it matters a lot because you will be competing against your peers. As an anecdote, I attended W/H and had just over a 3.6 for summer analyst recruiting, and was also part of a varsity D1 sport. Received no first round iterviews from any of the BBs, EBs, or top MM (HLHZ, Laz MM, etc).

At around a 3.4-3.6, you fall right in the middle of a pack of 1000 resumes. Without significant networking or relevant past experiences (I ended up summering in IBD at a MM shop, and with the same GPA, received interviews during FT), OCR will be tough.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a friend of mine had a 4.0 - no real extracurriculars otherwise, and no networking - he received 1-2 BB interviews and nearly all of the EB interviews.

Oct 10, 2015 - 1:18pm
Oscarlany, what's your opinion? Comment below:

How much do they consider the difficulty of your major? I mean a 3.6 in math or chemistry is probably harder to get than a 3.8 in history, right?

Oct 10, 2015 - 1:53pm
wso_user, what's your opinion? Comment below:

To add to my points here, GPA matters a lot for OCR but you can somewhat overcome a 3.5+ with networking and land a first round interview at some of the better places. it actually becomes more important for PE and MBA applications where there are firms with hard 3.8+ cutoffs (where networking does not matter because CPI and Amity will pretty much flat out refuse to send your resume across even if work at GS TMT) and where having below a 3.7 is an auto ding for HBS and GSB interviews unless you have a 790 GMAT or a compelling demographic profile.

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Oct 11, 2015 - 3:00am
RoleTied, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I think you're slightly inflating how important GPA is to MBAs and PE. There are certainly funds out there that only look kids from top 20 undergrads with 3.8+ GPAs at GS/MS/EBs. But there's not a ton of them, most headhunters know that the strongest correlation factor to success is the standing you have within the group.

HBS and GSB have average GPAs of 3.6-3.7 so let's not get out of hand there. GPA for the PE admit pool matters so much less than the fund you were at. A guy at like MDP or THLee or something will go HBS or GSB almost no matter what.

Oct 11, 2015 - 10:21am
wso_user, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Agreed on the last point - but how many kids do you know at MDP or THL who did not have 3.8+ GPAs other than varsity athletes? Probably close to zero. In addition, if you are not at one of those top funds (say you break into a fund that is not a top 50 PEI fund or doesn't have founders on the HBS board) it's damn near impossible to get in without a 3.8+. Also, both HBS and GSB have 3.75 averages now, but that includes legacies, URMs, engineers, etc so the bar for finance folks are higher

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Oct 10, 2015 - 5:30pm
iggs99988, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I REALLY don't think GPA matters as much as some of the above posters think it does. During my own experience recruiting on campus at a target, as long as you are an interesting candidate with at least a 3.5, or whatever the reasonable cutoff is, you will get looks. The thing that made all the difference for me was having relevant and interesting finance experience / internships.

I interned in IB / PE during the fall and spring before BB SA, so I was an interesting and compelling applicant. I had more to talk about than some dumb irrelevant classes, or how hard I crushed Calc / Stats. Once you get an interview, it all comes down to making that connection and having something mutual (finance) to talk about. If you have a great GPA that's awesome, but a 3.4-3.6 with a few really relevant internships will ALWAYS get more interest than a incredible academic overachiever with limited or no experience.

Oct 11, 2015 - 12:55pm
Attack_Chihuahua, what's your opinion? Comment below:

It depends significantly on firm to be honest. I've heard that some firms absolutely demand a 3.7+, others don't give that much of a crap.

Best Response
Oct 12, 2015 - 3:32am
APAE, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Short answer: GPA is a really meaningful part of the first screen your resume undergoes, and it also has lasting impacts on your next three major applications (first buy-side job, MBA, and post-MBA buy-side job).

Long answer: It sucks, but the GPA is an easy way for people to winnow the applicant pool down. If you're at MS or GS and on the campus team covering your alma mater like Ross or Stern, for example, you're going to see at least 400 resumes come across for the SA pool.

The OCR/OCI system was probably set with at least a 3.5 cutoff, perhaps a 3.6 depending on the firm. If the resume book comes back too thick, the team lead (usually a VP, sometimes an Associate) may push back to HR and say "Please filter this to a 3.7," and just like that, up in flames go the dreams of 150-250 hopeful aspirants.

You then sit around a table with a handful of other colleagues/alumni and a swath of highlighters. Launching a silent prayer skyward that the papercut demon spares you today, you all grab 40 of the remaining 200 resumes. How long do you really think each resume gets read?

You may've seen on Google that it's 10 seconds, 6 seconds, 3 seconds, whatever the clickbait bullshit some pimply social justice warrior-type "associate editor" at BuzzFeed managed to fart out of her brain in this week's "32 Professional Development Facts For Millennials That Will BLOW Your Mind" abomination.

Guarantee you it's under 5 seconds. Three things get looked at. GPA, prior internships, and leadership/skills & interests. If you have a 3.9 or 3.8 you're definitely getting moved to the "look again harder" pile. If you don't, you need either an "Investment Banking Summer Analyst" position or a different position at a recognizable brand-name (BB PWM, major non-BB PWM, hedge fund, private equity firm, etc.) to get into the good pile. Failing all that, some kind of really remarkable leadership or interest bullet may help you. Are you an Eagle Scout that completed NOLS at the age of 16 and went back as a teacher for the four summers since? Boom. Did you pay your way through school as a YouTube partner? Cool, I definitely want to talk to you, even if just to see whether or not you're a mouth-breathing sped.

If you make it into the good pile, you get a 30-second read. That's where people are reading more than the headlines under each section. Now it's time to see who might actually have done something more meaningful than smile-and-dial at a PWM internship. If you got into a BB sophomore IBD program, it's about your deal exposure. Again, if you have some kind of 'hook' beyond the classroom and work experience section, you're probably moving along. Beyond that, it essentially boils down to who has the best grades or prior work experience.

There's always a lot of 3.9, 3.8 kids who clearly haven't done much outside of the classroom that make it through. Why? Their grades show that they're the kind of people who sit down, beat something into their brain, and perform when asked to regurgitate it. Banking isn't rocket science. You take a lot of shit at the bottom of the totem pole. You're supposed to be quiet, do work exactly as you're told, be okay with having a lot of different things you're responsible for, regurgitate the right thing when prompted, and not be too intellectually independent. (A crummy situation overall.) The kid with the 3.9 seems like he's got the best chance of fitting into that system, so he gets past the screen.

Fast-forward two years to the six-month mark on the job. The analyst class is now composed of a lot of kids with 3.9s and 3.8s, a bunch of 3.7s, and a smattering of 3.6s and 3.5s along with the oddball sub-3.5 who had some compelling story that got him through.

Recruiters (CPI, Oxbridge, Amity, Henkel, Glocap, etc.) come knocking. "Hi Johnny Shitbanker, please let me know if you have time for a brief introductory call this week." They want to know your ranking in the group (asinine question given that you're seven fucking months into the thing and rankings/bonuses haven't been handed out), your GPA, and your deal experience.

The ideal candidate is a 3.8+, summa, Phi Beta Kappa/Beta Gamma Sigma, top-bucket kid with two closed deals. Very, very few people fit that profile. (As of late, they tend to be at the 'elite boutiques' as this site terms them: BX (PJT), EVR, Moelis, Lazard, Centerview, etc.; see my popular 'David and Goliath' front-paged blog post for more on this.) I worked with several. Some of the guys at the firm I interned at went on to have this profile. Some of the guys at my full-time place had this profile.

That profile sells itself. Headhunters get paid when they successfully place a candidate. The best funds have hundreds of banking analysts who would chew off their own arm merely for an interview. They can afford to be as ridiculously selective as they choose; they'll still have a multiple of 'qualified' applicants relative to headcount. When you're looking for two associates (Apollo), you have every reason to ignore anyone without a 2300+ SAT, 3.9+ GPA, and Ivy undergrad. There's still dozens of those guys scattered across top M&A and industry groups.

Guys will this profile are the ones who get the invites to pre-interview cocktail hours, who get back-to-back interviews with KKR, Carlyle, and TPG on the same Saturday, and whose process is done 72 hours after it starts.

If you don't have the same grades, you end up having to sell yourself a bit more. You have to drive the process with headhunters, find alumni at the firms you want to get into, and get informational interviews or coffees months ahead of the process starting.

Fast-forward two years to when it comes to MBA application season, the guys with the best grades (who got into the best banking groups) are now at the best buy-side jobs and being managed by teams of HBS and GSB alumni. At that point it's a process of picking which partner or principal you want to write your recommendation and deciding whether you want to pay $15k for a consultant to write 80% of your essay for you or do it yourself. (That decision often comes down to which firm you're at [because that impacts how much free time you have].)

If you don't have those grades (and didn't get the megafund PE job), you're now trying to figure out which of the MBA business schools ">M7 schools your profile's a best fit for (and whether your firm or any portfolio companies you worked on have senior people who are alumni at each of your target programs).

Fast-forward two years to all the first-year MBAs recruiting for their summer internship. The guys coming from Carlyle, BX, KKR, et al. either entered school knowing they could return to their firm (and therefore their summer internship is a chance to goof off and experiment with a new flavor) or are mining their network for a way to another megafund or comparable fund on the public market side. Given how hard the post-MBA hiring market is (see HSW's numbers on the incoming classes by industry experience vs. their outgoing classes' new industry placement), even this isn't a shoe-in, even for our bespoke-suited, prestige-draped budding titans of finance.

Imagine then the battle the people not at Harvard or Stanford who are coming from Thoma Bravo, Welsh Carson, Trilantic, et al. have. It's an uphill battle. And by no means is that saying that those people are slouches (as if a 3.7 from McCombs, a summer at BAML, an analyst stint at JPM M&A, and an MBA from Booth qualified you as a slouch).

Granted, there are exceptions everywhere. There's the guy from UBS who made it to KKR, the guy from Ross who got to BX R&R, etc. The point is that it's incredibly competitive from start to finish and only gets more so the higher you go. The guy from UBS to KKR may struggle coming out of b-school. The guy from Ross at BX may suffer in recruiting relative to the kid next to him from Wharton and not even get an interview at Centerbridge.

While you may absolutely find a way to back-door your way in somehow during the banking recruiting cycle (and should take absolutely any opportunity to do so), simply be aware that grades matter a ton and will impact your career trajectory for a decade. You are shooting yourself in the foot by not taking every opportunity to maximize the two digits that are the first thing people look for on your resume.

I am permanently behind on PMs, it's not personal.

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Oct 12, 2015 - 8:32am
Dzfunk, what's your opinion? Comment below:

^ Great coverage that really shows the sensitivity of the highest GPAs. I'll never think that it's a flat checkmark field when it comes to GPA - a 3.9 will always be seen superior to that of a 3.6.

Note that this is only for first-round screening purposes though.

To err is human. To forgive is divine.
Oct 12, 2015 - 5:46pm
wso_user, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This is spot on and exactly what I was trying to convey in my original post

Oct 12, 2015 - 8:30am
mattgunner25, what's your opinion? Comment below:

It is really tough for us to turn down someone with a 3.9-4.0 gpa in favor of someone with a 3.6 unless there is a significant difference in extra-curriculars or overall personality. With that said, may great candidates get their foot in the door (first round interview) with a 3.6 range gpa. From that point on, in my experience, we forget about the gpa and focus on the quality of the interview.

Nov 5, 2015 - 2:12pm
swagmonkey123, what's your opinion? Comment below:

On the question of engineering vs non-engineering majors:

How does a 3.5/6 engineering major compare to a 3.8/9 liberal arts/social science major?

Nov 7, 2015 - 9:37pm
very.chipper, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Having just gone through the process I will give my (somewhat) alternative take on this....

For a little background, I have a 3.95+ with a finance/econ double major from a non-target but top 5-15 ug bschool. I networked extensively still and ended up with interviews almost everywhere (both BB/EBs).

Just like many, I had heard how GPA was just a check in the initial stages, so that's what I expected. And that's how it seemed it would be. In none of my initial (phone) rounds did it come up. But then when I started doing in-person interviews (with more senior people, also) I noticed a significant shift...I still got asked a few technicals, but then they wouldn't press beyond the original question (one person asked me to walk through an LBO and proceeded to say "I normally ask about FCF here, but I don't think we need to spend time on that"). Proceeding to my superday (only ended up doing one because I took that offer), I did not get asked a single technical. On top of that, I had multiple interviewers explicitly refer to my gpa and say you're not going to have a problem with the work.

Like I said, I was pretty surprised by how this played out. It definitely came up more than I expected, and seemed to help me significantly in the latter stages. I know that latter stage interviews are typically less technical, but everyone else I know had significantly more than I did. This could have been a function of a variety of things so take it with a grain of salt, but I definitely think that the work I put in to assure the highest gpa possible helped me through the process....

Dec 27, 2015 - 5:27am
gjk, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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