Application strategy

Using Recommendations to Strategically Enhance Your MBA Application

While MBA recommendation letters typically will not make or break your admissions decision, they can reinforce the personal brand you’ve presented throughout your application. We encourage you to use recommendations strategically so that they validate and expand upon key themes already introduced.

Selecting Your Recommenders

We advise selecting recommenders who can comment on your post-graduate, professional experiences and accomplishments. Recommenders should know you well and be able to provide detailed insight into working with you, which includes assessing your professional skills and personality traits. This intimate knowledge of your abilities is significantly more important than the job title of your recommender.  The one exception is if you have a senior colleague with significant influence at the school to which you are applying who would be willing to serve as a recommender.

Select recommenders that will provide a well-rounded view of working with you, though you should elect to have each provide a slightly more nuanced focus on a character trait that you exhibit and have spoken about in your application (i.e., leadership and teamwork).

Taking a Strategic Viewpoint

As mentioned, it is critical for recommendations to validate and enhance the existing application content. As such, read through your essays and make note of traits that you are highlighting for the admissions committee, then determine which recommender would best be able to write anecdotes about you exhibiting those traits. Additionally, if you see gaps in your application, you may choose to close those gaps using the recommendation letters.

Setting Your Recommenders Up for Success

Most importantly, provide each recommender with enough time to meet your request. We suggest that you allot two months between making the request and the submission date.

Provide a portfolio of information to each recommender that includes the following information:

  • School names, recommendation questions, and submission date(s)
  • Method for recommendation submission (e.g., online via link)
  • Background information and your future career goals
  • Sample recommendation letter (customized)
  • Illustrative anecdotes from your work together (customized)

The sample recommendation letter and illustrative stories that you provide should be unique for each recommender and should highlight the qualities you are wanting the recommender to expand upon. These inputs will allow you to subtly influence the recommenders’ output and will ensure that the recommendations include concrete and varied examples that reinforce your existing application content.

The timely provision of this portfolio of information will reinforce to your recommenders that you appreciate their time and are serious about your applications. It will also provide much needed direction that will allow them to allocate their time wisely in support of your efforts.  

After the recommender has submitted the recommendations, be sure to thank him/her for spending time in support of your application.

Frequently Asked Questions

I have a great relationship with my college advisor, would it be appropriate to use her as a recommender?

For entry into business school, it is best to use professional references who can speak to your work experience and skills acquired.

What if I don’t feel comfortable telling my direct supervisor that I am submitting applications to business school?

While it is preferable to have a recommendation from a direct supervisor, it may not always be an option and schools are understanding of this fact. Do attempt to have a former boss, professional colleague who is superior to you on an org chart, or someone who knows you in a more professional context write a recommendation. In some cases, this could include someone from a volunteer activity where you demonstrate teamwork and leadership skills.

How many recommendations is it appropriate to ask a recommender to write?

While this depends on how strong your relationship is with the recommender, our general rule of thumb is to ask a recommender for no more than three recommendations per round. This prevents the recommender from having to meet a burdensome number of back-to-back deadlines.

Is it necessary to get specific recommendations written for each school?

While ideally you will get your recommenders to address each recommendation topic directly, it may be necessary for him/her to write a single recommendation that addresses all the questions from your prospective schools together. Many schools have similar or shared questions for recommenders making this feasible.