Choosing Strong Recommenders for MBA Admissions


Letters of recommendation are important components in an MBA application. They offer the admissions committee an objective view of your work performance, strengths, areas for improvement, and career potential. It’s very important for you to choose your recommenders wisely and give them clear advice on what is expected of them. Strong recommendations can make a difference in MBA admissions.

Who Can Provide a Strong Recommendation

MBA programs are looking for recommendations from people who know you best professionally. Except in the case of someone who is currently in college, they do not want academic references. And even college students should have at least one recommendation from a work supervisor (summer internship or term-time job).

Ideally, you should ask your current work supervisor, the person to whom you report directly. If that is not possible, perhaps because you don’t want the boss to know you are planning to leave your job, then you need to find others in your organization whom you trust to keep your plans confidential and, most importantly, who can evaluate your work performance. It could be your last supervisor if you have recently changed positions or another manager with whom you frequently interact.

If you cannot tell anyone in your company of your plans or you need one more recommender, then consider others with whom you interact professionally – clients, suppliers, attorneys, accountants, business partners, etc. If you are self-employed, you will have to think about those people who know you as a professional.

Who Not to Ask for a Recommendation

Do not ask a work colleague unless the school specifically asks for a peer recommendation. MBA programs want to read recommendations from someone who is more experienced than you and who is in a position of authority. Don’t ask the company CEO or similar C-level person just because you think their title will impress the admissions committee. It won’t. They want recommendations from people who know you and your work well.

Also, do not ask family friends, relatives, or people connected with the school where you are applying. Again, your recommenders should be people who can comment objectively on your work performance with whom you have worked for a prolonged period of time. One other thing, choose someone with whom you have worked in the last two years. Any time previous to that may mean they are speaking more about your potential than your current performance.

Guidance for Your Recommender

Once you have asked someone to write you a letter of recommendation – do this in person if possible – and he or she has agreed, you should prepare a packet of information. This can include a recent resume and bullet points highlighting accomplishments that they know about first-hand. Don’t expect your recommenders to remember everything you have done and don’t ask them to write about things they did not witness. Do ask them to include specific examples to illustrate their points and to answer the questions that each school asks.

Strong letters of recommendation provide lots of details about specific strengths, accomplishments, and contributions to the organization. Fortunately, many business schools now use a common recommendation format so writing recommendations for multiple schools is not as burdensome as it once was.

Do give your recommenders a list of the schools where you are applying and the deadlines. It may be best to ask them to submit their recommendations several days or a week before the final deadline. And follow up. It is your application so you are responsible for making sure that all the elements are submitted on time.

One last bit of advice: don’t write your own letter of recommendation even if your boss asks you to write it for him or her. It won’t be as strong as a genuine letter and if the school finds out they could rescind your offer of admission.

Remember to Say Thank You!

Finally, don’t forget to thank each of your recommenders for their part in your application. If they care enough about you to write you a letter of recommendation, they will want you to be successful. So let them know when you get in!

Best of luck!