Your MBA Recommendation Letter: Choose Wisely |

Your MBA Recommendation Letter: Choose Wisely

By QS Content Writer

Updated February 1, 2024 Updated February 1, 2024

MBA recommendation letters are a critical part of your first impression – they help tell the story of what makes you unique. So it is critical for you to know how to acquire compelling recommendation letters for your MBA application. These third-party accolades provide additional credibility to your claim that you’re a top candidate for the program. Therefore, you’ll want to keep some essential principles in mind as you begin to select the individuals whose words could make or break your MBA admissions process.

By following a few key strategies, you can make the most of your chance to shine – and show the school of your dreams that you’re already beginning to think like a CEO.

Understand the MBA recommendation letter rules

One of the most important first steps is to dig into the details of the school’s guidelines and requirements for recommendation letter sources. These could include factors such as reference type (professional, personal – or both), as well as the format and style of the document itself. Be aware of what deadline dates must be met, and ensure that you plan accordingly. Lack of attention to such details may be the first indicator to a school that you may not be as suited for their program as you think.

Make the right choice

When surveying your options for recommenders, it’s critical that you be highly selective in your choices. MBA admissions committees want to hear detailed input from colleagues and direct supervisors who have worked closely with you – not the CEO whom you’ve never met. Specific examples that highlight your strengths and abilities add an additional layer of credibility to your MBA application that a generic letter will never achieve. Titles don’t matter, but details about your performance do.

Avoid the wrong choice

It’s critical that you know whom to avoid, as well. Make sure that the individuals you ask are as excited about your future as you are. Ensure that they support your educational goals and that they genuinely want to be part of this process. Enthusiasm about endorsing you – or lack thereof – will be apparent.

Keep it current

Maybe you had a wonderful relationship with a colleague who worked with you many moons ago, but MBA admissions committees want to know what you’re capable of now – not what you could do then. Ensure that the recommenders you select are those who have current knowledge about your skills, strengths, and abilities, and can provide recent examples of your accomplishments.

Avoid neglect

With all of the preparation required, it’s easy to view your recommendation letters as just another checkbox to complete on your list. Instead, take control of the process by sharing key information with those you ask – including your résumé, MBA admissions essay, highlights of your accomplishments, the list of schools you’re applying to, and deadlines that you are required to meet.

Give them time

The priority that you place on this process will be viewed through the preparation you invest – including the amount of lead time you give the individuals you ask. If your request is last minute, they’ll likely feel rushed, inconvenienced, and not very high on your list of priorities. This may impact both the quality of the letter, as well as your ability to meet critical deadlines. Provide them with plenty of time to ask questions as needed, write a thoughtful and thorough letter, and submit it within the timeframe that’s required.

Show your appreciation

With everything on your plate, you may feel like the busiest person on the planet. While that may be true, it’s most likely the case for the people you’re asking as well. A great way to show your potential as a leader is to recognize and acknowledge the need for collaborative support. When you reach out, be considerate and show your appreciation for their efforts – and keep this good deed in mind so you can pay it back, or forward, later.

Waive your rights

It may sound counter-intuitive, but this is one place where waiving your rights will serve you well – so let the submission process proceed without viewing letters first. If recommenders feel your gaze over their shoulders, they’ll be less likely to provide the honest and thorough details that will make their letters stand out. If you’re uncomfortable with what may be included, reconsider if the individual is the best choice for your needs. Your comfort level can be a great filter for making your decision.

Keep them in the loop

Once you’ve recruited these individuals to your MBA application team, you’ll want to keep them updated on your progress. Although acceptance may seem like the final goal, it’s only the beginning of your new business career. Stay in touch with those who recommended you – starting with a thank you note for their efforts. As you progress through the process, touch base occasionally to let them know how you’re doing, and what new opportunities you enjoy because of the education they helped you pursue. This type of detailed and considerate effort will go a long way toward building your reputation as the business leader you strive to be.

With these essentials principles in mind, and by following a few key strategies, you’ll soon be acquiring the most compelling recommendation letters for your MBA application. Taking the time to pay attention to the critical details now will help you make the most of your opportunities ahead to reach your educational and business goals.  

Get more MBA admissions advice on the UNC blog

This article was originally published in October 2015 . It was last updated in February 2024

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