MBA Application Recommendations

Securing a Solid Letter of Recommendation

Because letters of recommendation are generally sent directly from the recommender to the school, some applicants feel that this is part of the MBA application that is out of their hands and out of their control. It doesn't have to be.

One of the biggest pitfalls that admissions officers cite in letters of recommendation is when an applicant chooses prominent alumni or high ranking business executives to provide reference letters based on their rank rather than their connection to the applicant. That an applicant was able to get a prominent individual to write a generic letter is generally not very useful. The letters of recommendation are part of of the application process so that the admissions office can get an outside opinion of the candidate's strengths and potential role in the workplace. In general, mid-level recommenders who have worked directly with the applicants will provide stronger recommendations than high-ranking executives who barely know them.

Some candidates have shared their essays with recommenders to give the recommender a better sense of their goals. As long as recommenders can communicate the applicant's strengths and contributions, possibly with an anecdote to illustrate the applicant's skills or the recommender's familiarity with their work, the result should be a strong reference. It is also a good idea to for applicants to choose recommenders who have strong communication skills, both in terms of their grammar and writing skills and their abilities to articulate strengths.

While it is difficult to quantify the importance of recommendation letters as part of the application, Chioma Isiadinso, a former admissions officer at Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard Business School, and author of the book The Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets, says they do matter. "They are the third party 'evidence' that can tip the scale in favor or against a candidate", she told US News and World Report.

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