Most MBA programs require two to three letters of recommendations from people capable of commenting on your qualifications for business school.

This may feel like an area of the business school application over which you have no control, but there are things you can do to ensure that your recommenders give the best recommendation letter possible.

Business school letter of recommendation

What makes a great MBA recommendation letter?

The very best MBA recommendations support and reinforce the rest of your business school application by providing specific details about your work experience and personal qualities. They can even push borderline candidates into the admit pile. The very worst recommendation letters provide negative information that casts doubt on the picture you've worked so hard to create. Even mediocre letters of recommendation are potentially harmful if they fail to add that extra oomph. Sometimes, what is not said speaks volumes.

Here are three tips to help you snag great letters of recommendation for your MBA application.

1. Choose your recommenders wisely.

Business schools prefer professional recommendations to academic recommendations. If an MBA program requires two letters, try to get both from professional sources. At least one should be from your current immediate supervisor. If this is impossible, a former supervisor is an appropriate substitute. Other alternatives include an indirect manager or a colleague. If three letters are required, it is usually okay for one to be from an academic source.

Your MBA recommenders should be able to speak in detail about your qualifications, strengthening the same points you have already iterated in your own essays. Just as you highlight your career achievements, maturity, interpersonal and leadership skills, so should your recommenders. If you don't have many people who fit the bill, start cultivating those relationships.

2. Prepare your MBA recommenders well.

People are busy. People like direction. Give it to them. While we do not advise writing your own recommendations for others to sign, we do suggest you provide your recommenders with the background information they need to write compelling letters.

Here are some items recommenders find helpful:

  • Résumé: Give them the same one you plan to submit with your application.
  • Statement of purpose: Your recommenders need to know how you are presenting yourself in your application. If you haven't written a statement of purpose yet, provide them with a rough outline of what you plan to say.
  • Talking points: If you want your recommender to comment on a specific project you managed or an assignment you worked on, let them know. Remind them of examples they can use to highlight your skills and abilities.
  • A list of schools: Tell them which schools you are applying to and why you chose them.
  • A list of deadlines: Ask for recommendations well in advance of deadlines. If you do need a recommendation in a hurry, ask in person and explain the time constraint.
  • Instructions for how to submit. Be sure to explain how your recommenders should submit the letter once it’s ready, either through the business school’s online system or by mail. If your schools required mailed letter, include envelopes and postage. Your recommenders will appreciate any steps you take to lighten their load.

3. Send a thank you note.

Writing letters of recommendation is a favor. Sending a thank you note to your recommenders two weeks before the deadline is polite and respectful. In addition, the note will be a gentle reminder that the letter should have been sent already. Finally, don’t disappear after you get your MBA admission decision in the mail! It’s nice to let your recommenders know how it all turned out.

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