Letters of recommendation are essential components of your MBA application.
Unlike your MBA essays, which outline your fit for business school and how it will benefit your career, your MBA letters of recommendation have some key differences. Your letters outline why people you have worked with believe you are an ideal business school candidate.
Most business schools only allow a maximum of two recommendations, so your recommenders must be the best possible individuals to speak to your personal and professional skills.
This blog will outline who, when, and how to ask for a letter of recommendation for MBA programs and provide you with some examples and tips for getting persuasive MBA letters of recommendation.
Who to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
MBA programs favor professional recommendations over academic recommendations. So, your recommenders should be individuals who have directly supervised you in the workplace.
Most MBA programs require two letters of recommendation, so you should seek out managers or supervisors who can speak to your job performance and interpersonal skills.
An MBA letter of recommendation from your current supervisor is the most beneficial for your application package. Still, a former supervisor can also provide a robust and accurate letter of recommendation. Colleagues or indirect managers are also possible options to ask for a letter of recommendation.
The bottom line is that you want your recommenders to be individuals who can speak highly of your impact on your workplace and write compelling letters about why you would be the right fit for a business school’s MBA program.
An ideal recommendation letter for your MBA is from a colleague who thinks highly of you. Choose someone who can speak to your strengths, knows you well, and write about you in detail. Keeping this in mind will help you determine who to ask to write your recommendations.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation and How Early You Should Ask
Once you have narrowed down your list of potential recommenders, connect with them to find a good time to discuss your request for a letter.
You should explain why you think their support will have the most significant impact on your application. Additionally, it is advisable to clarify what you want your recommender to include in their letter, should they agree to write one for you.
Brainstorm with Your Recommenders About What to Include in the Letter
This provides direction for your recommenders while they write and helps ensure they touch upon the projects and characteristics you want in your letter.
However, you have to be careful not to go overboard; admissions committees want letters written entirely by the recommenders, so you cannot write the letters for them.
Make Sure They Answer the Prompts
You don’t want your brainstorming to be generalized; make sure it aligns with the business school’s questions and that your recommenders know what to expect.
Give Them Your Updated Resume
Give your recommenders a copy of your updated business school resume. This will help ensure your recommenders touch on the correct talking points and help them be better prepared to write your letter.
Set a Deadline
Set a deadline for when you want your letters of recommendation to be completed and ready to submit. An exact deadline allows your recommenders to set aside time to write your letter ahead of when you want to submit it.
Keep in Touch
Keep in touch with your recommenders regularly, as it will serve as a gentle reminder of the deadline. It will also allow you to troubleshoot early on should your recommender get stuck on a
How to Make Sure Your Business School Rec Letters Are Great
Discuss Success Stories
Recommenders can be prone to ramble and sing your praises without providing examples. But business schools want concrete examples that demonstrate your qualities.
Including stories or personal anecdotes that highlight your emotional intelligence and leadership skills in your letters will strengthen them.
Luke Pena, the MBA Admissions Director of Stanford University GSB, notes that the best letters of recommendation “demonstrate passion and enthusiasm for your candidacy and your future success, and tell unforgettable stories about your ability and desire to make a difference in the world.”
So, sit down with your recommenders and discuss your experiences. Tell them what you have learned from your experiences and how they have shaped your actions and ambitions.
Make Your Letters Program-Specific
Business schools may favor your MBA recommendation letter if it demonstrates a familiarity with the unique assets of their MBA program. By doing this, you show off your research skills and demonstrate a serious interest in their program.
Indeed, Jim Parrish, the Director of MBA programs with the Harbert College of Business at Auburn University, writes that, “if I see the specific name of our program highlighted in the letter, it leads me to believe that the applicant has had a real conversation with the recommender about our program and this was not just a form letter for multiple applications.”
Letters of Recommendation Expected for Business Schools
Every business school has its expectations for your MBA letters of recommendation. This section contains a breakdown of what the top business schools expect to see in your letters.
One letter of recommendation should be written by a current or former supervisor, which they prefer to be done by your current supervisor. If your current supervisor cannot write a letter for you, Booth asks you to explain why in the optional essay.
Your second letter can be from an individual beyond your immediate work environment. Booth accepts anyone as long as they offer further insights from your first recommender. For instance, this can include people you worked with in a different organization, on a volunteer project, or during an extracurricular activity.
Booth will ask your recommenders to assess your competency in various skills. Your recommenders will then have to upload letters that answer the following questions or similar questions:
“How do the applicant's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare with those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response.”
It is important to note that Booth only accepts letters uploaded to their portal; faxed or mailed letters will not be accepted.
Columbia Business School
Columbia requires you to submit two letters of recommendation when applying to their full-time MBA program but only one if you apply to their Deferred Enrollment program.
One recommendation should come from your current supervisor. However, this only applies if you have worked for them for over six months. Columbia will accept a previous supervisor’s letter if you only recently began working for your current supervisor.
The second letter should be from a previous supervisor or a colleague who held a higher position than yours.
Here are two questions Columbia has asked recommenders:
“How do the candidate's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response.”
For the Deferred Enrollment program, Columbia asks your recommender to “please share how you feel the applicant will contribute to the Columbia Business School classroom and community.”
If you are reapplying to business school, you need to submit a Columbia MBA recommendation letter different from those submitted in your previous application.
Harvard Business School
For your application to Harvard Business School, your recommenders will have a two-part task. The first part is to complete a “personal qualities and skills grid” and then answer questions similar to the following:
“How do the candidate's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words)
Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response. (250 words)”
You will need two MBA recommendation letters in your application package. Harvard does not have specific requirements for who provides your recommendations.
Still, Harvard does advise you to seek recommendations from individuals who know you the best and can provide the most insightful and accurate responses to the questions listed above.
Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
Your first MBA reference letter should be from your employer or supervisor, and the second from someone who can evaluate your professional skills and management potential. This could be a previous supervisor, a current or former client, or a previous employer.
Your recommenders will need to be able to provide detailed answers to prompts provided by Kellogg. Here are a few examples:
“Kellogg has a diverse student body and values students who are inclusive and encouraging of others with differing perspectives and backgrounds. Please tell us about a time when you witnessed the candidate living these values. (300 words)
How does the candidate's performance compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words)
Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the candidate. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response. (250 words)”
Kellogg will only accept two letters of recommendation, so you need to choose recommenders who can provide the most detailed and persuasive answers to Kellogg’s prompts.
If your current supervisor isn’t an option, a previous supervisor should write the business school recommendation letter. Your recommender should speak to your successes, accomplishments, overall impact, and any promotions you have received at that particular workplace.
Your references should speak to either your job performance or performance outside of work in areas such as community service. Sloan will reach out to your references if there are additional questions about your application package.
Sloan recommends you prepare your referees to answer questions similar to those on the letter of recommendation form. Here are some MBA recommendation letter sample questions:
“Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organization. (Maximum word count: 50 words)
How does the performance of the applicant compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (e.g., what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) (Max word count: 500 words)
Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (Max word count: 500 words)
Is there anything else we should know? (Optional)”
Stanford Graduate School of Business
You need two letters as part of your MBA application to Stanford, and one needs to be from your supervisor at your current job.
Stanford does understand that this may not always be possible to obtain in every case, like if you are self-employed or currently in school. In these situations, Stanford advises you to use your judgment to find a recommender.
Your other letter should be from someone who has directly overseen your work in the past, whether it be a paid position, volunteer work in the community, or an extracurricular activity within the last three years.
Stanford wants your letters of recommendation to tell stories about your behavior in the workplace, the impact you had on others, and the role your personal qualities played in these areas.
Stanford notes this is best done through writing about “specific examples and anecdotes that illustrate what you have done and how you have done it.”
Ideally, Tuck would like one letter to come from your current supervisor, but if this isn’t possible, you should use the optional essay to explain why. Your recommenders will need to be able to respond to the following or similar questions:
“Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organization. (50 words)
How does the performance of the applicant compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (E.g. what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) (500 words)
Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (500 words)”
If they have more to say about you that does not quite fit into one of the three questions above, your recommenders will also have the option to respond to “Is there anything else we should know?”
If possible, your current supervisor should write one. However, if that is not possible, your recommenders should be individuals you have worked with in a significant capacity, such as an important client or employer.
The recommendation letter for Berkeley Hass is extensive, so you should be sure to give your recommenders ample time to respond to their questions. Here are some Berkeley Haas recommendation question examples:
“Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant's role in your organization.
How does the applicant's performance compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (E.g. what are the applicant's principal strengths?)
Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.
In the Berkeley MBA program, we develop leaders who embody our distinctive culture’s four key principles. Please comment on how the applicant reflects this Berkeley Haas value.
(Optional) Is there anything else we should know?”
After answering these questions, your recommenders will need to complete an appraisal of 10 skills and how strongly they recommend you in each category. These skills are the following:
“Please provide example(s) that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success in the Wharton MBA classroom. (Word count: 300)
Please provide example(s) that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success throughout their career. (Word count: 300)”
Although Wharton prefers one of your recommendations to come from your current direct manager, it is more important that your recommenders provide detailed information about your job performance and interpersonal skills.
Liu, an applicant who sought the help of an MBA admissions expert, said that sharing her reflections on her experiences at a global bank with her recommenders helped her get into Wharton. It also got her a $75,000 merit scholarship.
These letters should be written by individuals you have encountered in your professional work. A current supervisor should write one of your letters, but a former supervisor would be a suitable substitute.
Although your recommenders will address different aspects of your professional capabilities, both of your recommenders should know you well enough to provide meaningful insights. Ideally, your recommenders should be able to “speak to different skill sets and experiences.”
Yale admits applicants who “care deeply about the problems afflicting our world.” Hence, it’s a good idea to have your recommenders speak to your leadership, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, as well as your community involvement.
In this example, you can see the recommender begins by introducing themselves, the applicant, and their relationship to the applicant. They move on to discuss the applicant’s skills and qualifications that make them stand out in their role at the company.
The letter then discusses the applicant’s attributes and how these make them an excellent fit for the MBA program. Additionally, it shows how the applicant is growing and improving their professional and personal skills.
The MBA recommendation letter sample ends with a summary of why the MBA program should admit the applicant based on the most robust attributes discussed in the letter’s body.
Ausburg also provides the following MBA recommendation letter example for recommenders to follow while writing your letter:
“Dear George Willson,
It is with honor that I recommend Jerry Morris into your MBA program. I have worked with him at our former company, during which, I found him to be an exceptionally motivated and talented individual who has a dedication to all the tasks that he undertakes.
Jerry Morris is mature and is able to assertively address problems and effectively approach situations. I believe that his characteristics will make him a good MBA candidate. He is accomplished and possesses the right combination of intelligence, drive, and social skills to endeavor for a master’s degree.
Should you have any questions about him, please feel free to contact me on 222 555 7777 or email me at email@example.com.
As you can see, this letter is very short.
The amount of detail your recommender can provide will depend on the proper length of the letter as stated by each business school. However, regardless of length, your recommender’s responses should still explain why you are a good fit for the business school.
What to Do Once Your Recommender Has Sent Your Letter of Recommendation
Writing a great letter of recommendation is a time-consuming process.
So, you should send a thank-you note — either over email or by traditional mail — to your recommenders to acknowledge their work and give your appreciation for their efforts.
Alternatively, you can send your thank-you notes two weeks before the deadline. This would have a dual purpose of thanking your recommenders and gently reminding them of the upcoming deadline.
Once you have received your acceptance to an MBA program, it is a good idea to update your recommenders with this information. They will want to know about your application’s end result and celebrate your success.
What Is a Common Letter of Recommendation?
A Common Letter of Recommendation is a standardized recommendation form developed to assist recommenders in the letter-writing process.
Since most people who want an MBA apply to multiple programs, it is arduous for their recommenders to write several letters that respond to different questions.
The Common Letter of Recommendation contains one set of questions commonly asked by business schools and can provide the most insightful responses about candidates.
You may have noticed some of the business schools detailed above asked very similar questions. Stanford, MIT Sloan, Tuck, and Yale are some of the many business schools that use the Common Letter of Recommendation.
Getting an MBA Recommendation Letter: FAQs
Obtaining great business school recommendation letters is an essential aspect of the MBA application process. However, the etiquette involved in asking for them and the ordeal of crafting them is arduous. So, we’ve put together some questions and answers to help this process go smoothly.
1. How Long Should My Business School Recommendation Letter Be?
A letter of recommendation is generally only one or two pages long.
This will vary by business school, so it’s important to check the requirements at each school you’re applying to and communicate the page limit with your recommenders.
2. Can One of My Letters of Recommendation Come from a Professor?
You can get an MBA recommendation letter sample from a professor to provide you with some inspiration. However, unless you apply directly from your undergraduate studies, all of your recommendations should come from people you have worked alongside in your professional endeavors.
These could be past or current managers, managers who know your work well but did not directly oversee you, or important clients.
3. I Work for My Family’s Business — Are They Allowed to Provide a Recommendation Letter for MBA Programs?
No, you should not obtain a letter of recommendation from a family member, even if you work for your family’s business.
This is because family members are not the most reliable at providing an objective assessment of your skills and leadership potential, which colleges want to see in your letters. If your current supervisor is a family member, you should explain this in the optional essay and find a recommender who can be more objective.
4. What Should I Do if It’s Getting Close to the Deadline and My Recommender Hasn’t Started My Letter?
If it is getting too close to the deadline for comfort, you could elect to ask someone else to write an MBA recommendation letter for you. This may not always be possible, though, and situations like this are why it’s a good idea to give your recommenders a significant amount of time to write their letter.
5. Are My MBA Letters of Recommendation Allowed to Exceed the Word Limit?
It is a good idea to make sure your recommenders adhere to each business school’s word limits. You can always ask for an MBA recommendation letter example from your recommender to test the word limit.
Remember that admissions committees have many applications to go through and won’t appreciate having to read an excessively long letter.
Your recommenders should strive to provide detailed yet concise and to-the-point responses to the questions. However, as long as they are within 10% of the word limit, this should be suitable.
6. How Should I Submit My Letters of Recommendation?
Typically, your letters of recommendation will be submitted electronically via the business school’s online application portal. Some schools may also accept hard copies, so it is important to check each school’s preference prior to submitting your letters.
7. Should I Write a Recommendation Letter for MBA Programs for Myself?
If you are placed in a situation where your recommender asks you to write your recommendation letter, and they will sign off on it, don’t do it.
You will never be able to write a recommendation letter for MBA programs about yourself that someone else will. Additionally, if business schools suspect you wrote your own letter, they may reject your application outright.
People have busy lives, and your supervisor may not have time to write your letter. So, you should negotiate with them.
If they are someone you need a letter from, ask them to write down several key points. Once that is done, it will seem like a smaller ask to write those points into sentences and then a letter of recommendation.
If you cannot convince them to write an MBA recommendation letter for you, try to find someone else. Asking a previous manager or supervisor to write a letter is better than writing your own.
8. Can I Get an MBA Without Recommendation Letters?
Yes! Several business schools like USC Marshall and Ohio State Fisher don’t require recommendation letters.
With the Right Business School Rec Letters, the Future Is Yours
It can be intimidating to approach past or current supervisors, employers, colleagues, or clients for an MBA letter of recommendation.
That’s why you need to think about who will provide the best recommendation for you and why. That way, you’ll be able to make a convincing case to each person you would like to write a letter of recommendation for your MBA.
From there, set aside some time to connect with your recommenders to strategize. Following the MBA letter of recommendation best practices outlined in this blog will help ensure your recommenders write the strongest letters possible.
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