Who Are Your Best Recommenders?. Our news.  

Who Are Your Best Recommenders?

 Why do you need prepare a letter of recommendation?

Have thought of applying for Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD - be ready to to prepare a letter of recommendation, in other words - reference. Every singly school will ask you to submit two reference, rarely one or three. It has to be written by someone who knows you good on academic or professional terms. Reference should be never prepared by your acquaintance, friends or family.

What is letters of recommendation?

Letters of recommendation or references are usually one-page length documents that help to assert your profile, skills, capabilities, qualities. It gives Admissions Office better image of your potential and readiness to cope with the set tasks. Therefore it is expected to be written in a positive way by someone who knows you very good. Usually, it has to be an academic teacher, professor or professional supervisor, colleague, partner or client - someone who has professional relationships with you. Applying for the program, be ready that probably each school will ask you to submit the references.


Types of recommendation letters

According to the nature of content, references are divided into two categories:

  • Academic reference (prepared by the academic personnel - your professor, teacher or tutor).

  • Professional reference (written by someone from your current or former workplace. It can be your partner, customer, supervisor or main manager).

As a common rule, Business Schools will ask you to prepare two references both of professional nature: one from your direct supervisor and second from professional associate:

The first letter of recommendation should come from a supervisor. [...] The second letter can be professional in nature or come from an individual who has worked with you in an organization, club, or on a volunteer project. - Chicago Booth  Business School

We require two letters of recommendations from individuals who are well acquainted with your performance in a work setting, preferably from a current or former supervisor. - Wharton Business School

If you have been working full-time for at least six months, one recommendation should be from your current supervisor. [...] The second recommendation should be from either a former direct supervisor or from another professional associate, senior to you, who can share their insights on your candidacy. - Columbia Business School


In exceptional it can be three or one. Sometimes you can also submit additional optional reference if you wish to present another opinion of the independent referee:

One recommendation is required, but you may submit up to two for review by the committee. - Cornell Business School

Michigan Ross uses the GMAC Common Recommendation Form, and we require only one recommendation. You should select a recommender who can discuss your professional performance and work style.  A current or former supervisor is an ideal choice. Other alternatives include a client, project manager, or professional mentor. - Michigan Ross Business School


Who are your best recommenders?

Associate who knows you well. This is first and the main criteria. The person has to be well-aware of your progress, be able to fully uncover your personality and potential; speak with certainty about your professional achievements. Remember, that the Admissions Office wants to see your profile described by a current supervisor who can provide the most recent information about you - your strength, qualities, skills, progress - everything that can make the university’s representative convince that you will cope with the set academic tasks. The individual to prepare a letter has to be well familiar with you for at least 6 months, better - a few years and have considerable interaction on professional basis. Important to remember is that the reference has to contain not only a list of characteristics you possess, but also prove stated information by giving relevant real-life examples:

[...] AAA has superior negotiation skills. Leading the process diplomatically and tactfully, she can bring about the best outcome for the company. She managed to bring in 20 new sponsors to participate in our summer event aimed at increasing sales during the low season. Leading negotiations with suppliers for the organization of Medical Workers’ Day, she managed to engage 10 large sponsors. It was AAA who signed an exclusive contract with a Chinese medical equipment manufacturer that was a very attractive customer for BBB [...].

[...] demonstrated her great managerial skills during the summer term when she led a team of three interns who worked on patterns for data transmission from an old system to the new one. As a supervisor, she balanced the workload correctly and managed to plan everything accurately, so that the work was finished a few days before the deadline [...]


Time is important! Your best recommender is a recommender who has enough time to prepare the document. Well-structured and detailed  uncovering your advantages and strength recommendation cannot be well prepared in only one or two days. Do not wait for the deadline, give the referee 3-4 weeks to collect all thoughts and write an outstanding letter of recommendation.


Do the brainstorm with your referee. You should remember, that most of the referees will not spend time recalling everything he/she knows about you. As mentioned before, each statement about you has to be proved by the example and the value of the reference increase drastically. Your referee does not keep in the head your profile: all your achievements, progress from the time you joined the company, successfully implemented ideas and initiatives. That is why try to arrange the brainstorm with your referee in advance. Discuss the information that can be included in the reference, emphasize on the important details, speak about the relevant examples that should be mentioned in the document. And no, this is not telling your referee what to do, but rather giving hints of what and how to write the reference, what is valuable and what is not. Otherwise, there is a high possibility that the reference will be prepared poorly with no relevant information.


A nicely written letter of recommendation increases your chances of being chosen

Yes, that is true. Many people neglect the importance of reference. However, well-written and well-structured reference that reveals your personality and potential will be highly evaluated by the Admissions Committee. While some applicants consider this document to be less important that other, do not be fooled. Each required document you need to attach in your application is equally valuable. Of course, one prominent and outstanding reference does not grant you admission but the poorly written one certainly can make you out.

[...] We base our evaluation on the totality of information available. No single factor — whether your college performance, essay, test scores, interview, letters of reference, or work experience — is decisive. We consider each application holistically, and take into account factors such as your background, experiences, perspectives, fit with Stanford GSB and its MBA Program, aspirations, values, and accomplishments. [...]. - Stanford Business School

[.. ]The Admissions Committee seeks to bring together talented students from a broad range of academic and professional backgrounds. Applications are reviewed holistically; no single factor – e.g., GPA, GMAT/ GRE score, or years of work experience — determines the outcome. Applications are reviewed with three broad criteria in mind: intellectual ability, professional and personal achievements, interpersonal, communication and teamwork skills. [...] - Michigan Ross Business School


A widely used mistake among applicants is following the title or position. Remember, that a nicely written letter cannot be done if the referee is not really familiar with you. Thus, do not follow the title of your referee. Instead of choosing a ‘cool title recommender’, follow the rule of ‘he or she knows me best and can offer specific examples of my performance and strengths’. Many school indicate that they do not care much the title of the referee, they are more interested in the content of the document. This is what Wharton telling to its applicants:

[...] The title or position of the recommender is not as important as his/her ability to comment knowledgeably and specifically about you. Submit recommendations from people who can speak directly about your aptitudes and capabilities. [...] Wharton Business School.

[...[ The title or status of those you select is not important. What does matter is how closely your letter writers have worked with you and whether they can attest to your value as an employee, your professional accomplishments, and your personal qualities and interpersonal skills in an organizational context. - Berkeley Haas Business School.

Final thoughts

Summing up, here are the some additional tips:

  • Do not underestimate the value of the references.

  • Treat this document as seriously as GMAT, GPA or personal statement.

  • Be sincere with your recommender and tell how important for you it is, make them being also interested in your admission.

  • Remember, the best reference always comes from someone who deeply supports your desire and can provide your expertise, skills, strengths or areas where you excel.

  • And the last one: always keep your referee updated on main milestones of the application process to make yourself assured that everything goes according to the plan and the submitted reference will meet the final deadline.


MBA Strategy is an admissions consulting company with over 10-year successful history of assisting talented candidates to become top business schools’ students. Our achievements:

  • About 1000 customers with 700+GMAT scores

  • Over 500 students admitted to top US and European business schools

Anna Tokareva is MBA Strategy consultant and expert in school selection and profile assessment advising, CV and application essays brainstorming and polishing.


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Author: Victoria Dudka, MBA Strategy Consultants Team Lead

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