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Stanford Graduate School of Business Recommendation Questions

If you’re an MBA applicant to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, what does the admissions staff expect from the three recommenders it requires as part of your application?

For the 2012-2013 application season, Stanford wants at least one letter from a current direct supervisor. If you’re unable to get one from your current direct supervisor, the school asks that you include a brief note of explanation in the Additional Information section of the online application. College seniors may use a direct supervisor from a summer, part-time, or internship experience. Alternatively, you may ask someone who oversaw you in an extracurricular, volunteer, or community activity.

Your second Professional/Workplace Letter of Reference must come from someone else in a position to evaluate your work—another supervisor, a previous supervisor, or a client. And your third letter should ideally come from a peer. “An individual with whom you have worked on a team or on a project, in a position equal to your own, should complete this recommendation,” Stanford says. “You may choose this person from any of your team experiences: charitable, extracurricular, professional, or other. The peer recommender cannot be your supervisor or subordinate.”

Stanford provides some general guidelines to help applicants. “As we read your letters of reference, we hope to discover specific descriptions and examples illustrating your potential to make a difference in the world,” the school states on its website. “Choose individuals who know you well, and who will take the time to write thorough, detailed letters with specific anecdotes and examples. The strongest references will demonstrate your leadership potential and personal qualities. We are impressed by what the letter says and how it reads, not by the title of the person who writes it.”

BILL GATES OR YOUR DIRECT SUPERVISOR? 

Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions, an MBA admissions consulting firm, puts it this way: “If you have a choice between Bill Gates, who is willing to write you a letter because your father is a friend of a friend, and your direct supervisor with whom you work day in and day out, choose your direct supervisor.”

Here are the questions Stanford asks recommenders to answer:

Professional/Workplace recommenders

  • Please comment on the context of your interaction with the applicant. If applicable, briefly describe the applicant’s role in your organization.
  • Please describe a time when the applicant changed your thinking or actions.
  • Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.
  • Please make additional statements about the applicant’s performance, potential, or personal qualities you believe would be helpful to the MBA Admissions Office.

Peer recommender

  • Please comment on the context of your interaction with the applicant. If applicable, briefly describe the applicant’s role in your organization.
  • Please describe a time when the applicant changed your thinking or actions.
  • Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.
  • Please make additional statements about the applicant’s performance, potential, or personal qualities you believe would be helpful to the MBA Admissions Office.

Stanford also will ask all three of your recommenders to assess you on some competencies and character traits that contribute to successful leadership (see below).