Wharton | Mr. Investment Banking
GMAT 750, GPA 3.1
MIT Sloan | Mr. International Impact
GRE 326, GPA 3.5
Wharton | Ms. Product Manager
GMAT 730, GPA 3.4
Chicago Booth | Mr. Indian O&G EPC
GMAT 730, GPA 3.75
Chicago Booth | Mr. US Army Veteran
GMAT 710, GPA 3.7
Stanford GSB | Mr. Techie Teacher
GMAT 760, GPA 3.80
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Musician To Consultant
GMAT 710, GPA 1.6
Ross | Mr. NCAA to MBB
GMAT 710, GPA 3.2
Ross | Mr. Operational Finance
GMAT 710, taking again, GPA 3
Stanford GSB | Ms. S & H
GMAT 750, GPA 3.47
Columbia | Ms. Cybersecurity
GRE 322, GPA 3.7
Kellogg | Mr. Multinational Strategy
GRE 305, GPA 3.80
Kellogg | Mr. Defense Contractor
GMAT 730, GPA 3.2
Duke Fuqua | Mr. O&G Geoscientist
GRE 327, GPA 2.9
Kenan-Flagler | Ms. Big Pharma
GRE 318, GPA 3.3
GMAT 770, GPA 3.7
Duke Fuqua | Mr. 911 System
GMAT 690, GPA 3.02
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Agribusiness
GRE 308, GPA 3.04
Stanford GSB | Mr. 750
GMAT 750, GPA 3.43
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Tech Evangelist
GMAT 690, GPA 3.2
NYU Stern | Mr. Bioinformatics
GMAT 710, GPA 3.7
Harvard | Mr. Investment Banker
GMAT 750, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. Bangladeshi Analyst
GMAT 690, GPA 3.31
INSEAD | Mr. Indian In Cambodia
GMAT 730, GPA 3.33
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Consulting Analyst
GMAT 700, GPA 7.7/10
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Emporio Armani
GMAT 780, GPA 3.03
Yale | Mr. Fencer
GMAT 740, GPA 3.48

Have You Chosen the Wrong Business School Recommender?

Karen Marks, president and founder of North Star Admissions Consulting

Karen Marks, president and founder of North Star Admissions Consulting

Asking for a recommendation is stressful. You are making yourself vulnerable and possibly learning what people really think of you. The news isn’t always good, but it’s crucial to pay attention to what your potential business school recommender is actually telegraphing. Here are signs that you have chosen the wrong business school recommender, and should ask someone else:

They seem super surprised.

If you hear any of these phrases, please choose another recommender. Worrisome reactions include but aren’t limited to: “Really, are you sure?” “Aren’t there people who know you better?” “We haven’t worked together for a long time, I can’t speak to your current skill set.” Although it may seem like you can still convince the recommender that they are a fabulous choice, you really don’t want to. They are trying to let you down in a nice way, and are also telling you that they can’t fully endorse you.

They ask you to write it.

This happens a lot, and sometimes the potential recommender really does think that you are great. Nevertheless, if someone tells you that they don’t have time to write your recommendation you need to find an alternative. It’s dishonest to draft your own letter, and potential grounds for rejection or revocation of admission. In addition, you need an advocate who can enhance your candidacy with additional insight and perspective. If you write the letter yourself your application will lack this critical spark.

They don’t understand why you are going to business school/don’t believe in MBA’s.

Many people apply to business school from non-traditional fields where MBA’s aren’t common, or have bosses who have excelled without the degree. If this is the case your potential recommender may not be sold on your plans. Although I would put this flag in the “maybe” category – meaning that you might be able to convince them that it’s a good idea for you to go to business school – please be aware that their inherent skepticism about the degree may come across as skepticism about YOU, as a candidate. The committee doesn’t know that the recommender doesn’t value the MBA degree, they will just read a lukewarm review and think that you aren’t all that compelling.

They say no.

Sometimes you ask your beloved mentor for a recommendation and they unexpectedly say no. Although disorienting, if this happens, please remember that it isn’t always about you. Your mentor might also be applying to business school, or their wife or sister might be applying. They might be having personal or health problems, be ready to quit or about to get fired. Regardless of the underlying reason, these are all still red flags! If your chosen business school recommender says no, please thank them graciously and move on.

Just because it was hard to ask does not mean that you should stick with a bad choice. Pivoting can make the difference between acceptance and denial. After all of your hard work, please pay attention to what they are telegraphing, and listen to your gut. Don’t let the wrong business school recommender derail your candidacy.

Karen Marks has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia, MIT, Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Wellesley, and more. Over the last three years, clients have been awarded more than $8.5 million in scholarships, and more than 90% have gotten into one of their top-choice schools.