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How To Get Glowing Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters are a standard part of the MBA admissions process, yet they often aren’t prioritized by applicants in the same way as personal essays or test scores. Still, experts say recommendation letters are a critical part of admissions and a compelling letter can translate to acceptance.

Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at US News, recently discussed 10 ways applicants can get amazing recommendation letters.

1.) Choose someone who supports your decision to pursue an MBA

When selecting who will write your letter, Kowarski says it’s critical that applicants seek someone who supports their decision to attend business school. If applicants choose someone who has expressed doubts regarding business school, their doubt may translate into the letter.

Stacy Blackman, an MBA admissions consultant and US News contributor, says its best to choose someone who is enthusiastic about your success and supportive of your career.

“This may sound strange, but plenty of successful and well-positioned professionals won’t understand why you would want to go to business school,” Blackman says. “Choose people who like you, who care about your success and who think you’re good at what you do.”

2.) Make sure your recommender is your fan

In addition to being sure your recommender doesn’t have doubts about business school, it’s important to also ensure that they don’t have doubts about you.

Shaifali Aggarwal is founder and CEO of Ivy Groupe. Aggarwal tells US News that it’s crucial for applicants to choose a recommender who fully believes the applicant is exceptional.

“Many schools will ask recommenders to rate candidates against their peers in the workplace,” Aggarwal says. “To be competitive, a candidate will need to be ranked highly on that scale.”

3.) Choose professional references

Unlike undergraduate recommendation letters which are usually written by academic references, MBA letters typically should be from professional references.

David Simpson is admissions director of the MBA and master’s of finance programs at London Business School. Simpson tells US News that MBA applicants should target supervisors in writing MBA recommendation letters.

“Most schools want you to choose current and previous line managers, who know you well and can judge your professional performance,” Simpson says.

4.) Give recommenders enough time to write the letter

If you want a stellar recommendation letter, it’s important to ask early so that your recommender has sufficient time to write a thoughtful letter. Simpson says asking early can be the difference between a positive and negative letter.

“If you rush them, they will either be late submitting, or be annoyed and not as positive as they might typically be,” Simpson tells US News.

5.) Spend time with your recommender

While distance may be an issue, MBA applicants should make an effort to meet with their recommender in person to discuss their goals and aspirations in pursuing an MBA.

Whitney Kestner is director of admissions at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Kestner tells US News that applicants should verbally request recommendation letters and have a conversation with their recommender.

“We encourage candidates to spend time with their recommenders — grab coffee or lunch —and share with them why you are interested in pursuing your MBA and why you are excited about the schools to which you are applying,” Kestner says.

6.) Be candid about yourself — even your weaknesses

Experts say it’s important to discuss both your strengths and weaknesses when speaking to your recommender. Painting a candid picture of yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses, and what you hope to gain with an MBA can be helpful for your recommender.

“This can be awkward, but if you’re honest about what you think you need to work on and what you hope to gain from your MBA education, it can become a productive conversation,” Blackman says. “When you personalize your weaknesses and illustrate your strengths, you humanize your application for the admissions committee. All applicants have weaknesses of some kind, but if you can provide context for them, it allows the reader to have a greater understanding of both the previous situation and how you would act as a student, if accepted.”

7.) Discuss your accomplishments

In order to back up your strengths, your recommender will need to draw from a list of your achievements and experiences. Blackman advises applicants to give their recommender an overview of achievements they want emphasized in their recommendation letter.

“Create a bulleted list of all of the projects that you have worked on and an outline of your strengths that go into more detail than your resume,” Blackman says. “You want your recommenders to actually read this document, so try to keep it to one page and do not overload them with information. It should be a helpful, quick reference.”

8.) Make sure your recommender knows how to answer the prompt

If your recommender has never written a recommendation letter before, it’s important that you give clear instructions on how to write one.

Ajay Anand is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Anand tells US News that recommenders should know what admissions committees are expecting in a letter.

“The schools are typically looking for multi-page letters with supporting details, not one-sentence answers to their prompts,” Anand says.

9.) Share your application materials with your recommender

To give your recommender a complete picture of yourself as an applicant, it’s a good idea to share your MBA resume and admissions essays. Sharing your application materials can allow recommenders to write a letter that complements your MBA application.

“A strong application complemented with very strong recommendations can elevate a candidate to the ‘likely to be admitted’ stack,” Chioma Isiadinso, CEO and co-founder of admissions consulting company EXPARTUS, tells US News.

10.) Highlight your successes in overcoming challenges

Experts say one highly sought-after characteristic that MBA application committees look for is the ability to the ability to create solutions in the face of adversity.

Jim Jacobs is president of market research firm Focus Insite. Jacobs says highlighting your experiences in overcoming adversity “will put your application [at the] top of the list all day long.”

A recommendation letter is just one part of the MBA application, but it can play an important role in giving admissions committees a better picture of yourself and your goals. Ensuring that you choose a supportive recommender, who is capable in illustrating you as an applicant, can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

Sources: US News, US News, US News, US News

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