Stanford vs. Harvard: MBA Letters Of Recommendation
Karla Cohen, an expert coach at Fortuna Admissions and the former Harvard Business School associate director of doctoral programs, recently spoke to Kirsten Moss, Stanford GSB admissions director, on how applicants should approach MBA letters of recommendation for both Stanford GSB and HBS.
WHO TO ASK
At Stanford GSB, the application asks for one reference from a current direct supervisor and another from someone else who has supervised your work. HBS doesn’t have such specific requirements on the referrer but simply asks applicants to “use your best judgment on who you decide to ask – there is no set formula for who should be your recommenders.”
Both Moss and Cohen stress that it’s not so much the title of your referrer that matters, but rather, the extent to which they’ve seen your growth and development over time.
“I always say to candidates, think about the stories that you’re most proud of, the things that you’ve done – and it can be six-eight years [ago], go back through college – and when you think about those stories, where you’ve accomplished something, who do you know who could tell us about that story from a different lens?… Who’s actually seen me do it? Who’s been in the trenches?” Moss says. “For us it doesn’t matter what their title is, whether they’re an alum or not. It really is, who can tell us, and show us, the scope and scale of those accomplishments?”
HELP YOUR RECOMMENDERS HELP YOU
It’s important to give your recommenders adequate context to craft a strong letter of recommendation.
“Sit down with them, make a list, refresh their memories on your achievements and the ways you’ve demonstrated excellence,” Cohen writes. “Make sure they understand your MBA goals and aspirations, and talk through the different examples and get buy-in on ways they might convey your best qualities. They may see things that you haven’t seen, so you want that to be a conversation. This is about facilitating a process, not spoon-feeding them the material that they’re going to write.”
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