What are recommendation letters?

A recommendation letter, a.k.a. letter of reference, is part of the application package for admission to programmes for Master’s, MBA or other academic degrees. Most business schools require two or three letters of reference. The letters should provide an outside opinion on your academic potential and capacity for a successful performance in your selected programme.

Letters of reference are also required for job applications, but they differ from those used for admission to a business school or a university.

Why are recommendation letters important?

Recommendation letters are the only outside source of information about your skills and qualities required for admission to the MBA or Master’s programme of your choice.

Admissions committees value the opinion of your referees as this helps them better understand your profile. This is important for the overall evaluation of your potential for success during your studies.

The comments and facts mentioned in the recommendation letters are compared to the information in the rest of the application package. Business schools may contact your referees if they have questions or need further details on any aspect of your application.

Who should write the recommendation letters?

It is extremely important to select your referees carefully. First, make sure you read the instructions provided by the business school. Depending on the programme, letters of reference should come from university professors and/or professionals, such as your supervisors or managers.

The rule of thumb that you should keep in mind is that business schools expect to hear the opinion of those people who know you best. Admissions committees will certainly not appreciate reference letters from people at the top of the hierarchy if they have no direct impressions about your performance, potential and personality.

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What should recommendation letters say about you?

Business schools will provide you with detailed instructions, reference forms and questionnaires which your referees should fill out. They contain rating scales or closed questions, as well as areas for the personal comments of your referees.

Recommendation letters should provide an assessment of your academic, professional, personal, and interpersonal skills and qualities. They should also include information and examples of your achievements, and an evaluation of your potential for graduate business study. It is important that they list also the areas of your improvement which your selected programme can address.

Check those practical tips on How to Receive Strong Recommendations

How should you send the recommendation letters?

Business schools have special guidelines and forms for recommendation letters. Make sure you read all instructions carefully. If anything is unclear, contact the admissions office of the business school for details.

The recommendation letters should be sent to the business school directly from the referees who wrote them, not by you. Many business schools have online forms for the recommendations, while others may accept the letters on paper as well. Just follow the instructions of each business school.

It is recommended that you inform the admissions office by email once the recommendations letters have been sent to them, and request a confirmation of their receipt.

How to ensure impressive recommendation letters?

There is a lot you can do to help your recommenders prepare informative and focused recommendation letters. First, you should allow your recommenders enough time to prepare the letters – at least a month before the application deadline. It is important to inform them as to which business school you are applying to, which programme you have chosen and what you expect to gain from your studies.

Give your referees all the guidelines and forms they should use to prepare the recommendation letter. It is very helpful to provide your CV plus a summary of all the relevant facts which each recommender is in a position to mention in their letter of reference.

Finally, make sure you say “Thank you!” to your referees. Keep them informed about the progress of your application for admission. They will be happy to know if you were invited to an admissions interview, were accepted, or were awarded a scholarship. After all, they invested their time and endorsement in support of your application.