Recommendation letters bring valuable information about you to the admissions committee. Being the only part of your application which is not (or not intended to be) written by the applicant, they are given a great deal of attention by the Admissions committees (adcoms).
A recent survey conducted by AIGAC revealed that a considerable number of the respondents (applicants to graduate business programmes) admitted that they were asked by referees to write their own letters of recommendation. This was alarming news to business schools and some of the top ones in the US are planning to implement changes in order to make sure that they receive authentic letters of reference and to facilitate recommenders who write multiple letters of reference.
Ideally, the recommendation letter should be written entirely by the referees and sent by them directly to the business schools. However, as the AIGAC survey illustrates, many applicants are asked to prepare the recommendations and simply provide them to the recommenders for signature.
Recommendation letters are a valuable source of information for the admissions committees about the applicant. Actually, they are the only part of the application package which provides an outside perspective on the qualities and potential of the applicants. Business schools require two recommendation letters (seldom three). It is not advisable to submit a “general” recommendation to all schools where you are applying and you cannot use the same recommendation letter for several schools.
Each business school gives detailed instructions about what the referees are expected to comment on. Normally, schools have special forms/questionnaires which the recommenders must use. Some of the questions are open-ended and request the comments of the recommender. Other parts of the recommendation form provide a scale on which the recommender should rate the listed qualities of the applicant with or without commenting on their assessment.
Many business schools have developed online forms for their references to prevent applicants from having access to the recommendation letter. One example is where applicants provide the names and email addresses of their recommenders in the online application form of the business school. Then, the system automatically sends links to the online instructions and questionnaires/forms directly to the recommenders. After the recommenders have completed the online recommendation forms they submit them, again online, directly to the school.
Although there is always a way around such complicated systems, it is good to know that experienced admissions officers are able to recognise recommendations which are not authentic.
So instead of investing your creative energy in trying to beat the system, it is much smarter to look for ways to ensure strong authentic recommendations.
Stay tuned for the next two articles of the series:
Who are your best recommenders?