In order to gain admittance into a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, prospective students often need to submit one or two letters of recommendation as part of their business school application.
Typically, business schools expect to see these one-page letters of recommendation coming from employers, academic advisors, or other mentors who are able to offer insight through a career-oriented lens and forecast the prospective student’s level of success in pursuing their MBA.
If you have been asked to write a letter of recommendation for a prospective MBA candidate, it likely means that person values your relationship and respects your position in the business world, and that they hope you see their potential. In this article, we’ll discuss how you might effectively translate your insight into a formal MBA recommendation letter.
Gain insight into effective ways to ask for a letter of recommendation from your professor, academic advisor, direct supervisor, or other members of your network who may be able to assist with your MBA application.
An MBA recommendation letter can help humanize a prospective student and offer a trusted outsider’s perspective on their working and learning habits. Here are some tips to help you prepare to write your letter.
As you approach writing your letter, it may be helpful to spend some time gathering and processing information related to the prospective student’s application at large. Some helpful items may include:
The programs they are applying to
Their desired areas of study
Other application materials, including their personal statement, resume, and academic records
Any instructions regarding the letter of recommendation, including specific questions from the schools, your submission deadline, and the submission process
After you’ve reviewed the preliminary materials, have a conversation with the prospective student. Ask any lingering questions you may have about the expectations and process, and take the opportunity to gather any other information you may need before you begin organizing your letter.
Here are some questions that may help guide your letter:
What are your short-term and long-term goals, and how will an MBA help you achieve them?
What do you view as your greatest strengths, and what are your challenge areas?
What do you view as your greatest career accomplishment so far?
What aspect of business excites you the most?
Has there been an experience in our relationship that you felt influenced the way you approach business?
Be sure to take notes or record your conversation (with permission to do so!) so that you can refer back to the prospective student’s answers as you continue to work on the letter.
Once you’ve gathered the necessary information, you're ready to start outlining or writing.
Structurally, your recommendation letter should be roughly one page in length, with an introduction, about two or three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Maintain a formal tone throughout the letter, and format it as you would a standard business letter.
Open your letter with a formal introduction. Introduce yourself and note your credentials and affiliations. Then, introduce the prospective MBA candidate you’re writing about and a bit about your relationship with them. You’ll have the body of the letter to go into further detail, so keep this part brief.
This is where you get the chance to discuss why you think this prospective student is a good fit for this MBA program. Talk about skills they possess, their leadership potential, or any other standout qualities that make this person unique among their peers. If the applicant has highly specialized goals—for example, they want to work in the nonprofit sector—try to connect those aims with the specific program you’re recommending them for. Incorporate specific examples of times you’ve witnessed these traits in action, and how those experiences support your position that this person will succeed in an MBA program.
Try to be genuine in this section. It’s okay to discuss areas of improvement or feedback you’ve given them in the past—particularly if that feedback has already been put into action in an impressive or noteworthy way.
To close, offer a broad-level overview of why you recommend the prospective student for this MBA program. Summarize the qualifications you’ve already detailed, and offer a mechanism for admissions officers to contact you should they have further questions.
The Graduate Management Admission Council created the Common Letter of Recommendation (LOR) to help streamline the MBA recommendation letter process. The Common LOR is a template questionnaire that asks the same basic questions a traditional recommendation letter is expected to address. However, rather than writing individual letters to each school, the Common LOR is a widely accepted, standardized document that you can fill out once and submit to many schools.
For more tips, watch this video on writing letters of recommendation from a Stanford University professor:
Through the entire application process, MBA admissions officers are looking for evidence that any given applicant is ready to take this next educational step toward growing their career. With recommendation letters, they’re hoping to find a third-person point of view on a prospective student’s gained skills, career goals, and future potential.
Recommendation letters can be an important part of the application package, as they can back up the first-person perception the applicant offers with real, lived experiences. Some items an MBA admissions officer may notice in a recommendation letter are:
How well the recommender knows the applicant
Stories that support the applicant’s positive attributes
Evidence of specific desirable qualities in an MBA candidate, such as leadership and growth potential
How well the letter supports the rest of the application package
Once you’ve finished writing your letter, be sure to edit for clarity and proper grammar before submitting to the schools. If you need a refresher, check out Good with Words: Writing and Editing Specialization from the University of Michigan, available on Coursera. This series is designed to help learners master writing and editing skills using hands-on projects.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.