Admissions 101: Necessary vs. Sufficient

In Veritas Prep’s GMAT prep courses, we teach students the difference between a piece of information being a necessary condition and it being a sufficient one, to support an argument. A fact may be necessary (e.g., X > 0), but it may not be sufficient (e.g., If the question is whether or not X is greater than 10, we don’t yet have sufficient information).

That lesson, as abstract as it may seem, can also be applied to the letters of recommendation you submit in your business school applications. While some things are necessary ingredients in your recommendations, they are not necessarily sufficient by themselves. Taken together, they can all help you get into a top-ranked business school, but each one by itself is not enough to get you in. Here’s an example:

Necessary: Your recommender must know you well.
By 2011, when the Internet is teeming with blogs and message boards full of free MBA admissions advice, it’s somewhat surprising that this is still news to some applicants, but we’ll repeat it here: Your recommendation writers absolutely must know you well. A letter from the CEO of your company is virtually meaningless if he or she can’t provide specific examples of why you’re great and why School X will be lucky to have you. However, while this is a necessary criterion, it’s not sufficient…

Necessary: Your recommender must be REALLY enthusiastic about your candidacy
Applicants miss this one a lot, too. They pick a recommender based on certain things about that person, but never stop to ask themselves, “How much is this person pulling for me in the admissions process?” Stanford’s dean of admissions, Derrick Bolton, even made this point in a recent Wall Street Journal interview. There is a big difference between “This person is very good,” and “You will regret it forever if you don’t admit this rock star!!!” Of course, you should expect your recommender to write something not quite so breathless, but that level of passion is what you should look for in your recommenders.

These two criteria are not the only things to look for — also ask yourself how well they can write, and whether they have enough time to devote to the process — but this illustrates an important point: Each of the above criteria is very necessary for making your recommendations sparkle. However, each one by itself will not get you into a top-ranked MBA program — they’re each necessary, but not sufficient. You need both to help your letters of recommendation — and you — stand out from the pack.

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