3 Things to Avoid When Crafting a Thank You Note

writing essayKnowing how to write a great thank you note will really come in handy during your business school journey – you’ll send them to recommenders to thank them for writing your letters of recommendation, to school representatives you encounter during campus visits, and to company representatives you meet during corporate presentations while at school. There are definitely some things you should avoid doing, however, when crafting these notes.

(Before diving into what not to do, be sure to take a look at Part 1 of this lesson: 3 Ways to Write a Successful Thank You Note.)

Do not copy and paste thank you emails and send them to multiple people. This should be a given, but unfortunately, I don’t think it is. When you copy and paste, the format of your email sometimes gets messed up, but you won’t realize it. Only the reader will notice, and it just looks tacky if the only thing you changed is the recipient’s name. This also goes back to authenticity – it’s hard to create an authentic email if you end up sending the same message to multiple people.

Do not add people on LinkedIn. This is especially true for admissions officers (and corporate recruiters once you start interviewing for internships and jobs). Admissions officers do not want to be connected to thousands of prospective students who they may or may not remember, and who may or may not end up at their school. If you have a really great conversation with an alumnus or a current student, feel free to ask them in person if it is alright to add them on LinkedIn. Chances are they will say yes, but they will appreciate the gesture before you just go home, find them on the internet, and add them into your network because you think they have something to offer you.

Do not freak out if they don’t respond to you. The people you are meeting are incredibly busy. Put yourself in their shoes – if you met them on the road, it is very likely that they have other events and cities that they are traveling to before going home to get back to their work and catch up on everything that happened since they left.

Next time you go to a recruiting event, keep in mind the conversations you are having and make sure to follow these tips as you write those thank you emails. Good luck in the admissions process!

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Colleen Hill is a Veritas Prep consultant for the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. You can read more articles by her here

How Many Letters of Recommendation Should You Submit with Your MBA Applications?

RecommenderThere are many facets of the typical business school application. Application components like one’s GMAT score, resume, and essays always garner a strong amount of attention from applicants year in and year out. These components tend to have a pretty straightforward submission process. When it comes to procuring letters of  recommendation, however, both the formal and informal submission processes may be less clear.

The formal recommendation process is a bit more straightforward than the informal process, so let us start there. Letters of recommendation require you to identify recommenders whom you feel can accurately speak to your work and contributions in an organization. Their recommendations are then formally submitted through the school’s application tool, and the Admissions Committee reviews them as part of your overall application assessment.

Now here is where things get tricky – most schools strongly discourage additional recommendations. I would guess the reason is because most admissions departments are already overwhelmed with the amount of paperwork and communication they receive from applicants, and anything additional might be tough for them to maintain, track, and evaluate. Also, more practically, allowing for additional recommendations would create an uneven playing field for MBA candidates – some applicants would submit additional letters of recommendation while others would not be able to (for a variety of reasons).

Now, not all schools have this policy and some even welcome additional recommendations, so read the fine print and identify whether there is an opportunity for you to send in additional letters of recommendation or not. If this option is available to you, using your discretion will be key. This should not be seen as an opportunity to just submit more of the same types of recommendations. If you are going to submit an additional letter of recommendation, it should really be a “letter of support”.

These additional recommendations should only be submitted if they are coming from highly visible, impactful, or unique people. The best examples of this are alumni or high-profile individuals who can speak to your business potential. Alumni tend to be a group that the Admissions Committee likes to hear from – alumni letters of recommendation should generally be submitted directly by the alumnus and be short and to the point.

As for letters of recommendation from high-profile people, these are far less well-received, especially if the person doesn’t have much of a relationship with the applicant. In most cases, if the relationship was actually strong, the person probably would have already been the applicant’s main recommender.

However, if the relationship is legit and if the person has considerable sway with the university, the program, or in the general business community, this type of recommendation can be really positive. The business school admissions process is very holistic, so schools will take information like this into consideration.

Now, if you are just not a qualified applicant, even the best of recommendations will not save your candidacy. For those fringe candidates, however, a great letter of recommendation can make or break an application.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

What’s Next After Submitting Your Business School Application?

SAT/ACTAfter all those months of hard work, you have finally submitted your application to the business school of your dreams. With that burden off of your back, what else should you be doing after you submit your application.

Let’s explore a few action items to tick off your to-do list post-submission:

Finish Other Applications
Most MBA applicants don’t apply to only one school, so don’t bask too long in your finished application – there are probably plenty more where that came from. Keep the momentum going, buckle down and get moving on the rest of your applications. Make sure you leverage what you have learned from your previously-submitted application to make each version even better than the last.

Thank Your Recommenders
Recommenders play a huge role in the success of your application. Make sure you acknowledge their hard work, especially if they are providing recommendations for multiple schools. Also, don’t be afraid to send your thanks after each submitted application, or take them out for lunch to show your appreciation of their contribution to your success.

Interview Prep
The best time to prepare for an interview is when all of the information relating your application is still relevant. Some schools can have upwards of 2-3 months in between the application deadline and when they eventually begin interviewing candidates, so try to begin your prep for a potential interview early. Business school application interviews can have a major impact on your candidacy, so getting an early start on your preparation is never a bad thing.

Apply for Scholarships
Business school is not cheap and with very few full scholarships available, it is important to consider all alternatives to paying for your education. External merit-based scholarships are a great way to pay for all or a portion of your MBA. Many of the deadlines for these scholarship opportunities are much earlier in the application cycle than you would expect, so don’t wait until you are admitted to figure out how you will pay for school. There is a lot of money out there, so use your post-submission time to give yourself the best chance at securing some funding.

Relax
Relax! Applying to business school is stressful so it is very important to find pockets of time to relax. For those who still have additional applications to churn out relaxing may be difficult, but if you have submitted all your applications, enjoy the brief break and rest up for the next phase of the process.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Understanding and Exceeding Ivy League Admissions Requirements

Harvard Business SchoolThere are a variety of admissions requirements for Ivy League colleges. High standardized test scores, a stellar GPA throughout high school, and a gathering of outstanding extracurricular activities are a just a few of them.

Why are Ivy League admissions requirements so challenging to fulfill? The reason is that Ivy League schools such as Princeton and Harvard want to fill their freshman class with students who have the ability to excel in their academic studies. Plus, Ivy League schools want to attract ambitious students who will be a credit to the school while they are there, as well as after they graduate.

High school students who want to apply to these colleges must put in the work to meet, or even exceed, Ivy League school requirements. Consider these tips for students who want to exceed Ivy League admissions requirements:

Take Challenging Courses in High School
Admissions officers at Ivy League schools will certainly notice a high GPA on an applicant’s transcripts. But the transcript evaluation doesn’t stop there. Most admissions officers look at the specific courses taken by students throughout high school. Did the student take on challenges by signing up for increasingly difficult classes each year? Taking on challenging work reflects a student’s desire to learn new subjects and test their abilities in order to strengthen them.

A Highly Competitive SAT or ACT Score
One of the most well-known Ivy League requirements is a high SAT or ACT score. Most Ivy League schools like to see students who scored in the 99th percentile on these exams. At Veritas Prep, we prepare students for the new SAT as well as the ACT, and each of our SAT and ACT prep courses is taught by an instructor who scored in the 99th percentile on their respective test. Students who sign up with Veritas Prep have the opportunity to work with tutors who mastered the SAT and ACT, and they can choose from either online or in-person tutoring options.

Dedication to Extracurricular Activities
Meaningful extracurricular activities are also on the list of Ivy League requirements. Ivy League admissions officers take note of the kind of activities a student has participated in as well as the duration of the person’s participation. For example, a student who volunteers for an organization for several years, holds office in school government, and participates in two or three clubs all through high school is showing dedication to a few significant activities. This is preferable to participating in dozens of activities for a short period of time.

A Standout Application Essay
An application essay is another requirement of Ivy League schools. Admission requirements that officials look for include essays that are sincere and include specific details about a student’s life and experiences. An application essay gives officials the chance to look past the transcripts and test scores at the student who wants to earn a degree at the school. At Veritas Prep, our college admissions consultants have the skills and background to help students craft standout application essays. Our professional consultants are very familiar with Ivy League entrance requirements and what these schools are looking for in prospective students.

Glowing Letters of Recommendation
Great letters of recommendation are another admissions requirement for Ivy League colleges. Students must ask for letters of recommendation from teachers, mentors, and employers who know them very well. An ideal letter of recommendation is written by an adult who has known the student for several years and has unique insight into the person’s character, work ethic, and goals.

A Memorable Interview
A student who gets the opportunity to meet with officials at an Ivy League school for an interview should be confident and enthusiastic about the college. A student should focus on what they can contribute to the school. Also, it’s a good idea for a student to mention specific resources that they will take advantage of at the school, such as a special collection in the library or a science lab. School officials appreciate seeing a student who is excited about the prospect of studying at their institution.

At Veritas Prep, we can help students meet the challenging admissions requirements of Ivy League colleges. Whether it’s teaching students strategies to use on the SAT, ACT practice, or providing guidance on an application essay, we are here to assist ambitious students. Contact Veritas Prep today!

Do you need help with your college applications? Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE Profile Evaluation for personalized feedback on your unique background! And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

How to Manage a Challenging MBA Recommender

RecommenderObtaining a great letter of recommendation is one of the most important aspects of the business school application process. This is one of the only external reference points the Admissions Committee can use to evaluate your performance and future potential for success, so it goes without saying that your recommendations are really, really important!

For most applicants, the request and submission process for their recommenders is pretty straightforward – at top firms and large companies, many recommenders already have some experience writing recommendations and fully support the applicant’s pursuit of an MBA. For others, however, this process can be far more difficult. Let’s discuss a few ways a recommender can prove challenging during the MBA application process, and what you can do to counter such issues:

Missing Deadlines:
This is probably the worst of the recommender offenses, because if a recommendation is not submitted on time, then your application is not considered complete by the Admissions Committee. Therefore, you must be confident that your recommender will adhere to all formal and informal deadlines you impose on them to write your letter of recommendation. There are many things an applicant will stress about during the application process – whether a recommender submits their evaluation or not should not be one of them. I recommend setting up faux deadlines a week in advance of the actual ones to ensure you have a few buffer days just in case your recommender slips up.

Not Supportive:
Not all recommenders are supportive of applicants leaving their company. Whether it is because they do not think the applicant is ready, do not want to replace them, or are just plain jealous of the opportunity, the decision to apply to business school is not always met with a positive response. Ideally, you will have some feel for this potential problem in advance of selecting your recommender, but if you can’t get around it, make your rationale for applying to business school clear and be openly thankful of the training and inspiration provided by the firm and by the recommender. Charm and holding a polite, thankful disposition can go a long way here.

A Poor Writer:
Is your recommender a bad writer? This can be a problem if the clarity of their evaluation is impacted by their lack of writing skills. Keep in mind, you will not be penalized for the writing of your recommender, but the better the writing, the more effective and better-received the recommendation will be by the Admissions Committee, so don’t be afraid to lean on your recommender to give it their best!

Lazy:
The lazy recommender is, unfortunately, more common than we’d like to see. Whether it is a case of being too busy or just putting the minimal effort into writing the recommendation, laziness can have a very negative impact on your application.  If a recommender can’t commit to writing as thorough of an evaluation as possible, then that person is probably not your best option. The more you can support this type of recommender with information about your candidacy, the program you are applying to, and the application process, the better their evaluation will be. Be active in providing the necessary coaching and support to your recommender when it comes to this aspect of the application.

Be aware of these challenging profiles when reaching out to a potential recommender, and use the above tips to make the most of your MBA letters of recommendation.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.

Applying to Business School: How and When to Apply for Business School

Stanford UniversityIndividuals who decide to pursue an MBA often have many questions about the application process. For example, an applicant who recently earned their undergraduate degree might wonder whether they should take the GMAT or the GRE. Another applicant who has worked in the business world for ten years might want to know when they should submit their application to business school.

Let us provide answers to these questions and others for those interested in applying to business school.

When to Apply for Business School
A person’s first step in deciding when to apply for business school is to go online to look at the websites of schools they are interested in. This is an easy way to find out the specific admissions requirements of each school. In addition, they can learn how much time they have to take the proper tests and gather all of the necessary materials for their application.

Many business schools have an admissions process that involves several rounds of applications. As an example, a school that accepts three rounds of applications may set an October 15 deadline for the first round. Students who want to have their application considered for the second round may need to submit it by January 15. Applications submitted during the third round might need to be in by April 10. This school’s acceptance letters are likely to be sent out to students in early summer.

Applicants should keep in mind that schools usually receive the largest number of applications during the first round. There are people who decide to send out first-round applications to some schools and second-round applications to others. By the time the deadline for the third round arrives, many schools have most of their spaces filled.

Requirements for an Application to Business School
Business school applicants must supply basic information such as their name, address, phone number, and email address. Next, they must state where and when they earned their undergraduate degree and include transcripts. Professionals must provide a résumé of their work history. Applicants should also include their extracurricular or volunteer activities.

The typical business school application also asks for an individual’s career goals and how an MBA would help with those goals. Individuals who want some tips on how to get their application noticed by admissions officials can take advantage of our free profile evaluation. Our consultants have worked in admissions at some of the best business schools in the country. Clients benefit from the experience of our admissions consultants at Veritas Prep.

Taking the Appropriate Tests
The GMAT is the test that is most often connected with admission into business school. But some business schools now accept an applicant’s GRE scores. The best way for students to determine which test to take is to check the testing requirements of specific business schools. Our instructors at Veritas Prep help individuals study for the GMAT as well as the GRE. Students who work with us learn useful strategies and prep for the test with instructors who mastered it.

Writing an Essay
Individuals applying to business school must write an essay. Each school provides prospective students with a prompt or a question to answer in the essay. Applicants should take the time to think about it before writing the essay. Jotting down notes is a good way to remember important details to include in the piece. The purpose of the essay is to give admissions officials the opportunity to learn more about the personal side of an applicant.

Recommendations for Business School
People who are wondering how to apply for business school want to know if personal recommendations play a part in the process. The answer is yes. The number of recommendation letters an applicant must get depends on the business school. Recommendation letters for applicants who are professionals in the workforce are usually written by employers, supervisors, or longtime colleagues. Students who are moving directly to business school from undergraduate school may ask their professors, a supervisor on a part-time job, or a mentor for a recommendation.

It’s helpful to the people who are writing recommendations to know the types of things they should include in the letter. An applicant may want to summarize some of their accomplishments and qualities to serve as a guide for the person writing the letter.

For more advice on how to apply for business school, contact our professional admissions consultants at Veritas Prep. Let us use our resources to help you achieve your goal of getting into business school!

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! And as always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Tips for Applying to Colleges

College AheadWhen it comes time to apply to college, there are several things that students can do to set themselves apart from other applicants. One way students can do this is go out of their way to show their enthusiasm for a school.

For instance, a student can visit a college’s campus and then write a letter to school officials describing how much they enjoyed the trip. Signing up to receive updates on a college’s social media page is another idea for students who want to express their interest. Also, if a college gives applicants the chance to write an optional essay in their application, then a student may want to take advantage of that extra opportunity to communicate their desire to be admitted to that school.

Let’s take a look at some other tips for students who want to outshine the competition when applying to college:

Consider the Early Action Admissions Option
Some students who are applying to college may not be aware of the various admissions options available to them. Some of these options can potentially increase a student’s chances of being accepted to their preferred school – Early Action is a great example of this. Early Action requires students to apply to a college earlier than students who apply during the regular decision period. Early Action applications are typically submitted in November or early December, whereas regular decision applications are usually due in February.

Submitting an Early Action application means that the student will receive an answer in early February, however, if a student is accepted at this time, they don’t have to make their final decision until May 1. The Early Action admissions option is ideal for students who know exactly where they want to go to school – they have done the research and made a reasonably definite choice. If a student is not accepted via Early Action, they can still apply to other colleges during the regular decision period.

It’s important for students to keep in mind that the Early Action option is different from the Early Decision admissions option. If a student is accepted to a college via Early Decision, they must go to that school (whereas a student who is accepted via Early Action can choose to go to a different school).

Write a Summary for Letters of Recommendation
Students who apply to college must arrange for letters of recommendation to be sent along with their other application materials. These letters are usually written by a student’s teachers, employers, or counselors, and they describe the student’s best qualities. College officials who are evaluating a student’s application appreciate hearing different impressions of the student via these letters.

It’s helpful for a student to write down a summary of their own strengths and accomplishments to give to their potential recommenders upon requesting a letter of recommendation from them. Though this may seem like a student’s effort to guide the tone of a recommendation letter, it’s more of a practical step – for example, a high school teacher who teaches many courses may be writing letters of recommendation for a dozen or more students, so they will be grateful for a quick summary from a student so their letter can include all of the right components.

Follow Up on Submitted Materials
When students apply to colleges, there are several documents that must be sent in from different locations. For instance, SAT results are sent from the College Board to the colleges themselves. Transcripts are also sent to colleges from students’ high schools.

It’s a wise idea for a student to call the admissions officials at the schools they are applying to and make sure they’ve received these, and other documents. If not, a student will have the opportunity to check into the problem. Alternatively, if college officials did receive these documents, calling in gives the student an opportunity to reiterate their genuine interest in attending the school.

Veritas Prep specializes in partnering with students who are applying to college. Our admissions consultants have an inside take on what college officials are looking for in prospective students. We help students with all aspects of the college admissions process. Evaluating transcripts, assisting with college applications, providing guidance on essays, and keeping track of deadlines are just a few of the services we offer.

We also provide test prep for the SAT, the ACT, and other exams. Students utilize our study resources, learn test-taking strategies, and practice with our experienced instructors so they can truly master these exams. Contact Veritas Prep today to learn more about our expert academic services.

Do you still need help with your college applications? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and register to attend one of our FREE Online College WorkshopsAnd as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

How to Get Your Boss to Write You a Great Letter of Recommendation

RecommenderOne of the only external sources of information within an MBA application package is the voice of one’s recommendations. For such an important component, it is critical to arm your recommender with enough information to allow them to successfully draft their evaluation of the time you have worked together.

Now, let us consider the recommendation process from the side of the recommender – they are typically more senior working professionals who manage multiple people, and they are often very busy and a bit ignorant of the MBA application process, which is obviously no fault of their own. So the more you can inform and shepherd them through the process the better your ultimate evaluation will be.

Let’s discuss a few ways you can better support the evaluation process for your recommenders:

Timelines
This might be one of the most important reasons to help your recommenders. Remember, YOU are applying to school, not them. It is in your best interest to make sure they are clear on all dates and deadlines – a missed deadline can equate to you missing a target admissions round. I even like to give recommenders a hard deadline in advance of the real one, so even if they miss your self-imposed deadline, which many unfortunately will, you will still be in good shape. All recommendations are due the same time as the applications, so schedule accordingly.

Personal Information
Although we like to assume our supervisors know everything about us, sometimes they need a bit of a reminder. As such, it is wise to create a package for them highlighting your accomplishments during your time in the organization, and working with them in particular. Included in this package, you should also state your motivation for pursuing an MBA and any other relevant information about your career trajectory. The more connected your recommenders are to your future success, the better your recommendation will be.

School Information
In your recommender package, you should also provide some information on each of the schools you are applying to. Every school has a unique culture and approach to graduate business education, so try to communicate this to your recommender. Such information could potentially help them shape the content of your evaluation to fit that particular school. Also, make sure your recommenders are clear on the specific questions and recommendation protocols at each school – remember, many are uninformed when it comes to the process, so make their work as easy and straightforward as possible.

Take ownership of your MBA application process by supporting your recommender in the areas above. By following these tips, you will ensure your recommendation remains an area of strength for your candidacy.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can find more of his articles here

What If I Can’t Get a Recommendation from My Boss?

Every business school application requires you to submit at least one letter of recommendation. These letters corroborate your admissions story, providing additional evidence of the leadership skills, analytical abilities, teamwork skills, and maturity that you have highlighted in the rest of your application. The best person to do this is normally your direct supervisor, but what if you can’t (or don’t want to) tell your boss yet that you’re applying to business school?

Fortunately, MBA admissions officers know that many applicants face this situation, and they won’t penalize you for it. Particularly in a rough economy, when job security seems to matter even more than usual, they know that you may take a serious risk by telling your boss, “If all goes according to plan, in a year I won’t be here anymore.” So, they’re willing to accept recommendations from other sources, as long as they give admissions officers what they need.


What most schools want, more than anything, is to hear an assessment of your abilities by someone who knows you well and has been in a position to evaluate you. That’s why your direct supervisor is your most obvious choice; he or she should spend a lot of time thinking about your performance, making it easy to provide an assessment of you as a young professional. Assuming that person is out of the picture, then you need to find someone else who meets these criteria:
  1. Does the “substitute recommender” know you well, in a non-social capacity? This person must have worked closely with you for some period of time; otherwise, they don’t really know your professional abilities and potential. We wrote “non-social” to make clear that this person needs to be more than an acquaintance, but we stopped short of saying “professional” since this person may come from outside of your job. For instance, if you devote serious time to a non-profit organization, someone who has served as a coordinator there may know you very well and may be a good person to provide a letter of recommendation.
  2. Has this person worked with you recently? We frequently talk to MBA applicants who have a seemingly good candidate in mind, but they haven’t worked with that person for a few years. When you’re a young professional, a few years is an eternity in terms of your development. Ideally, your substitute recommender will have worked with you in just the last year or two, or (even better) still works with you now.
  3. Does he or she have experience evaluating others in a professional setting?If your recommendation writer has never delivered a performance review in any setting, how will he or she be able to speak about your candidacy with authority? This doesn’t mean that your recommendation writer needs to have managed an entire department for years; the point is to find someone who can deliver a fair, even-handed-sounding (but still glowingly positive!) review of your candidacy.
  4. Does the person in question have enough time to do the job? This question always applies, even if your recommendation comes from your current boss. Too often, the recommendation writer will underestimate the task, or will simply say, “I don’t have time. You just write it for me and I’ll sign it.” Make sure that your recommendation writer understands the task at hand, and devotes enough time to it. You can help a great deal by providing specific examples of your recent successes that he or she may not remember. Doing that makes the recommender’s job easier, and makes the final product significantly stronger.

Keep in mind that what really matters is what your recommender writes about you, more than who exactly your recommender is. MBA admissions officers keep an open mind about these things, but it’s critical that your letters of recommendation provide all the clues that schools look for. Not only should your recommendations emphasize the four dimensions mentioned at the start of this post, but they should also clearly demonstrate the enthusiasm that your recommenders have about you and your business school candidacy. Find someone who can do that, and you will be fine.

For more MBA admissions tips and resources, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with one of our admissions experts today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Three Ways a Letter of Recommendation Can Go Wrong

Letter of RecommendationRecently we talked to a new client who just went through a rough Round 1 of the MBA admissions process. Although the round isn’t over yet, the way his interview invitations are going, it looks like he’s not going to have much success. Once he saw the writing on the wall, he came to us for help. We took a look at the applications that he submitted to his Round 1 schools, and just about everything seemed to be in order: strong work experience with a history of increasing responsibility, essays that tell interesting personal stories of growth and maturity, a solid undergraduate university, and a GMAT score that puts him above the mean score at most top schools.

Everything looked great, so we were wondering what could be wrong. Then, he asked one of his recommendation writers to share what he submitted on behalf of this candidate, and then we saw it: a vague, lukewarm letter that answered the questions (not very well), and nothing more. Without knowing much else about this candidate, we quickly determined that his letters of recommendation may have been the culprit.


What’s so tough about letters of recommendation is that they’re the part of the application over which you have the least control. The GMAT can be scary since it all comes down to how you perform in a few hours in one sitting, and your undergraduate transcripts are in the past, so there’s nothing you can do to change them, but all of these things are determined by you (and can be overcome or mitigated with some work). When it comes to letters of recommendation, however, you’re putting your future in someone else’s hands. Even if that person adores you and wants to see you walk out of Harvard with an MBA in three years, he may have no idea of what he’s doing when it comes to helping you get in!

While a lot of factors go into creating a terrific letter of recommendation for a business school application, here are three ways in which recommendations frequently go wrong:

  1. A lack of enthusiasm.While your recommendation writer shouldn’t sound like a raving lunatic, he should sound as if he really, really cares about whether or not you get into the target school. If this person is so invested in whether or not you get in, clearly he must care a great deal about you, and business schools want applicants who forge strong ties with those around them. If your recommendation writer seems “blah” about whether or not you get in, and doesn’t think you’ve earned the highest possible ratings (for recommendations that ask the person to rate the applicant on a scale), admissions officers will wonder if you’re the type of person who just leaves a trail of “blah” in your wake. No business school wants that. The more that your recommendation writer shows that he really cares about your success, the better that reflects on you as an applicant.
  2. Not enough specifics. Some question prompts will ask for specific examples of leadership, teamwork, problem-solving abilities, and so on. Many won’t ask for specifics, but that doesn’t mean your recommendation writer doesn’t need to provide them. Which do you think is more compelling? “This applicant is a great leader,” vs. “This applicant is a great leader, as demonstrated by the time last year when he stepped in for a departed manager and led a team of six analysts to complete a project on time and save a critical client relationship.” Just as they do in your own admissions essays, specific examples help to make these important traits more concrete and believable in admissions officers’ minds.
  3. Not staying consistent with your application themes. While the above two failings catch many more amateurish applicants, this one is where even savvy applicants sometimes see their candidacies fall apart. If your essays stress how much you want to shift away from investment management and move into the non-profit sector, but your supervisor writes about how she knows how badly you want an MBA so that you can accelerate your career in finance, that will raise a red flag for admissions officers. Either you’re not being honest with the school, or you’re not telling your supervisor your true intentions. You can avoid these kinds of red flags by outlining your key application themes and walking your recommendation writers through them. While we firmly believe that your recommendation writers need to write their own letters, this kind of advance preparation is smart (and even necessary).

For more help with your MBA letters of recommendation, give us a call at 800-925-7737 and talk to one of our admissions experts. And, as always, be sure to follow us on Twitter!

Harvard Business School’s Advice on Recommendations

Yesterday Harvard Business School Dean of Admissions Dee Leopold wrote a blog post dispensing some good advice to HBS applicants regarding their MBA letters of recommendation. While what she wrote is all consistent with what we have written in this space many times before, much of it bears repeating.

Dee hits on several key themes that we tell our clients, and that are covered in detail in Your MBA Game Plan, our MBA admissions guide. These include:

  • Above all else, make sure that your recommendation writers know you well. Every year we have clients approach us and say something along the lines of, “Good news. I think I can get my CEO to write a letter of recommendation for me.” If your CEO hasn’t worked with you extensively, and can’t discuss your strengths and potential in great detail, then this isn’t very good news. Admissions officers are impressed by what YOU have done, not by what your recommendation writer has done.
  • Details and specifics are key. As Dee says, “What we are hoping for are brief recounts of specific situations and how you performed.” Any recommendation written in general terms — “He’s a true leader… He exhibits teamwork all the time…” — will fail to leave a lasting impression on admissions officers.
  • While your recommendations don’t all have to come from the workplace, the best ones are usually written by someone who has evaluated your performance. Dee writes, “Note that we are not looking for a peer recommendation – we find it most helpful if there is some developmental distance between you and the recommender.” That kind of person is typically best suited to comment on your strengths and development areas.
  • Simply knowing an HBS student or grad doesn’t give you any kind of leg up. Dee has this to say: “Please don’t ask current HBS students to write to us on your behalf outside of the formal recommendation process.” Of course, dozens (if not hundreds) will surely ignore her advice this year, but you heard it straight from Dee!
  • This last one is Dee’s most interesting point. To answer the question of whether or not someone with a tenuous job situation should go to his or her boss for a letter of recommendation, Dee says, “Especially in these unusual times, please don’t jeopardize your employment in order to secure a recommendation from a current employer.” While we have also shared this advice before, we glad that Dee wrote this. Having it come from the head of admissions at HBS should put some jittery applicants at ease as they grapple with this question.

For more information and advice on applying to Harvard, visit the Veritas Prep HBS information page. Also, call us at 800-925-7737 and find out how we can help you with your recommendations!

More Advice from U Chicago Law – Letters of Recommendation

The University of Chicago blog, A Day in the Life, which was detailed here yesterday, has also posted a helpful missive on the elusive letter of recommendation.

The big takeways here are A) to find someone who knows you well enough to write substantively on your academic qualities and B) to “feather the nest” (so to speak) by providing a packet of information to the recommender in question, allowing that person to do a thorough job. Chicago also makes it clear that recommendations should be from academic sources whenever possible, so applicants would be well served to cozy up to a few professors during their junior year or (worst case) during the fall.

Furthemore, Veritas Prep is pleased to see our own tips and suggestions mirrored throughout the post. The client always wins when consultants and law schools see eye to eye.

The following is from Veritas Prep’s Application Tips page and features many of the sentiments included in the U Chicago blog post:

One of the most egregious misperceptions regarding letters of recommendations has to do with the credibility of the source. While you do want to ask credible people to pen these letters, that doesn