HBS Clarifies What It Wants from Your Recommendations

Harvard Business SchoolEarlier this week Dee Leopold wrote a piece on the Harvard MBA admissions blog clarifying what the school expects when it comes to the three letters of recommendation in the HBS application. In its application directions, Harvard asks for three recommendations, and states that two should come from a professional source. Somewhat unintentionally, it seems, this has implied that the third should NOT come from a professional source, but Leopold wants applicants to know that this is not the case.

It turns out that the Harvard admissions team was surprised that this was the signal that applicants were getting from these instructions, and now it wants to make clear that the “two should come from professional sources” rule means that at least two should come from the workplace, not that only two should come from this part of your life.

On the HBS blog, Dee Leopold wrote:

So, in the hope that this will add clarity, let me re-phrase our guidance: we are fine if ALL the recommendations come from the workplace. Even from the same firm. We are not trying to add the additional hurdle of needing to hear a voice from every phase of your past and present life. If it’s not possible to get ANY recommendation from your current workplace, you may wish to explain this situation briefly in the Additional Information section of the application. This is NOT an unusual occurrence — we don’t expect every boss in the world to be excited about losing top talent to business school. As is always the case, use your best judgment about this.

So, don’t sweat it if you have three great sources, and none of them happens to be from outside the workplace. The criteria that we use always boil down to how well your recommenders know you, how well they can cite specific to answer the questions asked, and how enthusiastically they will support your candidacy (don’t underestimate this last one!). And, if you can’t get your current boss to write a recommendation, don’t stress over this too much, either. Admissions officers it: You’re asking your boss to help you quit… That doesn’t always sit well with every manager.

As an aside, we appreciate that Dee Leopold admits in this post that she sometimes will fall back on default answers when she gets questions about the Harvard admissions process. Specifically, she wrote in this post, “As I’m sure you realize, we do tend to get asked the same questions over and over and I know I can be guilty of jumping too quickly to “my answer” and not listening as closely as I might to the question.” It’s hard to blame admissions officers for doing this since they do in fact receive the same questions over and over (and over and over…), but we do sometimes wonder if they would help themselves by going a little deeper and explaining things a little better. We know they’re capable of doing this because we have seen admissions representatives go much deeper with some answers in some settings (particularly when speaking with applicants coming from pro-diversity organizations)… Sometimes applicants get an okay answer, and sometimes they get an “Ahh! I wish they had just said that to begin with”-type answer.

The latter doesn’t give away any real secrets, and sometimes can really help ease applicants’ misplaced anxiety (as was the case in this “third recommendation” example). That’s not directed just at HBS, but at every admissions officer at every school!

For more advice on getting into Harvard Business School, download our Essential Guide to HBS, one of our 15 guides to the world’s top business schools. If you’re ready to start building your own application for Harvard and other top business schools, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Veritas Prep