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.

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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.