Professional references only. Columbia asks first-time applicants to submit two recommendations, both of which should be professional in nature; re-applicants must submit one. One should come from a direct supervisor, and if that is not possible you should provide an explanation in the optional essay.
Accommodation for youngest applicants. For applicants with less work experience, Columbia advises that you select recommenders who can speak to your managerial abilities and leadership skills. Additionally, one recommendation can be from a college professor, assuming that person can speak to your professional potential.
Start early. The recommendation form is submitted online as part of your application, and must be completed for Columbia to begin reviewing your application. Veritas Prep advises clients to reach out to their recommenders very early in the process, and also to give them some direction and structure around the general themes of and motivations behind your application. Specifically, your recommenders should be aware of why you’re applying to business school, and why in particular you feel Columbia would be a good fit, given your goals and career progression to date.
Consolidated questions. Columbia has received the “common recommendation” memo and uses the same two questions as several other schools to reduce the burden on your recommenders:
- How do the candidate’s performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
- Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.
Recommenders are asked to keep their recommendation to 1,000 words or fewer.
Selecting your recommenders. Columbia explicitly says that applicants with more than six months of work experience must submit one reference from their current supervisor and the second from a former supervisor or close associate who can assess your potential. This is a stricter policy than most peer schools, which say that you may explain an alternate recommender if you do not utilize your current supervisor. For both Columbia and peer schools, we highly recommend that you have a conversation with your current supervisor about the possibility of leaving for business school. However, in some rare cases, this may not be possible. If so, we believe that selecting an indirect supervisor, a close mentor at your current company, or the closest possible proxy to your current supervisor would be satisfactory and would not prevent you from being admitted to Columbia. You’ll need to explain this choice in the optional essay and provide a compelling reason to the admissions committee why your current supervisor did not offer a recommendation.
Should I draft it myself? (No.) Many applicants to business school are asked by their superiors to draft the recommendation themselves and the recommender will approve it. We strongly recommend that you do not write the recommendation yourself for several reasons. First, your writing style and choice of phrasing are unique, and admissions officers will notice if the recommendations are similar to each other and your essays. If they notice too many similarities, your application could be denied outright. Second, you may tend to be too humble or generic. Your supervisor might use language such as “one of the top analysts I’ve seen in my entire career” that you wouldn’t dare include if writing it on his or her behalf. Third, the admissions officer is looking for a third-party perspective on your candidacy, so writing a recommendation yourself is an unethical breach of trust with the school you are looking to join. Finally, and most importantly, Columbia requires applicants to certify that “I did not write any part of this recommendation, either in whole or part, or have any involvement in its drafting or submission.” Need we say more?
Preparing your recommenders. Instead of writing the recommendation yourself, you should sit down and have candid conversations with your recommenders about the reasons you want to go to business school and why you’ve selected your target schools, your professional goals, and your experience together. Ask them if they would have the time to write a strong recommendation on your behalf. (This also gives them a nice “out” by telling you that they are too busy rather than saying they don’t feel comfortable giving you a positive recommendation.) Bring a copy of your resume and a bulleted list of projects that you’ve worked on together and accomplishments they have seen you achieve. Let them know that admissions committees prefer to see specific, detailed examples in recommendations. Then, let them know that you’ll serve as a “project manager” to follow up and ensure that they are able to submit your recommendation ahead of the deadline.