The professional world and the world of business school have many things in common, and one fact that is truly important in both of these spaces is that relationships matter. When you’re applying to business school, strong recommendation letters can go a long way toward making your admissions committee confident that you’ll be an asset to the program, and weak or impersonal ones can create some major red flags.
Even though you won’t be the one writing them, there are still some steps you can take to help your letters of recommendation paint you in the best possible light. Follow these tips to identify your letter writers, inspire them to do their best work and make sure their letters get where they need to go.
Request your letters as early as possible
As you start putting together your business school application, one of the first things you should do is research upcoming application deadlines for your program of choice and identify a target start date. Establishing this timeline early will help you plan for each of the steps involved in completing the application, including requesting your recommendation letters.
Once you have your application deadline firmly in mind, try to follow quickly by sketching a list of your desired letter writers. The earlier you do this, the more room you will have to identify and recruit a backup if any of your first choices are unable to accommodate your request. Giving them as much time as possible to complete their letters also will demonstrate that you value their thoughts and respect their time.
Choose writers who truly know you
Most graduate business programs will require between one and three letters of recommendation from each applicant. At Marquette University, recommendation letters are optional for domestic applicants to the online MBA and online Master in Management (MiM) program. These applicants may choose to submit two letters, and international applicants are required to submit two. By opting to submit letters of recommendation, you are providing more insight into your potential value as a student that may not be obvious from your resume.
With a limited number of recommendation slots, you must think hard about who from your professional or academic life knows you well enough to have unique insights into your skills and potential. If you’ve been in the workforce for some time, current or former supervisors are often good candidates. If you’re a relatively recent college graduate, you might consider asking a professor with whom you worked closely or an undergraduate advisor.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to an advisor at your business school of choice to ask for any details they can provide about the kinds of recommenders their program likes to see. And if you have anyone in your personal or professional network who has ties to your target program or university, absolutely feel free to take advantage of those connections.
Make your request with confidence and tact
While perhaps the most important thing you can do to put your best foot forward with your potential recommendation letter writers is to ask them as early as possible, there are some other strategies you can use to ensure your request is successful. One strategy is to ensure you adjust your request to be considerate of your relationship with the letter writer and his/her schedule.
For example, if you currently work closely with your recommender on a day-to-day basis, you can simply ask them directly during casual conversation. Simply describe your decision to pursue graduate business education, mention how much you appreciate their support and value their opinion, and ask if they might be able to find time to put something together.
If you plan to ask a supervisor who has an extremely busy schedule, you might consider putting a brief 15-minute meeting on their calendar to lay out your business school plan and make your request. This will show respect for their responsibilities and ensure they are in a clear and supportive frame of mind when you do eventually have the conversation. If you plan to ask someone with whom you haven’t recently been in regular contact, such as a professor from several years ago, you can send a brief, friendly and professional email outlining your request.
If you have made smart choices for your letter writers and asked them with clarity and grace, they should be more than happy to support you on your professional journey.
Communicate instructions for submission clearly to your writers
Business schools may vary in their approach to receiving recommendation letters. Some may prefer they be emailed or mailed to a graduate admissions office, or perhaps to a specific administrator within the academic program. Others will utilize an online system into which you enter your writers’ contact information while you are working on the overall application, and which will then reach out automatically to your writers with submission instructions.
Review the admissions requirements for submission instructions and contact an advisor if you are unclear about the process. If your writers need to send their letters to a specific email or mailing address, be sure to get this information to them as quickly as possible so they are neither confused nor inconvenienced.
Our recommendation? Apply to business school at Marquette
Once you’ve lined up your most supportive recommendation writers who are all eager to sing your praises, get started on your application to the online MBA or Master in Management program from Marquette University’s Graduate School of Management. Take a look at the unmatched career support you’ll find at Marquette, and check out our tips for crafting a personal essay and refreshing your resume for your business school application.