Anyone applying to business school knows that getting great recommendations will strengthen their candidacy. You want to ask managers and mentors who will advocate for you and share specific examples of how you have contributed and made an impact in an organization. See our 4 Steps to a 5 Star MBA Recommendation for more guidance on selecting recommenders.
What many business school applicants don’t know is that some programs value input from members of their community in the form of endorsements or letters of support. But what, exactly, is a letter of support? And, if you don’t have any, does it mean that you won’t be accepted?
What Is an MBA Letter of Support?
A letter of support or prospective student endorsement is input from an individual who knows you well and can share insight about you as a potential student and community member. The content should focus less on your achievements and accomplishments and more on how your presence in that school’s MBA community would enhance the experience for other students. The letter should cover how long and in what context the writer has known you. They should discuss your motivation and commitment to your professional aspirations, how you engage with others as a teammate or leader, and your ability to communicate. If they don’t know you professionally, they should not discuss your work experience. Basically, the input should be a vote of confidence that the writer would want you to be sitting next to them in class or working on a project team with them, or that they would be honored to call you a fellow alum in a few years.
Who Can Submit an MBA Letter of Support?
Maybe your college roommate is a current student with whom you have been discussing your MBA aspirations. Alternatively, your next-door neighbor, whose kids you babysat in high school and who trusts you to house sit when they are on vacation, is a faculty member. Perhaps a client with whom you have worked late hours for several months on a strategic project is a recent graduate. All of these people might be able to speak to your personal characteristics and fit with the program and would be great options to submit incremental insight to the admissions committee. Ideally, someone who is willing to write a letter of support on your behalf would offer to do so without you having to ask. However, some prospective endorsers may not be aware that submitting a letter of support for a prospective student is even an option.
If you engage with students as you are researching the resources of an MBA program, it would NOT be appropriate to ask any of them to write a letter of support. That said, be aware that a positive interaction could sufficiently impress a student who might feel compelled to share information about you with the admissions committee. On the flip side, a negative encounter could motivate a current student to alert the admissions committee that you are not a good fit with the program.
There is little to no value in asking a public figure who doesn’t know you personally to submit a letter of support. During my time on an admissions committee, I saw several extra letters in applications that had been written years earlier by someone who barely knew the candidate and wrote a generic letter that “endorsed” the applicant for whatever job or school the individual was applying to. This added no value and, in fact, made me wonder why the candidate felt compelled to submit the information with their application materials when the letter clearly had not been written specifically for the program.
How Is an MBA Letter of Support Submitted?
Individuals who want to share their insight on a business school applicant can send an email directly to the admissions committee using the email address to which you would make an inquiry about the admissions process. The email should include your name and any identifying information such as an application ID in the subject line. This will allow the operations team to match the letter with your electronic file. Some MBA programs like Duke’s Fuqua School of Business have a form that individuals who want to endorse a potential student can fill out. Candidates who are considering the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management might ask someone who knows them well to refer them. In some instances, having a referral or endorsement will result in an application fee waiver.
When Should Someone Submit an MBA Letter of Support?
If a school offers an application waiver for candidates who have an endorsement from a student or alum, your endorser should submit their insight before the application deadline. Otherwise, you want to make sure the input is in your file before decisions regarding interview invites are made—within about two weeks of the submission deadline. If you are put on a wait list, an additional letter of support could offer the admissions committee more insight into your candidacy that could result in an acceptance in a later round.
Do All Programs Accept MBA Letters of Support?
Not all MBA programs welcome additional input in the form of support letters. Someone who is intimately familiar with the program should know whether an extra endorsement is acceptable or welcome. If someone you know well offers to support your candidacy, suggest that they reach out to the admissions committee to determine if their contribution would be appreciated.
MBA letters of support are a bonus for applicants who have a personal relationship with someone who is associated with the program to which they are applying. Not having an additional endorsement will not adversely affect your prospects of admission. Use caution in asking, and don’t attempt to pad your application file with numerous letters.