Sure, the admissions committees say they understand if an applicant does not have a recommendation from a supervisor, but do they really mean it? Even if they say it is okay, if everyone else has a supervisor writing, not having one would put you at a disadvantage, right? Wrong.
We estimate that one of every five applicants has an issue with one of their current supervisors that prevents them from asking for a recommendation. Common issues include the following:
* Brief tenure with current firm
* Disclosing business school plans could compromise promotions, bonuses, or potential increases in salary
* Supervisor is “too busy” to help and either refuses the request or tells the applicant to write the recommendation him/herself, which the applicant is unprepared to do
* Supervisor does not believe in the MBA degree and would not be supportive of this path
* Supervisor is a poor manager and refuses to assist junior staff
* Candidate is an entrepreneur or works in a family business and thus lacks a credible supervisor
We at mbaMission have previously explained that admissions offices have no reason to disadvantage one group (candidates who have issues with recommenders) over another (those who have secured recommendations from supervisors). What incentive would they have to “disqualify” approximately 20% of the applicant pool for reasons beyond its control?
Thus, if you cannot ask your supervisor for his assistance, you should not worry about your situation, though you should seek to remedy it. Start by considering your alternatives—a past employer, mentor, supplier, client, legal counsel, representative from an industry association, or anyone else who knows your work particularly well. Then, once you have made your alternate selection, briefly explain the nature of your situation and your relationship with this recommender in your optional essay. As long as you explain your choice, the admissions committee will understand your situation.