Top Seven Tips for Informal Letters of Recommendation

Although informal letters of recommendation or endorsement are not an essential part of the MBA application, if used strategically and appropriately, they can help you stand out among the applicant pool at your target business schools and differentiate you from similar candidates. If you do not have an informal recommendation to submit, though, do not worry. They are nice to have, but again, business schools do not require them. And some schools explicitly discourage them, so make sure to carefully read and follow any instructions on your target schools’ websites and applications.

Here are our top tips on how to best navigate this tactic to positively supplement your application:

1. Assess your personal and professional networks to identify individuals who could advocate for you. Your informal recommender should have a meaningful relationship with you and has ideally observed you in a leadership role and/or can speak to your initiative or interpersonal skills. Possible candidates to be an informal recommender include the following:

  • Students at the target school
  • Alumni of the target school
  • Someone with a significant connection with the school and who knows you (e.g., a senior executive at your company)
  • Someone associated with a meaningful time commitment in your life (e.g., the executive of a nonprofit organization to which you have dedicated a significant number of hours volunteering)
  • Ensure that this person can add something substantial and, of course, positive to your overall profile and that reading their letter of endorsement would be worth the admissions reader’s time in evaluating your candidacy.

2. Rather than directly asking someone for an informal recommendation, start by connecting with them in person or over the phone, expressing your excitement for the target school and asking their advice about applying and attending the program. Ideally, after your conversation, they will be inspired to volunteer to write a letter of endorsement for you.

3. Limit your use of informal recommendations to only your top one or two programs. Most likely, your recommender will ask you whether the school they are writing the recommendation for is your first choice, and you want to be able to genuinely answer, “Yes!” Remember that the school has not requested the letter and that your recommender is putting their reputation on the line in supporting you. Should you be admitted to the program and decline, this could reflect negatively on your recommender and damage your relationship with them.

4. Do not ask your recommender to replicate the format of the school’s official letter of recommendation. The informal recommendation is a bit different in nature. Think of it more as a way to spotlight your application, drawing special attention to it via a credible third party.

5. The informal recommendation letter should be relatively short and concise and include a brief introduction of the person writing it, an explanation of their connection to the school, a description of their relationship with you, and the reasons they think you would be an invaluable addition to the class, urging consideration of your application. Ideally, your recommender will also offer to be available to the admissions committee for any follow-up questions.

6. Have the letter sent to the school prior to the application deadline, if possible, and ensure that it is addressed very specifically to the appropriate person, using their exact name and title. Also, it should be sent to a school email address (never a personal one!).

7. If you did not send an informal recommendation before you submitted your application and are waitlisted at one of your top schools, consider using an informal letter of recommendation to help advance your chances of ultimately securing acceptance.

If you would like to discuss your specific situation with an experienced admissions consultant and receive tailored application advice, make sure to sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with one of mbaMission’s experts.

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