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Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools

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Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 18 Apr 2013, 15:21
Hey everyone,

I am starting to prepare for the fall admissions cycle and the only part of the process that I'm still a little unsure about is the letters of recommendation. I am planning to apply to 5-6 schools (all within the top 50) and each school asks for approximately 2 letters of recommendation. This is fine as I have four previous supervisors who could potentially write a letter of recommendation for me, as well as one other person who works in the business department at my former university who could vouch for my newly launched startup company (I am pursuing an MBA in entrepreneurship and our website works with colleges throughout the US, so even though she was not a direct supervisor I believe her insight into my startup would be unique).

That's a total of 10-12 letters of recommendation total, or 2-3 per person. This is not bad at all, but I would prefer to only use my two best supervisors and as a third option the person from my former university. That is now more like 4-6 letters of recommendation per person, which is a lot. My question is in two parts:

1) Should I go with my two best recommenders only? What about the person at my university who can vouch for our startup?

2) How does this recommendation process typically work at the top 50 schools?

Regarding question #2, I admit that I need to do more research, but do the schools require the recommender to upload the letters of recommendation on a page that I (the applicant) can't access or does the recommender email me his recommendation and then I upload the document(s) myself? I know most schools seem to have their own template for filling out the recommendation, but I have no idea how the actual letters are uploaded into the system. I ask this question because if I am the one doing the uploading, then perhaps I could create one big Word document with questions from all of the schools grouped by subject, etc. Then, each recommender could fill out that document and I could distribute the information accordingly.

If this is not possible, then I guess the only thing I can do is let my recommenders know my intentions months in advance and have them start working on the letters as soon as possible (can they start in May or do they have to wait until the essays and everything else comes out in June/July?).

Thanks!
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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 18 Apr 2013, 17:52
brentl23 wrote:
Hey everyone,

I am starting to prepare for the fall admissions cycle and the only part of the process that I'm still a little unsure about is the letters of recommendation. I am planning to apply to 5-6 schools (all within the top 50) and each school asks for approximately 2 letters of recommendation. This is fine as I have four previous supervisors who could potentially write a letter of recommendation for me, as well as one other person who works in the business department at my former university who could vouch for my newly launched startup company (I am pursuing an MBA in entrepreneurship and our website works with colleges throughout the US, so even though she was not a direct supervisor I believe her insight into my startup would be unique).

That's a total of 10-12 letters of recommendation total, or 2-3 per person. This is not bad at all, but I would prefer to only use my two best supervisors and as a third option the person from my former university. That is now more like 4-6 letters of recommendation per person, which is a lot. My question is in two parts:

1) Should I go with my two best recommenders only? What about the person at my university who can vouch for our startup?

2) How does this recommendation process typically work at the top 50 schools?

Regarding question #2, I admit that I need to do more research, but do the schools require the recommender to upload the letters of recommendation on a page that I (the applicant) can't access or does the recommender email me his recommendation and then I upload the document(s) myself? I know most schools seem to have their own template for filling out the recommendation, but I have no idea how the actual letters are uploaded into the system. I ask this question because if I am the one doing the uploading, then perhaps I could create one big Word document with questions from all of the schools grouped by subject, etc. Then, each recommender could fill out that document and I could distribute the information accordingly.

If this is not possible, then I guess the only thing I can do is let my recommenders know my intentions months in advance and have them start working on the letters as soon as possible (can they start in May or do they have to wait until the essays and everything else comes out in June/July?).

Thanks!


I do understand the dilemma as I too had the same. Although my reccommenders were extremely helpful but knowing their hectic schedule, I myself felt bad to burden them so much.

I do not know how much importance the school gives to recommendation. My personal view is ZERO. My personal opinion is, recommendation letters are just used as a validation of the claims in application. Unless the recommendations are contrasting, I don't think they really affect your chance. My two best recommendations were rejected. If the school really serious about recommendation then they should speak to the recommender and understand the TRUTH. Not many schools has the bandwidth or even skill to find the fact and truth.

So what you can do are

1. Distribute the load
2. Feed them with story line, pointers, key words, facts, examples
3. Give them enough time, minimally 2 weeks and preferably 4 weeks
4. Remind them subtly/gently few times
5. You may write a first draft for them ... but this may be a double edged sword. There must be originality.

Finally, when the episode is over, buy them a memorable gift as a token of appreciation.
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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 19 Apr 2013, 05:44
I have two things - regarding recommender choice, and regarding importance of recommendations.

First, recommendation questions asked between schools are VERY similar. To the point that once a recommender has wrote one recommendation for you, the time investment for each additional school is almost negligible. They might need to add a couple sentences to tailor it to the specific school, and they might need to reformat their responses to fit into the prompts, but far and away the most work is for the first recommendation they write.

Second, I believe the recommendations are just one more filter that the adcoms put applicant through. I attended several MBA fairs / info sessions and adcom members consistently said that it was quite common that they received recommendations that were actually negative. I don't mean that the recommender did a poor job writing their recommendation, i mean that the recommender actually had negative comments about the applicant. Several of the adcom members quoted a percentage of recommendations that were negative, and it was astonishingly high - I can't remember the figure offhand.

Summary - I would pick the two people who you're sure have your back, and who you worked very closely with so that their comments will hold more weight.

For example, I would not use the person working in the business department of your prior university. He may be able to speak to the merits of your business, but he's going to be asked 'how long have you worked with the applicant and in what capacity', and if the answer isn't 6+ months as his manager, his recommendation won't be worth much.
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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 20 Apr 2013, 02:31
I myself wrote recommendations for few and I know it is not about writing time but it is more about priortising this task as an important task and SLOT it in your busy schedule.

I do agree that after the first recommendation, the second one does not really takes more than 20 minutes, in fact you can complete in 10 minutes. But you need to slot that 20 minutes in your schedule as an important task ... that does not happen!! As a recommender, this is not the most important task in my hand, especially not when the guy is just an average joe.

I also agree that recommendation is just a validation check. If any school is taking recommendation seriously then something is seriously wrong. people engage only those people who will write goody goody things for him/her. Who the hell dare to get a true feedback??

There are too many variables in recommendation
story line
writing skills
depth and width
and finally, authenticity

Anyone can claim to be president of ABC company and give an excellent recommendation. Does the school has enough band width and skill to validate that? Generally people don't fake completely but I would say exeggaration is fairly common.

So, don't worry too much about recommendation. As long as you have a good GMAT score and fair interviews, these are just supporting material. If these supporting materials are extremely damaging then only your chance is affected. Or else those are useless.
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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 20 Apr 2013, 21:12
Hey everyone,

First of all, thank you so much for the responses! Each person provided some excellent information that I can use moving forward.

@jko: Very interesting. For some reason, I figured that the recommendation questions would be different at each school, but I guess there's only so many types of questions you can ask someone. It's great to hear that most of the work is done with the first recommendation letter.

Thanks for the tips regarding using the person at my former university. I've been to one info session already and have a couple more lined up this month, and it definitely seems like there's an emphasis on previous supervisors if at all possible. For someone like myself who is applying to business school for entrepreneurship (i.e., a career transition), I would love to use the person at my previous university since she can speak about my startup company, but there probably hasn't been enough "formal" work together to qualify her for writing me a recommendation letter. So, I can take your advice and just use my best 2-3 previous supervisors who I know will write me kick ass letters and leave it at that.

@wouldbecrazy: So, if you wrote some of your letters then that means the schools you applied to allowed you to upload your "recommenders'" answers then, correct? For some reason, I thought I saw something on one business school's page that had the recommender log in to a separate web page to upload their answers. Hopefully that's not the case as I would prefer to handle everything myself.

I have some free time before this fall's application process gets started in June/July. I was thinking about working on some of the essay questions that I know will be part of the application (e.g., the lady at a UT info session told me one of their essays that will stay on their application) and reach out to my previous supervisors about my MBA intentions. So my question is can I go ahead and get started organizing recommendation questions by downloading this year's recommendation letter document from each school's page? Or does this document change every year like the essays and I need to wait until June/July?
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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 20 Apr 2013, 23:53
brentl23 wrote:
@wouldbecrazy: So, if you wrote some of your letters then that means the schools you applied to allowed you to upload your "recommenders'" answers then, correct? For some reason, I thought I saw something on one business school's page that had the recommender log in to a separate web page to upload their answers. Hopefully that's not the case as I would prefer to handle everything myself.



Sorry, not mine. I wrote as a recommender for other prospective students.

Yes, as a recommender, for some school, you receive an email with links. You need to complete online. Some school use email. Some school require signed copy to be scanned and uploaded.
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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 24 Apr 2013, 15:07
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Hi Brentl23,

Many of the people who have responded to your question have had some good points. There are, however, a few points point I would like to make that will diverge from the consensus above.

1) Recommendations are an incredibly important component of your application process. Schools take them very seriously. Yes, people will go to individuals who think highly of them but there are 2 main differentiators. For one, not all who think well of someone, will write well of someone. They may not be specific or provide the adcoms with the details they are looking for. Secondly, the recommender may be ill prepared or provide commentary that contradicts the applicant's story. A well crafted recommendation is a must and I cannot stress that enough.

2) Recommendations are a part of your story. They allow you to convey parts of your personality or story that weren't addressed in the rest of your application. It contributes to a well thought out and rounded application. They should not be a regurgitation of the content in the rest of your application.

3) Recommendations can be time consuming for both you, to prepare your recommenders, and for them, to actually complete them. However, recommenders should be communicated the expectation that you expect a unique recommendation for each program. While they will invariably leverage some content, it should not take them a mere fraction of the time it took them to complete the first one. And while the questions may or may not be similar to other programs, the recommenders responses to them absolutely should not be. Each school is looking at the responses and evaluating them against their desired attributes and characteristics. Every component of your application should be tailored specifically towards the program you are applying to.

4) I would STRONGLY recommend against even offering to write the recommendation as a first draft for any of your recommenders. Not only does this cross an ethical line, it also inhibits your own story. The goal is to prepare them with a structured outline of the key strengths and development points you would like them to communicate and then leave them with the artistic license to fill in the gaps. Keep in mind, they may disregard your suggestions altogether but if you have selected the right recommender and they are fully prepped on your story and the schools you are applying to, they should be able to put a strong foot forward.

I understand your dilemma and it will come down to the strength of your relationships with those you ask to provide recommendations. They are busy people and the more you can do to make their lives easier, the easier it will be (and they'll appreciate it too!). Good luck with the process and if you have any specific questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to me!

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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 27 Apr 2013, 19:56
Quote:
Yes, as a recommender, for some school, you receive an email with links. You need to complete online. Some school use email. Some school require signed copy to be scanned and uploaded.


Yeah that sounds about right. I just visited two California schools last week and they both said that you register your recommender online, he/she gets a link sent to them, and then he/she fills out the recommendation questions. The applicant doesn't see any of the questions, although I was told that typically business schools ask the same types of questions and I could google examples. That will be great because I want to provide my recommenders with as much information as possible regarding what to write about, so having a general idea of the questions should come in handy.

Interestingly enough, one person said that having the recommender write an actual recommendation letter (i.e., not just answering the question form) was a characteristic of the "good" recommendations. This sounds like more work for the recommender, though, too. Ha.

Quote:
Recommendations can be time consuming for both you, to prepare your recommenders, and for them, to actually complete them. However, recommenders should be communicated the expectation that you expect a unique recommendation for each program.


Quote:
And while the questions may or may not be similar to other programs, the recommenders responses to them absolutely should not be.


Excellent points all around. I guess that's why notfying my recommenders in May is a good thing. So, do you think having 3 recommenders for 6 schools (12 total recommendations, 4 per person) is a good strategy? I'm afraid that 4 might be too much, but I would prefer not to go above 3 recommenders.

Also, since the recommenders know absolutely nothing about these schools, it sounds like it would be helpful to provide them with information about each school so they can tailor their recommendations accordingly. I guess that's why it pays to write the essays first right?
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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 28 Apr 2013, 05:47
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Hi brentl23,

I think you are definitely ahead of the game getting to your recommenders in May so kudos on that!

Firstly, I think 3 recommenders would be ok, but 4 might be preferable. Now, this is assuming all 4 know you very well and can write great recommendations. The reason for this statement is primarily that the more recommendations you have a particular recommender doing, the more likely they are to become similar or leveraged. Also, 4 recommendations a person is quite a bit especially when you consider which rounds you are applying to. On one hand, if your 6 schools are across 2 or 3 rounds, then that's ok, but if they are all round 1, then you're putting a lot of pressure on them. Your recommender selection should be holistic of your relationship strength, their particular backgrounds, and your application strategy.

To your point about preparing them about the schools - you are absolutely correct. I would recommend a slightly different approach than to provide them with essays. For one, there is a good chance that by the time you need to engage your recommenders to actually write your letter, you will be in no position to pass off a polished, final version of your essays. This is true for any round of applications but doubly true for round 1 given when they release the topics. And this is entirely ok.

Secondly, they aren't a great indication of the school or its culture other than the places you have added specificity or spoken to a key attribute they look for. It only gives them insight into the components you have spoken to, which may not include the list of other things the school is looking for that your application you touch upon. Which is where your recommendations come in!

Therefore, when we work with our clients, we look to prep recommenders with a variety of information including a high level understanding of our strategy for the essays but not the essays themselves. All of these pieces give them a thorough understanding not only of the school and its specifics, but also our general application strategy. It has the added benefit that recommenders aren't tempted to leverage what you wrote in your essays themselves!

You're asking the right questions at the right time, so keep it up and good luck!

Bhavik
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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 28 Apr 2013, 20:30
Thanks, Bhavik. After reading your reasoning, I decided that four recommenders (as you suggested) will probably be better than three recommenders since I am planning on applying to all six schools in round 1 (although I might end up applying to 1-2 schools in round 2). Thanks for the pointers there. I really appreciate everything you wrote!
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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools [#permalink] New post 29 Apr 2013, 05:23
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Hey Brentl23,

Happy to help! If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to reach out. Especially as you begin plotting out your recommender strategy!

Bhavik
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Re: Letters of Recommendation for 5+ Schools   [#permalink] 29 Apr 2013, 05:23
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