Partner Sites

Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice
mobile search icon

How Important Is My Recommendation Letter To My MBA Application?

Courtney Elmes, director of MBA admissions at UC Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business, answers your Applicant Question of the Week.


Thu Mar 14 2019

It's time for another Applicant Question of the Week at BusinessBecause!

Every week, we give you the opportunity to ask one of our chosen admissions experts anything you want to know about getting into business school. One question each week is chosen for our expert to answer.

This week’s question comes from Sanjay Shah, from India, and is regarding his MBA application.

His question is answered by Courtney Elmes, director of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA program at UC Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business.

Applicant Question of the Week:

Dear BusinessBecause, 

How important is my professional recommendation to my MBA application?

The Answer:

The professional recommendation is one of the only opportunities for us on the admissions committee to hear about you from an outside perspective. The other components of your application are academically driven or quantitatively based, such as transcripts and test scores. Or, they’re submitted by you – your resume and essays.

The professional recommendation allows us to gain a glimpse into your character and what makes you unique – to hear stories that provide a different perspective and that round out your application. All of that makes the MBA recommendation letter very important.

At UC Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business, we require two letters of recommendation. Don’t choose a recommender simply because they hold a senior role in the company. Instead, it’s much more important that they can speak about you holistically – your communication skills, leadership, professionalism, teamwork, strengths and development areas.

Usually, we find that the best letters of recommendation come from immediate supervisors, either current or former,and we prefer these letters. However, we understand that a letter from a direct supervisor may not always be possible – perhaps you haven’t told your supervisor you are planning on leaving the company and pursuing an MBA.

In those cases where a supervisor isn’t available, we would recommend you consider someone else who can provide a similar perspective, such as a colleague with whom you worked closely on a project, or, a client or supplier.

When I speak with candidates about how to choose their recommenders and some best practices, I always recommend they actually meet with the person before sending the recommendation link and details to them.

Explain to your recommender why you are interested in pursuing an MBA, why you selected the schools you applied to and your plans and aspirations post-MBA. Remind your recommender of key accomplishments or projects you led or completed, plus any particular themes you’d like them to cover that build upon what you’ve talked about in your resume or essay.

The best professional recommendations also rate the candidate appropriately. Everyone has areas that need growth and development, so to say someone is in the top two percent across all skills is unrealistic. The recommendation should also speak about specific accomplishments and examples.

Making the wrong choice of who to use as a recommender, or not sharing with them your goals and reasons for pursuing an MBA, can result in a generic recommendation or a recommendation that is blank in many areas. It may be tempting to avoid doing the work of prepping your recommender and giving them suggestions of what to write, but doing so can greatly reduce the strength of your application as a whole.

Overall, a powerful MBA recommendation letter helps round out your application and make it cohesive by tying in themes a candidate expresses in other parts of the application.

Ask an Admissions Expert a Question!

Crochenka -AQOTW

If you have a burning question when it comes to your business masters application, now is your chance!

Next week, Crochenka McCarthy, from ESCP Europe, will be on hand answer your Applicant Question of the Week.

Crochenka has worked in admissions for ESCP Europe and its top-ranking EMBA program since 2013, and has plenty of experience when it comes to applying to the school.

Got a question you'd love Crochenka to answer? Submit your question on our TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn pages, send us an email to, or simply post a comment below!