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MBA Recommendation Letters: How to Write Them

November 02, 2021
MBA recommendation letter writer typing out a recommendation letter on a laptop.

MBA letters of recommendation are an important part of the online MBA application process. Admissions officers use these formal letters to validate a candidate's skills, experience, and personal qualities that may not be evident from an application resume or essay.1

While applicants do not write their own application letters—as they must come from an external source to be considered authentic—prospective students who know the requirements and the basics of letter writing will be able to share both with MBA recommendation letter writers.

Read on to learn how impactful letters of recommendation should be written and how to obtain a top letter of recommendation for your online MBA program application.

Get Prepared

Great letters of recommendation are able to provide readers with a vivid picture of who candidates are, why they are prepared for an online MBA program from a top-ranked school, and how gaining an MBA will positively impact their career once they are alumni. As formal letters, they should follow a standardized format, must be submitted by a due date, and should address the professional and academic background of a candidate.

If you are asked to write a letter of recommendation, you will want enough information to complete your recommendation accurately. Before you begin writing your letter, make sure your candidate provides you with the following:

  1. A list of schools they wish you to write letters to
  2. Submissions instructions
  3. Formatting requirements
  4. Submission deadlines
  5. Specific talking points you should include

Get to Know Your Candidate Better

When writing a letter of recommendation, it's vital to know the candidate's academic and professional history beyond just the window of time he or she shared experiences with you. Accurate, up-to-date letters of recommendation need to complement the other materials the candidate is submitting to a program and not duplicate or contradict them.

To be fully prepared to write about your recommendee, holistically, review your candidate's related application materials, including:

  • Resume/CV
  • Personal statement
  • Career goals essay
  • Any additional items that are relevant to the application2

Spotlight Your Candidate’s Strengths

MBA program candidates are often multi-talented individuals with a number of strengths that make them good applicants for an online graduate program. Your job as a recommender is to write to the applicant's best strengths. This will not only help your recommended stand out from a crowded applicant pool, it will help certify that you know the candidate well enough to write an accurate recommendation.

Narrowing your letter to two or three areas the applicant excels at will keep your recommendation the appropriate length while helping you focus on your most important candidate interactions. If you concentrate your writing on a few, key experiences you've had with the candidate and how that online MBA candidate has made an impact, you'll have plenty of information to complete a winning letter of recommendation.

Don’t Forget the Details

Remember, there is no need to embellish your candidate's best qualities or be overly effusive in ways that might read as disingenuous to an audience. That being said, it is important to be as descriptive as you can when you write your letter.

Support your statements about the candidate's strengths with detailed language. As is true with resumes, using powerful action verb language in your sentences to describe your candidate's professional and academic impact is best. Avoid overused words like “lead” or “managed” to describe how your candidate performed his or her work. Instead, opt for strong words like founded, delivered, oversaw, programmed, built, secured, etc., that denote meaningful action on the part of the prospective online MBA student.3

Qualify Your Candidate

To help qualify your candidate, have your letter include how your candidate compares to other employees, volunteers, students, peers, etc., with who you have interacted in similar situations. Give special attention in your letter to areas your candidate excels in. This will let readers know how your candidate measures up, or has proven to be a standout leader, and will build a lasting impression for an admissions team.

Include Quality and Quantity

To ensure your candidate shines in the eyes of any online MBA admissions committee, write about your candidate's strengths using numerical values. Supporting your statements with data will help bring an additional layer of authenticity to your writing.

Instead of sharing that your candidate helped with a company project, write how she designed and implemented the cost management efforts for a major accounting project and increased ROI 15% over the life of the project. As another example, it will be far more impactful to write that a student was in the top 5% of his class among 563 students than to simply say that the candidate was at the top of his class. Numbers really do help paint a vivid picture of a candidate's accomplishments and contributions.

As a recommendation writer, don't hesitate to go into additional detail about who your candidate is as a person and why he or she will be an exemplary student in an online MBA program. Writing about the better qualities of your candidate's personal strengths, with detailed adjectives or anecdotal stories, will flesh out your letter and give life to the prospective student. As it is true with all writing, descriptive language—and numbers—in supporting statements is a plus.

Paint a Well-Rounded Picture

Online MBA admissions committees know full well that program applicants are human too. That means it's okay to share some helpful critiques about the individual you are composing your letter for. Though you shouldn’t write extensively about candidate shortcomings or areas of weakness, it is acceptable to mention areas the candidate may improve in and how obtaining an MBA degree would help bolster your candidate's existing traits and career opportunities. With a complete picture of who a candidate is, your letter will exude authenticity.

Share Why an Online MBA Matters

Discussing how your candidate is uniquely positioned to show lasting benefits from earning an online MBA is a final touch that will help the admissions team see him as a great student for a program. Provide a few sentences that describe how will your candidate benefit from a flexible, academically rigorous online MBA program that allows that candidate to:

  • Acquire essential workplace skills
  • Directly apply new learning to the workplace
  • Achieve academic and career success simultaneously
  • Learn Responsible Business practices
  • Experience a unique online learning environment and curriculum
  • Gain access to a professionally focused cohort, faculty, and network
  • Earn (continue working) as she or he learns

A well-crafted letter of recommendation validating your candidate’s achievements and sharing how he or she is singularly poised to succeed in a respected online MBA program, and beyond, will go a long way in ensuring your candidate is given the proper consideration from any admissions team.

Take the Next Step to Advance Your Career

Build the career and the life you want with a Responsible Business Online MBA from California State University, Monterey Bay. Keep positive work momentum as you earn your MBA with our 100% online curriculum, focused on the increasing role and importance of responsible business.