SBC Scoop: Supplemental Recommendations

*Please note that no client details are ever shared in SBC Scoop or otherwise without complete sign off from client.

As you think about every possible way to strengthen your MBA application, you might be considering asking an influential person in your life to submit a supplemental recommendation. A supplemental recommendation is typically an informal letter, email or call from a mentor of yours who is associated with your target school. This strategy rarely hurts, and it may help. In our experience, however, a supplemental recommendation will never improve a marginal application.

Jerry was a Stacy Blackman Consulting client applying to a highly competitive selection of schools ”“ HBS, Wharton and Stanford. With an impressive resume and significant career progression at an energy firm, Jerry had several influential mentors. In fact, Jerry had a mentor who had attended each of his target MBA schools.

As we formulated Jerry’s overall application strategy and discussed his recommender selection, he raised the idea of having his mentors write supplemental recommendations for him. We discussed each situation and decided on a course of action.

Jerry’s three mentors had the following circumstances:

1. Lisa ”“ A Harvard MBA with ten years of post MBA experience at Jerry’s firm, Lisa was his former supervisor and knew his work extremely well. Lisa was a volunteer with her local HBS alumni group and retained some relationships at the school.
2. Seth ”“ The SVP of Jerry’s department was a Stanford grad with sixteen years of post-MBA experience. He donated a significant amount of money to the school and his daughter was currently a freshman at the university.
3. Vipul ”“ A graduate of the Wharton EMBA program, Vipul had gotten to know the director of admissions at Wharton fairly well, and had close ties to professors and the local alumni group.

We knew that Wharton was the most receptive to community endorsements of the three schools, and decided to ask Vipul to write a letter and submit it through those official channels. Seth’s deep connections to Stanford could be an asset to Jerry’s application, but we decided to ask him to call a former professor and talk to him about Jerry. Finally, because HBS requires three recommendations and Lisa wasn’t sure how to put in an informal endorsement, Jerry asked her to write his third HBS reference letter.

Jerry was ultimately admitted to Wharton and HBS. Though we couldn’t determine whether the supplemental recommendation made a significant difference in his application, Jerry approached the idea strategically and was ultimately successful.

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