Stanford GSB Demystifies Recommendation Requirements

The Stanford Graduate School of Business offers a new post this week attempting to clarify any misconceptions or confusions related to the letters of recommendation required as part of the MBA admissions process.

Here, Allison Davis sets the record straight so you have plenty of time to get this aspect of your application sorted out in advance of the Round 2 deadline on January 9, 2013.

MYTH 1: I will be at a disadvantage if I cannot get a recommendation from a current direct supervisor.

THE TRUTH: Rest assured that you are not the only applicant in this situation. You may not be disclosing to your employer that you are applying to business school. You may have started a new job recently, and your supervisor does not really know you that well.

Perhaps you are self-employed, run your own company, or work in a family business where your direct supervisor is a relative (…) If you’re in one of these situations, you just need to be a little more creative in terms of where you get your recommendation. You could ask anyone who is in a position to evaluate your work: a previous supervisor, a client, or a member of your board of directors.

MYTH 2: It is okay to submit more than 3 recommendations. In fact, more is better!

THE TRUTH: We discourage you from sending additional letters. More is not better. In fact, it can have the opposite of the intended effect as it adds an additional burden to our staff who read literally thousands and thousands of pages over the application season. When we receive additional letters of reference, we do add them to your application file, but there’s no guarantee that they will be read.

MYTH 3: It is better to get my recommendations from three different sources to highlight different aspects of my professional and personal background.

THE TRUTH: It’s your decision how to present yourself in your application, what to highlight and what to focus on. And, this goes for your choice of recommenders as well. Some applicants get all their references from work; others include references from outside of work. Some get all their references from their current employers; others include previous employers.

There is no one right way. The mix of recommendations does not affect your chances of admission. When choosing a recommender, our best advice is to (1) choose someone who knows you really well and can provide the detail, examples, and specifics that support their assertions; and (2) choose someone who is truly enthused to write a recommendation for you and will spend sufficient time writing a thoughtful letter.

MYTH 4: Recommendations must be written in English.

THE TRUTH: Recommendations must be submitted in English, but we do not expect the English to be perfect in recommendations written by non-native speakers. We focus on the content of the letter, not the writing style, so we will ignore minor syntax or grammar errors or awkward phrasing.

However, if you and your recommenders think that their English is not sufficient to convey complex ideas, it may be to your advantage to have them write in their native language and then get it translated into English either by a friend or colleague of the recommender, or from a paid service.

The translation does not need to be from a paid service unless that is the only option available to the recommender. The translation is the responsibility of the recommender; the translator cannot be the applicant or a friend or family member of the applicant.

Your recommender would then upload both the original language and the English translation into the recommendation form, and must also supply us with the name and contact information of the translator in case we have additional follow-up questions.

For more on the subject of recommenders, I invite you to read my U.S. News blog post from September on how to strategize and manage the MBA recommendation process. In it, I recommend that applicants create a recommender package, which has four main components and provides instruction on both process and content. Your recommenders will appreciate your assistance and thoroughness, and will undoubtedly produce a better recommendation on your behalf.

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