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Recommendations rank among the most important items in your admissions file. In many cases, they are the most important, making or breaking many an application.
Start thinking about your recommendations as soon as possible. The whole process of identifying good recommenders, lining them up, and then making sure they follow through with winning letters can take a lot of time.
If you're still in college or a recent grad, your college professors will likely make the best references. This is especially true for professors of your business-related courses.
Make It Personal
Choose people who like you, and who think you're good at what you do. Choose good writers who can express their opinions clearly. If a potential recommender seems less than enthusiastic in any way, keep looking. That person's ambivalence is likely to come through in the letter.
Ask early and ask nicely. Start sizing up potential recommenders - let them know that you may soon ask them for a letter. The more time they have, the better job they'll do recommending you. A lunch invitation is a great way for the recommender to get to know you better.
Put stamps and addresses on all envelopes, provide your phone number, and clarify deadlines. Help the recommender to be specific about your accomplishments. Provide papers you've written, your resume, and any other supporting data. Make the process as easy as possible for your recommenders. And, of course, a thank-you note at the end of the process is always appreciated.
Keep your recommendation writers on schedule. Provide a gentle reminder when a deadline is approaching. Pave the way for this reminder when you first ask for the recommendation by mentioning a date for a follow-up call.
Out of School for a While?
If you've been out of college for a while, it can be harder to find someone to write a letter of reference. One solution is to establish a "credentials file" before you leave college. In it, keep reference letters on file for later mailing. Most grad schools will make a reasonable accommodation for older students and accept letters from your bosses or colleagues who can attest to your intellectual abilities and suitability for grad school. But getting a boss or work colleague to attest to intellectual abilities that specifically relate to graduate study can be a challenge. Sometimes taking a college or grad-level course and asking that teacher for a reference can be a good solution for this problem.
Finally, letters from well known individuals can certainly get admissions committees' attention. But the usefulness of a letter from Prof. Supernova, who can't quite place your face, not to mention your abilities, is questionable.
Consider These Questions
Ask yourself these questions when considering potential recommenders:
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