MBA Recommender Questions and Criteria for the Top 10 Business Schools

Get the best letters of recommendation possible by learning what specific questions your MBA recommenders will be asked as well as what kind of recommenders the top 10 business schools require applicants to have.

Posted March 12, 2024

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The required letters of recommendation for business school are the only part of the application that is directly out of the applicant’s hands. The people you choose to recommend you, the strength of their writing, the relevancy of the examples, and their credibility play a significant role in the efficacy of your candidacy. The key to making your letters of recommendation as strong as possible is adequately preparing and supporting your recommenders in order to make sure that they have everything they need to portray you positively.

At Leland, we highly recommend that you provide recommender prep docs to your recommenders. This packet includes the schools you’re applying to along with their deadlines, the questions they’ll be asked, and specific examples from your work with them. This gives them the fuel they need to write powerful and specific letters.

Drop your email below and we’ll send you our official Recommender Prep Doc Template + Example that you can use to put together your own packets.

As mentioned, including the actual questions your recommenders will be asked is an important part of these packets. It gives them time to think about their responses and allows you to provide examples tailored to each. We’ve compiled all of the questions that the top 10 business schools ask their applicants’ recommenders to help you build these prep docs and get great letters of recommendation.

Stanford GSB

Stanford’s LOR process involves two steps: first, recommenders will assess the applicant based on key character traits, then they’ll answer three questions. Each trait has a scale from one to five and the recommender will check the box that most applies. They include:

  • Initiative
  • Results Orientation
  • Communication, Professional Impression, and Poise
  • Influence and Collaboration
  • Respect for Others
  • Team Leadership
  • Developing Others
  • Trustworthiness/Integrity
  • Adaptability/Resilience
  • Self-Awareness
  • Problem-Solving
  • Strategic Orientation

The letter itself should include answers to these three questions:

  1. How does the applicant’s performance compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples (e.g., what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) (500 words max.)
  2. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (500 words max.)
  3. (Optional) Is there anything else we should know? Please be concise.

GSB Recommender Criteria

The first recommender should be a current direct supervisor or the next best alternative. The second recommender should be someone else who has supervised you. The GSB states that the strongest recommendation letters are usually those from a workplace and that having both recommenders come from the same organization is fine. If you’re a deferred applicant, you should still try to find recommenders who have supervised you, such as in extracurricular activities, internships, or part-time jobs.

Harvard Business School

HBS asks recommenders to fill out a qualities and skills grid and then answer the following two questions.

  1. How do the candidate's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words max.)
  2. Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response. (250 words)

HBS Recommender Criteria

Harvard doesn’t set any specific recommender requirements and instead says that applicants should “find people who know [them] well enough to answer [the questions]. This can be a former supervisor, a colleague, or someone you collaborated with on an activity outside of work.” As with all recommenders, how well they know the applicant should always take precedence over the level of seniority.

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University of Pennsylvania Wharton

Like GSB and HBS, Wharton also asks for a personality assessment but does so differently. They ask recommenders to choose two characteristics from a list of ten that best describe the candidate. Then, they’ll answer two questions.

  1. Please provide example(s) that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success in the Wharton MBA classroom. (300 words max.)
  2. Please provide example(s) that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success throughout their career. (300 words max.)

Wharton Recommender Criteria

The two recommenders should be people who are familiar with the applicant’s performance in a work setting, preferably a current or former supervisor.

University of Chicago Booth

Booth recommenders will need to fill out a skills assessment and then answer two questions.

  1. How do the applicant's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare with those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
  2. Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response.

Booth Recommender Criteria

At least one recommender for Booth should come from a supervisor. While they prefer that it’s a current one, they understand that this isn’t always possible. If the applicant is not able to get a recommendation from a current supervisor, they should explain why in the optional essay. The other letter can come from another professional contact or someone who worked with them in an organization, club, or volunteer setting.

Northwestern University Kellogg

Kellogg’s letters of recommendation include the following three questions:

  1. Kellogg has a diverse student body and values students who are inclusive and encouraging of others with differing perspectives and backgrounds. Please tell us about a time when you witnessed the candidate living these values. (300 words max.)
  2. How does the candidate's performance compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words max.)
  3. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the candidate. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response. (250 words max.)

Kellogg Recommender Criteria

Ideally, one of the recommenders is a current supervisor or manager. The second should come from someone who is acquainted with the applicant’s professional performance and leadership potential. The Associate Director of Admissions, Emily Stevens, adds that the people who write these letters should be those who have seen the impact that the applicant has made on the organization.

MIT Sloan

MIT utilizes the GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation which includes these three questions.

  1. Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organization. (Recommended word count: 50 words)
  2. How does the performance of the applicant compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (e.g., what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) (Recommended word count: 500 words)
  3. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (Recommended word count: 500 words)

Sloan Recommender Criteria

Sloan only accepts one letter of recommendation. It should be from a professional contact, ideally a manager or supervisor.

Columbia Business School

Columbia has two questions for the recommender and one additional one for deferred applicants. The recommended total limit for the letter is 1000 words.

  1. How do the candidate's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
  2. Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response.

Additional question for the deferred enrollment program:

  • Please share how you feel the applicant will contribute to the Columbia Business School classroom and community.

Columbia Recommender Criteria

Applicants who are applying for the first time only need to submit one recommendation. If they have been working for at least six months, the letter should come from a current supervisor; if that’s not possible, the applicant should provide an explanation in the Employment section of the application. Other good choices for recommenders include former direct supervisors or other professional, more senior associates.

New York University Stern

Rather than traditional letters of recommendation, Stern asks for two EQ endorsements. The evaluators will need to rate the applicant’s abilities/qualities and answer five specific questions. These questions are as follows:

  1. Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant's role in your organization.
  2. How does the applicant's performance compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles (if applicable)? Please provide specific examples. (E.g. what are the applicant's principal strengths?)
  3. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response.
  4. IQ+EQ is a core value of NYU Stern, and we seek exceptional individuals who possess both intellectual and interpersonal strengths. Emotional intelligence (EQ) skills such as self-awareness, empathy, communication, and self-management are at the core of our community of leaders. Please provide one specific and compelling example to demonstrate the applicant's emotional intelligence.
  5. (Optional) Is there anything else we should know?

Stern Recommender Criteria

The first evaluation must come from a direct supervisor. If this is not possible, the applicants should provide an explanation in the application. The second one can come from anyone who knows the applicant professionally and/or personally. Stern recommends that applicants choose recommenders who can objectively assess their potential for success in the MBA program and in their future careers. While more than two evaluations are allowed, they are not encouraged.

Dartmouth Tuck

Tuck follows the GMAC Common Letter of Rec and as such, asks these four questions.

  1. Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organization. (50 words)
  2. How does the performance of the applicant compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (E.g. what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) (500 words)
  3. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (500 words)
  4. Optional: Is there anything else we should know?

Tuck Recommender Criteria

Like the other programs on this list, one reference letter should come from a current supervisor. If that’s not possible, an explanation will be expected. Academic references that don’t have experience with the applicant’s professional work are not recommended. Tuck suggests that you find recommenders who can demonstrate that you are “smart, accomplished, aware, and encouraging.”

UC Berkeley Haas

Haas has its applicants’ recommenders complete a skills/qualities grid as well as complete a written assessment that addresses the following five prompts.

  1. Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant's role in your organization.
  2. How does the applicant’s performance compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
  3. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.
  4. In the Berkeley MBA program, we develop leaders who embody our distinctive culture’s four key principles one of which is “Confidence Without Attitude” or “confidence with humility.” Please comment on how the applicant reflects this Berkeley Haas value.
  5. (Optional) Is there anything else we should know?

The specific qualities that Haas asks the recommenders to rate the applicant on are:

  • Results Orientation
  • Strategic Orientation
  • Team Leadership
  • Influence and Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Information Seeking
  • Developing Others
  • Change Leadership
  • Respect for Others
  • Trustworthiness

Haas Recommender Criteria

Berkeley requires two recommenders, one of which preferably comes from a current employer. The program stresses that their title/status is not important. Applicants should choose people who know them and have worked with them closely and can attest to their value, accomplishments, and skills. Do not choose a coworker, supervisee, relative, or friend. Haas will not accept more than two letters.

Where Can I Start?

If you know that you’re planning to apply to business school, we recommend starting to cultivate relationships with potential recommenders as early as possible. Also, note the characteristics that the school is looking for and make sure to develop and then demonstrate them where you can. Take advantage of the recommender prep doc by putting your email in the form above. It is Leland coach-approved and has been proven to help applicants get the most effective recommendation letters possible.

In the meantime, work with a Leland coach to get the rest of your application put together. They can also help you prepare your recommender docs. Here are a few of our most highly-rated MBA admissions coaches.

Also, here are a couple of articles you may find useful as you go through the application process:

Lastly, we highly recommend signing up for Leland. You’ll get access to additional resources and guides, discount codes for coaching, first dibs on classes and free events, an invitation to an exclusive community of like-minded, ambitious people, and much more. We’re here to help you get into your dream MBA program!

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