Jun 27, 2023

Tuck Admissions Insights: Letters of Reference

By Patricia Harrison
Director of Admissions, Evaluation and Yield

Patricia Harrison

Letters of Reference (LORs) provide the Admissions Committee with additional insight into your accomplishments, potential, personal and professional strengths, and growth areas. In case you think you have little control over this area of the application, let us assure you otherwise! Here we’ll share advice on selecting and preparing your references.

What We Ask

Tuck has adopted the Recommendation Questions posed by GMAC’s Common Letter of Recommendation:

  • Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organization. (50 words)
  • 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)
  • Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (500 words)
  • Optional: Is there anything else we should know?

We do not ask your references to complete GMAC’s Leadership Assessment Grid.

Selecting Your References

Choose someone who has worked with you closely and can highlight how you demonstrate that you are smart, accomplished, aware, and encouraging. The most helpful LORs are professional in nature, and come from someone who directly supervised you, preferably one from your current direct supervisor. They should be able to provide detailed examples of your accomplishments and the behaviors you demonstrated to achieve them, as well as the feedback they shared with you along the way–you want someone who knows your work well. If you don’t want your current supervisor to know you’re applying to business school, you may consider asking a previous direct supervisor, indirect supervisor, client, senior colleague, board member, or contact from an extracurricular organization. These may also be good options for authoring your second LOR. Use your good judgment to determine who has the knowledge, desire, and time to advocate for you.

Once you have identified who you would like to write for you, ask them these three questions:

  1. Do you have the knowledge of my outcomes and behaviors to write a compelling LOR?
  2. Do you have the desire to write a positive LOR? and
  3. Do you have the time to write a detailed LOR?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” find someone else.

Unless you have worked with them directly, your reference doesn’t need to be the CEO or head of the company. As I said above, we want to hear from someone who knows you and your work well. That matters much more than their title. Someone senior if they haven’t worked with you closely will not have the level of insight or be able to provide examples, which make for a compelling letter. It is also rarely helpful to ask for a LOR authored by a friend, former professor (unless you worked for them in a full-time professional capacity), coach, or a family member. If you work for a family business and your supervisor is a family member, we suggest asking a client, customer, or non-family member in the organization to write a LOR for you instead. We caution against asking someone who you supervise as it could put that person in an awkward position, and they will not have the perspective that someone who has managed you will be able to provide.

I’m often asked by applicants who have worked for more than one organization whether they should have both LORs from their current employer, or if their second LOR should come from a past employer. Hearing from your past employer can be really helpful to provide a complete picture of your experiences, particularly if you have changed jobs relatively recently. Ultimately, use your judgment as to who will best represent your candidacy, but some things to consider: will a second LOR from the same employer provide a different perspective on your candidacy, or is it likely to mirror what your current supervisor will say; is there a past role that you wish highlight; are there potential questions about why you left a past employer that could be addressed; if a significant amount of time has passed since you worked with that person will their perspective be a bit dated.

How to Prepare Your References

Writing a thoughtful letter takes a lot of time, so select your reference(s) early in the application process. Meet with them to talk about your goals and rationale for getting an MBA. Remind them of your recent performance reviews and significant accomplishments. The strongest LORs show passion and enthusiasm for your candidacy, while being precise and descriptive in the examples and stories they share.

Other Details

If you’re not providing a LOR from your current direct supervisor, we ask that you include an explanation in the Other Employment Information section of your application.

Drafting, authoring, revising, translating, or submitting your own LOR is a direct violation of Tuck’s General Application Policies and the Academic Honor Principle, even if your reference requests it. If your reference is not able to complete the LOR in English, they should write it in their native language and have it translated by an outside translation service.

Applicants are required to submit two LORs, and we prefer that you do not send us more than that. If you are a reapplicant who applied in the most recent year, you are only required to submit one new LOR, which should be from someone who did not write on your behalf in the last application.

Finally, we understand that the timing of submission is not entirely in your control; however, it is your responsibility to make sure that your references are aware of your application deadline. If Tuck receives your LORs after the deadline, your application will be moved to the next round, or you will not be eligible for a guaranteed interview.

And of course, thank your reference—profusely! Writing these letters takes a lot of time and effort, and your references deserve thanks for investing theirs in your path to wise, decisive leadership.

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