Everything You Need to Know About the MBA Letter of Support
Updated: Jan 29
What is a letter of support?
Let’s start with understanding exactly what a letter of support is. It’s NOT the same as a letter of recommendation, which is an essential part of every MBA application. A letter of recommendation is where your current or former managers sing praises about your strengths, contributions to the company, and suitability for the MBA program. Typically, most MBA programs ask for 1 or 2 professional letters of recommendation. In contrast, a letter of support is an endorsement sent in by a third party, like a student, faculty member, staff, or alum at the school you have applied to.
Many business school applicants are unaware of the letter of support, and how to write one. So, that’s what we’ll cover in this blog.
Who should send in a letter of support?
Your letter(s) of support should be submitted by someone that knows you well, but not as well as your recommenders. This may be a contact you have within your professional network, extracurricular community, an old college roommate, a business associate, or a current student you developed a relationship with while on a campus visit.
While your recommenders don’t need to have any connection to the school, the person who writes a letter of support must be connected to the school. And generally, the more meaningfully involved in the campus community they are, the more valuable their letter of support. That’s because the Admissions Committee will associate you with the person who has written your letter of support. In other words, your letter of support will be less impactful coming from someone who was a student at the school 20 years ago, or who doesn’t have a meaningful connection with the school anymore.
For example, if this person held a leadership position with the Consulting club while they were a student, and now returns to campus to recruit for McKinsey, where they work in a senior leadership position, the school knows and trusts their opinion. A letter of support from them is likely to be highly supportive for your MBA application. Contrast this to an alum who graduated 10 years ago, who has never been in touch with the school since their graduation, and who has written generic letters of support for multiple applicants.
So, don’t just ask anyone to write your letter of support! Your letter should be sent by someone who can personally attest to your candidacy and clearly explain why they think you will add value to the school’s community.
And the better and longer they’ve known you, the stronger the letter of support. So, if it’s somebody you reached out to cold, had a brief conversation with, and they reluctantly agreed to submit a letter of support, it will count for little. There are of course ways to strengthen your rapport with current students/alumni. For example, if they’re in your network, you could offer to introduce them to somebody useful to them. We even had a student volunteer to host an industry-specific panel discussion at a school’s event. In summary, the more you can engage with them, the stronger their letter of support.
When should they write a letter of support?
Ideally, your letter of support would be sent 2-4 weeks after submitting your application. In other words, after you hit Submit, but before the AdCom has made a conclusive decision about your candidacy. This way they can include it in their initial decision.
Generally we advise applicants not to pursue letters of support until after they’ve submitted their application. That’s because receiving a letter of support for a candidate whose application they’ve not seen will just make things more complicated for the AdCom. Your application isn’t in the system yet, so they don’t know who you are, or even where to store the letter of support!
Other candidates pursue letters of support if they’ve been waitlisted. That makes sense, since at that stage, relatively small improvements in your profile could swing your application in your favor compared to other waitlisted applicants.
What should the letter of support say?
Many people aren’t even aware that sending in a letter of support is an option with MBA applications, and that includes some alumni! So when you reach out to someone to ask for one, you’ll want to make sure that they know what to write.
Here’s a handy structure:
Introduction: The letter should start with how the writer knows you, and for how long. They should qualify themselves and their relationship with the school.
Strengths: The writer should briefly discuss your strengths and how you engage with others in a personal or professional capacity, based on the time they’ve known you.
Vote of confidence: The writer should comment on your suitability for the program and fit with the school. Consider this a seal of approval to show that they’d be happy to associate you with their institution.
Remember, this is not a formal letter of recommendation. The letter of support does not follow the recommender questions that are asked in the application. Instead, it should be more conversational and cordial, and much shorter. A typical letter of support is 200-300 words.
We normally tell applicants that one letter of support is enough. If the AdCom receives too many letters coming in on your behalf, it may seem contrived and insincere, especially if they’re from people who have only known you for a brief time.
How to send a letter of support
A letter of support is typically sent via email directly to the Admissions Committee. Some MBA programs have forms/templates that individuals who want to send in a support letter can fill, for example, Duke Fuqua’s Prospective Student Endorsement.
Your endorser should use their professional (or official) email address that they would use in a formal communication with the school. If possible, the email should contain identifying information about the applicant (like your application’s reference number or ID) so that the AdCom can easily match it with your file.
Which schools accept a letter of support?
Some schools encourage individuals who are actively involved with the school to send in letters of support. This helps them find exceptional candidates who are personally vouched for by a member of their community. It’s also a great way to increase their network and get the school noticed by prospective MBA candidates.
Schools that have been known to accept letters of support include:
Schools that, in our experience, have been less receptive to letters of support include Columbia and HBS. If you are unsure about whether the school you are applying to accepts letters of support, you ask the alumnus to contact the admissions office directly to ask.
Finally, if you don’t know anyone who can write a letter of support on your behalf, don’t worry. Most applicants get in without one! The letter of support is a small part of the admissions process, and works only has an impact if the applicant is already a strong candidate who’s on the ‘border’ for the AdCom. The school has measures in place to ensure that their decision-making process is equitable for all candidates.
Clearly, letters of support are a sensitive matter. You don’t want to jeopardize your application by mishandling this. If you need advice for drafting a letter of support, get in touch with one of our admissions consultants.