MBA Admissions Myths Destroyed: I Must Have a Recommendation from My Supervisor

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Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - MBA Admissions Myths Destroyed: I Must Have a Recommendation from My Supervisor by mbaMission

What have you been told about applying to business school? With the advent of chat rooms, blogs, and forums, armchair “experts” often unintentionally propagate MBA admissions myths, which can linger and undermine an applicant’s confidence. Some applicants are led to believe that schools want a specific “type” of candidate and expect certain GMAT scores and GPAs, for example. Others are led to believe that they need to know alumni from their target schools and/or get a letter of reference from the CEO of their firm in order to get in. In this series, mbaMission debunks these and other myths and strives to take the anxiety out of the admissions process.


MBA admissions committees often say they understand if an applicant does not have a recommendation from a supervisor, but do they really mean it? Even if they say it is okay, if everyone else has a supervisor writing a recommendation, not having one would put you at a disadvantage, right? Wrong.

We estimate that one of every five applicants has an issue with one of their current supervisors that prevents them from asking for a recommendation. Common issues include the following:

  • The applicant has had only a brief tenure with his/her current firm.
  • Disclosing one’s plans to attend business school could compromise potential promotions, bonuses, or salary increases.
  • The supervisor is “too busy” to help and either refuses the request or tells the applicant to write the recommendation him/herself, which the applicant is unprepared to do.
  • The supervisor does not believe in the MBA degree and would not be supportive of the applicant’s path.
  • The supervisor is a poor manager and refuses to assist junior staff.
  • The candidate is an entrepreneur or works in a family business and thus lacks a credibly objective supervisor.

We have explained before that admissions offices have no reason to disadvantage candidates who cannot ask their supervisors to be recommenders over those who have secured recommendations from supervisors. What incentive would they have to “disqualify” approximately 20% of applicants for reasons beyond their control?

Therefore, if you cannot ask your supervisor for his/her assistance, do not worry about your situation, but seek to remedy it. Start by considering your alternatives—a past employer, mentor, supplier, client, legal counsel, representative from an industry association, or anyone else who knows your work particularly well. Then, once you have made your alternate selection, briefly explain the nature of your situation and your relationship with this recommender in your optional essay. As long as you explain your choice, the admissions committee will understand your situation. 📝


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