Recommendations are always a popular topic among our applicants (of all formats!), and we wanted to share some of our favorite recommendation-related tips and insights.

Interested in learning more?

Check out the mini-episode of Experience Darden and the ExecMBA podcast below, all about recommendations advice.

In Darden’s application process we require just one recommendation. While applicants may submit up to two recommendations, one is all we need to make a decision on your application. If you choose to have more than one recommender, make sure each recommender is offering a unique perspective on you.

Recommendations typically take longer than the other parts of your application to come together. This is understandable – after all, they are the one part of your application you won’t complete yourself. With this in mind, make sure you give your recommenders plenty of time to submit their recommendations.

We typically suggest at least two weeks, and, in our experience, most recommenders are motivated by a deadline, so make sure your recommenders know your application deadline and don’t be afraid to stay in touch with them throughout the process.

Talk with your recommender before starting your application and make sure they understand why you’re pursuing an MBA and why you’re interested in Darden. Sharing a current copy of your resume is always a good idea! This way your recommender will understand the full arc of your career and your many accomplishments.

Your recommender will receive our recommendation materials via email, and this automated email will send as soon as you enter their contact information in your application.

Check in with them a day or two after you input their contact information to ensure they received the email containing the link to the recommendation materials. We find that our emails occasionally get caught in spam filters, so trust but verify that your recommender received the link.

The recommendation process does not require a letter of recommendation. Your recommender will actually fill out two pieces of information — a ratings grid in which they will evaluate you across a set of competencies and a series of short answer questions. The short answers questions are:

  • Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organization. 
  • How does the performance of the applicant compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles?
  • Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.

We share these questions in advance so that you can help prepare your recommender; however, you — as the applicant — should not write your own recommendation. The recommendation is an opportunity for us to hear from someone other than you regarding your candidacy. 

Who makes a good recommender?

First and foremost, someone who knows you well. Our Admissions Committee will focus on the content of the recommendation, not the title/position of the individual who provides it, so make sure your recommender can help us learn more about your accomplishments and leadership through specific examples and anecdotes. For this reason, strictly academic recommendations are also typically less helpful in our evaluation. 

Reading the above prompts, you may now understand why we suggest selecting a supervisor or someone who has evaluated your work in a professional setting as a potential recommender. Colleagues or associates typically find it more challenging to fully answer the recommendation questions. Sure, they might know you and what you do, but they might not have shared feedback with you or have a meaningful sense of how you compare to other candidates in similar roles. 

In our Executive MBA and Part-Time MBA application processes, we have a strong preference for current supervisor recommendations. After all, you will be working while pursuing your degree, and we want to know you have discussed your interest in participating in our program with your manager before you begin the application process. 

Of course, there are reasons why you might not ask your current supervisor — you may both be new to the relationship, you recently transitioned companies, etc.. If you choose not to ask your current supervisor to be one of your recommenders, be sure to use the Additional Comments section to help us understand the reason(s) for this choice.

And last, but not least, we often hear from candidates whose recommendation has not been submitted by an application deadline, wondering if they can still be included in the round? 

The answer is yes. We are always happy to work with you, but we will not be able to move your application through our review process until we receive your recommendation. If your application is incomplete at the deadline, we will reach out to you about any missing materials. However, if you know your recommender will need a few more days to complete their recommendation, reach out and let us know! 

Did you know? Our recommendation process is completely electronic, and your recommendation will automatically associate with your application once the recommendation is submitted. In other words, once you have finished your portion of the application, you may go ahead and submit your materials. However, once you have submitted your application, you will be unable to edit your application or enter additional recommender information.  

You will receive an email notification once your recommender submits their recommendation. You will also notice a green check mark next to their name and information on your Application Status page (a red “X” will display if the recommendation is still pending).