Published Dec 13, 2003

Applying to business school is, apparently, hard work! All of my free time this week has disappeared into recommendations, transcript requests, and the various administrativa of assembling my applications. Recommendations have a particular focus, not only because they form such a key part of my application but also because I want to give my recommenders enough time to write.

The first step in assembling recommendations was deciding on my recommenders. Since I just started a new job at the end of September, there seemed little point in asking my boss to recommend me (“In the month to date, Wade has filed some previously disorganized documents, begun to build friendships with some of his co-workers, and has mastered the voicemail system. I believe this qualifies him ideally for the Harvard MBA program.”). I also couldn’t ask any current co-workers to help me out with a nice recommendation about my work as their teammate (“I’ve enjoyed working with Wade on the Foobar project for the past two days and am confident that, as soon as he gets a computer and a cubicle, he’ll reach a level of productivity as high as or higher than that of other teammates.”).

Ultimately, I’ve ended up with three recommenders. Two are former supervisors, one of whom I also worked with frequently as a colleague when I was doing Web design; one is a colleague with whom I bid on, and completed, several projects as a Web designer. I’ve divided up the recommendations pretty much evenly amongst these three.

Some of the sources I’ve read recently suggest that I use a professor as a recommender. I’m not against the idea, but I graduated from college in 1997, which is a fairly long time ago now. There is one professor with whom I worked a great deal — I was even a co-author on a published paper with her — but our last major interaction was in the spring of 1997, or nearly seven years ago by the time admissions committees are reviewing my application. How likely is a recommendation by that professor to be really useful? In the end, I’ve decided not to ask that professor to be a recommender for me.

Of course, I’ve checked the box on my applications that waives my right to read recommendations. It’s the right thing to do to help recommenders feel at ease, but I do feel that there’s some historical loss to me there. I’d really prefer that the box said “I waive my right to review these recommendations for the next ten years” so that someday I might learn from what’s been written about me.

Interestingly enough, in 2003, two of the five schools I’m applying to only accept recommendations delivered via U.S. Mail, even when the application is completed online. I can understand why schools might not yet have updated their systems to take online recommendations, but online submission is clearly a bonus for recommenders — it’s fast and easy (and, in proof of its convenience, all of the recommendations my recommenders have already submitted have been submitted online).

Recommendations and transcripts are the most stressful parts of the application so far, because I don’t have any control over them. I ask external agents to see to this part of my application — and then assume it’s done properly (I can’t, after all, review recommendations to confirm that all sections have been completed, or open transcripts to see if they’re actually mine). Fortunately, with the recommendations at least, I have a great deal of trust for the external agents.

We’ll see how those transcripts go next. I should have had those already, but with the moving and the new job and the GMAT, etc., they haven’t trickled to the top of my to-do list before now.