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Who is best for letter of recommendations for Harvard Business School


Shawn Moreau Salem, NH

I am planning on applying to Harvard business school next year. I have the option to get a letter from both a congressman of Massachusetts and an Ambassador I have worked for. Is there a better option of the two? Is it better to ask someone else? I am still active duty and I’m trying to put some thought into the application process ahead of time. Thank you in advance for any advice, information and experience you have to offer.

5 March 2020 7 replies Education & Training



Bernard Agrest Tulsa, OK

Hi Shawn,

I hope you're doing well, thanks very much for your question. I would say that the best recommendations come from those who know you and your work well. A generic letter of recommendation from the Congressman or Ambassador will be viewed less positively than a glowing one from your CO.

Now, if both the Congressman and the Ambassador know you and your work/work ethic well, and can speak in glowing terms, I don't think it matters which one writes it - go with whichever you want.

Best of luck, and feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any questions and would like to chat more!




Keith Van Sickle Menlo Park, CA

Hi Shawn,

I'll echo what some of the others have said. First, focus on schools that best fit your needs, because each school has its own strengths and weaknesses. As noted, HBS relies heavily on the case study method, which isn't for everyone (note: I went to HBS and it was great for me.) What career field do you want to go into--finance, marketing, etc? That will impact your choice of school. Also, where do you see yourself living after business school? Having a strong local alumni network can help your career and that can affect your choice as well.

Be aware also that many schools have low acceptance rates so apply to several and don't get your heart set on just one. There are plenty of places to get an excellent business education--it's really up to you.

As for the letters of recommendation, the admissions committees are looking for insight, so the best letters come from those who can write knowledgeably about you. A letter from someone important, if it's just a generic "he's a great guy," is pretty much worthless. So if you worked for the ambassador but just happen to know the congressman, that would incline me to go with the ambassador. Having said that, there may be others who can provide even better letters because they can tell a compelling story about why you are a great candidate.

Best of luck to you.



Why HBS?

If you really looking for a stirling career why not Harvard Law School, or some other Law School???

My opinion: there are far too many MBA's running around looking for work.

Law School will open doors that you cannot imagine: doors will open not only as a Lawyer practicing Law, but as a Senior Corporate Executive who may well have scores of MBA's reporting to him.

The entire business world is so heavily regulated now that corporations are taking a special interest in executives that can keep them out of Legal trouble. (See for example: Wells Fargo Bank problems).


Katie Tamarelli Newport, KY

Hi Shawn,

Thank you so much for your service. I would echo what Rick said -- pick the person who can write the most personal letter of recommendation for you. From speaking with admission officers, the letter of recommendation tends to be a tipping point element for candidates on the edge.

Good luck!



Barry Sosnick Greenlawn, NY

When I applied to business school, faculty and admissions officers indicated that they look for the future earning potential of the applicant. Successful graduates improve the school's statistics (e.g., income after graduation, job placement), alumni network, and donations. I received a full scholarship because I had an excellent job going into the program and a history of promotions, which meant that I would likely have an even better job coming out of school. The less you need a business school to further your career, the more they seem to want you. The calculations of the admissions office was eye-opening.

Keep this insight in mind when considering letters of recommendation. Remember, some applicants to the top 15 business schools are going to have letters from rather impressive people. Look for someone who can attest to your leadership, intellectual ability, and work ethic, as well point to how these traits will lead to further success. A personal, well-written letter from a second lieutenant may carry more weight than one from an ambassador or member of Congress.

Don't stress about the letter of recommendation too much. It is only a small part of process. If I remember correctly, the recommendation letter didn't come up in my interviews. In the end, I didn't get into NYU-Stern, but received acceptances to Columbia, Fordham, and Baruch-Zicklin Honors. Why CBS took me and NYU didn't is a mystery to this day, but irrelevant in the end.

One piece of unsolicited advice: don't focus on HBS because of its prestige. Find a program that is a good fit for your goals and your personality. Which field do you want to go into? Where do you want to live (I had to stay in New York because of my wife's dental residency)? How large of a program do you want? Which teaching method fits best with how you learn (Harvard uses case studies possibly more than any other major program)? These and other factors matter.

Harvard isn't the best in every field (and possibly in any field). The University of Pennsylvania-Wharton has been the top dog in finance for decades. Yale, I believe, has a great reputation for not from profits. Northwestern and Cal Berkeley - Haas were, and may still be, marketing powerhouses. I remember Michigan State and Georgia Tech -- two schools that aren't top 20 -- were excellent for logistics. If you want to work in a particular area, then you may want a regional powerhouse, such as the University of Florida, Emory or Vanderbilt instead of a top 10 school (the alumni network in the region matters). Pick what is right for you, rather than fixate on the Harvard brand.

Finally, technology has weakened the value of a prestigious business school. Before video interviews, behavioral testing, and algorithms scanning resumes, companies only had the time and resources to visit a few schools. Limited campus recruitment visits was why it was make-or-break to get into the top 15 if you wanted to end up at a top-tier investment bank or consulting firm. Technology enables companies like Goldman Sachs to recruit from a much broader range of schools (the was a recent article in the Harvard Business Review about it). A top student at a school anywhere in the top 50 may have a shot at a position that was out of reach 20 years ago. I can't emphasize it enough: find the school where you will succeed in the field you want, where you want instead of a top five school in the overall rankings.

Best of luck!


Robert Hollis Frisco, TX

Hi Shawn -

Thank you for your distinguished service. You certainly have two very prominent people who can endorse you now and I recommend that you get your third endorsement from a Business Executive. To find someone like this, start to think about who else is around you in the embassy that could provide that type of an endorsement. Also, think about the businesses back home who support the embassy’s operations, either from a services or equipment / technology side. You stand a good chance of finding an exectutive who is a veteran from one of the companies supporting the embassy.

You’re going to have to research several corporate websites, ACP, LinkedIn or other social media sites. It will take many attempts to contact people on your end and it might take several “no’s” to get to a “yes response“ but expect this to happen. Don’t let the “no’s” or the non-responsive people deter you from your goal. Find an executive who would be willing to work with you and develop a relationship with him or her the best you can while overseas.

If you find a U.S. company that supports the embassy then go to their LinkedIn page and look at their executives to see if any of them are veterans. If you find an executive who is a veteran, then send them a detailed but concise LInkedIn message about your plans and ask them for their help. If it happens to be that the executive is not a veteran then that’s okay too, explain to them that their company supports the embassy and that you’re reaching out to them for help on an educational endorsement. Your role at the embassy, and the embassy itself, carries a lot weight in this scenario so use it to your benefit. I believe that you’ll be successful in finding a third endorsement and I hope that this bit of information helps, as well as the information from my fellow ACP Advisors. I wish you the best and God’s speed!


Rick Bastian Chicago, IL

Hi Shawn! First and foremost, thank you for your service.

Both of these titles are impressive and would carry weight with any admission board review. That said, try to setup time with both of them so they can make the recommendations as personal as possible and/or have them speak to one of your commanding officers who can vouch for your experience and character.

Also, alumni always have some pull as well, so if either of them went to Harvard or if you can find someone who had the same path that you are attempting that would be ideal.

Best of luck and thank you again for your service!!

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