The President Wrote My Letter of Recommendation!

Would that be enough to get you in the school of your dreams? Read on to find out!
“Wouldn’t that be great. I’m in!”

Or are you?

Let’s think about it: Would a letter of recommendation from President Barack Obama, POTUS himself, ensure your acceptance?

I’m sure a letter from President Obama would get passed around the admissions office. That presidential seal and signature (even if from a machine) would be an eye catcher, but is it equivalent to “I’m in!”?

How about from a past president? Maybe a senator? Or governor? The president of a Fortune 500 company? Maybe Mark Zuckerberg? Would he do it?

Actually, the title after the author’s name doesn’t matter nearly as much as the substance above the signature. Can the author, whatever his or her title, talk from personal experience about your character when answering the questions posed in a recommendation form or in writing the typical letter of recommendation? If the recommender doesn’t have that personal perspective, can’t bring detail and example to the letter, the title may be a curiosity, but no more. That VIP letter could be less effective than a detail-filled letter from your twenty-something team lead who writes with specific examples and persuasive substance about your contribution to her organization.

Now if President Obama were to write about:

  • The difference you made to his campaign or your contribution to nabbing Osama bin Laden,
  • Your ability to organize his brilliant social media campaign,
  • An example of integrity, or
  • Your initiative during the budget ceiling crisis.

Then you would have an extraordinarily powerful letter of recommendation. However if he (or his third secretary twice removed) just wrote a general, flowery ode to how wonderful you are with no specifics, it would be no value. It would just be a shiny seal and sig.

Of course if your team lead wrote about:

  • Your contribution to the team and the difference you have made to the bottom line.
  • Your ability to organize a social media campaign or just about anything else of significance.
  • An example of integrity.
  • Your initiative and cool during a crisis.

You would also have a compelling letter of recommendation.

A powerful letter of recommendation is much more about substance than station, personal insight than position, examples than eminence.


By Linda Abraham, president and founder of and author of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

This article was originally published on the Accepted Admissions Blog.

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  • Linda Abraham

    Linda Abraham is the founder and CEO of Accepted, the top-tier admissions consultancy that helps you unlock your competitive advantage. Linda has written or co-authored 13 ebooks on the college admissions process. In 2007, she co-founded the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) and became its first president. For the last 20 years Linda and her highly credentialed, experienced team have helped thousands of applicants get accepted to top colleges and graduate schools worldwide, including but not limited to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, and MIT. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, US News, The Sunday Times of London, Businessweek, Poets & Quants and MBA Podcaster.

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