I'm looking at MSBA programs in the United States and have the two recommended academic references lined, but should get a third reference slot open. Between my previous jobs I worked freelance and had a client for about 6 months who was very satisfied with my work, and even offered if I ever needed a reference or testimonial from them to reach out.


  1. Would a reference like this be acceptable?

  2. How would this option compare to a third academic reference?

  • As a complete outsider from your field, I'd say it would be good because it shows you're not completely detached from real world, but already have some solid skills/knowledge (I assume your work for the client was within the scope of your program, and that the client can write a decent LoR). Like I said, this is an outsider's and layman's perspective. – corey979 Jan 4 at 18:47

Would a reference like this be acceptable?

It would certainly complete your application and would likely be considered appropriate (though this is not my field and I cannot say for sure).

How would this option compare to a third academic reference?

It really depends on who the client is. If you built a website for a non-technical person, then they really couldn't say much other than "they did a nice job, were professional, etc." This reference won't count for much.

On the other hand, if this person can say "I'm the CTO of a company and deal with dozens of contractors per year; this one is the best I've had and displayed specific skills X, Y, and Z, etc.", then I don't think anyone will care that this person is not an academic.


I think it's good. I would draft it for him or give him some bullets. You want to highlight analytical skills and general management business skills. Not just conscientiousness or the like.

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