I'd like to apply for an MBA (sick of working in IT and want to change) but seemingly every university I look at requires multiple letters of reference, one of which from a current supervisor.

Is there any way to get around this requirement?

I have zero trust in my current boss, and given that writing the letter would take effort for no benefit to him (since I'd be leaving the company and he'd have to find a replacement), odds are a letter by him would work against me. Also, I'd really rather not owe him a favor.

Former bosses/colleagues would be a safer bet, but I left my previous workplace about two years ago and haven't had any communication with them since (moving continents doesn't help either, I can't just invite them for coffee).

As an aside, how come one can't get access to higher education (not just MBAs) on their merits alone anymore? When I applied for my undergrad degree acceptance didn't depend on who one was friends with.

  • Ask the department. If you shoot them a letter saying basically just what you've said, they will likely just tell you to find someone else and then you've nothing to worry about. Dec 29, 2015 at 17:40
  • When I applied for my undergrad degree acceptance didn't depend on who one was friends with. — Good recommendation letters are not written by your friends; indeed, any indication that the author is actually a friend significantly undercuts their recommendation. Good recommendation letters are written by experts in your profession.
    – JeffE
    Dec 30, 2015 at 4:35

3 Answers 3


Your "merits" consist of more than just your undergraduate grades. They also consist of your ability to work with others, your curiosity, your interest beyond just learning what's necessary for the test, etc. This is why we ask for letters of recommendation.

As for who exactly writes your letters, there is more leeway. I don't know about MBA programs, but in mathematics we would usually be equally happy to get letters that do not necessarily include your current supervisor. I would imagine that letters from former supervisors would be just as acceptable. The point, however, is that your supervisors can speak to your work ethic and abilities in ways nobody else can, and consequently provide important insight to the committee evaluating your application that cannot be obtained in any other way. In particular, co-workers likely have a different perspective on you than what a former supervisor sees in you.


I would like to start by saying that there is no way to get around the requirement of recommendation letters (at least not in my field (CS)). Most Universities would consider an application incomplete without required number of references, so it wont even get processed.

And, most of the time you can get away with recommendation letters from other faculty members. You don't really need a letter from your supervisor. If it is easy to get, then it is an added benefit, but not a necessity. I am sure if you write to any of your former Professors, introduce yourself and remind them of the classes you took with them, they would be more than happy to write you one. Once they say yes, You should send them your current CV and any other resources that might help them to understand your accomplishments and career goals.

In grad school it is not about who you are friends with, the school wants to make sure that you have what it takes to pursue graduate studies. And who can say it better other than the people who taught you/ you did your research with/ your supervisors.

  • Why do you think MBAs have anything in common with CS programs?
    – user18072
    Dec 30, 2015 at 0:40
  • @djechlin MBA's might not have any common curriculum with CS, it is still a graduate level degree with entrance requirements similar to that of any other grad schools.
    – lvdp
    Dec 30, 2015 at 2:50
  • They expect several years of industry experience. Faculty rec letters from undergraduate I don't believe are worth anything.
    – user18072
    Dec 30, 2015 at 3:09

Your letters show, among other things, that you are good at establishing and maintaining professional relationships. Imagine what a request to have letters waived would look like to an MBA program. The first thing they would learn about you is that you can't name 5 people who would write a glowing recommendation for you. That's not the impression you want to make.

Undergraduate programs care less about letters because at the end of high school, you haven't yet had a chance to establish a reputation. MBA programs, at least the ones worth attending, expect you to have substantial experience in the workforce prior to attending. It's not like objective measures (e.g. the GMAT or GRE) don't matter, but people skills are just as essential as figuring out how to read a graph.

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