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Letters of Reference

Qualitative accounts of your behaviors, impact, and personal qualities play an essential role in our evaluation of your application–by demonstrating your leadership potential. Your letters of reference should provide specific examples that illustrate your ability and desire to make a difference in the world.


We request two letters of reference:

  • One reference from your current direct supervisor (or next best alternative) at work
  • Your choice of either one additional supervisor reference or one peer reference.

Both letters of reference must be submitted by the deadline of the round in which you apply.

Current Direct Supervisor Reference

You must obtain at least one recommendation from your current direct supervisor. We understand, however, that you may be in a situation that prevents you from providing a reference from your current direct supervisor. For example, you may:

  • Be self-employed
  • Work for a family business in which a family member is your supervisor
  • Have begun a new position where your direct supervisor does not know you well
  • Have not notified your direct supervisor that you are applying to business school

In this case, use your judgment in finding a source for your recommendation — a previous supervisor, an indirect manager, a client, a member of your board of directors, or any other individual who evaluates your work.

If you are unable to provide a letter from your current direct supervisor, use your best judgment to choose an appropriate replacement.

If you don’t have full-time work experience, you may use a direct supervisor from a summer, part-time, or internship position. Alternatively, you may ask someone who managed you in an extracurricular, research, volunteer, or community activity.

Second Reference

The second reference may come from either someone senior to you (i.e., someone who has evaluated or supervised your work) or from a peer (i.e., someone with whom you’ve interacted as an equal). While the strongest references typically come from your workplace, you may select a reference from your professional, community, or extracurricular experiences. We recognize that work environments are fluid, so we give you the option of choosing the person who can best represent your potential impact.

Choosing Your Recommenders

We are impressed by what a reference letter says, not by the title of the individual who wrote it or the writing skills of the recommender. You should choose individuals who:

  • Know you well through significant, direct involvement with you within the last three years.
  • Will provide detailed anecdotes and examples to support their assertions.
  • Are truly enthused to write a recommendation for you and will spend sufficient time writing a thoughtful letter.

Both of your recommenders also will be asked to assess you on some character traits and competencies that contribute to successful leadership, and answer three questions.

We require your first recommendation to come from your current direct supervisor. We have no preference, however, between another supervisor and a peer for your second recommendation.

Submitting Letters of Reference

Your recommenders are required to submit their letters through the online application by the deadline of the round in which you apply. You are responsible for ensuring the letters are submitted on time. You will be able to see the status of each letter (either notified, started, or submitted) and also will be able to ask Stanford to send each recommender a reminder approximately a week before the application deadline date. 

  1. Register your recommenders. Go to the “Letters of Reference” tab on the application, and enter each recommender’s information carefully. It is essential that you enter the recommender’s email address correctly so that your recommender can access the instructions and form. Read the waiver statement for each letter of reference and determine whether or not you will waive your right to review each recommendation. You cannot change this later.
  2. Your recommender receives an email with log in information.
  3. Your recommender completes and submits his/her recommendation.
  4. You and your recommender receive an email confirming the recommendation has been submitted.

Do not email, mail, or fax letters of recommendation that have already been submitted through the online application.

Waiving Your FERPA Access Rights

Once you are an enrolled student, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) provides you with a right of access to your education record, including letters of reference if they are retained by the school. The law also permits you to waive that right of access to your letters of reference if you so choose. Waiving your right of access to your letters of reference is optional; your decision to waive or retain that right will have no bearing on the handling of your application.

The recommenders whom you notify will be able to see whether or not you have waived your FERPA right of access during the letter of reference submission process. You must waive or retain your rights of access to your letters of reference (using the online application system) before you invite recommenders to submit information for you.

Last Updated 1 Oct 2015