Beginning this application season, the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin will let MBA applicants use recommendations from their LinkedIn profiles in lieu of traditional letters submitted by recommenders directly to the school. This new option, which went live with the McCombs’s 2015-16 full-time MBA application late last week, is a first among leading business schools.
Feedback from previous applicants and admissions consultants drove the change, says Rodrigo Malta, McCombs director of MBA admissions. “We gather input from applicants at the end of each season, and one of the main pain points we identified were letters of recommendation,” he says. Every school was doing it differently, requiring applicants to go to recommenders with multiple requests. “AIGAC (the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants) also gave us feedback about how painful the recommendation letter process was to both applicants and recommenders, even driving some applicants to draft and submit letters on behalf of their recommenders,” he continued.
Another drawback to traditional letters of recommendation is that they don’t add value to the applicant’s own process, Malta says. While they provide valuable insight to the admissions team, applicants often don’t even see them. “We like to think of the application process as something really introspective—applicants are writing essays and thinking about their future—but the recommendation letters are really just for us,” he says.
Looking Outside of the Admission Process for Inspiration
To arrive at a better solution, Malta and his team reviewed the process they use when hiring colleagues. “We go out and look at people’s LinkedIn profiles, and the recommendations they have there carry a lot of weight as we are evaluating them for a job,” he says. “Really, the genesis was ‘What do we do outside of the admissions process to have a more independent view of the applicant for a job—and how can we have that carry over to the application process?’” Malta says.
As part of the just-launched McCombs MBA application, applicants do still have the ability to ask their recommenders to submit traditional letters of recommendation, but now they can also opt to invite them to submit a LinkedIn recommendation on their individual LinkedIn profile pages.
From an operational standpoint it’s quite easy, says Malta. Applicants simply direct the McCombs team to their LinkedIn profile and tell them what recommendation to look for, and then the team goes out during the review process and reads the recommendation online. Malta and his team had already taken steps to make the McCombs recommendation letters open ended. As part of implementing the LinkedIn recommendation option for MBA applicants, they scaled back from two questions to just one, which invites recommenders to comment about the applicant’s performance, potential fit with the program and other information they deem relevant.
By being part of the applicant’s online profile, the LinkedIn recommendation becomes something useful beyond the application process, Malta notes, serving to strengthen the applicant’s profile in preparation for a career search while at McCombs. Additionally, the public nature of a LinkedIn recommendation also stands to benefit the school. “Anything that is out in the public gives us a little more assurance that it is going to be true,” he says.
Malta doesn’t expect a LinkedIn recommendation to become a required part of the application process anytime soon, though. “Having the traditional recommendation letter option remains important for those in the military who may have a high security clearance, for example, or for international applicants who don’t have access to LinkedIn,” he says.
Giving applicants options has worked well in the past, he adds, noting the success of the McCombs application essay, which applicants can choose to respond to in writing, via a video submission or through an about.me page.
“The new LinkedIn recommendation option for MBA applicants is really our attempt to make the process less painful for both applicant and recommender, give people options, get what we need and also maybe give something back to the applicant,” he says.