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Thanking Your MBA Recommenders—Our Guide to Gift Giving

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The process of applying to business school is a complicated beast with numerous steps to consider along the path from application to acceptance.

As Round 2 decisions roll in, many applicants may find themselves approaching one of the final steps in the process: Finding an appropriate gift for thanking your MBA recommenders. While this step might seem insignificant on the surface—or at the very least merely symbolic—make no mistake: Experts hold this one in especially high esteem.

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Your recommenders—often supervisors or other professionals with busy schedules—have taken time out of their days or evenings to write on your behalf, and it is critical to give them appropriate thanks. While there is no standard “one-size-fits-all” gift that works for every recommender, there are some guiding considerations that can help you narrow in on the perfect gift to show your appreciation.

How Much Should You Spend?

Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer. Here experts advise applicants to use common sense. Rather than considering the dollar amount of your gift, an effective approach is to think about what your recommenders enjoy. What are their hobbies? Do they like golf? Wine? Films? This should guide your gift giving—because a gift that truly feels as if it was selected for them individually counts for a lot. So personalized is good. Avoiding inexpensive tchotchkes is probably also wise since they could send a message that you maybe aren’t adequately appreciative of the time and energy you’ve asked this person to take away from chosen pursuits on your behalf.

But here’s something you might not have considered: It could actually damage your relationship with the recommender if you overspend. Yep. While it’s tempting to pull out all the stops on an extravagant purchase, your recommender could potentially interpret this move as an attempt to coax a more positive recommendation, especially if you want him or her to write for you on more than one occasion. Generally a thoughtful, personalized gift—moderately priced—will go a long way toward letting them know that they’re appreciated. No need to break the bank, and indeed, arguments against precisely that.

When to Send the Gift?

You have a few different options for appropriate times to send the gift, but most importantly, do not wait too long—and definitely do not forget!

It’s always an option to send a gift right after the letter is submitted, but it may create more of a lasting impression if you send the gift after you have some news to share. For instance, if you wait until you hear back from schools and can include—fingers crossed—that you gained acceptance, it can be meaningful to include in a note with your gift that their letter helped you get in to the school of your choice.

Some candidates take this even further, waiting until after graduation and landing their first job. They then send a gift letting the recommender know that not only did the letter of support help them get into school but, by extension, it helped them land a great post-MBA job. But general consensus suggests that this is a little too long to wait. Instead, why not consider sending a gift when you get in and a follow-up note letting your recommenders know about your continued progress and thanking them again for their role in your career progression.

What to Give?

While you have many options available, these are just a few suggestions that you generally can’t go wrong with:

thanking your MBA recommendersA nice bottle of wine is always a good gift for those who enjoy it, albeit a fairly common choice. If your recommender enjoys beer, consider something like Belgi Beer, a website that offers either gift boxes of fine Belgian beers or a subscription service that can last up to six months. If your recommender is a non-drinker, then a gift certificate to a nice local restaurant can be a great way to go.

If you’d like to avoid food and drink, then you might consider a customized pen set. Executive Gift Shoppe offers a wide variety of sets and options with the possibility of custom engraving if you so desire.

If you feel that your recommender might appreciate a more experiential gift, then you could also give some tickets to a local cinema, theater, or concert hall, which might give your recommender a welcome reprieve and a night out at a special place they might not otherwise treat themselves to.

These are just a few thoughtful and unique gift ideas that can leave a lasting, positive impression on those who helped you achieve your goals.

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.