Have you ever liked someone before you’ve even met them—just because your friends vouched for them? Admissions officers at top MBA programs often feel the same way.

Think about it this way: admissions committees go through hell trying to sift for the best, the brightest, and the coolest applicants. Top MBA programs pick their classes meticulously, relying in part on a network of eyes and ears whose judgment they trust.

And in many programs—MIT Sloan, Wharton, Columbia, Ross, and Stanford, to name a few—admissions committees take their students’ opinions of potential candidates very seriously. If an admissions officer receives an informal support letter from a current student or alum that says “This person is Wharton material,” that letter can carry real weight.

But there are even more reasons to work on getting some support letters. First, getting on the phone or exchanging emails with current students and alumni provides an opportunity to get to know which programs are right for you, what clubs and extracurricular activities the school offers, and what courses make sense for your career path.

Second, by having real conversations with real people, you elevate your profile—you’re no longer just a name in a pile, you’re now a three-dimensional person. And 3D is always better than 2D… just ask Pixar.

Third, networking among peers and outside professionals is important because it will be a major focus during your MBA program, inasmuch as it’s critical to securing your post-graduation job. Logically then, MBA programs want to see that you have some networking intuition and capacity prior to your admission, to ensure that their resources, recruiting efforts, and valuable network will be well spent on you.

How do you get support letters?

There are a few ways to go about this. Friends who are in or have completed an MBA program should be your first phone call. They know you best and can likely provide a genuine recommendation.

Don’t have any MBA friends? Then ask your MBA admissions advisor for help. Having worked with many candidates in the past, your advisor not only can give you a list of names, but he or she can also connect you to the people whose personalities are likely to mesh well with yours.

And since we live in the age of boundless social networks, it’s time to put Facebook and LinkedIn to work for you. Forget about what your cousin’s dog’s niece ate for brunch and start looking for mutual friends who have listed MBA programs in their educational history. You can also participate in MBA forums or follow alumni on Twitter. People love attention.

Next, it is advisable for prospective students to put their networking skills to the test and attend business school events. This can put you in touch with new people and will show the program the effort you put into your networking mission.

Finally, with a little research, for example, you can identify and reach out to the officers of clubs in your fields of interest. This is a win-win situation, because their job is to spread the value of their club. They are usually happy when prospects come knocking on their door, because it’s much nicer when someone you would have chased comes to you first. Who knows… perhaps you’ll even make a friend.

Networking basics: dos and don’ts as you begin to interact with a potential supporter

Do: Have a normal conversation. Remember the airport test for the interviews? It applies here as well. Approach the conversation with questions in mind, but let the chemistry of the conversation control the flow.

Don’t: Waste anyone’s time. If your question is Google-able, Google it. Remember how your elementary school teachers used to say there are no stupid questions? There are. Try to focus on your interlocutor. Put the spotlight on them—MBA students love to talk about themselves—and try to glean answers to your questions through the student’s or alum’s experience.

Do: Follow up. It is important to stay in touch, because while a first impression is strong, we mainly vouch for people we feel that we know. Knowing how to write a networking email means trying to facilitate a conversation that moves beyond “Hi, how are you; I’m fine, thank you very much.” Remember, if your goal is a support letter, you have to make sure that you are not simply spewing banalities. You will have to make the effort to engage in meaningful exchanges. By the way, if you are considering writing a networking email, it would be a good idea to run it by your advisor.

Don’t: Be the first to swear or use coarse humor. In other words, match your level of politeness or informality to that of your potential supporter. It can be very off-putting if you take liberties with manners before he or she does, and doing so runs the risk of being misread. Making friends doesn’t mean assuming a level of comfort before it is welcome. Getting to know someone is a process. Let the quality of your conversations bring you closer, as opposed to hoping that casual language will do the trick.

Do: Tell stories about yourself—but only when asked or prompted. If you write to someone only to tell them about yourself, the chances of their reading your email or responding are pretty low. If the pronoun “I” shows up in every other sentence of your first email, you might want to reconsider your message.

Don’t: Spend all your time reading blog entries. Go network!