3 years ago
Admissions Advice

Is it necessary to have Rec Letters from subjects you're majoring in?

So I am planning on majoring in engineering or finance. However, I wasn't very close with my math or physics teachers (but I had very good grades). My best letters would come from my psychology and english teachers, but would that be completely different from my majors? Chem teacher is a 3rd option. Thoughts?


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2 answers

3 years ago

The best advice I can give is to find the best people that can advocate for your academic accomplishments and personal character regardless of how close you were to them.

Sometimes the toughest teachers who don't have time for chit-chat or office hours or developing a personal relationship are the best ones to say that you gave it your all and it was noticed. The worst class in my HS career was Algebra 2 but I received a great recommendation from that teacher nevertheless.

It's perfectly acceptable to have teachers that teach subjects other than your 1st or 2nd choice majors advocate for you. In many cases, HS students switch majors once they are in college so AOs think its fine.

Good Luck

3 years ago

Hey @ivyaim22!

This is a good question - when colleges ask for letters of recommendation, the most important thing is that you get a personal letter of rec from a teacher who knows you both in and out of academic contexts.

However, elite schools also give weight to what class those teachers teach. Most require the teacher to be from 11th or 12th grade (it's okay to use a teacher from 9th or 10th grade as long as you also had them for a course in 11th or 12th). Admissions officers also want teachers from the most rigorous courses at your school - this means the AP/IB level.

Because you're going into STEM, I'd recommend that your letters come from STEM teachers. Some schools have different requirements for certain majors. Check out this application checklist from Columbia, which requires one of engineering students' letters of rec to be from a STEM teacher. (https://undergrad.admissions.columbia.edu/apply/first-year)

It's a good rule of thumb to have at least one of your rec letters from a teacher of a subject close to your prospective major. The other really depends on the rest of your application. For example, if you have strong grades, extracurriculars, essays, and test scores in STEM, it might be alright to have a non-STEM teacher write one so you appear more well-rounded, though it could come out of left field if your profile is completely-STEM oriented. On the contrary, a very diversified profile will confuse admissions officers and the letters of rec will only add to the generalist profile that you want to avoid.

The ideal situation is to have a mostly prospective-major-focused profile with one or two hints of the other subject you choose. Let's say you go with your chemistry teacher. You'll want to have one of your extracurriculars or essays reflect an interest in chemistry, possibly as it relates to finance or engineering. Chemical engineering is a great way to bridge the two, but a finance-chemistry connection is also possible.

At the end of the day, it's important that you have quality letters of rec from teachers who know you. But if you're worried about choosing teachers, look at the overall context of your application and think about how you want to represent yourself to colleges in order to decide which teachers to ask.

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